Having lived and breathed a particular marketplace can make an entrepreneur’s task of identifying its unmet needs less daunting.
That may be why Jack Petersen’s A Southern Hand LLC was quick out of the starting blocks when it was launched four summers ago and became a successful class project in the 2019 spring semester.
The senior management major from Bluffton, S.C., targeted the 1,000-home development he grew up in to deliver services to the neighborhood ranging from common household and yard tasks to airport shuttles.
“By design, Palmetto Bluff is a development somewhat isolated from the rest of Bluffton. Its location is a draw, but it also creates an inconvenience for some residents, especially the elderly,” said Jack, who went door-to-door with long-time friend and business partner Sam Evans to determine residents’ pain points.
“Find the pain, fix the pain” is the motto that the company has thrived on,” Jack said. “Because of its location, small businesses would overcharge for simple tasks because of the drive time to and from the development.”
For example, shuttles charge $100 one-way to the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport. A Southern Hand runs the same route profitably for $50. In addition, the start-up provides power washing, house sitting, furniture moving, garage clean-outs, gutter cleaning, changing light bulbs and dog walking expediently and with a level of customer service others don’t provide.
“Sam and I both live in Palmetto Bluff and have established reputations, so we have credibility and are polite and respectful of our customers’ spaces,” Jack said. “We not only do the jobs for a fraction of the price, we bring an element of customer service that they won’t get from someone on the outside. We built a strong customer service culture that’s resulted in a 70 percent business retention rate.”
Jack and Sam, a recent graduate and now a U.S. Army officer, spend no money on advertising. It’s word of mouth, and they use the NextDoor app to promote their business. They currently employ three part-time college students and one full-time high school student. By expanding into communities within a half hour of Bluffton, and recently into Clemson, A Southern Hand has all the business it can handle. Revenue is eight times what it was the first summer, four years ago.
Jack said a Venture Testing class he took last spring with Chad Navis, associate professor of management and the Arthur M. Spiro Professor of Entrepreneurial Leadership, opened his eyes to the business’ possibilities. Students are tasked with creating a business or product and executing on it during the semester.
“At the end of the semester, there’s a Shark Tank-like competition. A Southern Hand won the competition, and had a blast doing it,” Jack said. “Professor Navis’ class made me look at the business from a different perspective. Because of what I learned from him, we were able to increase our client base and improve the way we do business. I’ve significantly slowed the spending of my profits on things like travel, food and beverages. I haven’t touched my savings account in three years, except for what I put into an investment account. The more I make, the less I want to spend.”
With graduation looming, the future of A Southern Hand has yet to be determined. The idea of a career in sales appeals to Jack, but he’s doubtful of being able to balance a sales career and remain a business owner.
“It’s been on my mind a lot lately. We’re helping so many people we’ve come to know really well and built strong relationships with them, all while earning really good money. I have a lot of soul searching to do in the coming months to see if somehow A Southern Hand can remain a viable business.”
Meantime, Jack is putting some of his energy into starting an organization he wishes was available when he was an underclassman – a campus-wide entrepreneurial club.
“The Entrepreneurship Club at Clemson is for all students interested in learning about the world of entrepreneurship. For freshmen, it’s a great opportunity learn about entrepreneurship. For upperclassmen with an idea, this may be the next step in turning that idea into something great,” Jack said.
“The club will give students more exposure to entrepreneurism through a variety of speakers and by bringing like minds together to share their different perspectives. Exposure through an organization like this is something I wish I had earlier on.”
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