Sticking to it Featured

8:00pm EDT September 18, 2006
 Castle Aviation Inc.’s Web site lists five secrets to success, which Michael Grossmann says are loosely based on those of Walt Disney.

No. 4 on the list is “sticktoitivity,” which Grossmann, the company’s owner, founder and president, defines as “sticking to the mission and trying not to waver from it.”

Founded in 1986, Castle Aviation is an aircraft freight service based at the Akron-Canton Airport. Its revenue has grown to $7.2 million, up from $3.8 million in 2003.

Smart Business spoke with Grossmann about how he and his team work to make the company better.

How can a leader grow a company?
Empower your people to get creative. Reinvent the wheel. You constantly have to look for other sources of revenue because you never know when the sources of revenue you have today are going to dry up.

You have to be flexible. This is not a one person job; this is a company thing.

What are can prevent a company from growing, and how can business owners avoid it?
If a business owner is happy with the business he’s doing, and it’s got a little niche, that’s fine. But most business owners want more money, and they want to grow, and to do that, you have to constantly reinvent yourself.

You cannot have the attitude, ‘This is the way I do it, and I’m not changing.’ The person who thinks like that is not going to be able to grow very much because he’s in a rut.

You have to look ahead and be positive about everything all the time. I don’t care how bad things get. We all have doom and gloom, (because) businesses cycle.

You can’t stop spending money just because you’re not making any. You have to go after more business.

You can’t tell everybody, ‘Things are slow. Close the doors. We’re just going to sit here and wait for the phone to ring.’ If you wait for the phone to ring, it’s not going to ring, so you’ve got to get on the phone and start making calls. Find out from your customers what they want.

Business owners always have (their) sales hat on, but I also like to think of it as an ambassador hat. You’re the one who’s going out there and talking with your customers. They appreciate the owner coming out. If the owner doesn’t talk with them, they’re trying to figure out who runs your company.

All my customers have access to my e-mail and cell phone number. If they ever have a problem or an issue, they can call me.

You have to be available for your customers. If your people do something wrong, you correct the problem and use it as a learning tool.

Why is it important to ask your customers what they want?
How can you improve yourself if you don’t know what the customer wants or expects? When I sit down with a customer, I say, ‘How can I make things better for you?’

The vast majority of the time they say we do a great job, but every once in awhile, they say, ‘What about this?’ Many times, I have never thought of these things. You can learn a lot from talking with your customers.

What advice would you give other business owners?
Don’t be afraid to take the challenge. You learn by your mistakes. Get all of the information you can possibly get, make a decision and go for it.

If that course isn’t working, don’t stay there. Change course, change directions. You’ve got to be creative and flexible.

Look at how FedEx and UPS are constantly changing. They’re constantly reinventing themselves and trying to get a bigger share of the market and more business.

What stands you apart? What makes you different from your competitor? I respect my people, pay them well and give them uniforms. I do a lot more for the people who work for me than other cargo operators would, but I expect more out of them, too. It’s all about how you take care of people.

Never ever criticize (an employee’s idea). Take that idea and evaluate it. If I don’t think it’s a good idea, I will give my reasons and share that with the employee so they understand and get a little more educated.

Another piece of advice that I got a long time ago was walk the four corners of your building. Make an effort to see everybody who’s working in your building. Let them see the boss.

If they don’t see the boss and think he’s out playing all the time, then he probably is.

HOW TO REACH: Castle Aviation Inc., (800) 325-4703 or www.castleair.com