Swanky tech startups get the buzz, but blue-collar ventures get loyalty. Here's how to make your business stick around.
Steven Humble isn't your average million-dollar founder. What he created isn't an online social platform or fancy new gadget; he makes doors. To be sure, they're specialized doors that lead to secret rooms in the homes of those wealthy enough to afford hidden real estate spaces – yet they're doors all the same.
In other words, the medical device designer-turned-entrepreneur launched a blue-collar business. With that decision comes a tremendous responsibility: Businesses like Humble's may be interesting to some, but they don't get the publicity of a shiny new app, device or technology venture with a billion-dollar valuation.
Instead of hype and glitz, everyday businesses must rely on differentiation and core values to disrupt what might be considered "mediocre" markets and generate impressive revenue.
Separating wheat from chaff in a blue-collar world
Entrepreneurs in nontech spaces must focus intensely on what makes their products or services unique. And they have to do it from the get-go, because what they're offering usually doesn’t seem that exciting on the surface.
Consider FireRein, for example: The company produces a gel for putting out fires, and its team has wisely positioned the brand to attract eco-conscious buyers. FireRein's differentiator is that its gel isn't toxic and won’t foster further environmental hazards; in fact, the organization manufactures the gel from plant-based sources. Basically, FireRein does the same thing as its competitors but with an added benefit to the earth.
The bottom line? FireRein is the better mousetrap. Its team knows it, and prospective buyers know it. Though the nontoxic gel will never become as popular as the iPhone, it could significantly affect its users and their communities.
Make your own everyday startup success story
Feel like you're stuck in a less-than-fancy marketplace that doesn't see your innovation or unique operations as worthy of a second glance? Make inroads by using old-fashioned hard work in the following forms.
1. Forge partnerships with your blue-collar colleagues.
Our company cleans and cares for floors for commercial clients. Why, then, did our Atlanta arm foster a connection with Royal Cup Coffee, a delivery service for office buildings? It was a natural correlation: Everyone drinks coffee, and everyone spills coffee. Yes, we're different companies, but we have the same potential client base; consequently, we can double our scouting efforts by sharing referrals.
You have to go out and find customers, but you don't have to do it alone. No matter your target, brainstorm other suppliers that might also see those businesses or individuals as customers. Consider everyone from vendors to customers. Get in touch to talk about the value of a partnership. Over time, you'll develop a rich network that provides ongoing lead sources. In fact, 84 percent of B2B customers now start the buying process with a referral. Just remember that any partnership is a two-way street. Don't be stingy with your referrals, or you'll get a cold shoulder in return.
2. Don't mistake 'no' for 'never.'
More often than not, the first answer you'll hear in a blue-collar service industry is "no" because you're probably competing with the prospect's incumbent vendor. For example, most offices already have carpet cleaners. They worry they're being disloyal by switching even if they know our solution is the better choice. We realize this and never allow it to affect our onsite demonstrations. We do our best to always impress and continue to nurture these prospects throughout the long sales cycle, understanding that there's a good chance we won't land the sale that moment.
Interestingly, customers often come back, sometimes as long as three years after we've initially shown them our system. They regularly admit they loved what they saw but felt uncomfortable turning their backs on their providers at the time. Still, they never forgot us; when the moment was right, they made the call.
Don't be afraid to fail. Give every sales call 110 percent, because you’ll become unforgettable, even if you hear a (hopefully temporary) "no" for an answer.
3. Train staff to never, ever cut corners.
Your integrity is golden. Without it, you'll get nowhere. Cultivate a reputation for walking the walk, and you'll gain traction in your blue-collar marketplace.
As floor care providers, we hear plenty of stories of shady carpet cleaners, but we're not among them. We want to be known as the provider that consistently delivers healthy, inviting atmospheres, not the fly-by-night operation no one can trust.
Be sure every team member is trained to follow protocols the same way each time. Creating a standardized operating system requires significant training so everyone gets the same messages. Don't worry, though: It pays off in the end, because you'll never be brought down by a rogue office or sales representative. And it's the hallmark of a successful sales team: Salesforce found that 80 percent of high-performing sales teams ranked their training process as outstanding or very good.
First Marshall Auto Auction LLC is one example of what can happen to a company when you don't practice this kind of training. The organization has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau, the BBB having fielded complaints of unclear policies, confusing advertisements and unexpected charges on customers' bills among others. This shows the importance of a company following stringent ethical practices across the board.
Whether you sell custom-made secret doors or heavy-duty floor restoration, you shouldn't apologize for being unglamorous. As a blue-collar startup, you're offering a practical service to both your field and the people you could help. Focus on becoming a straightforward, standout player and you'll edge out the competition on your way to the top.