You never know when you will get a good; no very, very good business story to recount. I haven't been so excited since my Andy and Iain story about raising the dead to revive business.

So it was with great delight when I was having coffee at Zarbo's in Newmarket with Angela Pile, who is now managing the Elite training programme at Barfoot & Thompson when the conversation turned a corner.

Angela started to tell me about her time moving to Christchurch where she and her husband Gary bought and opened a plumbing, tile and timber floor business. In 2008. During the height of economic downturn.

"Angela, Angela please' I asked. 'Can I write about this? You implemented some fabulous ideas and strategies that any business can learn from' I continued. 'Of course' Angela agreed (thankfully).

So how did they start from scratch, build a multimillion dollar business in tough times? Unfortunately it came crashing down with the earthquake in 2011.


1. First step build a database
the first thing Angela did was research and create a database of local architects and interior designers. Then whenever anyone walked through the door that had shown an interest in any item, Angela asked them 'would you like me to send you the details and a list of what you looked at'. This was a great way to build a database. They also attended the home shows, where instead of letting people go, they had a form for people to enter a draw for $1000 worth of product.

2. Use that database
To announce their opening, Angela created an event and called it 'Be The First On The First' (they were opening on 31 July). It was a huge success and brought in lots of business

a. Reward customers - I'm going to give this a subtitle, don't be afraid to spend money to make money. They used holiday occasions to contact their customers with lovely reminders of the business and as a reward. Easter Eggs. The first year they did Cherries. Chocolates. Champagne for Christmas 2008. The following year the list grew to 300. 500 in 2010.

b. Create events - Again to remind your customers to come back for repeat business, to reward them create activity (my words). They had for example Midwinter parties and Pink ribbon breakfasts. In short order you can be sure they had people clambering to be on their database.

c. Email - with content of interest such as helping keep up to date with decorating/furnishing trends.

3. Create a warm inviting atmosphere, great customer service
'People will stop their shopping experience if they're hungry or thirsty'. So Angela and Gary didn't let that happen.

a. For a warm comfortable environment - they handed everyone that came in a coffee with muffins or biscotti.

b. They created sitting areas to quietly discuss business while having coffee.


c. A children's corner with toys - proved exceedingly popular.

d. If it was lunchtime, they'd either make if for them or bring it in for the client.

4. Great service even if not an obvious prospect (we can subtitle this - you never know)
On one of the first days they were open, a women in casual dress, driving a Mazda truck popped her head in the door and asked if Angela knew where the wool shop was. 'I don't but let me give you a coffee, and I'll look it up on Google for you' was Angela's response. Wouldn't you know the woman said 'by the way, we're building a house' and went on to become a $150,000 customer.

Their philosophy - everyone that walks through the door is a prospective customer

5. Weekly Reviews
Angela, Gary and a staff member would meet once a week and review the state of the business such as what was in progress and what was coming up. They kept a folder on each client as well as rolling work in progress document.

So there you go. Five steps to building a business from scratch - without bank loans -in a down economy. It took time. Work. Attention to details. But ultimately along with Angela and Gary, the heroes of this story is the great customer experience and database.