By Shannon Latham, The Shed Geek
Sometimes fate decides that you are going to do something different than you imagined. That certainly happened with Anthony Mitchell and his wife, Jessica.
Anthony and Jessica were attending flight school together. To keep the bills paid, Anthony started hauling sheds part-time. “The rest, as they say, is history,” Anthony said. They’ve now been running Outdoor Options, a shed sales business, since 2012. “Prior to 2017, we were pursuing a dealer model, but that changed into growing an in-house sales team,” he said.
Let’s learn about Outdoor Options, and also learn what other shed sellers can glean from the Mitchell’s success.
What products and services do you provide?
“We sell and deliver all our sheds, chicken coops, doghouses, greenhouses, and traditional portable structures. We also sell steel tube carports and other steel tube structures; however, delivery and setup are arranged by the vendor.”
What is your current territory?
“The steel tube buildings can be sold into multiple states, however our particular territory for shed sales has an immediate and deliberate focus on the state of Georgia, until which time we can expand.”
What is the current business climate in your area?
“The area is growing so the market is growing, too. As we like to say, the customers are hiring. There is a lot of new home construction around the lake area, and there is a lot of new industry coming to the area. We do not have the housing to meet the demand for the influx of new people to the area so outside of the lake area we need housing, and we want to service those customers.”
What is your primary customer base?
It is residential, agricultural, commercial, light industrial?
“We primarily service the residential customer; however, we have had some success working with municipalities. We have worked with the Atlanta Police Department, and other government agencies. We have also seen success in areas such as business-to-business relationships.
“Although the bulk of our customer base has been residential shoppers looking for traditional storage, we have found that a team focused on selling allows opportunity for creativity. We are looking for customers who are hiring in traditional and non-traditional capacities.”
How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?
“We do have several companies that sell competing products. We believe the difference in products is only a portion of our brand. We focus on offering an internal service experience known in-house as ‘Legendary customer service.’
From the first point of contact to delivery we set an expectation of customer service. We place a lot of emphasis on our team’s appearance — we dress like a professional sales staff, we make sure the desk is clean and tidy.
“Part of ‘Legendary customer service’ is maintaining the grounds. We keep our buildings tidy, lined up, and easy to access. We keep the grass mowed and landscaped. We believe that by showing ‘Legendary’ care for ourselves, our processes, our sheds, and our lot, that we are building confidence in the customer that we will do more than just take their order. We are here to meet and exceed their expectations.”
Tell us the challenges the company has overcome, and how did you do that?
“When we began, we started with a consignment model, and we quickly realized we couldn’t offer every product the market demanded. Because we were selling buildings for a partner company, there were, and still are often, limitations on what other products can be offered, whether by the company or simply being spread too thin.
“We then decided that moving to a wholesale model would help us meet the demand. By being able to purchase our buildings, it allowed for more control over the whole process from sale to delivery. There is also the bonus of establishing your own retail price of the structure, which has several benefits of its own.”
Similarly, to what do you owe the success of your business?
“Not only changing from a dealer model to wholesale, but also focusing on the sales process, and an intentional building of the sales team with a focus on Legendary customer service. Through that process we have learned that referrals are largely underutilized within the industry. Your current customer is one of the best sales tools available to you.
“We find that by providing Legendary customer service it, reverberates from your sphere of influence into your customers sphere of influence. A customer receiving Legendary customer service is going to share their experience in private with those they know and trust.”
What would you tell yourself three years ago or five years ago if you could?
Two words: Staffing and documentation. You need to continue to staff your farm of potential sales team with great candidates to choose from. We found that as we grow you need a system. You need to be able to put key employees into key positions, and you need to fill not just one, but depending on who fills those positions you need to keep the flow moving. As growth or change happens, you need to be ahead of the curve with talented and capable sales staff. To add to that, documentation is key. If you wait to get organized as the rush happens, you are behind the 8 ball. Catching up can be a nightmare, and you find you are only as good as the processes you have built.”
What is your advice to somebody who is brand new in your line of business?
“Track your leads and your customers from the beginning. Keep good records and use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to store information. Keep up with what they want, and follow up, follow up, follow up. Just because they are not a customer today, does not mean they are not a customer for the future.”
Where do you see the biggest opportunities in the coming months? Coming years?
“Overcoming the customers apprehension to purchase a shed online. While selling online is not the primary way in which customers purchase, I do believe that we can do more than just trying to sell online. We can find ways to offer Legendary customer service online as well. We don’t want to just be an order taker; we want to be able to completely walk the customer through the process and build a system that is satisfactory using the online sales modes just as we have in-person.”
Where do you see the biggest challenges in the coming months? Coming years?
“Finding and keeping qualified and motivated sales professionals. Often candidates see shed sales to get by or something to do when retiring. However, it doesn’t seem to be common knowledge that shed sales can be a very viable opportunity that can make for a very fulfilling career. It is fun, the industry is growing, and with the right attitude and willingness to learn, shed sales professionals can attain well-above-average salaries through sales commissions with minimal formal education. It starts with showing up, learning, and then a focus on providing Legendary customer service.”
What are the things that you are not good at and would love to learn more about?
“I don’t think most people understand what is takes to motivate a team. Complacently is one of the struggles of a team. We strive to find every way to qualify and keep good candidates for shed selling. Finding ways to be better at building synergy within a team is something I always want to learn more about.”
What are your Three Keys to Good Business?
1) Transparency. It is imperative to be transparent with your team, vendors, customers and all who touch your business. Without transparency you build of foundation of doubt.
2) Grit. If you give up at the first sign of difficulty, the shed industry may not be your best fit. You must have grit; it is the main ingredient to success.
3) Education. Never stop learning. We never have it figured out; we succeed with the knowledge we have until more knowledge opens new opportunities.
What are your business goals for the future? Plans for expansion?
“We would love to build an indoor shed showroom for customers. We can make that viewable either in-person or a virtual experience for customers.”
Tell us about your company culture and business philosophy.
“We love to have fun. The workplace is not just a place of business. We work in retail, so the public is our canvas. The picture we want to paint is one of trust, Legendary customer service, availability, and partnership that infiltrates their sphere of influence.
“We strive to provide a Legendary workplace where all associates feel they can paint their own picture of success. We want them to feel accomplished through their work. Just as we want the customer to feel satisfied in their purchase. It’s all about providing a Legendary experience.” GSCB
Shannon Latham is a 6-year veteran of the shed industry. He has served as sales manager, quality control, and RTO dealer support specialist, among other roles. He hosts the Shed Geek Podcast [shedgeek.com/] and has a desire to help move the shed industry forward.