MBA alum shares the mechanics of his thriving small business
As a successful mechanical contractor, Martin Lowry ’88 engineering and ’92 MBA is comfortable working with blueprints. So, when Lowry was asked to speak to a class of aspiring entrepreneurial students in the College of Business, he mapped out his keys to success as an entrepreneur.
Lowry of Laurens is the owner of Thomas Mechanical, a commercial and industrial heating, ventilation and air conditioning contractor entering its 15th year of business. At the request of John Hannon, professor, Lowry spoke to students in the Entrepreneurial Mindset (ENTR 1010) course about what it takes to sustain a start-up when 50 percent of them fail within two years.
“Passion and motivation are necessities in an entrepreneur, but to be successful it takes more than that,” said Lowry, whose business enterprises also include fire protection and investment properties. “You have to know what you’re getting into and that means having thorough knowledge of the product and market before you enter it. Learning as you go isn’t going to cut it. I’ve been in the mechanical business all my life, so I had a solid understanding of what I was getting into.”
Lowry had a couple of stints in his family’s mechanical business after receiving an engineering degree from Clemson. But he someday wanted to be his own boss and knew it was going to take more than a hands-on understanding of HVAC to own a business.
“I got serious about my career after going to work for the family business, and decided the MBA program would provide the kind of direction I needed to go out on my own someday,” said Lowry, whose business is named after his 15-year-old son. “I never took business classes as an undergraduate, so I knew very little about finance, balance sheets and profit and loss. The MBA turned out to be the silver lining of my career. It gave me the tools I needed to succeed as an entrepreneur.”
Thomas Mechanical, founded in 2004, was honored two consecutive years as one of South Carolina’s fastest-growing companies, 25th and 15th, most recently. The company employs 45. Lowry told students that building a competent team is crucial to ensuring a business’s sustainability.
“As a start-up, creating a team is challenging because a lot of job candidates are skeptical about the future,” Lowry said. “And the risk of starting a company goes beyond capital. It extends to the employees having the work ethic and as much commitment to success as you do. I was fortunate in my hires, but one thing I’ve always done to ensure trust and loyalty is to share my success with employees.”
Lowry insulated his business from down markets by diversifying with the investment properties and Thomas Mechanical’s fire protection business. But his diversification strategy goes beyond products and business services.
“I’ve always protected my interests by diversifying, including personal investments. When one market is down, another one of your investments carries you. And I never carry too much of my money in one investment,” he said.
As crucial as anything, Lowry stressed the importance of ‘marketing’ the business by being in front of customers.
“Most people associate marketing with advertising, but I’m talking about being with your customers, selling the business to them and your commitment to their success. By interacting with them, you’re marketing the business. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of networking and face-to-face interactions with your marketplace.”
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