Justin Fankhauser doesn’t pull many punches. Upfront, brutally honest and unapologetically confident, it’s not hard to see how he’s turned his Melbourne company, TopLock Locksmiths, from a one-man band to a seven-figure operation.
“I’m a kick-ass type of guy,” he told The Huffington Post Australia. “And that’s why I’ve built a kick-ass business and I love having a kick-ass life, that’s the way I roll.”
He began with $5000 in savings, a station wagon and almost zero idea of how to run a business, but he’s put in the hard yards to made it work.
And while Fankhauser may sound a tad cocky, the journey was not a walk in the park. He got left behind academically when a hearing problem affected his learning ability, and he left school at 15 to undertake an apprenticeship in a bakery.
Realising he was more a people-person than a behind-the-scenes baker, he left to travel overseas, but then skidded between jobs and industries for years looking for his sweet spot.
It came one night after locking himself out of the house. A locksmith came out to help and, when he learned how huge the call-out fee was, Fankhauser had a lightbulb moment. He hit the books and got his certification and never looked back.
Although there were moments he wished he could.
“It was a culture shock,” he said. “I’d never had any business experience so I kind of like the swan floating over the top but swimming like mad underneath. I was very green and it was very hard at the start.”
So how did he build such a successful trades business? By being kick-ass, of course.
Fankhauser says success was probably easier because tradies are always in demand and will never be out of work (“I don’t think there will ever be a computer or a robot that will ever be able do what we do”) -- but you have to stand out in order to make it big.
So he decided to be different.
“I’m the type of guy that when I first came into this industry I shook it up,” he said.
“People were driving around in white vans wearing shabby-looking uniforms and answering the phone like ‘locksmith’.
“So I decided to design a van with really great advertising and big orange key going down the side, I had great looking branding and uniforms, I answered the phone in a specific manner, I advertised differently with stickers and magnets and billboards and I did Twitter feeds on my website so that every time we did a job I posted it.”
But apart from getting himself noticed, you also have to be a professional, he said.
“I think we tradies have got a bad wrap,” he said. “And it was one of the things I looked at in my industry when I first started -- people advertise 24/7 but they wouldn’t pick the phone up, they weren’t professional, they wouldn’t arrive on time.
“I think it’s very important. If you want to run a professional business -- especially as a tradie, arrive on time, make sure if you’re running late you ring them up and tell them. make sure you give a good product, if something goes wrong go back and fix it.”
He said having a personality -- both in your business marketing and in your one-on-one relationships with customers -- is key.
“It amazes me in business that people open a business and do the same boring thing that everyone else does,” he said.
“Take some action and have a crack. Be a character and be a little bit different -- be a little bit personal.”
Long hours were part of the deal for Fankhauser, too. He said this is something most small business owners neglect to factor in when they start, but it’s worth it.
“I am pretty much self-taught and through hard work and working long hours and being really determined to make it work I have built it up into a successful business,” he said.
“I hear people say ‘I work hard for my boss’ but I say you’re working part-time. You’ll work 60-80 hours a week in your own business, but when you’re doing something you love and you do it for yourself you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Fankhauser has just released his second book, a how-to guide for other wannabe entrepreneurs called Shut Up, Get Up & Give It A Go!
He says his success is the result of his own determination -- and the desire to prove to naysayers in his life that he really could do it -- but he sees many people give up when they shouldn’t, and he hopes the book can help others stay on track for their business.
“You don’t learn from winning -- you learn from failure,” he said. “That’s what people don’t understand. I’ve failed a lot of times in my life. If I always won, I wouldn’t learn. I do see people give up, because they are too afraid to fail.
“In my 20s I was a bit of a different person. Until I changed my mindset and shut up and gave things a go in my life, that’s when I turned things around.
“If you had said to me 20 years ago I would be on Channel 7, talking to you, written a couple of books, had a 7-figure business, I would have laughed in your face. Because I was a no one.
“And not saying I’m someone now, but for me now I’m a millionaire in life, and that’s what this book’s about.
“I want people to get something out of it and say ‘if Justin can do it, then anyone can do it’.”