When Richard Bergman graduated from law school and landed a position with a law firm, it looked like he was set for an exciting career as an intellectual property attorney. There was just one problem.
“I was not enjoying myself,” Bergman admits, who is today much happier as the president and CEO of Titan Building Products in Ottawa. “Being a lawyer is a great job for some, but it wasn’t for me.”
Instead, Bergman felt pulled to return to his roots as a builder. During his teen and university years he had worked in construction. Indeed, he came from a long line of builders, including his father and grandfather, so a building career seemed to be a more natural fit for him.
Today, a “natural fit” is ingrained in the decks and related building components his company specializes in.
“I believe construction is both an art form and a science, and function needs to be combined with great-looking design,” says Bergman, who found that traditional deck building materials and methods made his goal virtually impossible.
“I was frustrated by having to attach posts to decks using ugly metal brackets and lag bolts,” he explains. “I also felt the system was not strong enough, and conventional connections tend to trap moisture against the wooden posts, causing them to rot much sooner than they should.”
Bergman found this frustration to be the mother of invention. He also realized many of his builder and do-it-yourself clients probably shared his concerns.
One day, the idea for a whole new way to build decks suddenly came to him.
“I realized that by driving an anchor up through the centre of the post, you could attach a wooden post to a deck (made of any hard surface) from the inside instead of the outside. This makes the hardware almost invisible and attaches the post more securely.”
The new fastening system also kept the post drier, ensuring a longer life span.
The Titan Post Anchor™ became the first concealed wood-post surface-mounted anchoring system of its kind, and Bergman finally had an easy, cost-effective way to combine the beauty of wood with the strength of steel.
He went on to design and develop other innovative deck-building products.
SOLID EXPORTING FOUNDATION
Titan began exporting from the day it was born, due in part to Bergman’s innovative marketing plan. Instead of a website that simply sold products, like a catalogue, he created ideas-for-deck-designs.com to help anyone build a deck like a pro, regardless of experience or skill level.
Homeowners and contractors came across the website while looking for building information, and stayed to buy the products. Orders came from around the world, including the U.S., UK, Australia and New Zealand.
Soon customers were asking their local building supply stores to stock Titan products, and Bergman began to build a retail distribution network. He also expanded the website to help retailers with everything from product training webinars to Titan artwork for their advertising.
LEARNING FROM PAST ERROR
Today, Titan enjoys $600,000 in sales annually, and a growing distribution network across Canada and the United States. Maintaining tight quality controls, it now also has reliable suppliers from China and New Zealand, in addition to Canada (Ontario).
But growth has not come without a few sleepless nights, says Bergman. “Shipment containers of ordered Titan products can be valued as high as $100,000,” he explains.
“One customer kept missing payment milestones; it suddenly occurred to me with a sick feeling one night that he wasn’t going to pay.”
Fortunately, Bergman was able to sell off the product to other buyers, but it took over a year; he vowed he would never be in that position again. “I’m a family man with employees depending on me,” he says. “How would I even go after someone in a foreign country?”
Bergman now takes deposits upfront and insures the remainder with EDC’s single buyer insurance.
“For a small business, the fee for the insurance is very cost-effective. And it’s a very simple process—I just go into my account with my password, fill out the information and I’m done. No more worries.”
Getting Paid, One Buyer at a Time
For a small business like Titan, EDC’s Single Buyer Insurance may be the perfect solution to make sure the company gets paid.
Unlike similar credit insurance products, there’s no requirement to insure the full book of business, so it’s more flexible and affordable, depending on a company’s needs and financial situation.
Once the insurance is in place, banks are usually more comfortable extending credit. Companies can apply online at edc.ca.
Trade Tips from Titan
- Use outside resources: In addition to EDC, Bergman teamed up with Invest Ottawa, which provided mentoring and support for starting a business.
- Know your capacity: When looking for foreign customers, consider how it will affect your capacity, especially cash flows, and plan your strategy accordingly. A chain that has 200 outlets in Canada may have 2,000 in the U.S.
- Appreciate customers: “It is an honour you believe in our products enough to add them to your inventory” is written right on the Titan website and reflects the way it treats customers.
- Join events: Ask to participate in customer events and open houses to demonstrate your product.
- Profits for all: Remember that everyone who deals with you, from manufacturers to distributors, has to make a profit too. Build that into your pricing infrastructure.