Josh Langford, founder of fencing firm First Choice, talks keeping himself motivated as a business owner, starting fresh and looking to Europe for inspiration.
What does your business do?
We supply and install fencing and gates for residential properties, such as automatic gates, which are mainly aluminium. We're based in Mangere Bridge. At the moment we're only operating in Auckland but we're looking to expand into other regions over time.
What was the motivation for starting it?
I started the business last year in April at the beginning of the financial year and the motivation came from me being in the industry for six years and I found that a high standard of customer service wasn't there. I started the business as I felt there would be a lot of value in a company that offered high-end fencing and provided a good service.
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So far so good, I think it is going pretty well. My old business was in the same industry but I can't talk too much about that as it was a franchise. I was part of that for five years. The difference with First Choice is the whole business is built around service with the belief that with good customer service comes profit. I'm targeting the high-end market and we are wanting to provide and install the types of gates and fencing that other companies turn away for being too difficult to work with. We want to get into a very niche market of unique designs, automatic gates and styles that aren't in New Zealand yet. For example, there is a gate that goes underground that we can get from Europe and no one is doing it in New Zealand yet.
How big is your team?
I run the business and then I have one full-time contractor, he started in May, and then I call on contractors for automation and commercial. I'm also looking at getting a young hands-on project manager within the next couple of months.
Where's the business at in its life cycle - what are you currently focused on?
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At the moment we're forecasting for sales of a $1 million. We're thinking about expanding the business to Christchurch, but at the same time I'm mindful that I don't want this to grow into a massive company. I'd rather have a really small team doing high-value jobs.
I think Christchurch is the next step for the business, but it could be somewhere closer to Auckland, but I think Christchurch being the next biggest city is the way to go and then we'll wait to see where it goes from there to see if we expand further. Once I've got a solid team in Auckland and another in Christchurch then there's definitely potential to keep expanding.
What's the competition like in this industry?
There's a lot of different fence and gate companies, I couldn't list them all because there are so many, especially in Auckland, but there's nothing really high-end and there's no one focused on service like we are.
How are you prioritising your time and what aspects of the business?
What I'm really focused on now is having no unhappy clients. If there's any issues I am bending over backwards to make sure they are happy at the end of the day, and that's a lot different to how I was operating previously in the past business as that franchise was only focused on getting the sales, and I wasn't able to run the business exactly how I wanted to back then. I'm now focused on ticking off all of my goals with my business mentor and am focused on having happy clients.
What's the most challenge part about running a business?
When you're starting out, a lot of people don't realise how much involved you have to be and how much time you have to put in to run a smooth-sailing business, and family has be sacrificed a little bit because you just don't have the time to spend as much time with them as you'd like. I spend around 60 hours a week working on the business - I work most Saturdays.
How much have you invested to start up the business?
I invested $60,000 and then have basically financed work vehicles. Basically how First Choice works is I have partnered with a manufacturer so I get a lot of leads from them, they send me the product, I go to the site of the client to do all of the measures and suss what they want and then I place the order with the supplier, and then we put it into the ground, set up the automation and finish the job. In regards to investment, there is potential for more if I need to buy a yard, but at the moment I have no immediate plans.
How do you keep motivated when running your own business?
What are your long term plans?
For the future we really want to get into that niche market where we are fitting really unique gates with colourful designs, we're pushing for that.
One of the other goals of mine is to have our own yard and some commercial land to base and run the business from - I want this to happen this year, by the end of the year.
What advice do you give to others who want to start their own business?
Customer service is so important. It doesn't matter what industry you are in, and whether you work in Auckland or Melbourne or wherever, it may seem like a big place but word of mouth really spreads.