As president and owner of Demo Diva, New Orleans native Simone Bruni is a case study in resilience. After Hurricane Katrina decimated her community, Bruni quickly sprang into action. Having been laid off from her job as a corporate event planner as a result of the disaster's fallout, Bruni observed firsthand the destruction of so many homes and lives around her. Without any insider knowledge or resources to tap into, she launched a residential demolition business in June 2006. The idea was not only to generate income but give back to her beloved city. Now, as Demo Diva enters its eighth year, Bruni presides over a full-time staff of five and a thriving business that has expanded from straight demolition to specialized services such as site prep work. Recently, Bruni took a break from her busy schedule to talk with business writer Iris Dorbian about her unlikely career trajectory.
ID: What prompted you to launch Demo Diva?
SB: I saw the National Guard was here after Katrina and then all these people from around the country came in with bulldozers, excavators, and bobcats. I started to see that demolition was going to be that first step to getting everyone [who had been displaced by the hurricane] home.
ID: You had no prior construction experience and yet you started a demolition company. What resources did you used to educate yourself in this sector?
SB: I was in the hospitality industry and I was the marketing person. Those were two critical skills. I took those two skills over to an industry that needed hospitality. Demolition is associated with men and at this point when I started [in New Orleans], it was a disaster zone. People needed comfort. That is one of the secrets of demolition: Behind every demolition is an emotion. Whether you're tearing down a hospital or imploding a historic building, there is an emotion associated with it.
Marketing was the catalyst that set me apart. I didn't want to operate the machinery. Instead I said, ‘Let's get our name out there. We’re here to listen.’ So I started with $250. That was basically for the yard signs, the magnets for my car, and business cards. Then I went out to where a demolition was taking place. So that's really how I began.
ID: Since its launch what has your business evolved into?
SB: Now I do site prep, which is when you put in underground utilities. Say a fast-food restaurant is going to demolish the whole area and then they're going to build a new one. We would go in and clear the site to prepare for a parking lot or drainage.
ID: How else did you market your business?
SB: We did some TV commercials after Katrina. We would buy an inexpensive spot on cable. A lot of people thought my company was owned by a man using a female gimmick. But [that changed] with my commercial. Also, I have 50 dumpsters all over the city and they're painted hot pink. We've got a 12-foot welded billboard on either side of the dumpster. So I invested in the signage. Now my dumpsters are mobile billboards.