How I Started A $400K/Month Business Selling Heavy Machinery

$400,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
6
Employees
product
Machinery Partner
from Boston, MA, USA
started November 2020
$400,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
6
Employees
2.27M
alexa rank
281
followers
361
followers
19
subs
market size
$125B
starting costs
$14.9K
gross margin
40%
time to build
7 months
growth channels
Referral Program
business model
E-Commerce
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
35 Pros & Cons
tips
2 Tips
Discover what tools Ciaran reccommends to grow your business!
Discover what books Ciaran reccommends to grow your business!
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi, I'm Ciaran and I'm the founder of Machinery Partner. We make it easy to buy new heavy equipment used in the construction, demolition, and recycling industry, direct from the manufacturer.

Right now we're focusing on crushing and screening equipment and targeting small to medium-sized contracting businesses in the US, that are overlooked by machinery dealers due to their smaller deal sizes. Mind you, when I say smaller deal sizes, the average value of our deals right now is around $200k!

Last month, we sold just under $500k of machinery, including a crusher that had never been sold into the US market before. This is really significant for us because our customers generally like to go and see a machine working before they purchase one themselves. The fact that we were able to push the first of these machines to one of our customers is helping us to build a really strong case that contractors are willing to buy these machines over the internet without ever seeing them in person.

how-i-started-a-400k-month-business-selling-heavy-machinery One of our first customers in Texas with their Screencore Trident 124 Screener

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I first got into the heavy equipment industry over 15 years ago during the last recession. I had been working in the hospitality sector but took a leap and ventured into recycling machinery.

I spent my first four to five years as a dealer in England for a German manufacturer. This is where I first started to realize the large service gap between dealers and customers. It was a bit of a drop-and-run scenario, where all of the focus was on the sale and none of it on aftercare.

After this, I transitioned into manufacturing with a company called Anaconda equipment. This allowed me to understand the market from their point of view and opened my eyes to the recruitment and onboarding process for dealers.

I started to see how unsophisticated things were across the whole industry. You would literally have sales guys just driving around looking for a site with machines on it in the hope of catching a lead.

At this point, I really wanted to prove that digitization could affect such a traditional industry. I had the idea that the people using the machines were the key to selling machines, and that we could still reach them as a manufacturer. I started to go after the end-users to recruit more dealers for Anaconda and ended up boosting our revenue by 47% in just 18 months with this tactic.

At this point, we ended up getting acquired by the McLanahan group, and I was offered a $250k salary to lead their digital marketing team, but I said no.

I had it in my head that there was a real opportunity to change how machines were sold.

After doing some more digging, a few very active Facebook groups gave me the confidence that there was an online opportunity for heavy machinery. I decided to leave the comfort of a full-time job and start Machinery Partner. We started to use these groups along with some targeted Facebook advertising to generate leads and sell machines. The rest is history!

I started to see how unsophisticated things were across the whole industry. You would literally have sales guys just driving around looking for a site with machines on it in the hope of catching a lead.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

To be honest, I'm not very technical, and the first version of our product was pulled together in a really scrappy way. I used contractors from gig economy sites to bolt together a WordPress site and various tools to help me capture leads, and see if it would work.

But really, most of our early traction came from the leads we were generating with groups and ads that didn't go anywhere near our site! It was really more of a trust indicator for customers.

Nowadays we're building out a nicer marketing site to generate leads more efficiently, and a range of customer and manufacturer dashboards, but in those early days I think it was more important for us to spend time reaching out to customers and trying to understand what they needed (and sell some machines!).

how-i-started-a-400k-month-business-selling-heavy-machinery The original Machinery Partner website, back when we were called "Enginius"

Describe the process of launching the business.

We never really had an official "launch" per se. I just kept going to customers and trying to sell machines, then iterated on what I was doing continuously.

Of course, this didn't happen overnight. I had to dip into my savings, take out loans, use credit cards and even sell my car to keep things going. We were bootstrapped for a long time, with only a very small amount of money and some office space provided by a few smaller accelerator programs

This was really tough, but it also taught me a lot and what we did well, and what we didn't do so well. The most important thing I learned was to build what the market needs, rather than what you assume they're going to need.

The first thing we did wrong was spending money on unnecessary features or things that ended up being irrelevant to our customers. Figure out what your users want first then build the simplest thing to see if it will work.

Most of the assumptions I had at the start were proved wrong very quickly. Customers would tell me what they wanted, and I would go away and come up with something. But none of them would ever buy, because they didn't really need it, they were just telling me what they thought I wanted to hear. Figure out what they need!

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

When we first started, Facebook groups were a really good source of learning, but also a great source of leads. The construction and contracting groups on there are very active and have a lot of questions posted to them daily.

Once we realized a lot of our audience was on Facebook, running ads on the platform was an obvious next step. The native Facebook lead campaigns have been really good for us, and with a bit of optimization, we're now able to get pretty good quality leads for $3-4.

This has been our main acquisition channel so far, and will probably remain our main focus until we feel there is a stronger option.

We've also started to steadily increase our search visibility, but this is a much longer play. There are a lot of positive signals for this acquisition channel in the future, with a lot of larger sites taking in a few million visits a month.

Aside from direct acquisition, we've found that content inspires a lot of trust in our customers, and specifically videos. We recently made a video going over the features of a Barford 750J crusher and posted it on youtube as a private video, so it could only be accessed by people who have a link to view it. This was unintentional, but it allowed us to see how many views the video was getting just from our customers and who they were sharing it with.

As a result of our sales guy sending this video out to just a handful of customers, that video now has over 190 views, and the product page has been shared over 140 times. This gives us a lot of confidence that word of mouth will be really powerful for us down the line.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Despite only really being at the start of our journey, thanks to the margins we're able to take on machines, we're actually a pretty profitable business. We could pretty comfortably turn Machinery Partner into a very successful digital dealership by organically growing from our sales, but we have a much bigger vision in mind.

Right now we're only a 5 person team that is turning over nearly half a million dollars a month. Imagine what we could do with twenty people, and an advertising budget to match. That's why we're heading down the route of raising financing to add some rocket fuel to our growth and make Machinery Partner the giant I know it will be.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

The first thing we did wrong was trying to build a full product before doing any real testing. We spent money on unnecessary features or things that ended up being irrelevant to our customers. Figure out what your users want first then build the simplest thing to see if it will work.

As for what we did right? I've been lucky enough to surround myself with a lot of great people that are much smarter than I am, and even hire a few of them. I think if you have the right people, you can do anything!

Apart from that, I'm really hard-headed! Especially when someone tells me I'm wrong. That resilience to keep pushing is really the reason we're still going today. There were plenty of times I could have given up but that's not me. At the same time, I try to be open to change and doing things differently. We've gone through a few changes that have been really advantageous for Machinery Partner!

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I tend to pull inspiration from non-traditional sources, usually from very different lines of business. I love listening to podcasts from other industries and thinking about what can be applied to heavy equipment. Here's some of the content I like to consume;

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We love our tools and are always looking for more ways that we can work smarter or improve our outputs. The tools we use are really split into two categories:

Remote work

As a remote team, you have to work a lot harder to keep everyone motivated and in the loop. Thankfully, things are a lot easier these days thanks to the range of communication tools we have access to on the web. Here are some of our favorites;

  • Zoom - Zoom has become a household name over the last year and really is essential for our team. We work across Texas, Boston, Belfast, and Bangladesh right now. Without zoom we'd be lost, we use it every day without fail!
  • Slack - This is another great one for keeping in touch. Not everything needs a video call and you can't pass docs and images very efficiently over zoom. We use Slack for quick coms or non-urgent queries between teams.
  • Google Drive + shared docs - This is the main hub of our company data, where we keep information on products, marketing campaign, everything!
  • Miro - Great for collaborative brainstorming when you can't be in the same room with a real whiteboard. We use this for lots of things, from mapping processes to new site design iterations.

Leads

  • Facebook lead ads - Generate leads
  • Webflow - Manage product listing and generate organic leads
  • Tripetto - Typeform style, single focus forms
  • Integromat - Automating leads from Facebook into our CRM
  • Hubspot/Pipedrive - We had been using Hubspot but just recently moved over to Pipedrive for a more simple interface and to condense our deals into the most important customers for us.
  • Google Analytics - Keep an eye on acquisition channels and popular machines/content.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

A big one for me is to be careful who you listen to! There is so much advice out there and really only a small percentage of it is going to apply to your specific business. Make sure you're listening to people that have actually been there and done what you want to do, that really understand the process.

I also really hate to see people running with something for too long, whether it's out of pride or passion for what they're doing. If an idea isn't working you shouldn't be afraid to kill it as quickly as possible. You're only wasting time you could be spending on something that really does work!

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We're always prospecting for great people, so feel free to shoot us an email and pitch yourself if you'd like to work with us!

In particular, we're really interested in people with automotive or marketplace experience. We always take care of our staff and I think we have a pretty great team and culture.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you want to see some more of what we do, check out our website and socials below;

-  
Ciaran Gillen,   Founder of Machinery Partner

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