Contractors speak out
After nearly 20 years with another
firm, Bobby Parks recently founded Peachtree Decks and Porches
LLC in Atlanta.
PDB: What's the most important factor in
starting up a new deck business?
Parks: There are a lot of factors, but having
a realistic, detailed business plan that covers all elements is
critical. It has to detail your product, the service you'll
offer and how you'll deliver it, what it takes to sell and
market, how you'll finance it, and what your cash flow
PDB: That all sounds like common sense. What's
the benefit of writing it down?
Parks: Writing it down makes you be honest
with yourself and look at the little details. I used a
ready-made business-plan template from Palo Alto Software
(www.paloalto.com). It had examples to help
me work it through from beginning to end. I've been in the
business a long time, but this forced me to look at the fine
details, like developing a monthly targeted sales plan.
That plan gave me something to take to the bank —
literally. I think that if I had just walked into the bank as a
carpenter who wanted to start my own business, they would have
been scared. With the business plan in hand, they could see
that I'd been realistic in thinking about the real costs and
issues of running the business, and that helped to obtain
PDB: Bank financing is helpful, but what about
setting up accounts at suppliers?
Parks: Having been in the business helps, as a
lot of suppliers knew me. And I've got good credit. You need
good credit. In addition to filling out the vendor's credit
application, I sent a cover letter. This wasn't long —
it just told a little about my history and outlined where I
plan to take the business.
PDB: Did you have any second thoughts because
of the economy?
Parks: No. I knew my business plan for the
first year was realistic and conservative, so I knew I'd
survive. Also, the downturn in the building economy has
affected new home builders differently from remodelers, which
is how I classify deck builders. We just don't track along the
same graph lines as builders.
PDB: Are you hitting your initial targets for
Parks: Better. I didn't plan to have much work
until I started marketing after the first of year, but I've
already got two months' worth of jobs on the board for one
PDB: How did you find those jobs?
Parks: They came in through referrals from
friends and other contractors, guys who don't do decks
regularly. It's good to get to know people in other trades. One
referral came from a guy who worked on one of the crews I ran
years ago. That's one reason it's important to take care of
people: You never know when someone you knew can help or hurt
PDB: What's the most important leg of your
Parks: Marketing. All the numbers come down to
making the sale, and that depends on having the opportunity to
make the sale. That's what marketing gets you. I'm confident of
my ability to sell jobs, once I get talking to people.
Marketing takes constant investment. I'm planning to spend a
significant part of my gross on marketing, but not in a blanket
way. There are neighborhoods with high per-capita incomes and
high property values. That's where I want to work, and I target
Also, I like to install certain products, such as composite
decking and railing. I think the low maintenance these products
deliver makes for happy customers, and I make more selling
them. What's great about some of the manufacturers is that it's
pretty easy to become listed on their Web sites as an
authorized contractor. There's a lot of free marketing
available from manufacturers. Another avenue that gets me
listed on a Web site is being a member of NADRA.
That's all short-term thinking, though. In the long term, it's
a base of satisfied customers that makes a business succeed. To
get that, you have to sell what you believe in and deliver
top-quality craftsmanship and service.
PDB: How did you develop your Web site?
Parks: I hired a designer, someone I knew
personally. I knew when I first talked to her that she was the
one. She asked the right questions about the business and made
good suggestions. I could tell she understood where I wanted to
I did some research first, too. I found a couple of Web sites
that I liked, so I could show them to her. That saved time and
money for both of us.
PDB: How does your wife feel about this
Parks: It was important that she be on board
with me. She's really taken the bull by the horns. She set the
office up, and she'll be working with me in the future.
PDB: Can you sum up your approach to
Parks: It's about relationships. Be
aboveboard, remember who you are and how you want your company
to appear. Customers don't hire a company, they hire an
individual who works for that company. Personality and
likeability makes the difference. High-pressure sales don't
work. I try to be a buyer's aid, to gain their trust.
Any business has a number of aspects — marketing,
sales, planning, production. They're like segments of a wheel.
If you're missing a segment, you're in for a rough ride.
PDB: Are you sleeping at night?
Parks: I am.