Written by Hope Tinney
SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash.—It sounds a little like a set-up for a comedy series. Three brothers, all veterans with a combined 30 years technical expertise in the Navy and Coast Guard, return home to Spokane, marry nurses and end up running their own elevator repair company.
Except they’re not joking around—at least not about their business, Inland Elevator.
The switch from ships to elevators wasn’t all that hard because it all comes down to understanding mechanics and electrical systems, said Ben Garrett, the youngest of the brothers and a former shipboard electrician for the Coast Guard. His oldest brother, Dan, was a nuclear machinist mate in the Navy and middle brother Josh was a naval fire controlman working on electrical systems.
Dan was the first to leave the military and apply his expertise to elevator repair, but over time he convinced his brothers to do the same. At one point all three brothers were working for the same elevator company. Then, in 2010, they decided the time was right to strike out on their own.
“It was hard,” Ben admitted and laughed. “I don’t think any one of us is a real salesman.”
Elevator companies typically sign up their clients to a three or five year service contract with automatic renewal, which presented the Garretts with two problems. Not only did they need to find clients, but those clients needed to be at or near the end of their current contract.
Enter the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
In February 2011 the Garretts were attending a business workshop for veterans and met Tammy Everts, an advisor with the Washington SBDC in Spokane.
After talking briefly with the Garretts, Everts suggested a co-advising session with Port Townsend SBDC advisor Elaine Jones who had previous experience within the industry.
At the initial meeting, the most pressing concern was marketing—how to attract new clients.
Although the brothers had been working off lists of buildings with elevators supplied by Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries and the City of Spokane, Everts was able to provide them with lists of property managers and owners, so they had contact names as well as locations.
Early on, Jones was a sounding board and resource for them as they worked through how to structure their service contracts and Everts provided guidance on government contracting and marketing.
It wasn’t enough just to have new lists, Everts said. “We took a closer look at their website and printed materials to make sure they reinforced their key marketing messages,” Everts added. “We wanted everything to look professional and consistent.”
Ben’s not ready to say that Inland Elevator has “made it,” but clearly they are making progress. In early 2013 they were able to hire a sales person to concentrate on new client contracts and in late 2013 they hired another mechanic. In January 2014 they moved the business out of their garages and into a small shop with office space.
“Tammy and Elaine were a vital resource when we started our company,” Ben said. “Their advice for selling our services in our particular market was vital in the early stages of Inland Elevator.”
“I highly recommend the services of the Washington SBDC.”