Lallenia and Brad Birge are Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) members in Omaha, Nebraska and co-founders of Big Birge Plumbing. As partners in both business and in life, we asked the couple to share their entrepreneurial journey and how they make it work on both a business and personal level:
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey.
Lallenia: We started our company together in 2012 after my husband was laid off from his job. Neither of us had run a business before. While making a marketing video, the videographer told me about the EO Accelerator program, which helps startups with the tools, community and accountability necessary to run and grow a business.
I applied to the program and absolutely loved it because I'm passionate about learning how to run our business better. I found value in learning events about finances, strategy, building your team and marketing. Eventually, Brad saw how much I was gaining from it and attended events with me.
It's incredible to be around other business owners because they're able to relate to the struggles we all go through on a very genuine level.
Now that we've graduated from the business accelerator program to become full EO members, I'm still learning. At a recent EO event featuring prominent entrepreneurs who sold their companies, one shared, "If I could do it over again, I would run my business from the very beginning as if I was going to sell it one day." His rationale: If you run your company with well-documented systems and processes so that someone could easily take over, it will be more successful. That was eye-opening for me.
Your branding is unique: What's the story behind it?
Brad: We saw so many examples of poor customer service and wanted to differentiate our company by embracing old-fashioned values. We decided to build our brand around customer service, loyalty and trust.
Lallenia: To get noticed, you have to be bold, and we definitely wanted to get noticed. Since our brand was based on old-fashioned values, we went retro―I wore vintage-style dresses for our photo shoot so we could literally put our faces on our brand!
We want people to feel good about calling us. I'm annoyed that society has an image of plumbers with their pants sliding down--that's not at all what we bring to our jobs. Our plumbers are smart, intelligent and respectful professionals. That's why we went with a different look and feel--and aren't afraid to be bold about it!
What's the best part about being married to your business partner? What's the worst part?
Lallenia: The best part is that we get along really well and complement each other with our individual strengths. Being opposites truly helps us. The worst part is when we don't agree about something at work--it's hard not to bring that home. We try to keep it out of the house because we're raising two young children and our focus is on them when we're at home.
Brad: The best part is sharing this journey with my soul mate. We get to raise our children together, and we get to build our company together. None of this would be possible without her; I owe a lot of who I am to her positive outlook and motivation. The worst part is having to answer to her both at work and at home. The ongoing joke is that she either quits or gets fired every other week. But I always hire her back!
One of your company's core values is "Tighten Every Bolt." What does that entail?
Brad: Tighten every bolt is not only making sure we give customers full value but also taking great pride in what we do. This includes putting personal issues behind us when we knock on the door so we can offer a confident handshake to let customers know a professional is on the job. When we create a job ticket, we record every detail, enabling us to create a full-spectrum picture and think outside of the box to get the job done right. And we record detailed notes, so if there are questions in the future, information is accessible. When we leave a project, we leave the customer with a solid feeling of accomplishment and value. We don't ever want to have to apologize for poor performance, so we take proactive steps to ensure that won't happen.
What would you share with other married couples considering running a business together?
Lallenia: Set boundaries and respect them. Brad focuses on certain parts of the business, and I focus on other parts. Now that we're both full members of EO, we participate in separate confidential Forums where we enjoy the unique perspectives of eight other entrepreneurs. Having individual outlets for working through business issues has helped us a lot. I highly recommend it. Networking groups have a completely different vibe. The beauty of an EO Forum is that it's structured to help you grow as a person.
Brad: It's critical to have a very strong relationship. We know that no matter what happens, our family and marriage comes first. Our company is important, but it never supersedes our family's love. There are many placeholdertimes when the business side tests this and we have to regroup and remember what we vowed to each other. We reset and keep going.