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On a roll Featured

6:34am EDT January 27, 2006
Sally Hughes believes in her employees, and that belief has created a loyalty that has helped Caster Connection grow.

The employees of the Chardon-based company build and sell replacement casters, wheels, hand trucks and medical supplies but Hughes, president and CEO, also trusts them to serve as problem-solvers for their customers. It was a lesson that didn’t come easy.

“People were saying to me, ‘Sally, let me do my thing. I can do this but you just have to trust me to do it,’” Hughes said.

When she stepped back, employees responded, and the company began to grow. Last year, Caster Connection posted sales of more than $5 million last year, up 20 percent over the previous year.

Smart Business spoke with Hughes about how she grew her company by revamping her management strategy and putting her trust in her employees

How did you increase 2005 sales?
We got serious about growing our business in early 2005. We added a director of sales, and we gave him the responsibility for managing the sales force. It freed me up to play the role that I needed to play as the CEO.

We also formed an executive team and started meeting on a monthly basis. I started working with a growth consultant to develop a plan, and we’re measuring performance on a quarterly basis against the plan.

We shared our mission values, our vision and our goals with the employees and got them on board with our growth plan. It’s important to get everybody rolling in the right direction when you’re trying to grow a company.

How did that differ from your previous strategy?
We always had a plan (but it was) never as focused as we are now. I needed to be able to step back and focus on the company as a whole.

I was always finding myself being pulled in way too many different directions. By doing these things that I just mentioned, it has let me step back and focus on other things, for example, the vision of where we’re going from here and how we’re planning on getting there.

I began to focus on the things that only I can do as a CEO, like developing the team, leading the planning process and creating a culture for success, strengthening our infrastructure with the computers, the different processes and the employee handbook.

I’ve got a much clearer picture of what we’re doing and who’s doing what. I was too caught up in the everyday to focus on the tomorrows and the future. You really can’t run a business that way for too long, and I don’t know how we managed to do it as well as we did over these many years but it was time to grow up.

What gave you that wake-up call?
It was probably the fact that I was being pulled in so many different directions that it was getting very uncomfortable for me. There’s only 24 hours in a day, and I was working so many hours and trying to put out too many fires. It’s just not a professional way to run a company.

Looking at it now, I was trying to — and I hate this word — micromanage everything. It wasn’t fair to all the people who were working with me.

When I did start to step back, I found that not only did my life and my company start becoming more successful quickly but that I had a lot more confidence in my employees, and in turn, they started to respond in a much more positive way toward me and the focus of growing the company.

How did the changes benefit your company?
It let me focus on running the whole company, building a culture. Everybody started to recognize their individual role in growing this company.

It’s kind of like a football team. We needed a game plan so everybody could understand what their expected roles were. I needed to be sure I had the right people and that they had a passion for winning.

The neat thing about all of this is that I did have the right people — I still have the right people — and through that whole process, I was thrilled to find out that the people have the attitude and the desire to keep building a strong company.

I’ve been given an opportunity to run a nice company and I want (the employees) to be proud to be a part of it and I want them to benefit. Most of my people have been with me for at least 10 years. I want them to want to be here for their whole career, if they’ll have me, and if it makes sense to all of them, and if it makes good sense for the company.

HOW TO REACH: Caster Connection, (800) 544-8978 or www.casterconnection.com