Matthew Figgie and Rick Solon: Stimulating growth

Matthew Figgie, Chairman, Clark-Reliance

As the leaders of Clark-Reliance, we attribute much our success to first looking inside the company for ways to grow. While things may appear stagnant, there may be some opportunities internally to afford your company the chance to expand and become more profitable.

Despite challenging economic times, it is possible to cultivate your business simply by looking inward. Clark-Reliance, a global leader in the level indication and control, sightflow indication and filtration and separation industries, continues to flourish, and in the past five years, we have experienced 46 percent growth.

We offer a four-tiered approach to growing, simply by evaluating internal operations and looking for creative ways to expand.

Never believe that you are in a mature or nongrowth industry.

If executive staff and employees continue to tell you that you are in a mature or nongrowth industry, politely ignore that advice. There is always room to grow. Your customer base is always evolving and they probably have specific production or process problems that would provide you with sales growth. Also, there may be possibilities to acquire market share from within the industry. 

For example, if a competitor gets acquired, relocates, or goes through a major change, talk to their customers. These types of changes cause quality issues and increased lead times that will often force customers to reevaluate their previous business relationships.  Look at this as your opportunity to engage them, provide solutions and ultimately convert them to your products.

Review your sales channel to maximize your opportunity to sell the most products.

Often, a modification to your sales channel can help stimulate growth. The first step is to look at what geographic areas are important due to high-potential customers and then determine the best sales channel. A precision-based sales approach in specific geographic areas targeting high-potential customers will outperform a blanket sales approach over a larger geographic area. 

For example, we identified the Middle East as an important market due to the potential and concentration of oil and gas customers. In order to gain market share, we hired a regional manager who targeted some customers directly while managing the existing sales representatives. This change allowed us to increase market penetration with a “hybrid” sales channel, leading to significant sales and market share in this region.  

Look at noncore industries and markets and determine if there is an opportunity for product permutation.

Look at market possibilities that have not been part of your core business but have similar technical applications for your products. Slight adjustments to an existing product can allow it to be sold in a completely different industry. Redesigning an existing product may give you the ability to bring “new” products to a noncore market in a short time frame. Also, product permutation cost is generally low so you can grow sales while improving profit through utilization of existing fixed costs.

Utilize the knowledge of your employees and stakeholders to find more opportunities for growth.

As the barometer of product innovation, improvement and market expansion, employees and stakeholders are the key to interacting with customers and can identify needs that you may not realize exist. Make it a standard procedure for employees and stakeholders to ask existing customers for suggestions. 

For example, one of our instrumentation product managers learned of a level control problem being experienced in the flash freezing of food. He opened a dialogue with us about solving this problem that led to a product permutation of an existing magnetic level gage. This allowed us to solve the problem for the food application and we were also able to use the new product in difficult applications with our oil and gas customers. Profitable growth opportunities are presented because of our culture of employee involvement.

We have built a culture that allows our employees and stakeholders to communicate ideas and potential opportunities to us in a frank, open dialogue. Your employees that make up your sales team, inside sales support, engineering and product management, interact with your customers and markets daily. If you couple their ideas with the knowledge of significant stakeholders like your supplier base and sales representatives, you will find many profitable growth opportunities.

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multidivisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation, petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation. Figgie is a member of the University Hospitals’ board of directors, corporate co-chairman for the 2013 Five Star Sensation and chairman for the National Kidney Walk.

Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies. Solon is chairman of the National Kidney Foundation Golf Outing and past chairman of the National Kidney Walk.