Any company owner knows that no matter what your business plan; no matter how great your product is, at the end of the day, it’s the consumer who makes your business a success. Knowing your clientèle is the core to ensuring you’re selling your services to the right market.
No one knows this better than Blue Ribbon Construction Ltd.
Firstly, the company is crystal clear on what services it provides: “we are strictly residential remodeling says president and owner John Sperath. “When you first start your business, you’ll take any customers that come your way… As time goes on, if you’re good at what you do, reputation builds, and at that point you identify where your market niche should be.” The company moved “up scale”- a brave but wise move as most people in the industry chose to go the other way- “it takes time to develop a reputation that allows you to do that.” Reputation and dedication. The sheer quality of service they provide attracts a more lucrative budget – “typically our customer’s are professionals.” Secondly, they refuse to be beat on customer service: “People find us, people who want to be well cared for.”
However, Blue Ribbon hasn’t made the mistake of alienating any potential business and also caters to older generations to make their homes more age-approriate, “convenient, safer and easier to live in long term”. This means people are able to stay in their homes longer when illness or feebleness comes upon them- a truly commendable service.
After initially owning his own company on Long Island, Sperath escaped the “rat race” and moved to North Carolina- “getting away from the high pressure, long commute world.” Three years later, after working for a new home builder, Hurricane Fran hit. “there was a lot of devastation in this area,” remembers Sperath, “he came to me and he wanted to start a remodelling company to take care of people who lived in our homes, those that had damage.” A year and a half later, in 1996, Sparath and a partner purchased the company and Blue Ribbon Construction was born. “Almost anything you can dream of about your house, because we are a licensed general contractor, we can do- so dream on!” laughs Sparath.
The business has been a success from day one, “the first year was exciting, we were busy!”
However, the economy of 1996/1997 was quite different to the economy of today, and Blue Ribbon has had to re-evaluate some methods of business to accommodate the recession: “We use trade contractors,” says Sparath, “we used to have a bunch of carpenters but with the downturn of the economy we’ve had to down size.” As a result the company is fuelled by Sparath who handles “designs, sales and administration” and a “very talented construction coordinator”. The team works fabulously, thanks to Sparath’s twenty-five years business experience.
Sparath admits that people underestimate the depth of knowledge that is needed for his field of work: “having been in this industry for sixteen years locally here in Raleigh,” he says “I think we’ve made most of the mistakes, and we are a company that learns from our mistakes.” Indeed, these mistakes mean Sparath is confident his company can now pull off even the most “complicated” of jobs.
His biggest challenge he maintains is the constantly changing marketing methods.
“Social media is catching on but it still has a limited impact… they go hand in hand with websites which are still huge.. if people can’t find you it’s useless.” As a result they have invested in a company which is tying all these together.
Sparath attributes his success to help from an peer advisory organization. When the company was struggling seven years ago, Sparath joined a consulting group in Maryland called Remodelers Advantage. They organized peer review groups of which Sparath was a participant.
“I’ve been a business owner for many, many years… for the first twenty years I’ve succeeded by default.” After depending on accountants for most of his career, he was suddenly educated in budgets. “You learn how to run your business by the numbers. What it does is take away the luck- you have a road map.”
This made all the difference and Sparath began to “follow the numbers”. It has influenced the business books he recommends and how he thinks about his company. His advice to new business owners now? “Understand your profit & loss statement and your balance sheet and how they work together. That is the success of any company whether it’s a one person show or whether it’s a big company.” He also has a cautionary note too for those thinking of going into business with a partner: “You have to clearly decide whose in charge… and you need to know them intimately.”
The best advice he received himself? “Even the smallest leaks can sink a great ship”
It certainly put him on the right path.