John Gold is known as “The Plate Guy”. He lives in Texas and has been working in the construction industry since he was 10 years old. His company, The Plate Guy, rents speciality items to contractors. You will learn how he built his company by being authentic and focusing on his customers.
How would you describe The Plate Guy?
Since the company and I are one and the same I presume you are asking about the company. The Plate Guy blends old school values with modern technology to attain a comfortable and practical ideal for its customers and itself. Put differently, never lose the human touch, but be good with computers.
Also, self-sufficiency is a must. You’d be amazed what one person can do if they take the time to try and learn. Here, I am accountant, webmaster, mechanic, head of sales, V.P. of marketing, truck driver, heavy machinery operator, CEO, and whatever else needs doing.
Where did you get the idea for The Plate Guy?
The Plate Guy began in Houston back in 1991. Back then it was called All-States Mat and I was 15 years old. I had been working for my father for 5 years by then and he was mentoring me to become an entrepreneur myself someday. Basically, we were on a job site one day delivering crane mats and saw the big metal plates laying there. We asked the superintendent what they were. He told us and we knew that was something we would be interested in. It took some doing to get into the business—we got a little bit lucky with timing as the price of steel was $.13/lb back then (plates can weigh up to 7,000 lbs).
After getting my degree from UT-Austin in 1998, I convinced my father it was time to expand into another market outside of Houston. We opened up shop in Austin January of 1999 and haven’t looked back. Up until 2008 we ran all of the money through him in Houston and so kept the same name of “AllStates Mat”. This was useful as it allowed us to bridge the gaps when business was slow in one city as it usually picked up in the other.
In 2008 we split the business down the middle. It was at this time “The Plate Guy” came to be—it is what my customers called me so I figured I might as well go with the flow. I like it because it reflects the nature of my company—namely, me.
What’s the main thing that made the difference for you in becoming successful?
What’s the main thing? That’s tough—maybe two main things. One, I stuck to my beliefs. I believed that people would appreciate and support a company that strove to always do what was right, treat people fair, and cut out the bull. It blows people’s minds sometimes— that’s how far the business world has shifted—kindness and decency confuses them—they think I’ve got an “angle”. Once they realize it’s just how I do business they love it. Basically, I figured if it made me angry when other businesses did it to me I refused to do it. On the other hand, I took the things I found myself wishing other businesses did and I made it so.
Don’t get me wrong—over the years I have gained an understanding for why other companies do what they do. They’re not wrong (sometimes they are)—they’ve just lost too much of their humanity.
Which leads me to the second thing that made the difference in my success: I chose to stay small. Most any enterprise will reach a point where a decision must be made: get bigger or stay small. For me, staying small was the way to go. It is a decision each entrepreneur must face. Staying small fit my goals. For others it will be getting bigger. Many success stories begin with this decision so give it proper consideration.
You were in the Austin Business Journal. How did that come about?
I would call it blind luck, but instead, let’s call it good internet presence. A young writer, Ian Floyd, contacted me about a piece he wanted to do. His interest was based solely off of reading my website. Initially I tried to talk him out of it. I told him my story was not very interesting. He insisted so we met for coffee and talked for a few hours. A few months later there I was in the Austin Business Journal. A caveat for anyone that pursues this path—you don’t get to choose what they write or how they depict you. I talked for 2 1/2 -3 hours and about 40 seconds of what I actually said made it into the article. Just remember, they are journalists—not biographers. That being said, the exposure has opened more than one door for me so far.
What advice can you give someone trying to get exposure in the media?
That is a tough one. The internet is saturated with experts. Advertising costs a fortune and has no guaranteed returns. For myself, staying small, I chose to avoid these avenues and focus on customer service and word-of-mouth advertising. There is nothing better. Angieslist.com, yelp.com, facebook, pinterest, and twitter these are all just modern word of mouth websites with a hint of bandwagon/endorsement thrown in. Use these to your advantage, but do not under-estimate your audience here. They are smart and savvy and will see through anything short of sincerity.
Do not worry if you are of the pre-internet generation– that is okay. Talk to your children/grandchildren and let them show you around and explain it to you. It is a unique culture that observes different rules and values than face-to-face society. Think of it as a self-policing anarchy with frequent mob-mentality and the kind of tact that only anonymity can afford. Do not fear it, but tread lightly. Each situation is unique so choose the resources that suit you. Put yourself out there in as many ways as you can. Go to town hall meetings that are relevant to your industry/community, speak on the matter, and afterwards stick your nose in a television camera–be prepared to say something useful and wear something half-way decent when you do this.
My best advice is to not rely on the media. Rely on yourself, your product, and your service. Get to know people and establish relationships with them. Listen to people and respond to what they are saying. Understand basic supply and demand principles. Let demand be your guide and let those who are interested know about your supply.
How do you picture The Plate Guy in 5 years?
In 5 years I expect, more or less, the same. I’m not trying to take over my industry. My aim is to be a positive part of the community in Austin. That guides my company and my choices. I still have financial ambition, of course, but it is secondary to the ideals and beliefs I want to pursue. I would not be happy if it were the other way around.
Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur? If not, what’ll make you feel successful?
I do. I have achieved the things I set out to achieve. Each year, I make small financial goals for myself and set out to achieve them. For me, it is about quality of life—not financially—but in the other areas. I answer to myself and only myself. I choose how hard I want to work. I can mostly make free time whenever I want it for friends, family, or vacation. In short, I am free. For me, there is nothing more valuable.