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“I wish someone had told me that”: Brendan Small, SpotGo

With decades of cleaning experience under his belt, SpotGo founder, Brendan Small, saw an opportunity to help people do a better job of cleaning their own carpets. Now his product is giving the big labels a run for their money.

In Propsa’s ‘I wish someone had told me that’ series, we speak with seasoned small business owners to hear their advice on growing a business and what they wish they were told along the way. Click here to read the rest of the ‘I wish someone had told me that’ series.

I was born into the commercial cleaning and carpet cleaning industry and I’ve always been proud to say I come from a family cleaning background. People sometimes say to me, “don’t say you’re ‘just a cleaner’,” but I’ve always been proud of it. My parents worked incredibly hard to build their businesses. Dad was one of the first people to bring a truck-mounted steam cleaning machine into Australia.

Dad is my best mate – we are exactly the same. I joined him in the cleaning business 27 years ago after completing a carpentry apprenticeship. But even when I was doing my trade, I was cleaning five banks at night to top up my wages.

When dad retired I took over the business and that’s when I really noticed how much damage people were doing to their carpets by trying to spot clean it themselves. I found the result was often bleaching and worse staining than they had before trying to address the problem. I thought I would have a crack at coming up with a solution to give people a better product for spot cleaning their own carpets. That’s how SpotGo started.

In-store demonstrations are an investment in the future

We spent nearly six years working on the formulation with an industrial chemist, and the packaging and trademarks and everything you have to do to develop a product. Within about three months of launching in 2015, I managed to find out who the buyer was for one of the IGA groups and secured a meeting. Following our meeting they agreed to give the product a trial in four of their Central Coast stores.

Let me tell you, no one who walked into one of those IGAs got out without seeing a demo! We also ran a local radio campaign. The advertising and demonstrations were a cost to the business – they ran at a loss – but gained great traction and brand awareness. We were soon being stocked in 40 of the Ritchie IGA stores within NSW.

Brendan Small SpotGoHow to take on the big brands

A business sourcing manager from Woolworths heard the ads – she was a Central Coast local – and managed to secure me a meeting with the national category manager at Woolworths.

When I went into the head office for the meeting they just sat me down at the front reception – they hadn’t even booked a meeting room. So I pulled out a piece of carpet and a dripper with red wine in it and showed them on the spot exactly how well our product worked. They were so surprised – apparently I was the first person who’d ever presented to Woolworths like a travelling salesman! But it worked – they agreed to give a few of the SpotGo products a trial in nine of their Central Coast Woolworths stores.

Again, I put in a team of in-store demonstrators complete with red wine drippers and bits of carpet and within a month we were the national top new line product. Those demonstrations were a big investment for us – especially considering we only rented machinery to do all our filling and capping. But I knew it was really important to put the product into people’s hands. We were up against the big brands that everyone knows so it was about showing customers a quality, Australian-made alternative.

Very quickly we were in 40 stores along the east coast and Woolworths couldn’t have been more supportive of the brand. They initiated an end-of-aisle display competition that engaged staff and locals to get the product more visibility – they loved having an Australian-made, family product on their shelves.

It’s an expense to get into the big retailers

You hear people say that once you’re in one of the big supermarket chains, then you can easily get into the other one. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case! We’d built up a lot of momentum in Woolworths and got some great results. And they’d stuck by us through some tough times.

But we still really had to put ourselves forward to get into Coles. We flew to Melbourne four times at great expense – an expense paid for by the carpet cleaning business I was still running. It was just a matter of finding the right person, meeting the right buyer and the right time for SpotGo.

And when we finally did, Coles were incredibly excited and supportive. They had recently upscaled their barbecue category by around 60% to cater to the increase in more and more people cooking at home, so we were thrilled that Coles made the decision to include our Surface/BBQ Degreaser cleaning product to complement their range. And we are now working to expand our range of products within the barbecue category.

SpotGo3I wish someone had told me to do more R&D

In hindsight, I wish I had spent more time on the research and development stages. There were times when I had to throw out huge amounts of our build due to lack of quality – up to 30,000 pieces going to waste when I decided it was not a product I was happy to sell or present.

We knew our formulas – we had the best chemists in the country – but we didn’t know enough about the packaging. There are so many elements to it – checking spray triggers, making sure the formula is stable in the packaging, getting the solution into bottles, labeling, lids, packaging. There are hundreds of jobs to bring it all together.

I initially saw that waste as failure. But mum and dad gave me a talking to, and said I needed to see it as education – that changed my whole mindset.

You have to break down every single bit of your product. And working with a business plan can really help you do that properly. I couldn’t be a bigger advocate of working with a business plan – I’m always banging on about it! A proper business plan will give you hundreds, even thousands of hours of work before you even begin a business or launch a product. It helps lead you in the right direction. We revisit our business plan every month and every time we achieve something from it, we don’t remove it from the plan, we shift it to red. And seeing that list of red grow and grow is so satisfying. I tend to be always looking ahead to what’s next but seeing those achievements makes me stop and appreciate even the smallest of wins.

“We revisit our business plan every month and every time we achieve something from it, we don’t remove it from the plan, we shift it to red.”

You have to sell trust to sell the brand

The biggest challenge has been getting people to take SpotGo seriously and give us a chance. You have to sell trust to sell the brand. I’ve won people over with my passion and conviction – and they respond to authenticity. They like dealing with an Australian-owned, family business – it makes a nice change.

And it’s a quality product. My goal has always been to create something that’s better than anything else I’d tried in the past and been unsatisfied with. They are complex products but we are committed to making a superior product that is also environmentally responsible. Our Surface/BBQ Degreaser has 18 parts which are all non-toxic, food grade and free of alkyl phenol ethoxylate surfactants. We are as – often more – green than the products that scream green on their labels.

We’re planning to take the SpotGo product range offshore too. I’m looking forward to showing the rest of the world what us Aussies can do – even with cleaning products! So it’s an exciting time for SpotGo. The hard work – and all those red wine drippers – is paying off.

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