David Brim, Founder, Tomcar Australia
Austin Peterson, Founder, Black Dog Traders
Welcome to Foundr’s fifth birthday celebration!
Over the past five years, we’ve been blessed to interact with an awesome community of passionate entrepreneurs who are making it happen and turning their dreams into reality. We want to honor these inspiring entrepreneurs in our community by sharing their stories and highlighting their successes.
In today’s special episode, we talk with Austin Peterson, a rising entrepreneur who is working in the trenches daily to build his vintage truck restoration business Black Dog Traders.
Austin reached out to me for advice in early 2017, and it’s been amazing to watch him build his business to new heights. In this episode, we’re airing a one-on-one coaching session with Austin and mentor David Brim, founder of Tomcar Australia, who is helping him take his business to the next level.
In this episode, get the inside scoop on the advice that is helping Peterson optimize his production, streamline his processes, and continue to scale his company in the coming year.
Well done Austin! We look forward to your continued success!
- David Brim’s advice on how to optimize production and streamline processes
- How Tomcar acquires leads and funnels them through its sales process
- Why offering too many product options can hinder a sale
- When and how to outsource to speed up your results
Full Transcript of Podcast with David Brim & Austin Peterson
Nathan: In today’s podcast, it’s a little bit of a mix up where – we’ve done these sessions before. We kind of called them the Found Incubator. What we do is we get a really really talented, smart founder – proven founder on here, and then we find someone in our community that’s really smart and talented too. Probably a few years or not the same stage as that person, successful founders at their journey yet, and we just pretty much become a fly on the wall and you get to hear like a mentorship session. We’ve chosen somebody that has had a lot of success producing a car company. His name is David Brim. He’s here with me in the room right now. We’ve had a few technical difficulties, because David – he lives down the road, so we thought we do it in the office – in the studio and it’s been a nightmare. But we’re there, we’re here, it’s all good. The person that we’re speaking to on the other line is Austin. His name is Austin Peterson. He runs a company called Black Dog Traders. Dave has had a lot of success with Tomcar. He was in one of the early episodes where we interviewed him. Austin runs a car company too, but he refurbishes 4×4 vintage Land Cruisers, and David actually produces cars, which is really interesting. They are military vehicles and they’re called Tomcar. I’m gonna leave it over to David and Austin and just let these guys jam. To kick things off guys, can you just first of all both, for about a minute each, just share your journey and a little bit about your company, and how far you’ve taken it and where you’re at, and then I’ll just let you go away Austin, and just ask David as many questions as you like. So let’s kick things off.Dave: Hey Austin. My name is David Brim and I started Tomcar Australia in 2005 – wow 12 years ago now – with my family here in Australia. We manufacture a specialist military or terrain vehicle called the Tomcar. We spent many years setting up a supply chain, and we started manufacturing in 2011. We sell to the military, to mining industry, and agriculture here in Australia. I’ve checked out your company Austin, and it looks really cool. Love that it’s old cruisers. Very very clever idea. I’d love to learn a bit more about you, and I’d love to learn more about your journey. I’m sure there’s so many similarities and problems we’d both had, and frustrations and opportunities. So happy to share what I can.
Austin: Awesome, yeah. Nathan has been telling me about you for a while. So I’m excited to kind of dig in on this. Thanks for the opportunity Nathan. For me I started out – I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was a kid. I don’t know what it was. I started out in the tech industry and I was in sales there. And just always had an inclination for marketing, I don’t know why. I was always in the marketing department, and I would spend more time in the marketing department than in the sales department, really just trying to figure out and learn from them. I would spend everyday while I was at work reading and reading and reading blogs online about online marketing. Eventually I started a coffee company. I honestly hate coffee, I don’t know why I got into coffee, but it’s what led me to what I’m doing now, so I’m really grateful for it. The coffee company sent me to South America and throughout my travels in Nicaragua and Colombia sourcing coffee beans, I saw all these amazing Land Cruisers. My family has a bit of a background with restoring cars. All my cousins and uncles do it, but I was never really fully into it. It’s not something that I ever thought I would turn into a business, but when I saw these amazing trucks I just really clicked back to the job that I had in the tech industry. I remember my boss was really really nuts about these trucks. I started doing more research into the industry and finding out that it was a huge huge market. I mean not huge in terms of the ATV market or the SUV market, but it was a nice little niche to jump into. I really had a passion for it. I love the trucks, I love the outdoors, I love traveling and going to South America and things like that. So it really all just kind of clicked. I started from there. It wasn’t like – I know from what I hear about you and Tomcar, it seems like you didn’t have like a traditional entry into the car market either. That’s kind of where I started out. I didn’t mean to end up in the industry, but I’m so glad that I ended up here.
Dave: Yeah that’s interesting. I’m fascinated about how people end up doing what they do. I mean most of the time we plan for things and the complete opposite happens. Where do you source all of the – so you take the – you buy an old Land Cruiser. What year of cruisers do you buy? Do you focus on one particular model?
Austin: Yeah,. We concentrate on the 40 series, and we concentrate on the later models, which were produced from – the ones that we concentrate on are anywhere from like ‘79 to like ‘83. They’re 40 plus year old vehicles that we have to restore. Over the years, we have just really listened to our customers, and based on their feedback, kind of added and upgraded things along the way.
Dave: So what do? Can you talk me to the process of how you get what you do to the cars. Where do you find these old vehicles? How do you find them? Then once you get them into your factory, what do you to them?
Austin: We scout the vehicles all over the place throughout Southeast Asia and South America. What we really look for is something with good bones, and what that means is basically it’s got no frame damage, it’s got a decent metal with minimal rust. And really it’s just something that some local guy hasn’t chopped to pieces or modified heavily. We used to produce in Colombia, but we’ve been having an issue with production there being reliable, so we’re building a larger factory here in Dallas, Texas so that we can produce everything locally here in the United States. But essentially we take the vehicle, we import it into the United States, we take it to the shop, we completely strip it down to bare metal, and the frame and everything, the chassis gets sandblasted, and from there we build it back up again. We take parts like upgraded suspension from suppliers like Old Man Emu. We upgrade as much of the creature comforts as possible to make it a better driving experience for the end user. Because obviously, a 40, 50 year old car is not really suited for modern excursions.
Nathan: Yeah men, that’s awesome. It’s Nathan here. I think it would be really awesome for the audience if you could share with everyone your – I guess maybe how far you’ve taken it when you started Black Dog Traders. So your traction right now that you’re getting. I know that you’re doing really well, but you also have some challenges too, and then we can get David to jump in and start asking some more questions, and you can ask David some questions as well.
Austin: Yeah. I got into the industry about two or three years ago, and originally I started just buying and selling Land Cruisers. I just really wanted to deliver a better and better product along the way. Like I said based on customer feedback, we started changing things and adding things. Our product really evolved just based on what our customers wanted, little cues that I heard people talking about over the telephone, like I want something that I can use for a daily driver, or I want something that I can use on my farm, something reliable, something safe for my family. But it all started really just flipping cars and selling cars.
David: What kind of challenges have you had? Where do you struggle, what kind of – I’d like to hear your main challenges at the moment. Or maybe I can give some advice on my experience in that space.
Austin: Currently, we’re doing pretty well in terms of our online marketing and sales. The real issue has been production. It hasn’t been really – in terms of quality or anything, I make sure that the quality is very high, and everything is perfect, but its reliability and consistency – and for me to be able to focus on building the brand and building the business, I need to make sure that my foundation is very strong and secure. That’s obviously my production. Right now we’re really focusing on bringing that up to speed, and making sure that it’s 100% consistent and reliable. That’s our biggest issue in 2018.
David: So do you – you make each vehicle the same?
Austin: We have five different packages, but for the most part they’re pretty similar. We originally started with the model that we would offer let’s say 30 or 40 different optional upgrades, then we have a base package. But the issue that we found with that was that number one most people didn’t really know what they wanted. Number two, it was just a really big problem trying to integrate that into our production system. They ended up being 50 or 60 different vehicles that you could produce based on those 40 or 50 different options. We translated that into five different models, and it’s been a lot easier for us to produce what the model system rather than a more custom built.
David. Yeah definitely. How many parts are common between those five models that you offer? What percentage of the vehicle is identical?
Austin: I would say about 70% of the vehicle is identical. The main things that we switch and deal with are the drivetrain, the engine, the transmission, the wheels, the suspension, things like that. But for the most part they’re all restored vehicles. So they retain a lot of the same parts.
David: Ah okay. How much – how many of the original part – is that on a case by case basis, depending on the quality of the parts, or the quality of the vehicle that comes in?
Austin: Yeah. Every vehicle that comes in is different, but like I said before we search for trucks that all have good bones, so we’re looking for something that we don’t have to replace much metal on essentially. But when it comes down to it, the metal and everything, we try to keep consistent across all five models. But really it’s just upgrading the suspension, that drivetrain, the sound system – all those different things that really translate into a better driving experience for the owner.
David: Yeah definitely. I think you’re gonna have struggles because each car is kind of unique. With Tomcar Australia what we really try to do – what we do is we offer a base platform. We have three models: a two seater short wheel base, a two seater slightly longer wheel base, and a five-seater. They all share about 95% common parts. We spend a long long time designing the three base models to share common parts. Because on low volumes, you get economies of scale. You can buy instead of ten of one thing, buy 50, and it fits the whole range. When it comes to options and accessories like you mentioned before, people don’t know what they want. I agree with you. But also, they don’t like having too much choice. There are scientific studies that show if you give someone too much choice, they can’t make a decision. So we offer maybe a dozen options and accessories, and that’s it. We keep it really simple. We do custom work for people, but we only do that once they purchase the car and decided what they’d do. So I think – some things at the top of my head, I mean it might be an idea to take every car that you get in, strip it down to the same level. Strip every single car down to the same level, and then build that cars up like that. Because then you’re going to get economies of scale, and I don’t know how practical that is, but that’s just one idea that I have at the moment.
Austin: Yeah. As far as stripping them down to the same level, every truck gets stripped down to the exact same level. Basically we take a truck and we break it down to each individual component, and it gets sorted into a cabinet. So we take a truck, and then within a week or two, it goes from being a truck to being pieces on a cabinet on a wall. But the real – I don’t think that – I guess the issue is that you know my experience is in the business side of things, in marketing and sales. I have experience in restoring cars but not to the extent that I can go on restore one fully myself. I’ve spent a lot of time just learning and really diving into that side of things, But I’m really trying to bring it to the US and dealing with the issues of labor there in the United States and trying to – like you said take something that – like you said every truck comes in and it’s different, but we also have to bring it into sort of like a factory environment, and somehow get it to where it’s more of an assembly line rather than a completely custom build.
David: Yeah. So one thing that we decided very early on at Tomcar Australia was to – we didn’t – I don’t know about manufacturing. I’m a businessman, entrepreneur, whatever you call it nowadays, but we had a dream of building this product, and I know manufacturing has been around for over a hundred years. It’s a science. It’s not an art, it’s a science. There are specialist organizations out there and manufacturers that build things everyday. We are very lucky that we partnered with a company here in Melbourne called MTM. At MTM. They’re an automotive components supply to the car industry. They have this very automotive thinking. One option may be for you to explore – I don’t know what the automotive supply chain is like in Dallas, but you know to outsource the manufacturing or assembly of your cars might be a good way to go. Because then you can concentrate on what you’re good at.
Austin: Yeah. I mean we tried that before. We partnered with some guys that had been doing this for a while, and I think the issue was that they – for some reason I don’t know why – they really didn’t see the big picture. They’ve been unreliable in terms of delivery schedules, in terms pricing, in terms of everything. Now I’m trying to bring it in where I feel like I can control it more by hiring a shop manager and building out my own shop. I don’t know if that’s the right answer, but that’s my instinct.
David: It’s one option, definitely. You incur a lot of cost, a lot of problems, you’ve got a steep learning curve. That’s one of the reasons why we went to an automotive supplier to outsource to. They think differently. You need a partner first of all, or a supplier to build your cars, that believes in your dream, that believes in your vision.So if this two guys – these couple who helps you before didn’t believe and didn’t see the opportunity, it’s never going to work. You need someone that shares the passion of the market with you. For me, for Tomcar Australia, outsourcing is the only reason we’re here. If we had to do it ourselves, I don’t know if we could have learned that quick enough and fast enough. But the opportunity is there. It’s an exciting – is there a big manufacturing base in Dallas? I mean do you live in Dallas?
Austin: Yeah I live in Dallas. The funny thing is that these are Toyota Land Cruisers, and the Toyota headquarters actually moved from Florence California to Plano Texas which is right where we are. But it’s kind of an issue that the guys who know a lot about process, and know a lot about building new cars, don’t know very much about building up or restoring old cars. And then it’s kind of the opposite effect with the guys who are good at restoring old cars, right? They’re good at working on engines, they’re good at doing body work, but they’re not very good at business or managing teams, or being able to install any sort of process or scalle anything. It’s kind of a rounded hole that we’ve fallen into. The only way that I’ve really – and I’ve been rocking my brain for six months on this is I really just think I have to bring it in and find someone who can run the shop, who knows how to restore a classic car, but then also bring in people or engineers, and more on the industrial engineering side and know how to install some of the process, and things like that, that will speed things up and make it more organised.
David: Sorry to cut in there. But you bring the car in, you strip it down to the chassis, right? And then you sandblast it, clean it up, and bring it back in. Now when you’ve taken that car apart originally, you go through all of the pieces that come off car, and pick things that can be reused, right? So you’ve taken them off, do you use Toyota’s part numbering system? Or do you use your own part numbers?
Austin: We use – for a lot of these parts, there’s not really a Toyota part number, but for the majority of the ones that we actually have to buy, they still sell Toyota parts, so we use the Toyota skews.
David: Cool. So what I would do – this is just random. I don’t know if it would work, but I would bring the car in, strip it down, I would have a holding area, like a supply area for stock. Let’s say for example the steering wheel. So you need the steering wheel at the assembly – steering wheel assembly, and it’s probably made up of 15 parts. I would strip the steering wheel down, and then either itemize them myself, give them my own part numbers, and store them. And then when I would push a car through the system – if someone ordered a car, I would take a chassis, give it a special VIN or keep the VIN that it’s got, push it down the line, and then I would then pull parts to the car. What I’m trying to say is let’s say you can manage to salvage- let’s say you get ten cars in, and you managed to salvage three steering wheels that you can reuse. I’d put those steering wheels in stock, and then I would buy seven new steering wheels, I put them in with that stock, and then just consume them. You don’t necessarily have to have that part that needs to go back to that car. Do you know what I mean? Do you know what I’m trying to say? You can actually – you’re doing less customization. Your cannibalizing these cars that are coming in, taking as many parts as you can off, putting those parts into your stores, and then just using the chassis, and then consuming that parts from stores, which are a mix of cannibalized parts and new parts. Does that make sense?
Austin: Yeah, yeah definitely. We do that to an extent now, but I definitely see where you’re coming from. What we can do is there’s some new and some old parts that we have to use, so we could buy more parts cars that we currently do, and just have an inventory of swappable parts for those.
David: Do you have a bill of materials for the cars? The other thing that I would do is I would – it might take time, but I’d just strip the car down, and give everything a part number. I’d give it your own part number if i was you, and then create a bill of materials which is – it’s in build order. So you have a list of every single part that goes into that car. And then you have a stock control – I mean that was the biggest thing for us. We were starting from scratch, so we had to create a bill of materials, which is basically a list of every single component of the car, and we created it to build level. So at least then we’ve got something that we can follow, and we know that bill of materials dictates our stock, and it dictates our ordering, and it dictates the process of the cars put together. The challenge I see for you is that you’re – there’s an extra level in there. You’re bringing cars in, you’re stripping them down first, and it’s that process of stripping them down where you’re kind of reworking the car. So there’s the challenge there. if you’re building a car from scratch, if you had to buy a Land Cruiser chassis, and everything from scratch, local fabricated to make it, you wouldn’t have that challenge, which is buy stock in, a car would go through the system and you build it. You always want an extra level in your production, and even in that scenario, which is just stripping cars down. What you’re doing is you’re buying these cars for stock. You’re stripping everything down, repainting good stuff, preparing the chassis, chucking away stiffs that’s obsolete. Or even, putting stuff aside is what we do, when we get used parts back from our customers, we put them in a special area, and then once every three months, we’ll refurbish them. And then we can sell them as refurbish parts. But you could actually use them in your production system as well.
Austin: Yeah. Well we’ve been talking about kind of creating a buffer where we have chassis come in, cars come in, we strip them down and essentially, before anyone even orders them, we’ve got them all ready to go. What that does is it makes sure that we got all our parts ordered before – or as soon as – as soon as a customer places an order, and also we’ve got 100% accountability for everything that goes through the entire process .it also speeds up the actual time that it takes for us to do a restoration, right? Like if we have a buffer of let’s say 10 or 20 trucks, that we’ve already got stripped, we’ve already got itemized like you were mentioning with different parts numbers, then there’s less of an issue chasing things around. And also we’ve done it about 30% or 40% of the labor upfront, before a customer even orders the truck. So it’s takes 30% to 40% less time to produce the vehicle.
David: Definitely. I think that is – even your competitor thought that was a good idea. I would do like this, I would source – I have a sourcing department or sourcing team, and they would scale the globe for these cars. I’d ship them into Dallas. I’d put them aside. I’ll have them reviewed. I’d strip them down. I’d have a full list of all of the parts that go into a car. Your base module, right? You just base what you need, base. And I would then have a stock control system, an inventory system where I would need let’s say at least 20 each. If you get 20 cars and strip them down and you managed to fulfil the 20 spare parts or the parts in the inventory, great. But what you’re missing, you’ll need to buy a new versions. And then put the chassis of the main starting point, and they should all be identical. I would strip them all down to the chassis, sandblast and powdercoat them and have them in stock as you said. So when you get orders in, you just put a chassis on to the line, and then just take out of inventory, Even if that steering wheel didn’t come from that car. You’re not actually restoring it. What you’re doing is your building a new Land Cruiser, but using an original chassis and some original parts. But it’s different for each one you build, because the idea for restoring something as you said as you know, has a lot of complications. But if you can create more of a production facility where the car is coming in or just being cannibalized for parts across the board, across every model you’re using. I think you’ll find an easier challenge to do that yourself.
Austin: Yeah I see where you’re coming from. Where you’ve already prepped everything and essentially at that point when a customer orders a truck it’s really just assembly and final prep.
David: That’s exactly it. Basically what we do – but we buy the parts from our suppliers, put them on a shelf. But you’re doing the same thing. You’re buying supply parts from some suppliers, but then you’re sourcing all the other stuff, like the chassis which you can’t buy anymore from original vehicles. But you prepare them and prep them, and they’re ready for production.
Austin: Yeah that’s definitely a good idea. Takes than more like you said from a restoration to more of a production vehicle.
David: Correct. And your customers – you can use that in your marketing. Because you’re offering a – a restored car is great, but a restored car also as you said, it gives this kind of – people assume a restored car is very handmade, it’s almost – it’s not modern really. I mean what you’re doing is your bringing this Land Cruisers up to 2017 standards. You’re putting great sound systems in, amazing suspension, comfortable seats, all these kinds of stuff. People are buying these cars because they look amazing and they drive amazing. The center gravity is great, they’re fantastic cars. It’s the best Land Cruisers that have ever been made. People want one, but Toyota don’t make them anymore, so this way, you’re giving them a production standard vehicle.
Austin: Yeah definitely. Another thing that I kind of wondered about was, we’re here in Dallas Texas and we’ve got a team here but obviously, Dallas Texas can only reach so far. With your company there in Australia, how did you go about building an offline network of people who could go and provide a test drive, or basically just help you to push these vehicles and sell these vehicle so that someone is not having to constantly come to where you are.
David: Yeah I think you guys in America suffer similar things with Australia, the tyranny of distance, whereas in America you have more of an infrastructure – a transport infrastructure to get to people. That has been our main challenge especially with the Tomcar vehicle, it’s so unique, it’s so different that you have to drive it. We’ve had to do old school leather – shoe leather wearing, we’ve been driving all over Australia, going to farm shows, going to properties. We don’t have the margins to have a dealer network. We sell on the internet like you. The biggest challenge is to get people to physically see the car. That is a challenge. The only way to overcome that is to either have a dealer network, to find a group of dealers that believe in what you’re doing, and there’s enough margins in there for you to sell to them. Now in the car industry, the margins are quite small. The margins in the car industry are anywhere from 5 to 10%, that’s it. If you have 5 to 10% margins, maybe look at some dealers across the states. We sell direct, and it’s hard that way – it’s harder. I’d love a dealer network, we just don’t have the margins. But also there’s a benefit of selling direct to customers where we can hear them, and hear their feedback, and change the cars relatively quickly. But that is just – that’s where your marketing skills come in. That’s where your branding skills – and that’s where that comes in.
Austin: Yeah. I think we’ve done a good job kind of separating ourselves from the market. In the United States, for this types of vehicles, there’s really only two levels, right? There’s the very very low end which is guys who just slap these things together and sell them for $40,000 to $45,000 and then there’s guys like me who take a lot of time, 9 to 12 months to build these trucks and sell them for a lot more, but it’s a much higher quality restoration. There’s only a few people who are doing it in the higher level. Obviously it’s a lot more work, but I think it’s the way to go and I really don’t want it – I would not want to sell anything subpar myself. We’ve really been trying to separate ourselves and be able to charge more especially since we’re producing in the United States now. But really define ourselves as more of a high quality brand.
David: Yeah. You should always do that. It’s very powerful to have an aspiration of brand. That’s where your margins come in and you can fold. I mean we’re the most expensive product in the market by $10,000 to $15,000. It’s a huge jump for people to buy our vehicle. But we offer them stuff they can’t buy anywhere else. I mean we don’t compete on price. We compete on quality, easy maintenance, safety performance, things like that. We don’t compete on price and I don’t think you should either. The demographic that are going to be buying your car want the best of the best, and they’re reminiscing about these vehicles and they want one. I think you could cut than 9 to 12 months down if you commercialize the disassembly of the donor vehicles and have them in stock. You can speed that out. That may help as well.
Austin: Yeah. One idea that we had, and this is something that we would have to do down the line obviously, but one idea that we had was to set up a shop in Mexico, right across the border from us here in Texas. We would strip the chassis, strip the vehicles and ship them up in 5 -1 container, where shipping cost is minimized, the cost of labor is minimized. Because I mean the cost of labor is – I’m sure you deal with this as well in Australia, but it’s insane. I’m not saying that the guys who build these trucks for us are not deserving the amount that they’re getting, but when you’re building something that takes 700, 1000, 1500 hours of labor, it really starts eating in, especially when you’re paying $30 an hour.
David: Correct. And that’s why you need to have a really effective assembly process. The key here is for you. If you have a secure manageable opportunity in Mexico, I would ship all the cars you buy around the world directly to Mexico, get them to strip them down. In one container put of all the chassis. In the other container, put all of the pieces. Ship them to you in Dallas, you guys go through them, refurbish what you want, then build the cars yourselves. If the pulling apart of the car is a huge labor cost, dude get that done somewhere else. You have to think of yourself as an assembler, as a manufacturer, not a restorer. You’re not restoring this. You are restoring – but you don’t want to restore them. You can’t both on to scale as a restorer. You need to think differently. If you can send these cars to a more affordable place to strip them down, downpour the parts carefully obviously in a container, ship it back to you, if that’s cheaper than you pulling them apart yourself, right there you’ve saved dozens of man outs.
Austin: Yeah. So what are some of the biggest issues that you guys have faced over the years, and something that you think would kind of translate to where we’re going? Because obviously, you’re years ahead of where we’re trying to be.
David: We spent a year before we built the first car, working with our supplier, manufacturing partner to design and develop a parts management system. So basically, we digitized what’s called Kanban. The japanese Toyota build their cars using a system called Kanban. It’s japanese for card. Basically, parts follow through the system. We push parts. We have a purchasing department that buy all the parts -two and a half thousand parts for the car. We bring them into the country, we stock them, we store them, and then we pour them to the line. So what happens is we’ve split the car into what we call kits. So for example, the steering column is a kit. Steering wheel – all that comes in and we split it up and we push it to the line. And the line then takes the kit when they need it, and build this assembly which then goes into the vehicle. We spent a long time planning the process of building it, and how we put the car together. Now, you can do exactly the same thing but your big challenge is that you’re sourcing components that come from donor vehicles. You need to kind of commercialize that, streamline that. But you need to bring the donor vehicles in, strip them down, paint the chassis, have the chassis in stock, strip everything else down, decide what you can use, put what you can use in stock. Top up what you’re missing by buying new or replica versions, or even sourcing them yourself, and designing them and building them because you know having a supplier build them specifically for you. As the car goes down the line, you just assemble stuff. The biggest challenge as you said is manufacturing. That’s why we outsource it. We’re very lucky to find a company like MTM. They understand what they’re trying to do. The owner Mark Albert has the same passion as me. We want to build this thing together. That’s the key. You need to find someone that really gets your passion. The other challenge is that we’ve had over the years – they might be uniquely Australian, I don’t know. Australian culture is very pro American, American products. Ironically it’s been a struggle to prove to Australians to buy Australian. It’s a very strange thing, but that’s been another big challenge for us. At the end of the day, it’s getting bumped in seats, and getting people to drive the car.
Austin: That’s kind of interesting that you have an issue with trying to get Australian people to believe in Australian products. But what does your sales process look like, and your sales funnel look like? Because that’s something that I think we’ve done really well but I also would like to hear what yours is, so that I can gleam anything that you’re doing, and try and incorporate that into ours.
Daivd: Well I’ve got to go back over the Foundr podcast dot com. I’ve been listening to every single one. There’s gems of knowledge in there, right Nathan? What we do is we have a number of funnel. We try and grab as many people form the internet, we use a Melbourne based company called Le Chat, and that’s been fantastic. We try and put as many people in the funnel as we can. We have a human being chatting on the website to people that are interested. Get their name, their email, it goes into the funnel, we do a lot of social media. We targeted social media, we do a lot of road trips. We drive to over three or four days, one of my sales guys will the Tomcar and drive through Australia. We strategically target Facebook ads through that journey, maybe take it out in our local paper, speak to local customers, then we’ll also go to farm shows. The agricultural shows are quite popular here in Australia, where our communities come and buy product. They’re quite expensive and time consuming, but we pick the main ones. Also PR, we do a lot of PR. I can’t underestimate the power of public relations, and what I mean by PR is just getting into the press, going to the press, building relationships with journalists, follow your local journalists on Twitter, comment on them and then eventually just try and get them to come and do a story on you. It’s a fantastic opportunity. Just hustle mate, that’s all you can do, keep pushing. Companies like cars don’t have the marketing resources that our competitors do. Polaris, Can-am, John Deere, Yamaha, Honda, these are the names of our competitors. They are billion dollar publicly listed companies. You have to be smart, you have to do things that aren’t scalable, and do them until you get to scale.
Austin: Interesting. It’s definitely a huge burden trying to deal with the competitors like that. I mean you’re dealing with that more than I am, but I can definitely see what you mean. What do you think are some of the things that I should focus on immediately, and really drive for in the next year?
David: I’d really look at your production, I’d break it down. I would whiteboard it, I would break each bits down that you do now and try and universalize bits, commonize it, and standardize the process .Because then you can do it again and again and again. Change your company’s mindset from being a restorer to offering a 2017 version of the Land Cruiser. That’s what I would do.
Austin: Well that’s what we’ve kind of changed or shifted in terms of our branding recently, and really the huge thing is really just figuring out how to get the production standardized. I really appreciate your insight on all this man. I’d love to talk more, I know you guys are very busy. I think we’ve just about taken all of the time that we had scheduled for this, I don’t want to go over.
Nathan: Yeah no look, it’s all good Austin. I’m just here, just jumping in. This has been a beautiful conversation. Maybe one last question for Dave, and then we’ll work towards wrapping up.
Austin: Yeah. Really my biggest question revolves around – I’ve heard something about brand ambassadors that you had setup for your own company in another podcast that you guys had done. I was really wondering how you went about doing that. Would you recommend going to social media and finding people who are in my niche, and have a lot of followers to go and become brand ambassadors or just try and find customers who are really passionate about the cars?
David: We had what we call – we call them brand ambassadors, but they were basically customers with cars that are willing to show the car to strangers that we’ve pushed towards them. They would get a small payment in lieu of that. They get a cheaper car, and then they would be able to show people the car at a commision.The problem there is that 90% are crap, they were just trying to buy a cheaper car, and they didn’t have the passion or the knowledge of the vehicle to really sell it, so it didn’t really work. But there was a 10% group of brand ambassadors that love the car, love the product, love what we were trying to do, and allowed us to sell a lot of cars. We’re looking actually – we’ve discontinue that idea. And what we’ve done is we brought it internally. We have sales teams now that are basically brand ambassadors.They are on the payroll, they have a Tomcar and a new Land Cruiser, and they drive around Australia showing cars. But they’re basically an old school 1920 salesforce that just – wear their shoe leather out, knock on doors, and just go to remote communities and show the Tomcars. That has been the most effective way that we’ve been able to get to customers. Brand ambassadors I think is the idea of the name, it’s changed a bit. Yes you can find a very famous person on instagram, he’s got lots of followers and maybe take him out for the day, and get him to show pictures on his feed and stuff, that will help too. But I think you need a salesperson, a dedicated salesperson that is calling and just trying to close.
Austin: think one of the issues with that would be that it seems like you guys are little bit higher production volume than – I mean obviously you are, but there is not really any way for us to hire a team of people that can take one of these trucks because literally our production capacity is filled up customers. I have a hard time when people ask me “can we come and check out one of the trucks” it’s like I would love to, but they’re all sold.
David: But that’s a good thing as well. I would really focus on increasing your production. The way to increase production would be to streamline them. To standardized the main parts, outsource the stripping down of the vehicles, start looking at it from a different angle, start analyzing production lines, production flows, going and visit a car company, go and visit a manufacturing, go and visit more manufacturers, especially automotive component suppliers who have more of the Kanban systems and the most streamline japanese where I’m looking at production, and then try and implement that into your own thing.
Austin: One last question. One thing that I had been kind of looking at is – I’m looking at hiring a shop manager here in the next month or two for Dallas, but I’ve been kind of torn between hiring someone who is from a modern car company and knows more about like you said Kanban and all those principles and more about large scale production, or hire someone who really knows what he’s doing in terms of restoring a car.
David: They’re both great, but I would pick the first one. Don’t blame me if it doesn’t work. Go with the first one, because that’s what you want. You want someone to come and look at it and go “well this is a fucking mess. We need to clean this up. We need to make it more like Toyota”. You don’t want to make it more like – yes the restorer, but the problem with the restorer is that he’s an artisan. He’s a western artist. You don’t want an artist building each of your cars, you want a scientist, you want a robot, you want to make each car to be identical. It’s using different parts, maybe different levels of new versus reused or recycled parts, but they’re all the same level of quality, but you want someone to look at the whole process and go “alright this is what we’re going to do, we’re going to have to source this”. A restorer will just come in and do what he’s always done. You’re trying to kind of almost disrupt the restoration industry.
Austin: Yeah, okay. I agree. That’s what I was kind of thinking as well, but here in Dallas I’ve only got my dad who is in construction and my uncles who restore cars to lean on for advice. So I wasn’t really sure which way to go.
Nathan: Awesome. That was an amazing conversation. We’ll look forward to wrapping there, but just as a final question, Austen first of all would you be able to share where the best place is people can find out more about yourself and your work at Black Dog Traders, and then we’ll all move it to Dave. Wow guys that was amazing. Thank you so much both for your time.
Austin: I’d like to say again thanks david for your time. That was really great. Really cleared up a lot of things for me, and I think 2018 is going to be amazing. You can check us out at www.blackdogtraders.com or follow us on our Instagram @blackdogtraders, we post all kinds of full photos of our builds and trucks, and more and more content everyday of the little excursions that we’re going on with these things. Check it out.
Dave: Cool man. I’ve checked it out. It’s amazing actually. Tomcar is www.tomcar.com.au, and mainly we’re on Facebook, My Tomcar. But yeah, go buy a Land Cruiser mate done via Tomcar.
Austin: I think that they should buy both.
David: Right. Buy one of your cars and then trailer a Tomcar behind it.
Nathan: Awesome. Thank you so much guys for both taking the time making this possible. It’s an incredible conversation. I hope everyone listening, you’ve got a real insight of just the power of mentorship and learning from other people that have been ahead of you along the journey, and just how much that can shave off time. I’m sure Austin’s got an incredible amount of knowledge that he’s picked from David which has been incredible. We’ll wrap there guys. Hope you both have a fantastic day wherever you are around the world. I’ll speak to you all soon.
Key Resources From Our Interview with David Brim & Austin Peterson
- Learn more about Tomcar Australia
- Learn more about Black Dog Traders
- Like Black Dog Traders on Facebook
- Follow Black Dog Traders on Instagram