The way I started my business was like draining the water out of the pool and jumping off the high dive. I wouldn’t recommend it.
I was trained as an educator and received my master’s in Academic Administration. I worked as an athletic director and taught in classrooms for years. My wife and I left the United States with our sons when we worked as educators in three different countries. When I was turning 40, I felt I could either buy a sports car or start a business.
In 2007, we came back to Arizona from living overseas, and I wanted to reopen a small metal business I had operated in my 20s to help pay for my master’s degree. I had family and friends for whom I had done metal work for 15 years prior. I began getting the word out, and I can trace almost all of my clients back to one lead. I met a general contractor, and that connection helped me start my business. It was like the Prell shampoo commercial, “You tell a friend, and they tell two friends, and so on and so on.”
Because the economy was slow in 2008, it was a perfect time to start a business. I realized that I needed more training to execute the type of projects I wanted to do, so I took courses through local community colleges, read books and articles, and talked to successful people on how they grew their businesses. It was a pretty consistent theme: Develop a good word-of-mouth referral base. I focused on my customer’s needs, and they continued to pass my name around. By the time business began picking up, I was in a position to better meet the demands of my customers.
Another step I took was to add stainless and aluminum materials to my iron business. Finding a special niche helped segment a lot of competition away from me. I found I wasn’t competing against anyone who had a welding machine.
The timeframe of doing a fabrication installation is usually really short, and getting paid quickly is critical. I found a billing file format that is easily accessed by my wife, or if we expand, someone else could be taught the process easily. The other thing I’ve done is to buy machinery as quickly as possible, even though money is tight. It’s a problem if you have to depend on rental machinery. Having our own equipment means I can deliver on time to my clients.
I also took a computer drafting design course at local community college to learn computer automated drafting (CAD), which was extremely helpful. Before I would meet multiple times with a client to find out what they wanted. Then I would do a hand-sketch drawing, review with them in person and make revisions. It was so time-consuming. Now, I can do CAD rendering, send a PDF that I can talk through with the client via the phone. CAD has eliminated the time needed to drive. That’s what kills you in Phoenix—driving from one to another location of the city just eats up your day.
My business lends itself to the remodeling industry instead of new building projects. I became involved with NARI after working with a local granite company. I went to the fabrication facility to meet with the owner. It was a pretty dynamic, successful business, and I noticed the NARI sticker on his door. He invited me to attend a meeting and after talking with a few members, I felt this was a top-notch group that I wanted to be part of.
NARI has given me access to remodelers and helps me better understand their unique needs. Remodeling contractors have to do more custom work in the field to make things work within the existing space, which is more challenging. Falcon Designs is a solution/problem solving company which makes a perfect add-on to a remodeling contractor.
NARI has helped me grow my business because it offers people a way to get to know others in a non-competitive setting. You are meeting with professionals who are willing to share ideas and not trying to sell their services or products. They get to know you as a person.
While our business thrives on word-of-mouth referrals, branding and social media will be my focus in 2014. We have a Website, but by the time people call us, they have already seen our work. To continue to grow, we need a better way to let people know that we’re the company behind the custom work.
When I started my business, I had just seven clients. Today we have more than a 100 customers. But we find it’s the 80/20 rule: 20 percent of our clients provide 80 percent of our work.
Along the way, I have taken some missteps that have led to growth opportunities. One of my favorite mistakes is I called the wrong carpet company. Halfway through the conversation, I realized it, but decided to use them anyway. After the job was completed, I stopped by to say thank you. The owner introduced me to his son-in-law who had just started his own his own architectural firm. He called me for a small project. It turned out to be a good fit, and we now do 40 projects a year with him—all because I called the wrong carpet guy.
What I love about my business is that my work isn’t out of a box. I left teaching because I could predict my life year-to-year. Now each day is different.—Scott Dow
Scott Dow owns Falcon Designs LLC and is a welding contractor specializing in residential construction in the Phoenix, Ariz. area. His Website is www.falcon-designs-llc.com.