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Home Business - What Are Those Customers Thinking?
by Richard Kimura
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Knowing what your customers want is crucial before going into a home business or other venture. Such due diligence is good stewardship, so investments are not made on products people do not want. A successful business or home business needs good market research data for all products or services. Unless you've been in the business yourself many years, finding out about a market may require calling people or companies that you think will need your product. Try to appeal to their expertise, because obviously they are in the business and their opinions count. Then you can get valuable market information as to whether or not your home business would be successful, or whether your product will sell. If you are nervous or shy, practice interviewing friends or relatives that may be in the field or may buy the product. Don't be afraid to be bold and ask. You could be very surprised by what you hear, and it may also change your business plan! Such information is worth lots of money, and can save you a lot of heartache.

Shown below is an example of one contact I made concerning a new product and technology we were researching. It is important to be ready to document everything, such as who you talked to, where they worked, and what their position was. Have good general open-ended questions ready to ask. Simply ask the question and let them talk. Write fast and take detailed notes. Such data is important for the market study report you should put together for your business or home business, and which will be studied by you, other owners, investors, lenders, or management. Seek to connect with influential people, buyers, users, and anyone who will buy or use your product. Let the facts and feedback speak to you. Don't go forward without diligently doing this research, or you could lose a lot of money on a product no one wants. Here is how a market research interview could go:

COMPANY: Primemark Contractors, Home Remediation and Water Damage Repair
Contact: Wes Woodenville, Project Manager, 1-319-566-5232, 113 Tesla, Irvine, CA 92618

INTERVIEWER: Rich Kimura. Time: 60 minutes, January 2, 2007

Rich: Hi Wes, This is Rich Kimura. I'm working with a group of engineers who are researching a new technology which uses electromagnetic radiation i.e. radar to see into walls and ceilings. The device would detect moisture, wiring, piping, and other structures inside walls. Your expertise and experience would be very valuable in helping to understand how this technology could be useful to you and the industry. OK, here are some questions.

Rich: How do you go about detecting moisture in walls now?
Wes: Moisture is a huge problem here, and it's getting worse. Mold is the biggest health concern. If you could find leaks in walls and ceilings that would be very useful. Right now, you can't tell where moisture is entering, only where it is showing up. It is most critical to know where it is entering, e.g. where is the roof leaking? Water moves and the leak may be 10 feet or more from where the source is. If the device can tell you this, or give a picture of what’s going on inside the walls it will be a big breakthrough.

Rich: What kind of hassles have you had with this (current system)?
Wes: Pipe leaks are easier to find, leaks around windows. 9 times out of 10 where you see the water is not where its entering, it could be 10 feet away. We used to hire a man about 15 years ago who injected pipes with a gas, then used meters to detect the gas. He also used dyes and injected them, looking for colors to show up in the leak area. We currently don't use him, just basically use our best guess and tear it apart.

Rich: What would be "really great to have" that's not currently available?
Wes: I used to call that specialist out, but we don't use him anymore, just go on our own. We don't have a way of finding leak sources, just tearing out walls, sometimes up to 8', and then rebuild. Finding out quickly the exact pinhole, etc would be essential.

Rich: What else might you be looking for in a wall section?
Wes: The source of the leak. That is the most important. But, speaking of non-water, our current practice is to take complete digital pictures, and a video of all wall installations before putting on any sheetrock. We get tons of pictures of walls and ceilings. Any future problem, remodel, we have records of each installation. We also give the homeowner a copy of the pictures and a video. I probably spend a half a day taking pics, then the video. Most homebuilders in the high-end market do this, but maybe 1/2 to 2/3 may not in other lower end markets. We have to make sure it's right and tight before sheetrocking, along with 4-5 detailed independent inspections too. Windows/penetrations are a top concern. Now, with new rubberized materials seals are getting much better. We document everything before closing it up, this protects the builder.

Rich: How much of your overall business (time) is spent in detecting moisture?
Wes: It's hard to say, but more time is spent tearing out walls. Not much time is spent detecting it, we fix theproblems however.

Rich: Where do you typically find out about new technology?
Wes: Word of mouth, when we see another contractor or inspector using something new, we may ask about it. If it works, word gets around quickly, and we'd buy one.

Rich: How do you make decisions on what technology to purchase?
Wes: If it works we'd buy it, if others who use it are happy with it.

Rich: How important would compactness and portability be?
Wes: That's the only way it would work.

Rich: How much do you think the average contractor would be willing to pay?
Wes: Maybe 3-4 inspections may cost $300-400 per inspection, so maybe $1200 - 1600 for a device. We wouldn't think twice about spending that much on a unit if it worked. Home insurers may pay more because they'd use it all the time.

Rich: How would you recommend we get the word out once the product development is completed?
Wes: Word of mouth, Maybe a trade magazine? Yes, maybe. But, word gets around fast if someone has a good way of finding leak sources.

Rich: What would you think if this product were franchised? (No time to discuss.)

Rich: Who else should I talk to?
Wes: The track home, condo, and apartment contractors, who build large numbers of spec. homes and units. They may have a greater need for quickly finding problems, due to the large numbers of units they work with. Home inspectors, yes, talk to them. They'd use a unit if it were portable.

Rich: What else should I have asked?
Wes: Most California builders are very conscious of being sued. But home insurers are not, right? Your device is awesome, I don't think $1000 - $1500 would be unreasonable - if it can really pinpoint the leak we'd buy one. If you could do tests, with nail-hole sized leaks, finding out where the water comes in, and if it'll tell you exactly where this hole is, that is much more important than moisture in general. You must find the hole! For home insurers, finding general moisture may be good enough, but for contractors who have to fix problems, we need to know where it is coming from. If we know, we can limit the damage to 1' of wall instead of ripping out 8' by guesswork it's worth it. You still need space to work in for the fix. It must find the source.

Rich: Thank you very much for your time Wes! You're expertise is much appreciated, we'll take your input seriously, and will keep you posted on it's progress.

About Rich Kimura:

Rich Kimura is a project engineering manager, freelance writer, married father of 4, chemical engineer, and entrepreneur. He has authored numerous technical papers, has 1 patent and 2 patents-pending, and 24 years experience in the nuclear and chemical industries. Rich started 6 home businesses, received financial counseling training by Crown Financial, and teaches on both subjects. To see more free tips and sharing of personal experiences in home businesses, work, money, finances, relationships, spirituality, and other topics, visit Cirrovista at http://www.Cirrovista.com

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