Tips for Taking Over an Established Business

There are benefits to buying an existing business, but the process comes with its own set of unique challenges.
Tips for Taking Over an Established Business
Purple Pumper owners Ardell and Janelle Kick. (Photo by Lisa Timm)

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When Janelle and Ardell Kick purchased Purple Pumper LLC 10 years ago, the husband and wife team became the fourth owners of a business that had already been serving the needs of Minnesota’s Pine and Kanabec county residents for 20 years.

It’s a scenario that came with its share of benefits, Janelle notes. Because the company name had already been circulating throughout the area for so long there wasn’t as much of a need to make their presence known. Plus, there was already a customer base in place. “It definitely makes it easier that way, to jump into something that’s already established,” she says.

Even so, they had to deal with many of the downsides that come along with those advantages. There were some customers who were left with a bad taste in their mouth stemming from experiences with previous ownership, Janelle explains, so there was a need to reach out, rebuild relationships and make it clear that new ownership was stepping in with some fresh ideas and practices.

Business revamped

With Ardell handling all the work in the field and Janelle tackling the office duties, the couple worked hard to enhance the overall image of the company. They started with something simple: clothing. With an eye on professional appearance and a desire to market the business, they came up with a whole line of gear – shirts, jackets, hats – that shows off the company name.

The decision to add some color to their truck – a 2005 Sterling chassis with a 3,600-gallon Imperial tank and a Jurop/Chandler LC420 pump – was another key element of the business makeover. “You can’t miss this big purple truck going down the road, and so it sticks in people’s minds,” Janelle says. “We have nice big graphics on the truck with the name and the phone number, so it’s really easy for people to see if they do pull into a gas station or look across the yard at their neighbor’s place.”

In addition to these image adjustments, customer service became a top priority. While the previous owner typically returned calls in the evening, Janelle began fielding calls during the day so that customers would receive prompt attention. Even when Ardell cannot handle the job immediately, there is peace of mind that comes with talking over an issue and scheduling a visit, Janelle explains.

The couple also expanded Purple Pumper’s line of services, utilizing Ardell’s background as a sewer installer. Beyond the cleaning, repair and pumping of septic tanks and systems, the company now also performs the installation of manhole risers and lids, lift pump replacements, power rooter service, replacement of alarm floats and pump floats, and sewer line jetting and thawing.

Words of wisdom

For others who have recently taken over a company or intend to, Janelle recommends determining early on whether you’re content with the amount of current business. “If you want the business to grow, take a deep breath and be willing to work,” she says. “The more time you put in, the more people you can make happy and give service to, the faster and the stronger your business will grow. But you just have to hold on for the ride.”

She also says it can be useful to remind yourself that despite your best efforts to satisfy, it isn’t always possible to make everyone happy. “You’re going to work as hard as you possibly can and you’re not going to please everybody, but don’t let that affect your desire to do good service for others,” she explains.

Based on the Kicks' experience, the process of taking over an existing operation and making it your own can be a rewarding endeavor. “If someone has the time and the ambition to run an already established business and make some changes and help it grow,” Janelle says, “it’s well worth it in the end.”


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