Mark Tyrol may be an engineer by trade, but he’s an entrepreneur at heart.
As a teenager, Tyrol ran his own landscaping business, cutting lawns and trimming hedges to make extra money. Once he earned his engineering degree, he immediately jumped back into the business world by launching a home inspection company.
It was in 2003, though, that Tyrol had the elusive epiphany so many entrepreneurs dream of: his million-dollar idea.
“While I was employed full time as an engineer, I started working from home with a product idea for an insulated attic stair cover,” Tyrol remembers.
In order to comply with building codes, a building’s attic access (usually a pull-down ladder or access hatch door) must be insulated and sealed. Tyrol used his engineering and home inspection expertise to create an all-in-one product that would meet the code requirements while being inexpensive and easy to install: the Battic Door attic stair cover.
“I found a manufacturer locally and I created a website to sell the product on,” Tyrol says. “The first day I turned on the website, I sold my first product.”
He makes it sound like a piece of cake, but any entrepreneur knows there’s a vast difference between selling a handful of products and creating a viable, scalable business.
Tyrol felt confident there was a market for his product; approximately 600,000 to 800,000 new single-family homes are constructed every year, and almost every one of them needs a solution like the one Battic Door provides.
If he could capture even a small percentage of that market share, he’d be set. The challenge now was getting in front of the right audience.
Influencing the Influencer
We hear a lot today about influencers and the importance of their recommendations; think about it—how many times have you heard that customers trust a referral from a friend more than any other marketing medium?
Back in the early 2000’s, though, the word ‘influencer’ was hardly a household term. Tyrol had a marketing idea he describes as “influencing the influencer.” In reality, it was simply to get his product in the hands of the people his customers turned to and trusted when making purchasing decisions.
“Since our customers are home builders, general contractors, and insulation contractors, I targeted building code officials and architects for our influencer marketing program,” he says.
To reach building code officials, Tyrol exhibited Battic Door at a building code trade show and expo and at a similar event for the American Institute of Architects, one of the most highly regarded organizations in the field. He did this for two years in a row.
He reached builders through a monthly advertisement in Builder Magazine and by attending the International Builder’s Show and Expo annually. To reach architects, he targeted them with a direct mail campaign sending product literature and a direct call to action to recommend his products to their clients. His message for them is simple: my product makes your job easier.
“They, in turn, recommend and specify our products to our target market of home builders, general contractors and insulation contractors,” he says. “I understood that an influencer campaign is a long-term investment.”
It was slow going, but “influencing the influencer” is a strategy that has paid off. As a direct result of Battic Door’s influencer marketing program, its sales have increased more than 50% in each of the last two years.
“I picked up dozens of new accounts that continually purchase products,” Tyrol says. “Many customers tell me they were referred to us by their architect or code official, confirming the success of the program.”
Expanding Beyond One Online Sales Channel
Battic Door’s website was doing well, but Tyrol knew that placing all of his eggs in one basket was a dangerous strategy. For example, we’ve featured many entrepreneurs in the past whose website sales have tanked because of a Google algorithm update—nearly bankrupting the business through no fault of the owner’s.
If Tyrol wanted to protect Battic Door from these unexpected ebbs and flows in the marketplace, he knew expanding his sales channels would be key. He turned his attention to mega online retailers like Amazon, Walmart and Home Depot.
Getting into these big box stores as a small business is no small feat; each retailer has its own set of channels to go through and hoops to jump through to get them to sell your product. It can be a long and confusing process, but it was one Tyrol decided to take on himself.
“For Homedepot.com, I pitched a product at an open house and was accepted. I then traveled to the Home Depot headquarters in Atlanta for new vendor onboarding training,” Tyrol says. “For Walmart.com, the onboarding process was all done remotely. They were extremely helpful with support over the phone and via email until Battic Door was properly set-up as a vendor merchant.”
Tyrol moved down the list of online powerhouses, eventually adding Battic Door to the inventory of ebay, Amazon, Rakuten, Sears, and many more. He also uses platforms like Facebook and Shopify to help place products in front of target audiences.
“There are providers [like Shopify] that enable retailers and manufacturers to integrate, manage and optimize their merchandise sales across hundreds of online channels,” Tyrol says. “While it does take more set-up time, I preferred to set up our new online sales channels individually and by myself.”
Battic Door sales grew 300% by adding these additional online channels to complement its own website.
15 years after its launch, Battic Door continues to grow annually, with current annual sales in the $1.5-$2 million range. Tyrol has expanded the company’s inventory to include dozens of home energy conservation products, from draft guards to energy efficient pet doors. To manage all this inventory, Tyrol now owns a 7,500 square foot commercial warehouse distribution center.
But the thing that’s perhaps most surprising about Battic Door’s success is not its growth or marketing prowess; it’s that to this day, the company’s founder maintains his full-time engineering job.
“I’m still employed full time and manage Battic Door as a side job part time working morning, nights, and weekends,” he says.
How’s that for hustle?
Despite his commitment to his entrepreneurial pursuits, Tyrol is careful to maintain a life and hobbies outside of work. He’s a passionate muscle car collector and car show attendee, and loves taking long walks with his black lab.
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