Actor and comedian Milton Berle once mouthed, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” And that is what Joseph Di Benedetto, Executive Director at Designer Doorware, exactly did. Joseph is the kind who would never stop at anything. He recognises that persistence and patience are qualities that are significant in running a business. As long as there are doors of opportunities, he will not stop knocking until these doors open to bigger breaks.
Every morning, Joseph wakes up thinking that he has just started his business that day. Even when his company has already been running for over 20 years old, he constantly regards it as a startup and aims to develop it further. He asks himself each morning, “What am I going to do to make it better, streamline and get customers to like me more and buy our products more?”
That mindset and his never-give-up attitude pay off. Now, his business is global, with 50 people in his employ. They sell all over Australia, in the U.S. and certain parts of Asia. Their products are high-end, serving the upper echelon of the building industry. But it didn’t happen with a flick of a finger. It was a long journey to get there, and it was an onerous one.
Halfway through 10th grade, Joseph dropped out of school and worked in his father’s business, doing some metal polishing, powder coating, spray painting and metal fabrication. At that young age, he was getting more familiar with his father’s business, which was locksmithing – importing locks from Italy and distributing them throughout Australia. He travelled with his dad around Australia and in Italy and joined in his father’s meetings with clients, hobnobbing with senior executives.
Things started to take a different turn when they went through a family crisis. His parents were not going along very well and got divorced. He had to let go of his mother from the business because she was unhappy. His father, on the other hand, moved to Thailand and tried to control the business by remote. This setup didn’t work in favour of the business. Worse, the business fell into a lot of debt. “I was kind of lonely. I was left alone. By that time, I was 19 years old, and I started to learn about business very quickly. What I did learn was, if this business had to succeed, I would need to sell my way out of it,” Joseph shared.
That meant he had to get out on the road to sell products and things that he could. Suddenly, there were responsibilities he had to carry all by himself. “The things that scared me the most was the unknown, which was not knowing how to run a business. I just did what I thought was right. I did what I felt was right. Mainly, I made a lot of decisions based on my heart. I didn’t have a lot in my head because I was uneducated in business. But I am very passionate, and I’m an action person,” he substantiated.
As he took over the business, he discovered certain things that needed fixing. “I found that the manufacturing and the importing and all that wasn’t working because my dad wasn’t good at time management. He procrastinated a fair bit, and he didn’t have the supply chain down properly,” he revealed. To address that, he met with a competitor company and found that the competitor possesses ample staff and products available. He would buy those products and sell them in his business. It worked for him because he could do this at a faster rate and with less effort. At this time, Joseph also brought local manufactured Australian products into the business.
His constant dealings with the competitor led him to partner with him for a new venture. “What I did was, I said to him, ‘why don’t we get into business together?’ So, we formed the business in 1996.” That was how Designer Doorware originated. In their first eight years of working together in the business, they made a lot of money and did quite well. Joseph concentrated on selling as he was good at it. “My next passion was meeting people, selling and talking to people. I loved going out there and talking to people and selling my services and what we do,” he earnestly declared. They employed more salespeople and manufactured their products. Eventually, he bought his business partner out and had full control of the company ever since.
All those years of taking over his father’s business, forming his own company with his business partner, and running the venture by himself was a journey through peaks and valleys. Running a business as a teenager had its pros and cons. Because of his youth, he wasn’t taken seriously by certain people. He narrated how people would react. “I used to get that a lot where someone would say, ‘okay, can I speak to someone in your company that can make a decision?’ I’d be like, ‘yeah, I can make the decision.’ ‘How old are you?’ ‘I’m 18.’ ‘How can you make the decision?’ ‘Well, I’m 50% shareholder of this business. So, I can make that decision.’ That was a challenge,” he acknowledged. Be that as it may, there were customers who adored him as well. They liked his youthful energy and fresh ideas. Just the same, it was inevitable that he would upset some clients. He committed some mistakes and, in the process, learned things the hard way. But those hardships also brought him lessons early in his journey.
Although he is a good saver, as his mom taught him to save money at a young age, he still faced some financial problems. “The biggest fear I had was to go into debt again because when I took my dad’s business over, I had to put up with debt, to repay debt. So, I was scared by that. And now, I don’t like debt. I do like debt for the right reasons but not for the wrong reasons,” Joseph disclosed.
The time he fell into debt again was when he bought his partner’s share. It was a tough decision for Joseph to make. His choice was to walk away from a very successful business or to buy his partner out and go into massive debt. For him, “That was the most daunting and scary part. When I bought him out, I got into a serious debt position, and I knuckled down.”
That stage when he was left all by himself in that business was like starting all over again for Joseph. He had to work harder and for longer hours. It was different when he was still working with his business partner. Because they were making a lot of money, Joseph bought all the luxuries he could imagine. The time he got into serious debt when he bought his partner’s share, the materialistic things were no longer his priority. Instead, his priority turned into his work and his family, especially when his kids came along.
Joseph enumerated the other challenges he had to deal with in running a business. “Employing the wrong people, keeping the wrong people employed for the wrong reason, that’s a big learning curve. Understanding that financing the business is extremely important, and you need to hire the brains for that if you don’t know it. But I was forced into that position.”
Thus, this persistent business owner found keys that opened his business towards bigger wins. He applied the best practices he could think of, such as hiring consultants, soliciting advice when he doesn’t know something, outsourcing that aspect of the business and learning a bit about it. Another thing he did was make sure that he had procedures in place to secure systems and processes in his company.
As a business owner and leader, he gives people a lot of room to do great. “I give people enough rope. Either they do something cool with that rope, or they hang themselves. So, I let them decide their fate. I don’t micromanage. I manage (people) by results and tasks,” he explained.
In his journey, he has met people who have been ahead of him in the path. They gave him bits and pieces of their wisdom. The best collective advice Joseph picked from others was to do what he loves and to love what he does. “If you don’t, then you’re not going to be a success. I’ve honed that over the last three years. I think it shows. When I wake up in the morning, I just do things that I love to do. I stop focusing on the finances of the company. I stop focusing on the money. I focus on the flower. Because I focus on the flower, so to speak like a bee does when the bee goes out, then the honey is the byproduct of the passion. That’s the best advice I’ve collectively received over the years,” remarked Joseph.
Another source of learning for him is EO Melbourne. He found out about EO Melbourne through one of his suppliers who advised him to take a look at it since he no longer had any business partner at that time. It was of great value and enjoyment to him because of his forum. His forum members have varied experiences in different areas that taught him a lot of things. But what he picked the most from EO was something that he could use as he moves his business forward. “My biggest learning from EO is that if you’re going global, you need to stay local. Meaning, if you go to London, you have to be a Londoner. Make sure that you’re all about London,” he expounded.
His hunger for learning also taught him to listen more. Audiobooks have also been a good resource for Joseph. He listens to them when he is driving or flying, which is convenient given his hectic schedule. Listening is something he found helpful during his business journey. That includes listening to other people’s opinion. He believes that we should use our two ears and one mouth in that proportion.
All those learnings and best practices were his tools in leading him to where he is at this point in his business. Having begun his journey at the age of 16, when he first started with his dad, Joseph considers running a business of his own as his biggest victory. It has grown big as it is now housed in larger premises than it used to be. From five people, he has grown it to 50 staff members.
Despite the success he has achieved in his venture, Joseph still has bigger dreams for Designer Doorware. “Five or 10 years down the road, I want to have a showroom in every major capital city in the US, in the UK, and in Australia. So, every major capital city, which means LA, New York, Chicago, London, Melbourne, Sydney. I want to develop another business which has to do with something similar in the building industry. I think I will diversify my interests into things that I’ve always wanted to, which is in different aspects of property development,” he said.
With his two children, his son is 18 while his daughter is 16, Joseph has introduced them to the business. They’re still quite young, especially his daughter, who has shown interest in having a business, although she’s still in school. He has also asked his son to shadow him during his son’s off days in university. But if they’ll soon handle their own business, Joseph has this to say, “Spend a lot of time with the people that you employ because they’re the most important people in your business. People are the most important things in your business, the most important assets in your business. And making sure that your people share your passion. Make sure that your people are there for the right reasons.”
Their journey would be far different from what Joseph has trudged, which was full of difficulties. Still, he is grateful to his dad for making him strong enough to face the challenges he had to face. Although his dad already passed away last year, he has something to convey to him, if given a chance. “Probably, that he didn’t need to be so hard on me during my growing up years. But I thank him for being so hard on me because that has turned me into the person that I am. So, I thank him for that. It’s probably not something that I would do with my kids because I would do it differently. I’m not regretful or resentful of the way that he brought me up. I’m more than thankful for the way he brought me up. And I turned out okay. That’s what I would say to him.”
True enough, Joseph could have taken an easier route. But he showed us that never stopping and never giving up pays off. For this business owner who knows a lot about locksmithing, persistence is key to locked doors. With his energy and passion for his business, he will keep pushing himself to more opportunities that will lead him to bigger successes.