Rather than trying to sell all the handyman services known to man, Barron Garage Doors, a father-and-son limited liability partnership, focuses on one thing: garage doors. Furthermore, they limit their footprint to a tight south Snohomish County service area in order to stay close to their customers.
Mike and Jim Barron have been doing this work since 1996. Situated in Edmonds, they decided the best business model would concentrate on local clientele.
"At first we used to do jobs all over the area and found we were losing money once we calculated travel time and cost of fuel," said Mike Barron, the son.
They determined Mount Vernon, Stanwood and Concrete were not going to be in their geographic target market. The company will service farther out, adding a travel surcharge.
A well-defined service area also helps customers with timely responses. Travel time is easier to calculate, and it's hard to get lost when most of your work is in your own back yard. In addition, when word-of-mouth recommendations start coming from friends, neighbors and satisfied clients, the business tends to thrive.
Mike Barron recently came to an Edmonds job site, a rental house owned and managed by Juergen Kneifel, where a garage door spring had failed. He arrived within minutes of the scheduled appointment and immediately went to work assessing the project and pulling new springs from his well-stocked truck. His approach can be likened to a pit crew member in a NASCAR race: incredibly efficient with no wasted motion.
Our conversation was somewhat casual so as to not disturb a professional plying his trade. Barron was friendly and gracious throughout the process, sharing how he and his father approach their business.
When asked what other services Barron Garage Doors might perform, Barron simply answered, "Just doors."
Certainly this is one of the keys to their success. It was impressive to see a job that a typical handyman or do-it-yourselfer may struggle to complete in an hour or two took this craftsman a mere 12 minutes. Barron didn't know he was being timed, yet he performed his work with great efficiency.
Skills acquired through repetition will create a competitive advantage. And a competitive advantage is going to drive profits. It's clear that 16 years in business and more than 7,400 jobs performed equate to expert product knowledge.
Some in the garage door repair business try to make the job look harder than it really is, Barron said. But Barron Garage Doors employees are able to quote prices over the phone depending on the type of garage door, springs or opener described to them.
Their Craigslist ad and Web site boast a set price of $145, which includes a tune-up, tracking adjustments and dual torsion spring repair. (Dual springs were needed for my 16-foot, double-wide garage door.)
"We treat our customers the way we want to be treated," Mike Barron said. "If I do something that is unfair or unethical, it will hurt the business."
As our conversation continued, it was clear that Barron's work ethic and business ethic were in sync. In other words, he doesn't need to explain his take on the Golden Rule for business. He simply establishes his purpose through his actions.
We're not the only ones impressed with this small business; you'll find positive comments about Barron Garage Doors on Angie's List and Yelp. These are websites that allow consumers to make recommendations about businesses in their area and also raise concerns when a business fails to deliver.
In our opinion, you can't go wrong in business when you treat customers the way you want to be treated.
And when you focus your talents and skills in a trade that creates a distinct expertise and advantage, you're sure to thrive – even in a difficult economy.
We want to recognize and thank Pat Sisneros for his role in launching this column in 2008. Pat is stepping aside to focus on leadership duties at Everett Community College.
Pat Sisneros is the vice president of College Services at Everett Community College. Juergen Kneifel is a senior associate faculty member in the EvCC Business program. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.