Friday, December 17, 2010

It's a Wonderful Business Life Part 2

Read It's a Wonderful Business Life Part 1 here.

Eco-Protective Products opened it's doors (we don't have a store front location so this is purely metaphorical) for business in January 2008. At the inception of the business, we had a proven exterior paint that was eco-friendly in composition and delivered quantifiable benefits in performance (energy efficiency, durability, and longevity) stacked against other paint manufacturers. In 2008, at least at the onset, the building market showed continued growth, albeit not as robust as the early 2000s, and Green Building was proving it had all the signs of a long-term standard not a fad, short-lived trend.
Credit: iStockphoto... no that's not EPP's staff

From day one, the excitement level was palpable. We were poised for unprecedented success, and we already had the right people and products in place to assure that it would happen. The business plan was simple: maintain growth with our existing distributors and expand brand awareness through placing "eco-friendly" ahead of "high-quality" for our value proposition, targeting our marketing efforts to Green Building, updating product names to be inline with said strategy, redesigning product labels, and by aligning ourselves with rising stars within the sustainable building industry. Insert new brand name, new logo, new slogan. Gone was the old website and a new one took its place. We joined the USGBC, attended monthly events, and chatted to anyone that would lend an ear about our innovative paints.

At the time, this marketer was too inexperienced to understand the importance of SEO, too naive to recognize that a website doesn't sell products, people do. But, like I said, ignorance consumed me, and I waited. Waited on the waves of Green Builders to blow up my inbox and voicemail. Surely, before long, Ty Pennington would be soliciting product donations for the next Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. I would be on the cover of Southern Living in no time, and by the time I celebrated my first Christmas in the real world, I'd be doing so listening to Jimmy Buffett's Christmas Island album on a boat sailing somewhere in Caribbean. 

Within our first three months operating as Eco-Protective Products, we were hired to supply paint to a high-profile condominium complex in Palm Beach, FL, had representatives meeting with top government officials about EPP implementation into greening strategies, and a building boom that would never end (our biggest markets were Florida, Arizona, and California).

If a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, we had tamed a gaggle of geese and were content. With our connections and website, our products would continue to sell themselves.   Along comes the Great Housing Bubble Burst and the economic free fall of 2008 and 2009. And this is the point where the school of hard knocks begins -- and to continue with the theme of this post, It's a Wonderful Business Life, not only is our business better for the following missteps but I am, too. 

Each Lesson Links to Its Own Page
Lesson 1 - Don't buy into big promises. Trust your gut and ignore the hype
Lesson 2 - Rebranding - not as easy as creating a new logo and catch phrase
Lesson 3 - The common push-back, "well, I've never heard of your product, so because I know everything about energy efficiency and sustainable design, your product must not be good enough" and how to overcome it.
Lesson 4 - Everyone and their brother, mother, and twitter followers want to verify your Green Product but who verifies them?
Lesson 5 - An email can't replace the value of a phone call can't replace the value of an honest handshake
Lesson 6 - Growing through a recession
Lesson 7 - Your business is no better than you are. Remember to sell yourself and buy in
Lesson 8 - There's no right price for the wrong product - When product launches fail
Lesson 9  - Never, never, never, never give up.
Lesson 10 - Lastly, the importance of building a support group of other small business owners & entrepreneurs to share ideas, strategies, laughs, at times, tears, and most importantly to be there to help each other up again when the battles we face each day knock us down. 

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