A lot can go wrong while establishing an office in a new market, but if you find a niche and hire strategically, you can succeed.
Growing your business organically in a new market is tough. Certain factors – geography, lack of local presence, risk of failure – can present challenges, but they can be overcome. Despite the associated risks, organic growth is often critical to the long-term success and growth of a firm.
Five years ago, Mead & Hunt was looking to expand our aviation services in the Pacific southwest region, including Arizona and southern California. The market is saturated with a lot of qualified consultants. Starting a larger operation there had its risks, but we ultimately decided the benefits outweighed them. We moved forward to strategically plan our organic growth in the market.
I’ve experienced both the challenges and the rewards of growing a market in a new region organically, and I can speak to a few key things that proved instrumental to the process.
- Find a niche to get your foot in the door. Breaking into a new market prior to winning any submittals there is tricky but not impossible. Submitting on a project providing a niche service can be a great way to gain a foothold in a market before you have a strong local presence. For Mead & Hunt, our first Arizona win in this new endeavor came from a niche-service submittal. This small win gave us the momentum and confidence needed to submit on other engineering services projects in the region.
- Local presence is a plus. While having a local address is no guarantee that you’ll be successful on every submittal, it does vastly increase your odds and shows that your firm is fully committed to growing in this area. Luckily, in our case, one of our young professional engineers volunteered to relocate to the Phoenix area. This move was crucial to growing our market there. After finding a local office location, we were able to check the “local” box on submittals, which greatly helped us in this process. Clients work with people they know and trust, and a lot of that comes from living and working in the same areas.
- Build your relationships. Prior to submitting for any projects, it’s necessary to build those relationships with clients in the area. This way, by the time you submit, your firm won’t be some unknown entity that they need to take a risk on; instead you’ll be a much safer bet. In the end the relationships we spent so much time building paid off. Eventually, one of the airports we’d interacted with sent out an RFQ. Thanks to our connection with them (in addition to our excellent qualifications, of course), we were selected. This success kicked off the professional growth of our firm in the area, along with all our team members committed to this new opportunity.
- Time it right. Often strategic timing is crucial to the growth path your firm will take when investing in new areas. Look at the markets you’re moving into and watch for key changes that could affect business. For instance, we decided to invest more in our Ontario, California market largely due to the timing. We had been closely tracking the Ontario International Airport’s potential transfer of ownership. We surmised that this transfer was going to happen and once it did, immediately offered our assistance to Ontario staff, building a team practically across the street from the airport. This move reinforced our commitment to Ontario and solidified our southern California success.
- Hire strategically. When starting out in a new area, it can feel very risky to hire more people for a potentially unsteady workload. You may ask yourself: will the costs outweigh the benefits of these new hires? What happens if the workload is not what we imagined it would be? However, hiring more people in the new area is necessary if you want to continue to grow. The key is to do this hiring strategically. To continue to grow our southern California market, we decided to hire somebody who’d be able to take us to the next level. This hire was not somebody we just found off the street; instead, we’d come to know this person and their work through multiple past relationships, which gave us the confidence to move forward. In addition, we felt confident that this hire and the ones to follow would have a healthy workload because of our previous work building a solid local client base.
- Differentiate your firm. We all know there are plenty of qualified engineers, architects, and planners out there. Technical prowess, while important, is not enough. Find what sets your firm apart and lean into that. What differentiates Mead & Hunt is the way we take care of our clients. Our team prides itself on always putting people first. Maintaining that human aspect in our client interactions has proved vital to our long-term success. This value is not always measurable, but it is most definitely recognized and appreciated by our clients.
From that first niche project, our Pacific southwest market has grown astronomically. Though we faced challenges along the way, we were able to overcome them. Today, our thriving Phoenix and Ontario offices comprise multiple airport design teams and planning staff working at 21 airports, all accomplished through organic growth. With the right strategies, dedication, and hard work, your firm can do the same.
As Aviation Group Leader at Mead & Hunt, Jon Faucher builds and maintains an exemplary team capable of providing top-quality aviation services to clients. His philosophy rests on building strong client and teaming relationships and mentoring emerging leaders to provide services that will serve clients for generations to come. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.