2 baby bubs: treasures from the personal services sector
by Peter Switzer
This story is about the hairdresser, the babysitter, the personal trainer and the car park guy.
And while this might prove to be an amusing headline for a column or even an offbeat movie, it’s actually about some pretty serious business builders in what the statistician calls the personal services industry category.
A case in point is husband and wife team – Delia Timms and Jeff Bonnes, founders and former owners of Findababysitter.com.au – who won the National Telstra Business Award for Micro-Business in 2008.
This business, now over five years old, was created by the weekend challenge that many parents face.
“It was actually driven by our own personal need to find babysitters and nannies for our own children,” recalls Timms. “We had two children under the age of two when we started the business and just recognised a significant shortage of childcare.
“There was also a need for a more efficient way to find babysitters and nannies.”
And when traditional ways of finding carers through classified ads in the local newspaper, word-of-mouth, friends and nanny agencies was letting them down, Timms went online and created their personal services business.
“The first challenge was that this was a new concept,” Timms says. “When we started the business in 2005, the whole concept of someone finding a babysitter or nanny online, via an Internet site, was a very new concept to the parenting community.”
Explaining the concept to gain trust was critical and so was marketing, but happily mums are great talkers.
“There are so many women and mums connected to finding child care,” she says. “Women have been extremely supportive and have produced this amazing word-of-mouth marketing.”
And of course being an online company they spent up big on search engine marketing.
Woollahra-based George Giavis Salon is an old-fashioned personal services business too and like our babysitters, this hairdresser/colourist has an online angle, but with an important IP twist. He has fought hammer and tong to stop others cashing in on his clever locking up of the intellectual property to his ‘The Blonde Room’.
“When we opened our VIP room, The Blonde Room, we really captured the imagination of the fashion and beauty writers,” says Giavis.
“We received a lot of press. The name just seemed to strike a cord with everyone and became synonymous with my business.”
But the success of the name brought IP threats.
“When I launched a website of the same name, I knew that it was time to protect the trade mark, largely because I’d had warnings from my clients,” he says. “Many of them are well-known business identities who said people could try to steal my intellectual property.”
Recently, though, his solicitor was forced to warn two infringers of Giavis’ trade mark protection. “In one case on the north coast of New South Wales, I discovered a salon trading under my name, but it looked like it was a home-based business. A polite letter from me worked there,” he says.
“It can be hard to police the market, but you need to be vigilant in checking it and defending your rights. I do a search on Google whenever I can to check for infringers and my lawyer also does extensive overseas searches periodically.”
Giavis now has attracted Aussie Hollywood actresses and has been working in Los Angeles – the world’s grand central for blondes.
Non-blondes are also allowed, of course, but they are in different named rooms.
In nearby suburb Rose Bay, Alex Kaye is grunting to pump up his operation Parcfitness, and this is another example of the diversity of the personal services industry. But Kaye is no newcomer.
“I have been in business all my life,” he admits. “I first studied commerce during which I started a fashion label called One-Off – I guess I was always business minded.”
A stint at some top law firms eventually gave way to the call of being an entrepreneur, starting his gym, Parcfitness and Parcfitness Private.
“It caters for an exclusive niche clientele in the Bellevue Hill area.”
But they also came up with a clever initiative, and opened Parcfitness Easts.
“I saw that there was a growing need for health facilities in the Eastern suburbs,” he says.
But this is not just a case of business expansion, this is an innovation for Parcfitness that came out of lateral thinking which could create a snowball of business growth.
The Easts Rugby club needed to update its old gym and Kaye needed a bigger outlet to build its customer base. The idea was a win-win outcome as Parcfitness not only now has a relationship with Easts’ players, but their supporters and family.
But there are other pay offs – Parcfitness would not be in this article unless Kaye had seen outside the square.
Kaye says his biggest issue was starting from scratch. “It’s quite a challenge opening doors with zero members.”
“Getting that buy in from the people who work with you too,” he says. “I am quite young and a lot of the people I brought on board were 10 or 15 years older than me.”
Doing business differently
Now head down the Hume Highway to Melbourne Airport and you can literally drive into our next personal services business – Andrew’s Airport Parking. This has become a pretty well known brand, but when Andrew Shanahan kicked off, it was humble operation with no partners, clients nor money.
“I found my career was going nowhere, mainly because I am the sort of person who will always say what I think and in a political environment, that kind of person will never get far,” the ex-car rental manager recalls. “I came to the realisation I couldn’t work for anyone anymore.”
A decade ago, car parks were not known for their service standards. For country drivers, in particular, leaving their cars at the airport often involved a harrowing drive through the city, trepidation about where to park and how much it might cost, safety and a distinct lack of friendly faces.
“There were eight competitors at the time, but they were all very much jeans and T-shirt operators,” Shanahan explains.
He set his sights breaking into the off-site market by doing the opposite of his would-be rivals, offering superior service and shuttle buses to lure customers down the road from the airport. He created distinctive logos and uniformed staff members and it worked.
“All our competitors had white shuttle buses with signwriting, so we went for blue buses with our distinctive livery,” Shanahan says. “Today you will notice many of our competitors have followed suit.”
But it has not been a cakewalk.
“I didn’t pay myself for the first six months and worked in most cases seven days a week between 15 to 20 hours a day as I had to conserve money where I could.”
There’s seldom gain without a fair bit of pain, but in these businesses – it has all been kept personal.
If you’re looking to work on your business rather than being stuck in it, book in for a complimentary business assessment today with Switzer Business Coaching.
Important information: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.
Published on: Thursday, January 05, 2012