How to Start a White-Collar Business in a Blue-Collar Industry
While startups flock to oversaturated tech enclaves like Silicon Valley, savvy entrepreneurs are watching blue-collar industries become the next big thing.
By next year, experts expect to see the United States add 2.5 million jobs for middle-skill workers -- jobs which will make up 40 percent of all projected job growth over that period. Why shouldn’t entrepreneurs take their pieces of that pie? Entrepreneurship isn’t limited to the technology space; it flourishes wherever the demand for goods or services exists.
Have you ever seen the show Blue Collar Millionaires? It once featured us as the youngest franchisers in America -- and gave viewers a taste of what makes smart entrepreneurs in these blue-collar industries so successful.
We started College Hunks Hauling Junk with a van and an idea; today, it’s a national franchise. And we're not unique: The field is open for other ambitious entrepreneurs willing to get their hands dirty and think beyond tech; such people can stand out quickly.
Blue-collar work, white-collar opportunity
Decades of bad practices plague many blue-collar industries. In most cases, their outdated procedures have focused on serving the business owner more than the end user.
But this new generation of entrepreneurs can change that. Applying a white-collar approach to blue-collar work will allow blue-collar business owners to abandon the “technician” mindset and consider their business models from a higher platform. This will give these entrepreneurs a tremendous advantage over the rather shortsighted companies that have traditionally crowded the blue-collar landscape.
Consider the many startups already successful in this field: Uber is the most famous, having created something smart out of the blue-collar work of taxi driving. And Uber has company: Businesses such as Homejoy, Thumbtack and Fresh Direct are taking over industries that were ripe for disruption.
Breaking into the blue-collar space
Success in a blue-collar industry isn’t just handed to you. But, with basic industry fluency and more modern entrepreneurial practices, you too can disrupt your market and stake your claim as a blue-collar big shot. Here are several strategies:
1. Answer the phone. Really! Success starts with literally answering your next call. When we started our business, we test-called several other junk-removal and moving companies in the area, but none answered. Recognizing our potential advantage, we built a centralized seven-day-a-week contact center and software package that let us (still does) schedule jobs for our franchises anywhere in the country.
To ensure your own system of contact is up to par, replicate world-class call centers like Zappos.’ This is the company, remember, that created a “Happiness Experience Form” to make sure its representatives fully meet their clients’ needs.
2. Milk the purple cow. In the B.G. (Before Google) era, blue-collar marketing was all about the Yellow Pages. Starting a company’s name with more A’s meant top billing, so AAA Plumbing got all the business because it appeared first on the page.
We decided to go in the other direction and create a brand that would truly stand out in an otherwise bland marketplace. From our smile-inducing bright orange and green trucks to our fun-loving culture, our company is really like an advertising agency that just happens to offer blue-collar moving services.
So follow this “purple cow” concept to differentiate your brand: Driving through the countryside, you might pass hundreds of cows without noticing. A purple cow, though -- that would grab your attention. To be remarkable, be a purple cow in a field of normal ones.
3. View each function as a mini-business. In the early days, my partner and I did it all. We moved the junk, drove the truck and answered the phones. But, taking a white-collar approach to a blue-collar industry means not being stuck as the technician. Because we wanted to work on the business, not in the business, we built replicable systems around every position so we could focus on the higher-level tasks.
This has allowed us to treat employees like owners and open new businesses in any part of the country.
Our franchise owners have the autonomy to run their businesses however they like -- it’s all about cultivating an ownership mentality. Even our drivers view their jobs as their own mini-businesses. They control marketing, profits and more -- as long as they follow the basic practices that have made our successful business replicable.
4. Forgo feelings for facts. Data is the fuel driving 21st-century businesses. It’s truly mind-boggling, in my experience, how few blue-collar businesses even track basic data points, much less leverage those points to make high-level decisions.
Data analysis helps entrepreneurs make decisions based on facts, not instincts, to outflank the competition. From customer repositories to pay-for-performance plans, data should be king in any blue-collar startup.
Take a cue from Two Maids & A Mop founder Ron Holt: Six months after starting that cleaning business, he introduced a pay-for-performance plan that determines compensation according to how customers rate employees’ service, on a 1-to-10 scale. Customers loved the idea, and employees were motivated to boost their rankings. Holt added 175 employees, and his sales skyrocketed.
Instead of searching for the big idea, then, try polishing up an older one. Open a blue-collar startup and use your entrepreneurial skills to grab an edge over the competition and claim your piece of a rapidly growing market.