When Jeff Holmes was a new and struggling entrepreneur, he turned his business around with one simple trick.
He listened to the needs of his customers.
Customers were offering similar gripes. They weren't complaining about the quality of his customer service. Instead, they were telling him that their needs simply weren't being met by any of their business partners.
That's when he decided to start a product line that met those needs. Twenty-six years later, he's still in business.
The Early Years
When Holmes was only 15 years old, he stared working at the car dealership where his dad was employed. He earned his keep around the place, washing cars, changing tires, driving customers home, cleaning up, working in the service department, and selling cars. Eventually, he became a sales manager.
That's a significant success story in and of itself. However, he wasn't satisfied. When he was 35 years old and working 60-hour weeks, he had very little time to spend with his family. So, he did what many people do in that situation. He followed his dream.
The newly born entrepreneur noticed that a paper company called the Pittsburgh Business Times was for sale. He saw that as an opportunity for turnaround and bought the business.
It wasn't an easy start. He mortgaged his bottom dollar for the money to buy the business. He was leveraged up to his ears.
However, the deal went through. In 1988, BABCOR Packaging was born. It became the parent company of MrTakeOutBags.com, "your one stop shop for foodservice packaging including custom design, green, renewable, biodegradable and compostable products for bakeries, restaurants, businesses and more!"
Holmes soon learned that the entrepreneurial life is fraught with unforeseen challenges. On his first day as a business owner, he was hit with the devastating news that his Office Manager (who had been the Office Manager for the company he bought), decided to start her own business. To make matter worse, she used the company's customer and vendor information to give herself a bit of a head start.
Then there was The Great Health Scare. The struggling entrepreneur woke up in the middle of the night in early December with intense chest pressure. He took ambulance rides to a couple of different hospitals where he learned that he had pericarditis. That could have been deadly, but fortunately it was treated.
Once the new business owner recovered, he was back on the road again making deliveries. Even through all the setbacks, he held his head high and remained optimistic.
While he was talking with customers and making cold calls, he noticed that many business owners were complaining that it was difficult to find custom-made products from the big suppliers. He also heard that big businesses had high minimums that many of the mom-and-pop shops couldn't afford. They also complained about poor customer service from other suppliers.
That's when he sensed opportunity.
He decided that his company would provide innovative and quality paper products that local businesses couldn't get anywhere else. Additionally, the company would offer eco-friendly products that a lot of business owners were looking for.
From there, it went well. He created custom packaging, creative paper products, and green solutions. He found a need in the market and served it.
That's why he's still in business 26 years later.
The lesson is that there's always a market somewhere. The entrepreneur in this story found a great niche by doing nothing other than paying attention to what people in his target market were telling him.
What are people in your target market telling you? Is there some way to extend your product line that you haven't discovered yet? Is there a need in your market that you and your competitors are ignoring?
If you're unsure about the needs of your customers and clients, here's a simple tip: ask them. Conduct some surveys to determine what it is people in your market are looking for.
And then, find a way to fill those needs.