How to Build a Successful Business

December 15, 2015

Brian Gottlieb knows how to create a successful business because he just did it. He started Tundraland Home Improvements in Wisconsin in 2009, with $3,000 and a folding table, and built up a nice little business building sunrooms onto people’s homes. Then he decided to add another service.

“We were going to home shows and setting up this huge sunroom,” he recalls.  “It took us three days to set up, for maybe 20 leads. Then around 2012, we added a five foot-long bath display. We didn’t even know what we were doing, but we came away with 100 leads, and we said, 'We’ve got a business.'"

Gottlieb created a separate division with a separate name, Baths For Less. His company, with it’s one-day bath remodeling business added, now employs 75 people and is pulling in about $17 million per year. It is the No. 1 bath remodeling company in the nation.

Gottlieb credits his success to what he calls the Four M’s: Manpower, Method, Material, and Machine.

The method is a key element. The one-day install works superbly for both installer and customer. “The more times you have to go back to the customer’s house, the more chances you have to make a mistake,” Gottlieb says jokingly. “What really defines how you do as a business is the timeframe between when you sell it and when you build it. The shorter that time is, the more successful you are.”  The one-day install is easy to schedule with customers because there is so little downtime on the bathroom, they don’t need to rearrange their lives around the job. 

“Customers love it,” explains Gottlieb. “Through the lens of the customer, they’ve been looking at an ugly bath for years, they’re frustrated with a tub that’s hard for them to get into, they’ve been feeling helpless and hopeless. We get in at 7:30 in the morning, and by 4:30, they’re looking at a brand new bath. They love coming home from work to a new bath.” 

That customer experience is one of the lynchpins of Gottlieb's success, and the essence of the experience is efficiency. “I have two master plumbers that work for me full-time," he says. "Everything we do revolves around increasing that efficiency, so we can be in and out of [the homeowner's] hair in one day.”

The other key element is the right materials. “You’ve got to have the right manufacturing partner. If they don’t have the right materials, the wheels fall off," Gottlieb says. "That’s where Liners Direct really, really came into play for me. They have such a selection of materials, an assortment of colors, textures, patterns, we can go into any home and the customer can find something they can fall in love with. They have an iPad app that’s really slick. We can design on the iPad and the customer can see it before we start building it.”

Gottlieb also credits Liners Direct with providing him with top-notch support. “Their insight into one-day installs, into what to sell and not to sell, their lead generation, it’s brilliant. They are brilliant,“ he says.

Machines means having the right equipment—tools, trucks, etc.—for the specific work you’re doing. You can’t achieve efficiency with machines that don’t facilitiate it. For example, Gottlieb uses a tall, skinny truck called a Sprinter, from Mercedes-Benz, so he can get in and out of driveways easily and quickly.

Manpower is having a large enough team, and the right team, to grow the business and to sell the product quickly. “I have a hell of a salesforce and a hell of an installation team,” he boasts. How did Gottlieb attract such a great team?  It has to do with his marketing technique.

The unspoken fifth “M” for Gottlieb is his unusual marketing approach. His business is doing more than 100 projects per month, all within about 90 minutes of his office. A big piece of his marketing—25 percent, in fact—is community involvement. Baths For Less gives away a free bathroom remodel to a disabled veteran once a month. People with disabilities often have a great deal of difficulty getting into or out of the conventional bathtub found in most homes; they need a walk-in or roll-in arrangement. A bathroom remodel makes a major difference in their lives.

Liners Direct is also Gottlieb's partner in this pro bono work. It donates the materials for all the free baths.

Not only that, but Baths For Less does it by ambush. It invites the vet out for some nice event, then sneaks into the house to remodel the bath. For example, there was a hockey game on November 14 that was being attended by a lot of veterans. Baths For Less invited a disabled Iraq War vet who had contracted MS and was confined to a wheelchair. They brought him out on the ice to thank him for his service, and then surprised him by displaying his new bath on the Jumbotron.

Gottlieb is not shy about getting publicity for these good works … but why should he be? “The community enjoys it, our employees enjoy it, and the person in the community who got it certainly enjoys that. It's good for the picture of our business.”   

He doesn't need to recruit new staffers, because he has a reputation that brings top people to him. “We’re considered one of the best places in Wisconsin to work because we don’t offer jobs, we offer career paths.” And his employees love doing the free bath installs.

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