The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday, Nov. 3,2013
SECRETS OF BUSINESS SUCCESS ENTREPRENEURS SHARE WHAT THEY’VE LEARNED
One man’s success comes in a foreign language
Kevin Kilpatrick finds business success in a language he doesn’t speak
By Matt Kempner
How does a guy who doesn’t speak Spanish and isn’t particularly handy with a hammer launch a Spanish-language magazine for construction workers? Kevin Kilpatrick found a way, through the recession knocked the building industry’s teeth in only a few months later.
Kilpatrick said his Marieta-based magazine, Constru-Guia al dia, has become one of the nation’s most circulated Spanish-language publications of men. He expects to generate about $2 million in sales this year with a business that includes radio as well as 320,000 magazines distributed free each quarter at 1,100 Home Depots and 200 convenience stores. Kilpatrick’s first step was starting his own marketing and advertising consulting firm.
Kevin Kilpatrick had an “ah-ha” moment, creating a side project, which later became his primary venture and a business success.
I was director of advertising and then director of marketing for all Home Depot. I’ve always wanted to have my own company. I thought through for years, then hired a business training coach and worked with him for six months before I left Home Depot. We went through a couple of different business plan ideas. The one that worked was a marketing consultancy advertising firm. Never in my wildest dream did I think (that might lead to) publishing a magazine in Spanish radio show and a website in language I don’t understand.
Kilpatrick started a consulting firm that advised businesses wanting to sell goods in places such as Home Depot. One of his clients had a customer base that included many Spanish speakers. But Kilpatrick found a shortage of print outlets where his client could advertise specifically to the growing population of Hispanic men it sought.
There were 38 magazines in English for the construction industry for the guy on the jobs site, remodelers or building maintenance repair guys. We found one that was in Spanish. That was my ah-ha moment. Everybody is trying to meet this elusive Hispanic guy on the job site and build a relationship with him. He’s spending more money. Within six weeks from ah-ha moment to building the business plan and running it through
Kevin’s Kilpatricks tips
- Start a Business that meets a need. Go through disciplined thinking before launch. Make a business plan.
- Be able to abandon your business model and pivot quickly.
- Invest in your research and know your end consumer.
- Hire people who have done similar and bigger work before.
- Always over deliver for your customers.
all sorts of variables, we decided to launch.
Kevin Kilpatrick, who has a stay-at-home wife and two young kids, asked his marketing clients if they would advertise in a new magazine.
Across the board we got yeses. We approached Home Depot. They asked how much it (would) cost them. We said nothing. We just want shelf space to distribute it. They granted us Space. Four months later we were on the shelf with our first issues. We thought it was going to be a little side project for the firm.
I don’t speak Spanish. I’m a marketer. I’m a fat, dumb white guy from Wyoming. You research the market and what they need and what they want. I don’t have to be a mom to market to moms, right?
I outsource translations to two different translation firms. If we are teaching someone how to hang drywall in the magazine I’ve got to be very sure that what we are writing in English gets translated correctly into Spanish. We are pretty much a virtual company. There’s three of us on staff and then we outsource creative, and we outsource backend accounting. Our CFO is outsourced. Most of these people have never met each other face to face.
It’s a niche enough opportunity that the big players aren’t willing to do it. But for a small start-up entrepreneur it was perfect. I’m certain I wasn’t the first one to think of it. I was the first one to truly go after it and benefit from it, looking for opportunities that are not overcrowded but also maybe small enough that the big players didn’t want to take a whiff.
The recession proved a silver lining.
We launched it in 2007, right before the economy tanked. In hindsight, the recession actually helped us grow. We were bare bones as a startup. Our advertisers were looking for anything they could generate sales. We were the new shiny marketing vehicles out there.
I was feeding my family on the original consulting (business). It was almost a second job running the magazine. If we had jumped in full force it wouldn’t have made it. We didn’t truly become profitable until 2010.
As the Spanish construction magazine was taking off, the marketing in the other industry was dropping off because no one was hiring consultants. The need for my original idea, people were walking away from left to right.
We watched the books very closely. I tried to surround myself with people who had done similar or bigger things before. A couple times I went to a local bank and was refused. We were using American Express as a bank. I was paying for the printing with AMEX, and then I invoiced the advertisers. And then I turned around and paid American Express. We tried to extend when my bills were due from the printers.
We outsourced the editorial process and the printing process to start. That relationship went about 2 ½ years.
On Thursday, the outsourcing company notified Kilpatrick it was going out of business and would close Monday.
That call was a kick in the gut. Over the weekend we hired the editor and key art director. We were able to pivot and think very quickly. In the long run, it has been a blessing. That was the turning point and made us profitable.
There were missteps. Hoping to air programming aimed at Spanish-speaking construction pros, Kilpatrick bought 30-minute time blocks on Spanish language stations for a six month period. The attempt failed. His core audience didn’t want to listen to work-related segments on Sundays, which is when Kilpatrick had most of his radio time.
We didn’t test that as thoroughly as we should have. We lost roughly $40,000 to $60,000 and hundreds of hours of time and effort.
(Now, on radio,) we have Contru-Guia Tips of the Day. We work with our sponsors. We are on 115 stations in 66 markets, Monday through Friday. They are 90-second tips. This is in Spanish, of course.
Worried about staying ahead, Kilpatrick is planning a new product next year.
We have a website, MiConstruGuia. We kept it going but didn’t pay a lot of time and attention to it. About 18 months ago we noticed out traffic starting to increase. We course corrected and totally redid the website. We updated it so (the customer) can use us on his mobile device.
In 2014, we’re creating a second publication. We are targeting the auto DIYer, the guy who is working on his car. We’ve partnered with a national aftermarket auto retailer. We’ll be in 500 stores of theirs. It’s going to be Garage Master, a bilingual publication.
I’m always coming in with new ideas. I don’t want to be stagnant. That worries me: that I won’t keep up with the industry or the technology. What worries me is that we become lazy with our business success.
The last 10 years have been some of the happiest times I’ve had.
Kevin Kilpatrick’s remarks were edited for length and clarity.