Find Opportunity Where You Least Expect It
Five years ago around 3:45am, I was awoken by a knocking on my front door. Fearing the worst, I answered the door to find out the small business I had started in downtown Beamsville was burning to the ground. A fire began in the building next to mine and quickly spread. I rushed to the scene to see the building engulfed in flames. A few hours later, the fire had destroyed both buildings. At the time I naturally said “why me?". Starting and running a business is hard enough let alone facing a setback like this. I had to quickly make a choice - accept defeat or move forward.
Extreme Technology at the time primarily fixed computers. While we had started providing website services and software development, our primary income was reliant on people bringing their computers in for us to repair. The time of the fire was also the week before school started, which was always a busy time for sales and service of computers. Contemplating what to do next, I took that first week in September and reevaluated everything we did as a company. This tragic event was quickly becoming my biggest opportunity.
At the time, computers were starting to be much more reliable than when we began as a company in 2001. People were more experienced and able to troubleshoot problems on their own. The market was getting increasingly more competitive and the service department was only going to get smaller as reliability of the product increased. I knew that change was inevitable and I had been given an opportunity to start over, without some of the constraints I had created over the first eight years in business.
I enjoyed being a local business and servicing the surrounding market, however I knew if we continued to only provide local services we not be around for the long haul. I had a talented dynamic team behind me that always excelled when challenged. Within days we had a new location secured, only a few hundred meters from our previous location.
I also knew that I couldn't abandon our primary revenue streams and be able to support normal operation expenses right out of the gates. We continued to offer the services that we built the business on but we also immediately started concentrating on our website development department. This allowed us to build a sustainable business that could grow into larger markets.
Within the next three years after the fire, we were taking on projects for two of the largest supermarket retailers in North America. This initial success built confidence, but we realized we needed to refine our business model further, as we found ourselves juggling too many projects. We were still doing computer service for business and residential clients, we were doing websites and e-marketing and we had also started to write some of our own software. The company was in somewhat of an identity crisis, we needed to determine who are we and what exactly it is that we do.
Our next step was a move to St. Catharines to a larger new office to help us develop a new and improved image. We also reduced the number of services we were providing, so we could have less distractions and focus on our strengths. We eliminated residential service from our business offerings and, over the course of two years, really started to focus on our own software products in the Agricultural market. Additionally, we refined all of our other services so that we were concentrating on one area of specialty - the Agricultural market.
In 2010, 99% of our revenue came from the Town of Lincoln alone. Today five years after the fire, we now generate 90% of our sales from the Agricultural/Horticultural sector and under 10% reside in the Niagara Region. We have even gained international presence, with some of our products in evaluation in over 25 countries.
We made many refinements and constantly ask ourselves who we are and what are we doing. In this fast-paced world where it's easy to be too busy, sometimes you need to stop and re-evaluate your purpose; this has now become very clear to me.
The next step in our journey comes in late 2015 when will be re-locating back to Lincoln on an Agricultural piece of property. This will allow us to focus our attention on being a great company in that space. Our identity: we are now a company who builds software solutions for the Agricultural market. It might have taken 15 years, three locations and a fire to realize this, but it takes many faults to make a future and I couldn't be more excited for what is to come.
I still find myself asking “why me?" but now I question why I was so lucky to have this opportunity to re-strategize, rethink and evolve.