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Saturday, 31 March 2012 20:01

SDLC Partners is in growth mode

Chris Simchick and Scott Barnyak must have missed the memo that companies are supposed to hunker down and not hire while times are tough. The two principal partners of SDLC Partners LP, a 230-employee business and technology consulting firm, hired 100 employees last year and have big growth goals planned for the company.

Founded in 2004, SDLC saw 2011 revenue of more than $24 million, which Simchick hopes to turn into $120 million by 2020. With a focus on strategic planning, cultural values and hiring top-level talent, Simchick and Barnyak are well on the way to making that goal a reality.

“That kind of growth creates tremendous opportunity, but it also creates those challenges for people to step up in a time frame that is meaningful to the business,” Simchick says. “It’s the expectation if you’re going to be a partner at SDLC Partners that you are responsible to challenge ideas, challenge thinking and come up with opportunities.”

It’s this type of mentality that has put SDLC in growth mode. To take full advantage of the opportunities that present themselves, the company plans for the future.

“About 2.5 years ago we embarked on a strategic planning process,” Simchick says. “We engaged an outside firm … not just to facilitate but to bring a process to the table that we then implemented and institutionalized within the company which links both the growth and culture.”

The management team meets once every quarter with the outside strategic steering partner to drive the plan forward.

“No. 1, our team walks out of that room very aligned around the most important things we believe will have the greatest impact for the company this business year. No. 2, we have a plan of attack and an owner of each of those initiatives for the next 90 days.”

Utilizing an outside party helped SDLC see things they might have otherwise missed.

“If you’re not using some outside objective help to do that, you’re probably missing an opportunity,” Simchick says. “The guys that we’ve engaged and worked closely with have gotten to know our business, have gotten to know our people and have held our feet to the fire in terms of being honest and challenging ourselves.”

It is also critical to keep an open mind and listen to other perspectives.

“You have to admit that you don’t know it all and use that as a theme for when you engage both outside help and when you’re looking to hire into the company,” Barnyak says. “One of the challenges that leaders need to be aware of is it’s real easy to hire people like us. You have to make a conscious effort to hire complementary people who bring different skills, techniques and personalities to the table to help you think differently.”

The hiring process is often the most difficult part about running a growing business. Simchick and Barnyak make sure they are always looking for potential new hires.

“One of the biggest challenges is identifying and hiring enough of the right type of people that fit well into the firm,” Simchick says. “If there’s one thing that we’ve continually talked about, it’s how do we accelerate that hiring curve.”

As SDLC has grown and hired new people, Simchick and Barnyak have made sure to keep one thing constant: the company’s culture.

“As the company continues to grow, holding true to that culture that we’ve built is front and center,” Barnyak says. “It’s culture first, skills second. As hard as it may seem at times, particularly while you’re growing fast and you need that technical skill in the company today, hiring to the culture and growing that person in the long-run tends to have the better impact, particularly if culture and core values and those things are important to your organization.”

HOW TO REACH: SDLC Partners LP, (412) 373-1950 or www.sdlcpartners.com  

Diversify your services

While strategic planning and hiring the right talent have played a big role in the growth of SDLC Partners LP, principal partners Chris Simchick and Scott Barnyak look to diversify the company’s services to create new opportunities.

“We looked at horizontal offerings that would apply to almost any industry in a generic sense,” Barnyak says. “It’s leveraging your core and seeing what could be transferable. The trick is finding the right amount of domain expertise to blend with that to lend you some credibility in that area.”

You have to challenge your people to think differently to find ways to leverage the investments that you’ve already made.

“Those become the differentiators that both clients recognize and are where we gain big wins internally because someone stepped forward and identified an opportunity,” Simchick says.

No matter how appealing an opportunity may seem, you have to keep focused on what you’re best at.

“It takes discipline because it’s real easy to get distracted from your core and the things that you do well,” Barnyak says. “If you’re doing something really well and it’s within the core business, extending that core to another industry is viable, but you have to be careful that you don’t get easily distracted and take yourself away from the things you do really well.”

Published in Pittsburgh

As the economy took a hit over the last few years, Fred Stock saw the demand for his organization’s services grow dramatically. That’s because the result of a down economy is more and more people seeking out more of the services that Jewish Community Services of South Florida has been providing for years. But keeping up with the higher demand has not been easy, especially when coupled with the funding challenges of operating as a not-for-profit entity.

“There’s an increased need corresponding with a reduction of available dollars,” says Stock, the president and CEO of the Miami-based social services agency, which services the Dade County community.

As fundraising in the overall community has dropped, so has the amount of funding dollars coming into the organization.

“So we need to figure out ways to cover the overhead for the agency,” Stock says. “One of the ways is that you reduce those costs by being more efficient.”

Stock says that this is a challenge many more not-for-profit organizations are dealing with today.

One way he says these agencies can manage costs is by providing a mix of free and paid services. By expanding in areas that have a “fee for service,” such as home care, the organization is able to cover costs of the services that it provides for free.

“We’re trying to expand our capabilities to provide services that can reimburse us for our costs, and we can generate some surpluses to pay for the programs that people don’t have the ability to pay for,” Stock says.

However, the crux of the agency’s strategy to become more efficient involves developing partnerships with organizations that share its service goals and funding model.

“We have definitely taken on the belief that in order to be successful, we need to partner,” Stock says.

“By combining, we can serve more people, create operational efficiencies, expand our reach, and it will allow us over the long haul to create more opportunity to serve people.”

While many smaller not-for-profit agencies are quality organizations, they are often limited in what they can do because they don’t have the infrastructure or funding sources to expand and grow. Leading a larger agency, Stock is now working harder to partner with smaller entities so both parties make progress on shared goals. An example is how the agency is partnering with assisted living facilities and HUD 202 housing projects where there are large constituencies of people who need its services.

Stock says you want try to align yourself with agencies and programs that relate to where you can provide services but also with agencies that have a similar mission.

“You maximize their capabilities and their expertise,” Stock says. “You bring that expertise now into this affiliated entity … and then you can expand your service capability because potentially that service can be located in a community that you’re not serving.”

The other advantage of partnering is the potential to combine operations or share resources where appropriate, which can increase efficiencies for both parties. So if two entities are doing billing with a number of grants, there is an opportunity to combine that billing for cost savings.

Stock says constantly monitoring and improving efficiency is something that not-for-profits and businesses should be doing whether or not there are funding issues. By partnering up, the agency continues to find strategic ways to carry out its mission and deliver its services more efficiently.

“We’re a $15 million agency,” Stock says. “We can bring some of that infrastructure — the funding, the marketing, to that new agency and enhance that agency’s effort to create revenue. And then you can create revenue for a larger organization and you have a whole lot more clout, because you have a whole lot more reach. You’re serving more people. In that process, you can find savings within that entity that you can then put back into your programs to yet provide more services.”

Start inside

Many not-for-profit entities have faced funding challenges as a result of the economic recession. Jewish Community Services of South Florida, which provides its services at no cost, is funded primarily through grants and fundraising. But that funding is limited and most of the agency’s funding sources do not provide enough money for its administrative component. To maintain services as money becomes scarcer, president and CEO Fred Stock has led a number of initiatives to be more efficient in this area.

“We’ve had to become much more efficient in the way we provide services and in the way we fund our administrative component,” Stock says. “In an agency, you have direct services and then you have the infrastructure that you need in order to run these services, things like billing, rent, offices and all of that, which are fixed expenses to some degree.”

To increase efficiency in the administrative component, the agency has consolidated some of its offices and begun looking at ways to utilize space better. It’s also started to streamline processes in internal operations such as billing, maintenance and systems.

“We’ve been able to save a substantial amount of money in these areas that has allowed us to continue to provide services at the same rate,” Stock says. “So even through we’ve suffered from reductions in funding, we’ve been able to still maintain the levels of service that we’ve provided over the last few years.”

How to reach: Jewish Community Services of South Florida, (305) 576-6550 or www.jcsfl.org

Published in Florida

When Ken Kemerer looks at the 80 percent revenue growth SilMix Ohio has achieved since 2001 when it was purchased by Wacker Chemical Corp., he gives a lot of credit to getting involved in industry associations.

Not that it was the only factor ? a rebranding effort three years ago was also part of the mix ? but being an active member of industry groups was a must.

“That’s where the networking is huge,” says Kemerer, director of SilMix Ohio, a manufacturer of custom silicone compounds. “We have added 50 customers since 2009, and we truly believe this branding and networking has resulted in the new customers.”

To get going with industry group networking, you need to research the organizations through universities, libraries or the Internet.

“In the rubber industry for instance, the American Chemical Society is an umbrella group that has a rubber division and a subset for regional and local groups,” Kemerer says. “You want to support financially and technically through manpower and participation all those groups. We support basically all those groups in North America now.”

In terms of support, it means more than paying membership fees.

“You can sponsor their websites, sponsor their fundraising, their golf outings and donate to their scholarship funds,” he says. “The regional groups have technical meetings. You can give technical presentations at their meetings. The technical service is important because other companies may not have an expert on site and you can provide that technical side of the industry.”

The fact that you are at a regional conference giving a presentation and answering questions about your specialty goes far in establishing your brand.

“It’s all about the networking in getting the name out, so that if people are not familiar with your specialty, and they have questions, yours will be the first name they think of,” Kemerer says.

One thing that obviously helps the initiative is encouragement from company ownership.

“Our owner is a corporate citizen, which means we have a responsibility to the industry,” he says.

This attitude should underlie your involvement in the industry groups ? you are not just giving a presentation as a sales pitch for your company.

“The industry groups had been the only place to get knowledge unless you hired somebody who had been trained by somebody else,” Kemerer says. “As the Internet has come along, and online training, they have changed, so the industry groups are really providing networking opportunities on a high level. It’s almost more of an awareness than technical training. These opportunities are out there.”

With your interaction in the industry groups, you are advancing your knowledge throughout the sector.

“There are not that many technical experts out there if you are in a niche,” he says. “Yes, it’s self-serving when you present, you may get your name known as somebody who has the answers, but it is not just about that. It’s also about corporate citizenship.

“There are many opportunities to present new and innovative things if you can in particular areas such as the medical field. That’s on the cutting edge as is helping customers in the industry become aware of new ways to do things or new developments.”

One other fact to keep in mind while attending or presenting at a conference is that your competition may be present, and while it is wise to guard what may be trade secrets, with care, you can still deliver an effective presentation. Don’t use it as a soapbox to show your differentiation.

“We do see competitors, but we see them more on a regional level,” Kemerer says. “We all have the same general purpose products. Some competitors may also be your customers ? so you want to keep good relationships, a good working knowledge and make sure you don’t cross any of them.”

How to reach: SilMix Ohio, a division of Wacker Chemical Corp., (330) 628-5017 or www.wacker.com/silmix

Formula for rebranding

If your company can’t decide where your rebranding should start, do what Ken Kemerer did at SilMix Ohio: look to your “Pillars of Success.”

“We identified our ‘Pillars of Success,’ that’s what we call them ? our customer service, our technical service and our flexibility, and we made them our focus,” says, Kemerer, director of the custom silicone compound manufacturer.

With that simplified mission statement, it gives you a basis to build a branding and marketing effort that will represent your company well.

“We built three different advertising ? let's say modules ? based on those,” he says.

“Identify your pillars of success, and then customize your advertising both visually and verbally along those lines so you can publish it in different media ? magazine, newsletter and website. Have a variety of pictures, so they don't get stale. Use text that describes each pillar of success.”

Then to help support the industry groups, use the same collateral to expand your brand to that outlet as well.

“It worked out real well for us for the past three years, and now it is a good time to have a new angle and still build off the same things ?­ and more as video opens new opportunities,” Kemerer says.

Published in Akron/Canton

Lisa Huntsman knows that the key to success in today’s economic climate isn’t just finding ways to do more with less but, in many cases, just doing more with the same.

“Those that can respond quicker with good information are the ones more than likely that will get awarded the business,” says Huntsman, the president of the New Philadelphia, Ohio-based manufacturer Lauren Manufacturing.

Huntsman has been focused on this task since the recession first impacted the manufacturing industry and Lauren’s 250 employees back in 2008.

“There is a whole crunch of everything has to be the same quality but just continue to push it on the lead-time standpoint,” says Huntsman. “I think we’re doing a good job of delivering on that.”

To keep up with increasingly shorter lead times, get the highest return for shareholders and meet the needs of new and potential customers, the company had to reevaluate its systems and staffing to make efficiency the top priority.

“If we just keep doing what we do then we’ll always get what we get,” Huntsman says.

“There’s a lot of revenue invested from the company’s standpoint to get new projects launched, and we’re really working closer with our sales teams and with our customers to make it quicker when possible and make sure we’re not dropping the ball anymore.”

The first step was looking for inefficiencies in staffing, including duplicate personnel or areas of waste in the administrative process.

“It’s not just saying, ‘OK, it’s just getting too busy over here,” Huntsman says. “It’s do we look at the job content? Are there some things our folks are doing that seem unnecessary?”

The organization has also been more conscious about adding new people, ensuring it builds its team with talented people, who have targeted roles and are capable of making informed decisions to drive results.

“We all make mistakes, but there are some people who are very conservative and are never willing to put themselves out there,” she says. “We’re looking for the people that are willing to take a very educated set of information and say, ‘Let’s go with this.’”

Empowering employees to make decisions enables a faster speed to market for products and services by elimination bottlenecks in decision-making that slow progress.

“We believe in driving the decision-making process to the front line as much as possible from customer service and engineering, giving them the tools so they can make those decisions and feel empowered to do that,” Huntsman says.

Part of that empowerment is also the result of coaching. Huntsman says she takes time to talk to employees regularly on an informal basis or after the big meetings in order to learn their challenges and figure out how the company can facilitate and empower their decision-making.

“I think knowing that they have our support that it’s OK,” she says.

Huntsman says the other key to increasing operational efficiency is setting clear priorities so that people don’t get distracted from the most important goals, for example, speed of service. By making sure that your company continues to partner with the right customers, work on the right projects and keep people focused in the right areas, you can continue to deliver at a competitive level.

“No. 1 is making sure that we don’t get distracted trying to be everything to everyone, and then nothing gets accomplished,” Huntsman says.

By being able to do more with its people, operations and systems, the company was able to achieve 12 percent sales growth in 2010.

“We have made positive strides,” Huntsman says. “Our business has continued to increase in sales, and I think everybody, not just Lauren, has to work harder with less people than we did prior to the recession. I don’t see that changing.”

How to reach: Lauren Manufacturing, (330) 339-3373 or www.lauren.com

Divide and conquer

One of the reasons Lauren Manufacturing has accomplished growth despite operating in a challenging industry is by continuing to be diversified in the business sectors that it serves.

“We have a couple targets that we’re always going after,” says President Lisa Huntsman. “It’s just trying to keep a balanced portfolio of customers in the industries that we’re in that has been the key to our success. That’s how it started and that’s how we continue to move forward.”

This diversity gives the company the advantage of increasing penetration in a range of industries, including transportation, solar and lighting. While many of these sectors haven’t grown on their own, the company has taken more of the market share from its competitors by targeting business opportunities and focusing its efforts where they are most needed.

“I always go back to say making sure that we don’t put all of our eggs in one basket keeps the company healthy,” Huntsman says. “We really try to make sure that no one customer has more than 10 percent of our business to make sure that we’re serving multiple sectors.”

Again, this is only achieved by having team of people who can effectively make good decisions based on their knowledge of customers and the business.

“In our business, from the time you quote to the time when you can turn it into production can be six to 12 months,” Huntsman says. “So you’ve got to make sure you’re making the right decisions upfront, because that’s going to have an impact down the road.”

Published in Akron/Canton

Darryl Jones has watched each year as the number of convention attendees who travel to St. Louis drops a little bit more. Jones is managing partner at D&D Concessions LLC and is responsible for food service at the America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis.

“Now that we don’t have the 20 million people coming in, we may have six or seven million people coming into St. Louis,” Jones says. “It’s a challenge. So in our business, what do we do? We have to look outside the box because we can’t get the big conventions here anymore.”

In short, Jones had to reinvent his business. It was either that, or close up shop for good, and he wasn’t prepared to do that for his 350 employees.

“You have to have the presence to always look at the landscape and see how it’s changing,” Jones says. “At one time, we depended on X amount of conventions to generate 80 percent of our revenue. Now that number is only generating 50 percent. So how do we make up this gap?”

The simple answer is you look for other means of generating revenue. But you take caution to not make every idea out to be the grand solution to all your problems.

“You try to win people over by saying, ‘OK, look. Let’s just try it like this. Let’s tweak it a little bit.’ You try to compromise,” Jones says. “If it doesn’t work or we don’t see any change, we can always go back. There’s nothing wrong with going back. There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘Hey, we made a mistake.’”

You may not even have to trot out a new idea if one of your competitors has tried a new initiative to get their business going again.

“Instead of reinventing the wheel, you look to see what they’ve done and you try to tweak that,” Jones says. “Very rarely will you have that one person to jump out there. If that person has jumped out there, you look at it, analyze it and you say, ‘OK, we can tweak this just a little bit better. They may not have thought about this. They’ve changed the landscape a little bit, but let’s take it a little further.’”

The key is to take a measured approach to change. If your idea works, great. But if it doesn’t, your people will still be ready to follow you with the next option.

All this relies, of course, on your ability to get out there and get engaged with your people.

“If you’re the CEO that’s always behind closed doors and you’re always meeting with senior staff and you never engage the junior staff and the hourly folks, you may have a problem,” Jones says. “You’re going to become like an untouchable.”

Get to know your people and let them get to know you. Not the polished and controlled you that only engages in small talk. Be the leader who really gets to know what your people are all about and what they like about their work and what they find challenging about it.

“You have to know them,” Jones says. “Once you engage them, you have just as much passion about their families as they have. Once you buy them over, they will do it for you. It will be a place where they think, ‘Hey, I can go to the boss’s office anytime I want to.’”

You may be thinking to yourself, ‘I always talk about my open-door policy.’ But if you don’t have anyone coming through your open door to see you, maybe you’re putting other signs out there that convey the message that you really don’t want to hear from your people.

“If the hourly employees can see you get out there and you sit down and you put that pattern together and you say, ‘Hey, this is how you’re supposed to do it,’ they’re going to say, ‘Wow, this person really knows what they are talking about,’” Jones says. “They will do anything for you if they know you care.”

How to reach: D&D Concessions LLC, (314) 429-3400

Stay hip

If you’re feeling out of touch with your customers, Darryl Jones has a suggestion on how to reconnect that you may not have thought of before. But he insists it will produce results.

“You can probably incorporate any business you have when you start looking at fashion magazines,” says Jones, managing partner at D&D Concessions LLC. “Those guys are always on the cutting edge. The auto industry didn’t get to where it is by saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to go with the same old-style look. They started looking at those fashion magazines and saying, ‘Hey, you know what? These are the colors people are looking at.’

“They are looking at tech magazines and saying, ‘We need to incorporate these things. These young adults, they want this type of experience in a car.’”

Jones believes much can be gained from the younger generation that is establishing itself and setting the trends for the future.

“You’ll pick up a lot,” Jones says. “What do you like? What type of atmosphere are you looking for? What types of colors do you like? Talk to the younger generation because that’s your next source of revenue.”

And everyone should be taking part in that dialogue.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility,” Jones says. “From the guy sweeping the floor to the guy signing the checks, it’s everyone’s responsibility because everyone is traveling in different circles.”

Published in St. Louis

David and Joshua Kahn placed a lot of faith in the strength of the automotive industry, but now it was coming back to bite them. As the recession of 2008 took hold and brought automakers, among other businesses, to their knees, sales volume at Perfection Spring & Stamping Corp. took a big hit.

“Our greatest challenge was twofold,” says David Kahn, president and co-owner of the precision metal formed component supplier. “One was to grow sales and two, to further diversify the sales base so that if another downturn did come down the road, we wouldn’t be impacted as greatly by the automotive industry.”

The Kahns concluded that their stale marketing strategy was a big part of the problem at the company, which has more than 100 employees.

“The only people that knew us were the people that knew us,” says Joshua Kahn, co-owner and executive vice president of sales. “In order to increase market share in our current markets and also obtain new markets, we needed to refocus our marketing and sales strategy.”

Joshua felt the company wasn’t doing all it could to support its existing customers, nor was it doing enough to obtain new customers and expand the business. The company’s failings at marketing were most evident on its website.

“At the time it was built in 1993, it was really about photos and fluff rather than being a user-friendly site with information that customers would go back to time and time again,” Kahn says.

He decided to get out and attend industry association meetings to learn more about what other companies were doing with their sales and marketing strategies. But before he actually went to those meetings, he met with his management team and ironed out exactly what Perfection Spring was looking to achieve.

“I made a list of all the different marketing strategies that we could come up with as a management team and then went to these meetings with eyes wide open to learn,” Kahn says. “If I were to offer one piece of advice, it would be to understand what you want to do, then go ahead and do your own research. Many things introduced in the meetings, after I came back and did research, I found were not necessarily for us.

“It was a great platform to really review our entire marketing strategy. But you still have to be wise and figure out what’s best for you, for your business and for your customers.”

Kahn says it’s easy to go to a conference or hear from an expert and simply buy in to everything that this one person is trying to sell you. But it may not be a good fit for you.

“We started doing trade shows as a result of the conferences,” Kahn says. “We redid our website. We changed our sales organization internally. We did quite a number of things. But we didn’t jump into anything.”

In fact, after attending conferences in the summer of 2009, Kahn and his team took several months to digest what they had heard and plot a new strategy for the business.

“We wanted to make sure we did it right,” Kahn says. “Not fast but correctly.”

One thing that has become very obvious to David is the need to get in front of customers on a regular basis.

“We supply parts, but we don’t supply standard parts,” Kahn says. “Everything we supply is custom. So we are in essence a service provider. The greatest service we can provide our customers is engineered solutions to their problems, not only from a design standpoint but, more importantly, from a cost reduction standpoint.”

The deeper connections that are being formed between Perfection Spring and its customers are showing results. The Kahns give a lot to credit to Thomas Industrial Network for helping them to develop an effective web strategy.

“The actual design of the website has certainly played a big role in obtaining prequalified leads and new key customers,” Joshua Kahn says. “It has let us expand into markets that we were never in before.”

How to reach: Perfection Spring & Stamping Corp., (847) 437-3900 or www.pss-corp.com

Eliminate waste

One of the most important changes made at Perfection Spring & Stamping Corp. is the effort to create a website that would enable the company to prequalify sales leads.

“Just as we are prequalifying prospects, they are prequalifying suppliers,” says Joshua Kahn, executive vice president at the precision metal formed component supplier that has more than 100 employees.

“When they put in their search terms, they are finding us and we are finding them. By the time we get a quote request, there is a good match. We go through a detailed qualification process after we get a quote request to make sure our company is on the same track with their company.”

When it comes to websites, you’ve got to know what you want since there are so many directions you can go.

“The first thing we did as a management team, we listed everything we wanted and we literally wrote it down,” Kahn says. “We brainstormed. Then when we met with the various vendors that could provide us with those services; we were sure to ask them all the same questions. Then when we met again and reviewed the answers from all the companies, very clearly as our management team saw, there were certain companies that would meet what we expected and others that would not. A website is a living, breathing thing. Even though we went live, we are constantly changing it.”

Published in Chicago

Terry Cunningham knows that you need to have a compelling story for potential customers if you want their business. So when he joined EVault, A Seagate Co., around three years ago, his first objective was finding out how well the company’s story resonated with its customers and its 400 employees.

“We spent of time looking in the mirror and saying, ‘Well, would you buy it, and if not, why not?” says Cunningham, the president and general manager of EVault. “What’s not true about it? What is it that the customer would say, ‘I don’t really buy that story and here’s why’?”

Often, the problem isn’t that you don’t have a compelling story, but that you’re not communicating it correctly. Cunningham realized this was the case at EVault, which provides online backup and disaster recovery using cloud-based systems.

“So they had the right idea — the previous generation of the company,” he says. “It just wasn’t told in a way that had a broader market appeal.”

At the time, the company was serving only a small niche of industries that were legally required to backup their data anyway. But Cunningham knew that there was an opportunity to communicate to more consumers and markets that the cloud was a better way to handle their data protection and disaster recovery.

So how do you go about broadening the appeal of your story? Cunningham says the first step is floating the idea with people who may not think that they need your product.

“You begin with getting to the prospect that isn’t compelled buyers or compelled markets,” he says. “Go beyond the regulated industries that are required to do it and get to somebody that doesn’t care.”

Even if they seem unenthused at first, if you can open up a dialogue you will probably be able to identify some pain points.

“So now we get to the prospect or customer that at first doesn’t care that much because he thinks everything is OK, but then in the conversation, you discover that there are some challenges that they’re facing,” Cunningham says. “So OK, what’s the first problem you’re trying to solve, … what’s the second problem you have to solve … and so on.”

As you find these pain points, you can walk the customer through what a new solution might looks like and how a new story could meet them.

“Then it’s the usual sort of discovery process,” Cunningham says. “Let’s say we did have all of this. How much would you pay for it? When would you do it? What are all the other issues?”

Using this feedback, the company has been able to retool its story with pricing, packaging and other specifications that reach a broader spectrum of consumers. Now, Cunningham says the key to growth is being able to tell that story in a way that is simple and memorable.

“The early stage of that is to get out and tell the story and tune that story in the simplest possible way so that people can retell it,” he says. “If I give you the pitch, can you turn around and give it to somebody else easily?”

To help employees communicate it effectively to others, Cunningham regularly travels around to the company’s different offices to talk about the new story and why it is significant.

“The ultimate goal here is to communicate a story that gets told and retold by others, and we don’t have to keep doing all the heavy lifting,” he says. “If this is a better way, then eventually the world adopts it as proof that is really is a better way. You need everyone in your company to be able to communicate the story passionately and with the same enthusiasm.”

How to reach: EVault, A Seagate Co., www.evault.com or (877) 382-8581

The next best thing

When Terry Cunningham goes out to dinner, he loves to eat at restaurants that have paper on the table. That’s because when the whiteboard is out of reach, he has a spot to sketch out the next great idea for his technology business.

“They used to deliver crayons for the kids, now they deliver crayons for people like me to draw pictures while we’re talking about something,” he says.

As you continuously recast the story of what your business means to customers, you always want to be asking yourself, “What’s the next step?” even if it means sketching out the plan in Midnight Blue.

“[It’s] what’s changing from our customer’s perspective and how does it affect us to make sure that we’re not becoming irrelevant without even knowing it,” Cunningham says.

“There isn’t a technology company on the planet that isn’t sort of assessing where they’re at because the world is changing very quickly. So they’ve got to sort of reassess and figure out what the customer, target or prospect is looking for today.”

The key to long-term growth is to consider what the customer or the market is saying today, but never stop looking forward and innovating.

“I see a lot of companies and people I’ve worked with just chase the current model or market and they basically end up saying ‘me too,’” Cunningham says.

Published in Northern California

Mike Kahoe was not happy with the 15 percent increases for health insurance premiums that his company, Group Management Services Inc., was facing each year. It was time to take control to lower health insurance costs for the 50-some people on the plan.

Once Kahoe, president of the $24 million professional employer organization, searched for some information, he was swayed over to a plan of wellness for his business. He believed he could cut the health insurance premiums significantly ­? and there were other benefits.

“At the end of the day, you have a bunch of people who you work with that are healthier and happier,” he says. “And that means happier customers.”

Here are some of the steps he took to reach his goals.

“One of the first steps is to get nurses to test everybody’s cholesterol and blood sugar levels, height and weight and so on,” he says.

This will establish some base-line statistics that you can work on to improve, and the recommendation that some health behaviors need to change has more substance coming from a health professional.

“You should use nurses rather than staff,” Kahoe says. “A lot of times, it’s delegated to an HR person who tells you to quit smoking or says you should quit smoking. I just don’t think it’s very powerful. I think when a nurse or a doctor tells you, it’s a different story.”

The company leader needs to support the efforts.

“Don’t be afraid to get involved in it personally. Take a look at yourself first,” Kahoe says. “People tend to replicate your behavior; for example, if you’re out back smoking a lot, I think it’s bad for the company.

What Kahoe found out about his personal base line became a driving force for the program.

“Honestly, at the time, the thing that was most shocking was that I might have been the biggest violator of all,” he says. “I was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, working hard and not watching what I was eating. I was also on the obese level, and I really didn't like that term associated with me.”

The second step is to develop the programs by getting information from health sources on popular initiatives such as smoking cessation, weight loss and healthy eating programs.

“We just put together some programs and some incentives for people to quit smoking and live healthier lifestyles.” Kahoe says. “We had some weight-loss competitions and things like that.”

As soon as he knew what his initiatives would be, Kahoe devised ways to make it easier to stay focused on goals.

“There has to be a carrot, and there has to be a stick,” he says. “I think the people that are making bad choices in their behavior should pay a little bit more for health insurance. I mean it takes a little bit of work to be healthy, to get on a treadmill for a half-hour a day or whatever it takes. I think those people should be rewarded for the work they put in.

“If you are a smoker, you pay a little bit more for your insurance, but can get a bonus if you quit; if you are a nonsmoker, you actually get another contribution to your health savings account every year to help fund your health insurance.”

As a last step, you should invest in tools to help employees reach their goals. Kahoe built a workout room where there are treadmills, an elliptical machine and weights.

“It gets very heavy usage,” he says. “The goal is just one more way to get people involved.”

After the programs have been in effect for some time, you should see some impressive results.

“We are down to single digits for the percentage of smokers, we cut in half the obesity numbers and the overweight numbers. Our health insurance costs were cut in half and continue to go down every year. Your people are just healthier. You should get less sick days and a happier environment.”

How to reach: Group Management Services Inc., (330) 659-0100 or www.groupmgmt.com

Peer support

When Mike Kahoe, president of Group Management Services Inc., wanted to start some wellness initiatives at his company, he knew that peer involvement would be a key point.

Getting people involved starts with your initial event, which is a type of health inventory. You should make it voluntary to participate in the health professional-run event, which includes blood pressure, cholesterol tests and blood tests. With some promotion, you should get a high rate of involvement in the kick-off event. You want to get as many involved as possible to be a success.

“We had almost 100 percent participation,” he says. “People need some awareness and a little bit of a nudge sometimes.”

A good idea is to open the programs to all employees, not just the ones enrolled in the health care plan. This will help unify the participants even more. Team members will give each other encouragement.

“It would be a complete failure if you don’t get the employees inspired,” Kahoe says.

A smoking cessation program featuring a bonus for quitting can start small, but with participation and positive results, it will likely grow.

“A lot of people will encourage each other,” he says. “Once it catches on, and 10 people quit smoking, I think the other people could figure out that they could too.”

Published in Akron/Canton

Nick Fortine had to face a 40 percent drop in business as the retail sector put on its capital expenditure brakes in 2009.

Fortine, the president of CSC Worldwide’s Retail Specialty Group, which makes fixtures such as fitting rooms, display walls and cash register stands, was startled, but he knew he had to act soon.

“I was particularly surprised by the level at which capital expenditures stopped in the specialty retail sector,” Fortine says. “We had to create a strategy rather quickly based upon our new reality.”

Once Fortine examined the landscape, he made a bold decision to downsize personnel but to invest ? by adding people ? to the sales team. The company hired a handful of sales associates at the time it was laying off an equal number on the operations side.

“At the beginning of ’09, we knew the future was far from certain,” he says.

“We also knew that if we took our foot off the gas on our selling efforts, our pipeline would quickly dry up.”

Fortine knew that in many businesses, including fixture manufacturing, relationships with prospects and opportunities to sell usually take from several quarters to years to develop.

“So when spending picks back up, you need to have new opportunities queued up,” Fortine says.

In the meantime, when the dust is settling, it’s time to get started with your new strategy.

“As a leader during periods like these, first of all, your team needs to know you have a plan,” Fortine says. “Then they need to understand the plan, believe in the plan and buy in to the plan. They need to know that you are a part of a plan. You are there to support and assist them and to successfully execute that plan.

“A natural result of adversarial times in a workforce is tension, fear, doubt and uncertainty about the future,” he says. “During periods like those, open and frequent communication about the state of the business, the strategy, the goals and measurements against those goals is really critical. In fact, it’s always critical in a business, in good times or bad.”

A key factor is to make sure that everyone understands the steps you are taking to move the business forward given the environment.

“People are much more effective at doing their jobs when they know that they are aligned with the overall goals of the company,” Fortine says. “People perform much more effectively when they are not running scared but rather when they feel like they are empowered to go make a difference in the business. That is the biggest challenge and how you overcome it is by making sure that the people left truly understand what their role is in turning this situation around.”

You need to be positioned to find and win new opportunities all the time.

“While the economic environment is still unpredictable, you have to keep selling throughout,” he says. “You need to be positioned to find and win new opportunities all the time. When the market experiences the inevitable upswing that will come in the future, and those levels of spending return, you will be very confident in your position to take advantage of that.”

While the new sales representatives were getting their feet wet, Fortine was coaching the remaining employees on the new strategy to keep selling and to do more with less. It was critical for them to understand their new roles.

“We needed to explain that if we wanted to sustain our business long term, you don’t do that by laying off sales people,” he says. “You’ve got to always be selling.”

While this wasn’t a company culture makeover, Fortine felt it added a new dimension to the culture.

“I really believe it changed us culturally,” he says. “Your associates should really learn to think creatively about new approaches to managing the business. You have to continually ask yourselves and challenge each other, ‘What can we do to make this better?’ and ‘What can we do to make this easier, more economical, take less time?’”

How to reach: CSC Worldwide, (614) 850-1460 or www.cscww.com

Recreate success

Recreating positive sales and service experiences is an effective way to add to your bottom line ? once you know your strengths and weaknesses.

“You grow by continuously finding ways to do what you do more effectively,” says Nick Fortine, president of CSC Worldwide’s Retail Specialty Group. “You become more honed in doing what you do best.”

The best way for you to hone your business performance is to review the customer satisfaction level.

“Your clients will be very clear about how they believe you are doing,” Fortine says. “Continually ask them. If you are growing, if you’re profitable, and if your clients are happy, you know you are doing the right things.”

You should also believe also that your strength is your domain knowledge in the market.

“Knowing what it takes to pull off a world-class product rollout and translating that knowledge into exceptional service and program results ? that’s your differentiation in market,” Fortine says. “Believe that you do that as well as anyone in market.

“Spend all your time trying to recreate those success patterns by finding opportunities and serving more of them. Become really focused at what it is you do well and knowing what it is you don’t do well. Spend your time concentrating on just getting better and better at what you do really well.”

Published in Columbus

[caption id="attachment_43479" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Steve Orander, president of Sharp Business Systems of Indiana"]


Steve Orander had started a company called Indy Office Solutions, it was just over a year and a half old, and he wanted to establish some principles to guide the employees on how to do what they do. So he took some time off and went on a mini-retreat to compose them.

“I was just trying to look at the major questions that would come up in a typical business day,” Orander says. “So I was able to combine some business and Biblical knowledge to come up with six things that I think are simple to understand, simple to apply and simple to measure.”

In 2007, Sharp Electronics Corp. bought Orander’s company as well as some others and formed Sharp Business Systems of Indiana with him as president.

The organic growth continued. Revenue was about $8.5 million in 2007, has almost doubled since then and the guiding principles have been carried over.

“I feel our culture has been a huge driver of our success,” he says. “The guiding principles are kind of the engine of the organization; they have made a tremendous impact not only on our business growth but truly how we look at what our mission is every day.”

Once Orander knew that his objective was to draw up some principles, he went down a list of key questions that had to be answered daily.

The first and most obvious one was to decide on the core motivation. Orander crafted the most straightforward statement he could devise: We seek first to serve.

“That’s the way we have run our business,” he says.

As for the second principle, Orander reasoned that if a person followed the first principle, it probably was due in a large part to parental influence. The second principle took that into account: We operate our business in a manner that would make our parents proud.

“Would your parents be proud if you took a shortcut with something?” Orander asks. “Would they be proud if you really went above and beyond? If you took the extra five minutes to talk to somebody and truly care about that person, they probably would be proud of that.”

For the third principle, he analyzed that a lot of business growth could come from client relationships that had been lost ? and regained through consistent contact and development. The third principle focuses on commitment: If we commit to something, we follow through.

“They’ve given us the opportunity the second or third time around, and we've been able to follow through on that,” he says.

For the fourth principle, Orander wanted empowerment to be a key factor in satisfying clients: Each employee is empowered to make a decision that benefits the client.

“What that truly means that anybody from the truck driver who delivers the product to me, we can all make the same level of decisions,” he says.

In an industry where the client retention rate is 30-35 percent, Sharp Business Systems has more than a 98 percent rate. Orander felt strongly that making a commitment to serve a customer is not just to get them to purchase from his company, but to build a lasting relationship.

The fifth principle echoes this feeling: We gladly forfeit any short-term gain that would not be in the best interest of our client for a long-term relationship.

The last principle involves helping your fellow man: We give back to the community generously because it’s the right thing to do.

The company has about 100 employees. Once a quarter, 12 Sharp employees get a day off to volunteer at a community organization.

“We will pay their salaries, and they will go out and give back in that practical way,” Orander says. “I think what we see is that our staff truly gets into a mindset of service.”

Using principles as a guide

Guiding principles aren’t just a list that hangs on a company wall. If used optimally, they can assist in not only running a company, but in the hiring and management of employees.

“They are truly both how to execute internally with each other as well as externally with clients,” says Steve Orander, president of Sharp Business Systems of Indiana.

The six guiding principles at the company each make a statement on how important it is to serve.  The first time a prospective employee is exposed to them is during the job interview.

“I always ask them straight up, do you think you can commit to these things because I'd rather have you understand that this is really an important part of being on our team,” Orander says.

Besides being part of the basic operation, the principles also are used when there may be a performance problem.

“I'll sit down with the person, and I would basically saying let's look at our guiding principles here,” he says. “Based on what you did, how did that fit or not fit these guiding principles? Then they become the topic, not me telling them what to do.

“This has been really helpful as a culture because the culture maintains itself to a degree when you have that kind of checks and balances,” Orander says.

How to reach: Sharp Business Systems of Indiana, (317) 844-0033 or http://in.sharp-sbs.com/

Published in Indianapolis