Turning challenges, into solutions
My plan was to get an MBA.
“I can see myself enjoying work in the financial sector,” I thought. Plus, I would likely earn a good living. But then I started university, and it wasn’t quite the same experience for me as it is for many other people.
I’m legally blind. And academia requires a lot of reading, which is difficult for me. I got through my bachelors degree, but once I graduated I knew more school wasn’t my next step.
The problem was I didn’t really want a job either. Even applying for work was a daunting prospect. I feared that I wouldn’t be considered for many positions because of my eyesight, and realized as well that my potential for career growth might be limited.
Starting a business seemed to be the only alternative that offered independence and no limit on earning potential. Plus, I already had an opportunity – one of my brothers, Brian, had just started a small office supply business in our parent’s garage. Soon, our other brother, Michael, joined the venture as well. Fast forward two decades and we turned that small business into a successful industrial supply company with 20+ employees and a 75,000 square foot warehouse.
How did we get here? Well, it wasn’t because I was passionate about the products we were selling. I discovered passion for a different aspect of our business.
What’s your niche?
Every seasoned business owner told me as we built our company that we needed to find a niche. And we did, but not in the way you’d expect.
Did we choose a new, developing industry to invest in? Nope. Did we disrupt the market with innovative new products? Not really.
We had one key goal for our business. To do what other companies in our industry were doing – but better. When we started the company, I was our first inside sales and customer service representative. And I was relentless. I needed to provide people with the BEST service possible when ordering office and industrial supplies.
And eventually, we discovered this strategy ended up being what set us apart from everyone else, who were offering nearly the same (good quality) products.
First, invest in client experience
Back when we started the business, I was determined to figure out what our customers needed, before even they knew. Perhaps because I didn’t feel like I had other career options, I wanted to do more than sell. I wanted to understand their problems, build a relationship and just help them.
Customers told me they felt like an order number to other suppliers, who weren’t taking the time to understand their unique needs. That’s when I realized our “X factor” was providing customers with the products they required, alongside service that made them feel valued and heard – this is how we differentiated ourselves in a well-saturated industry.
Loyalty is a key challenge in a commodity driven business. You’re trying to win customer allegiance in a primarily price-driven industry. The solution is to invest in the experience your customers have when purchasing even the smallest, low-margin products; it will then be more likely they’ll choose you when making larger orders as well.
My path to discovering passion for business was not the product we sell. It was learning to identify, and thus improve customer’s experience from start (planning and ordering) to finish (delivery/pickup). Helping them solve their problems helped me solve some of mine. I realized my dream of creating a work world that I had ownership of – that works for me.
Every entrepreneur faces his or her own set of challenges. Mine might be a little different than yours, but I’m sure some of our solutions will employ the same strategies. For instance, newer technologies like online marketing and e-commerce are changing the way everyone in business must operate, market and even interact with customers. Interacting with mobile and web platforms also happens to be personally difficult for me, with my limited vision.
But I look forward to facing these new challenges in order to grow our business, and turn them into even better, customer-oriented solutions.
Stay tuned, if you’d like to join me on my journey forward!