Determining the Right Market to Enter...& When!

Determining the right market to enter is paramount to the future success of any contractor.

Bobby had worked for the same concrete contractor for more than ten years but was beginning to think that the owner was not paying enough attention to quality and to his customers as he should. In short, Bobby really believed that he could provide better quality and do a better job of meeting customer's needs than his present employer.

Pat had owned his contracting business for almost twelve years now. Over the past two years he began to have some of his current clients ask him about doing some work in a few new market areas, one of them almost fifty miles away. While there were contractors in the new areas he was also fairly confident that he could compete against them due to his proven history of doing quality work.

The title of this article is just as critical an issue for the veteran contractor looking to expand his or her company's business as it is for the contractor "wanna be" who is about to act on their dream of starting their own construction company. Determining the right market to enter is paramount to the future success of any contractor. The only more important determining factor is knowing when to enter the market.

Bobby and Pat from our earlier examples represent real contractors. I've worked with both of these individuals and many others just like them. While there are no secrets to determine the best market for you to enter and there is certainly no perfect time table about when to enter a market, there are several guidelines that have assisted many a contractor in dealing with our focus in this article. Let me share a few of the critical considerations.

Guideline No. 1 Consider Your Resource Potential
Whether starting a brand new company or expanding into a new market you must recognize your resource potential. This is two fold. First, what are your current resources including manpower, experience/expertise, equipment, tools, etc. Second, what potential exist for you to borrow the necessary monies to purchase or lease needed equipment, tools, etc. While borrowing comes with a price attached you should not eliminate the possibility of increasing a line of credit or taking an additional loan for capital investment from your bank.

Guideline No. 2 Have a Realistic Expectation for Success
Too many anxious or inexperienced contractors expect great results in the first year. In some situations there may be great rewards for taking the risk. However, in most new construction beginnings it is more realistic to expect a 3-5 year period of time to realize the full potential. Therefore, making the mental commitment to seeing the investment through is important to make. Don't be short sighted; good things often come to those who can persistently wait!

Guideline No. 3 Look to Possible "Joint Ventures" or Partnering Relationships
Many contractors have found greater growth through joining up their resources with another contractor who has what they do not. This can include having the needed expertise or already having a presence in a particular market. When you partner with another contractor in any form you will not reap the entire benefits but neither will you have to exhaust only your resources. You should not go into just any relationship with another company as each company has their own way of doing things. However, this can be an option that could benefit both parties involved.

Guideline No. 4 Review Available Market Info AND Do Your Own Research
A growing number of resources exist that provide market data for communities. This information is often split into categories that can provide valuable information about a growing need in a geographical market area. While this resource should be obtained and studied the contractor serious about starting their own business or expanding into another market should do some of their own reconnaissance. Visiting with local material plants and industry related vendors, asking them about growth trends and needs or what market segment is not being adequately meet should be pursued. In some cases, contractors have conducted their own survey among a specific area, asking potential customers would they support a new construction service if it were available.

Guideline No. 5 Does the Potential Market Fit My Vision or Capabilities
If you are a residential concrete contractor with a focus on patios, driveways, and sidewalks then you need to think long and hard about moving into the commercial flatwork business. Not that this transition hasn't been done by contractors in the past, but many contractors have failed miserably because they really didn't understand the differences between working with home owners versus commercial-minded decision makers. If you have a clear vision about what you want to pursue then stay the course. Maybe expand into new geographical areas but stay the course. If you have been a residential contractor but have several workers with an experienced commercial background then maybe you stand a better chance of making the transition.

Guideline No. 6 Consider What You May Give Up to Start-up or Expand
When trying to determine a market to move into or to begin a new business consider what other contractors you may no longer receive support. For the residential contractor who used to pass on referrals to his commercial contracting friend, the residential contractor who decides to begin a commercial operation will no longer find his other commercial contractors friendly to his decision. Not that this should prevent the residential contractor from expanding his business, they just need to realize that in doing so they will probably alienate themselves from those whom they may have received referrals and support.

Guideline No. 7 Have a Business Plan…and Use It!
The number one reason most new businesses fail is lack of capital. The second reason? Failure to plan the business steps to success. Have a plan that outlines the direction, the players, the needs, the opportunities, the "threats" to the business, the budget needs/expectations, sales forecasts, etc. You don't have to be married to what you plan but planning forces you to think through the process of taking an idea and turning it into a profit center. Have a business plan, before you begin the execution, and use it!

Determining the right market to enter is a decision that should be carefully thought through before any action is taken. While you will seldom feel 100% confident or sure in making a start-up or expansion decision, you should feel good that you have explored the needed areas that can give your decision all the chances to be successful. Even then many contractors will tell you that they had a "gut feeling" about making a decision to begin their company or to expand their services.

Use the guidelines presented here to better position your thinking about determining the right market for your business. If you determine the right market and when you are going to launch the new work dig in for the long haul. Don't bail at the first signs of failure. It isn't always the smartest owners who become the most successful business-people but those that hung in there the longest. Good luck and stay at it!

Brad Humphrey is president of Pinnacle Development Group and provides business consulting to pavement maintenance contractors. For more information visit