This is the first article in the monthly series “Local Business Spotlight” where we get to know local businesses. For our first feature, we interviewed Justin Grimes, the founder of C3 LLC. What does he do and what can startups learn from his journey? Let’s take a look.
Justin’s company manufactures the patented C3 Caster-lift Shopping Cart Safety Rope. What is it? It’s an innovative solution to shopping cart retrieval that improves both productivity and safety.
What benefits does the C3 safety rope bring? Cart attendants routinely injure themselves from the strain of maneuvering heavy lines of shopping carts. Shopping carts can also get away from attendants even striking cars or people. Here are 4 ways the C3 safety rope improves the lives of those that use it.
- It reduces costly wear-and-tear on non-pivoting casters (flat spots created by scraping a line of casters laterally while maneuvering them).
- It increases productivity—thanks to reduced fatigue and the fact that more carts can safely be retrieved per trip.
- It reduces the likelihood that an employee will sustain a strain-induced injury from pushing a line of carts.
- It reduces company costs related to runaway shopping carts.
Now that we know a little about what C3 does, let’s listen to the interview.
Let the interview begin
Elisha: How did you come up with the idea for your product?
Justin: My father was the original inventor of the C3 Safety Rope. He was an operator who worked for Walmart and Sam’s Club for a number of years. He was the General Manager of a Sam’s Club here in Minnesota and he called himself the highest paid cart attendant in the company. He needed to figure out a way to retrieve shopping carts from the parking lot in an easier and safer way. Originally, he was developing an electric cart retriever and his idea was to attach a line of shopping carts and pull them like a train.
Since he needed a way to do that he used a ratcheting device, attached it handle to handle, and cinched it tight. The way he always told the story was that when he leaned against the carts, he nearly fell down – they spun like a top. So, he thought there was something to that and he secured a utility patent for that process. He had other interests and was busy working for other companies for many years, so I helped him refine the product and take it to market. They say, “necessity is the mother of invention” and that was definitely the case with the C3 Safety Rope. It came about out of the need to make shopping cart retrieval easier, safer and more productive.
Elisha: Awesome! That’s a cool story. How did your family influence your decision to start a business?
Justin: My father is the main driver to me becoming an entrepreneur. He had a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit. He wasn’t able to run his own business for most of his life with the demands of raising a family, but he always wanted to. We both got a tremendous satisfaction out of seeing his idea turn into a fully developed product and then transition that solution into a company and brand. He always gave me credit for the heavy-lifting, but C3 LLC is truly part of his legacy. I loved working with my dad and I miss him dearly.
Elisha: Really cool. What habits helped make you successful?
Justin: Really just being persistent and trying to break down really large, overwhelming tasks into smaller steps and processes. Also, not being afraid to ask the dumb questions and ask for help when needed. As much as anything, I attribute our success to surrounding ourselves with good people that can help us.
Elisha: What is the biggest marketing challenge that you face?
Justin: Our solution is very specific. We're starting to add accessories and other products and it’s a large market, but we are in a very narrow niche. There really isn’t another company that offers a solution quite like ours, so the biggest challenge we face is competing for the right decision makers’ time and attention. These are extremely busy people and we’re not the only ones that are trying to work with them.
Elisha: I can see how that would be hard. You’re trying to get in front of the busiest people.
Justin: Yeah, absolutely, that’s what it comes down to.
Elisha: What do you think has been your biggest marketing success?
Justin: Word of mouth, really. I think right now, we’re starting to get a groundswell where people are seeing our solution with other clients and then inquiring about it and ordering directly as a result. We have taken the trade show route, and while that’s been useful in getting the attention of some people, I don’t know if it has paid for itself or not. We’ve tried to focus on listening and responding to our clients and to be a really good vendor-partner. As a result, we’ve continued to improve and see slow steady growth.
Elisha: That’s awesome. It’s kind of funny, I think word of mouth always ends up being one of the most important forms of advertising, especially, when you’re working in a niche market.
Justin: Yeah, it definitely is.
Elisha: What is one thing you find to be true that most people disagree with?
Justin: I will say that it’s a common misconception right now that in order to grow a business you need to seek venture capital or outside investors, and I don’t think that’s true. We bootstrapped our business from the very beginning. We started out of a garage and grew the company slowly as we were able to, debt free.
I think another common misconception is that, in order to be successful in business, you need to be aggressive and somehow bulldoze people. I’ve never tried it, but I know that is absolutely not true, especially with the companies that we work with. They want to do business with people that they trust and that can deliver. I would say that trustworthiness is vital for any business endeavor to succeed long-term. And, you can’t fake it. It doesn’t have anything to do with the right handshake or eye contact, it comes from genuinely wanting to add value to your client.
Elisha: I have one more crazy one here: If you could time travel back to day one of your startup and have 15 minutes with your former self to communicate any lessons you acquired with the intention of saving yourself mistakes and heartache, what would you tell yourself?
Justin: My father always used to say, “Hope for the best and expect the worst.” That one has always served me well. I would add to that and say, “everything is going to be OK.” You definitely learn over time to try and not sweat the small stuff. With any small business, challenges come up that can seem really overwhelming. With time you just kind of learn to face them and move on. As a manufacturer and assembler developing an original product, we faced several challenges early on. The first couple hundred C3 Safety Ropes we sent out we were like, “Are these definitely going to work!?” Later, but still early on, there were a few quality control issues that we worked through with one large client in particular. At the time, these issues seemed completely overwhelming and potentially devastating. There have been a few times we’ve asked ourselves, “well, I wonder if we’ll be able to keep the doors open.” But being around other small businesses and entrepreneurs over the years, I’ve come to realize that these challenges are always going to occur. Things are never going to happen perfectly. So if I could go back in time, I would tell myself, “Keep at it. Everything is going to be OK.”
Elisha: Cool. So, lastly, what’s your favorite music album? I know you like music.
Justin: Boy, that is a really hard one. I will say…
Elisha: Or something in your top 10.
Justin: I’ll say that one of my favorite albums is Arcade Fire’s Funeral…
Elisha: I love Arcade Fire!
Justin: And I would say that the album that I have listened to the most, more than any other, is for whatever reason, Radiohead’s Kid A. I listened to it a ton while I was at school. For whatever reason, it held up to so many repeated listenings for me. So, Funeral and Kid A are both in my top 10, but I know for a certainty that Kid A is the album I’ve listened to more than any other.
Justin, like the rest of us, faces business challenges every day. But, instead of getting overwhelmed, he breaks them into manageable chunks and keeps at it. He knows that ups and downs are just part of a business owner's life. What matters is keeping your cool. He’s an inspiration to everyone who’s holding back because they worry about finances or other challenges. Start small, be smart with your money, and most of all, be patient.
If you’d like to take a closer look at what C3 has to offer, you can visit their website here.
If you’d like to talk about how you can modernize your marketing strategy, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.