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Reflections on 25 years in business
By: Bob Buchanan
This year bo-mar Industries is celebrating 25 years in business. (Learn more about our history here.) A lot of people start businesses with good intentions but have a hard time making it 2 years, nonetheless 20 or more. That’s why lots of people ask me and Mark how we did it. How did we not just make it, but grow into one of the top metal fabrication companies in the Midwest?
Well, it took work. A lot of work. But more important, we’ve made some choices that helped us build a loyal customer base. This isn’t the stuff they teach you in business school. It’s the stuff you learn day in and day out, year after year, person after person. So here’s my two cents on what it takes to succeed.
Help people when others have let them down
One key to building business is referrals. But here’s the thing about referrals: they don’t often happen when things are going right. Usually there’s some kind of crisis. For example, we usually get referrals when the existing supplier messed up. They delivered a product with subpar welding or they built the parts out of spec. Or maybe they didn’t deliver on time because they couldn’t keep up with an increase in production.
Over the years, I’ve had a lot of longtime clients tell me they’re loyal to bo-mar because we were there to help in their hour of need. We met a crazy deadline or our engineers found a way to do something with better tolerances, better materials, better design, and so on.
I’ve seen a lot of people turn away referral business because the timeline is too tight or the problem seems too complicated. Don’t be that guy. Be the one who sees an opportunity where others see a mess. That’s not just the right way to run a business – it’s the right way to treat other human beings.
Know the difference between an expense and an investment
If you showed me how much money I’ve spent on equipment over the past 25 years, I’d probably break down and cry. But on the other hand, I know that every bit of it was an investment in our future. We have grown because we continually invest in things like:
- Software programs that allow us to do 3D modeling
- Laser and waterjet cutters that support the most rigorous tolerances (we mean it when we say “plus or minus zero”!)
- Unique metal-forming tools like the region’s largest English Wheel
- One of the largest press brakes in the Midwest
People are an investment too. Especially for skills like welding, which is really an art form, I’ll pay top dollar for talent. In fact, 95% of the people who do welding tests for bo-mar do not qualify.
When you’re running a business, you can be cheap about some things. I won’t judge you if you have cheap toilet paper in your bathroom. But never cut corners on the people and equipment that help you stay current and deliver a better product.
Put your ego on the back burner
If you really want to succeed, you have to listen to your customers and employees constantly. And not just listen, but really hear what they have to say.
To do that, you have to let down your defenses a bit. You have to realize you are not perfect and that you always have room to grow. I’m not saying the customer is always right. I’m just saying the key to success is to realize that sometimes you are not always right. That’s when you really start listening and working together – and building the kind of relationships that last for decades.
Now it’s your turn. Whether you’ve been in business a little while or a long time, what are your keys to success? Share it with others in the comments down below.
Thanks for hanging in there with us for 25 years. Here’s to many more.