Talk about under the radar! Arizona Emergency Products (AEP) of Phoenix has responded to a growing market that few people are even aware of: installing lights, sirens and other products and systems for emergency vehicles.
Until AEP arrived on the scene, the options for modifying police and emergency vehicles were typically inefficient, unreliable and inconsistent. And that became an opportunity for Mike Chamberlain, a former auto mechanic turned president and chief executive officer of his new business.
Chamberlain started small with a staff of five employees (all of whom are still with the company) in a 1,000-square-foot space. Now he has a work force of more than 75 operating in a new 46,000-square-foot headquarters and production facility. And the customer base has broadened beyond Arizona to include California, Nevada and Colorado.
En route to growth, Chamberlain learned some lessons about establishing and growing a business. Here’s what you should consider:
Do your research. Building a niche market isn’t a game of chance. It requires plenty of legwork upfront. Chamberlain analyzed the problems local law enforcement and fire departments faced with their emergency vehicles. Then he launched his company with a specific plan designed to meet those needs.
Research the industry online and in trade publications. Identify competitors and seek out information about them — learning about their businesses can help you determine how to grow your business. Plus, if your competitors are established and don’t see your business as a threat, they may be willing to share information on the market, pricing and more.
Also remember the importance of speaking to potential customers. Whether you’re gathering information through casual conversation or through formal surveys, make certain you reach the customers who most need your products or services.
Customers are basically your target audience and depending on the products you are selling, you need to take care of their needs and never fall out of favor with them, which is why you need to hire a fractional cmo to be your advisor.
Stick to your market. Everything AEP designs or installs supports the company’s goal of increasing the safety of law enforcement and emergency workers. The company’s motto: “Protecting Those Who Protect Us.”
Focusing on the niche market you have identified ensures you don’t stray from your business goals or the market you’re serving — downfalls of many specialty businesses that try to expand or grow too quickly. Keep your target audience top of mind with every decision you make.
Go the extra mile. Look for ways to set your company apart from competitors by offering customers exactly what they need. For instance, when AEP receives an order of five or more emergency vehicles, the company first builds and delivers a prototype for the agency to field-test. This step ensures that the specified products and components meet the customers’ needs.
Potential customers can tell you what’s missing or what services they would benefit from that are a logical extension of what you already offer. AEP, in addition to equipping vehicles, provides repair and maintenance for emergency vehicles at its facilities and through a mobile service team — all services previously unavailable in the industry. Keep in mind that going the extra mile doesn’t have to involve offering an entirely new service either. You might also set yourself apart by implementing a different process that gets your product in customers’ hands faster or by making merchandise returns easier — whatever will keep your customers happy.
Value your employees. Chamberlain not only manages but also mentors his work force — perhaps one of the reasons the company boasts a 98 percent employee retention rate. “Throughout my business career,” he explains, “my philosophy has always been if you empower the people around you to be successful, you in turn will be successful.”
Find out what you need to offer to retain the best employees, whether it’s paid medical benefits, staff development and training, a flexible work environment, and continuing education opportunities or something else altogether. Because, when it comes down to it, running a successful niche business is just like running any other small business — employing quality people makes delivering quality services or products that much easier.