Chris Cicchinelli wishes he knew how to speak more languages or at least paid more attention in his Spanish classes, because his company has started to expand into international markets.
Pure Romance Inc., an in-home party company that sells a premier line of relationship enhancement products, expanded into Puerto Rico last year and now has 750 consultants selling products there.
“I wish I would have taken more Rosetta Stone or more Spanish when I was in school,” says Cicchinelli, president.
Now that the company has successfully started its quest to break into international markets, it’s looking to open locations in Johannesburg, South Africa, Sydney, Australia, and Manila, Philippines, within the next year.
2010 was the company’s biggest year yet, seeing 40 percent growth, which resulted in revenue in excess of $120 million and 50 new employees.
“We’re growing in all of our Midwest markets and all throughout the United States,” Cicchinelli says. “We were also very fortunate that we started doing some international growth last year. We are really beefing up our infrastructure to continue our growth trajectory for 2011 into 2012.”
While the organization has been able to grow domestically, Cicchinelli has found international growth offers a few challenges he hasn’t had to face until now.
Here’s how Cicchinelli keeps his company on a rising growth curve.
Consider each decision carefully
It’s no secret that every company wants to see growth. However, not every company is fully prepared to take on the challenges that growth brings with it.
“Making new decisions for the company and what the right decisions are for the company and the growth aren’t always easy,” Cicchinelli says. “You have to be upfront with everybody. You have to be as honest as you can. As long as you are upfront, honest and have an open dialogue it will get you far.”
If growth is something you’re looking to achieve, it is imperative that you are ready to take on the challenges.
“You have to look at everything [in the company],” he says. “You have to look at what’s right for the company from a perspective of new product development if you’re looking at it from a manufacturing route. You have to ask yourself questions. How’s it going to affect my end consumer? How’s it going to affect my sales rep out there selling? How does my company internally get behind what we are out there doing? All of those factors are important before you make a decision. You have to also sit down with key individuals in your office and talk it through. It’s not a dictatorship, it’s a democracy. You have to sit and talk about things and how that will affect all aspects of your business.”
Looking over all aspects of your business and making sure your plans will work or at least have a good shot at working is a big time commitment.
“Time is definitely a challenge,” Cicchinelli says. “You’re constantly working in the business from 9 to 5 and working on the business after that. I’m working on the day-to-day pieces, making sure that the core competencies of our business are done during those hours and from 5 o’clock until maybe midnight we are working on new development and making sure we have all those pieces covered.”
Because growth takes so much time and effort, it is important for not only yourself but for your employees to be able to celebrate the successes you see along the way.
“There were points and times where we would just go from one project to the next project to the next project,” he says. “It was like, alright, great job, let’s shelve it. No celebration, no congratulations, it was just move on to that next thing. We run so fast all the time that I want to make sure that the culture of my company is always positive and celebrating victories, even the little things. Personally, I’m trying to make sure that I’m celebrating those internally and I’m celebrating those with our staff. Those are things I had to overcome as a leader and making sure that we did celebrate that stuff.”
Celebrating success may seem obvious, but it is a big factor in your employee’s moods and demeanors. You can’t skip over any victory, large or small.
“Life is really short and the people that are around you are very important,” Cicchinelli says. “You spend more time with them then you do sometimes with your own family as leaders. You want to make sure that you congratulate them and you continue to boost them, because it is the right thing to do for your culture and your company. Celebrate the little successes that you’re going to have along the way because sometimes when you grow, you can grow so fast that you forget about everything that you’ve done and all the things you should be proud of. As a society, sometimes we forget about that and we just go through the motions and we forget about all the things we have to be thankful for in life.”
Expand to foreign markets
Before you can expand to any new market, foreign or domestic, you have to research where you want to expand. You have to take the time to get to know that market and have an understanding of whether your company can compete there.
“You have to do the research to make sure that there is not a lot of competition for the product that you’re selling,” he says. “If you’re selling printers or if you’re selling cars or whatever, you need to do the research either online, in business magazines, newspapers or even people on the ground in that market. You have to use anything you can to help you make the right decision.”
Finding a good reason to break into a market is step one. Once you understand the opportunity in a market, you have to gain an understanding of the culture there.
“Culture has been the most important thing anywhere that I’m traveling,” he says. “We spend a lot of time understanding culture. How do we interact with them? How will they take these products? How do we make sure we don’t offend anybody when we are talking about sexual health or sexual relationships? Culture has been our biggest thing for us to overcome.”
To understand how the culture of a new market works, you have to take time to visit and gain firsthand experience.
“You have to absorb as much as you possibly can,” Cicchinelli says. “Spend as much time as you possibly can in those markets. That’s one of the things that I’ve been able to do is I’ve been able to spend a lot of time and really get to know the people better. You have to take the time to build a relationship and better understand each other.”
Build relationships with people in your organization that want to help your company grow. Also, find people who live in those markets who can help you. That can make a huge difference in your company’s success.
“You have to find some people you trust,” Cicchinelli says. “Find some people in your organization that have got your back and don’t mind putting the extra hours in. You also have to make sure you find somebody that wants to grow up in the company.
“Find somebody that is either an expert in those locations or is someone on the ground in those locations. We have a person who’s on the ground in South Africa and I have a person who’s on the ground in Australia who is really helping guide us through.”
Don’t underestimate the importance of having someone with knowledge of the market and your industry.
“You’ve got to meet with the people that know your industry the best or know what type of industry you’re in to help make some of these decisions with you,” he says. “You have to make sure that you’ve got someone who has experience with whatever your product category or whatever your product line is to direct you where to open up and what the best way to communicate with the people of that country is. Once you have that then you’re putting your plan together and you’re implementing.”
Reaching the implementation stage is a big accomplishment and once you’re there, you have to keep pushing forward without hesitation.
“Once you make a decision, go fully committed,” he says. “You can’t go into these places, especially in the foreign markets, and be 99 percent in. You have to be 110 percent in.”
Fill your company with strong people
Pure Romance’s growth hasn’t just been about finding the right markets to break in to. The company has more than 100 very strong employees that understand the business and help keep it moving forward.
“As you continue to grow, make sure that you have the right team around you and the right people around you,” Cicchinelli says. “Make sure that you’re not just throwing people into position as life rafts so you can actually get your nose above water. You want to make sure that you’re interviewing your people and making sure that you know who you have in your organization.”
Finding the right people involves making sure they have the skills and the attitude to fit within your company.
“You need to think about using things like Myers-Briggs or some sort of analysis when it comes to not only looking at someone’s skills and talents but also whether they are going to fit into your culture,” he says. “If your culture is fast-paced and these people aren’t going to survive in a fast-paced market you have to know that before you hire them.”
Pure Romance is also a believer in promoting from within. The company gives employees every opportunity to learn different areas of the business so they can be better prepared to move up the corporate ladder.
“Most people that have been promoted from within have shown … understanding that their job is to help others and to lift not just themselves but to lift others up,” he says. “The ones that have moved up have worked in multiple positions within the company. So they not only know accounting but they know operations. Those are the ones that have been very successful in the company because they know all aspects. They don’t know just their job, they know what their job is and how their job can affect other departments.”
Allowing employees to gain knowledge of other areas of the company will help encourage company interest and make for stronger employees.
“You’ve got to first tell people that you’re promoting from within,” Cicchinelli says. “I think some companies sometimes don’t think that they have the talent inside and they try to hire out. I’m a firm believer that cultivating a strong culture means that you have to promote from within. You have to make sure people know that there are opportunities inside the organization for them to continue to grow. Sometimes it’s good that those things come from the CEO and not just the HR person.”
You have to present these opportunities for your employees and ask if they are interested in other areas of the company.
“I think it’s asking your employees and asking if they’d like to learn other areas,” he says. “The more jobs that they understand or know in your office the better off you will be in the long run. Empowering employees gives them the ability to have as much love for the company as you do. They will be able to cross-train the different people in the different departments, they’ll be able to have a better understanding of the flow of the business and at the end of the day they will be able to educate your consumers or your sales force so you can increase your revenues and be more efficient. And they may see things that you as the CEO or business owner may not see.”
HOW TO REACH: Pure Romance, (866) 766-2623 or www.pureromance.com
The Cicchinelli File
Born: Naperville, Ill.
Education: Attended Mount Union College
You played football in college. What position did you play and what did you take away from that experience?
I played defensive back and it taught me how to be a team player and how each person’s role is very important to the success of the whole team. We won two Division III national titles there — ’96 and ’97.
Who are some people you admire most in business?
My mother, Patty Brisben. She’s a true entrepreneur, and one of those people that started something most people saw as taboo, and she’s been very passionate and laser-focused on what she is going to do. Another person would be Steve Jobs. I like the way he approaches things. He is very innovative and has put some good people around him. A.G. Lafley would be another. He was a Cincinnati guy and what he did for Procter & Gamble was amazing. I would want to figure out how he did what he did.
If you could do something dangerous one time without consequence, what would you do?
I would travel to the moon. I would do it just to say I’ve done it, but the other reason is to see how pretty Earth is from up there.