Ted Stahl would like you to forget about any economic woes you might be hearing about and just sit down for a conversation about the opportunities of education and technology.
That’s not Stahl trying to be an eternal optimist; it’s his method of leadership. As CEO of GroupeSTAHL, Stahl has made a living out of growing companies through innovation and education. In Cleveland, Stahls’ Transfer Express, a wholly owned subsidiary of GroupeSTAHL that manufactures custom heat-applied garment transfers, is a living example of that.
Stahls’ Transfer Express employees are constantly being taught to focus on the customer and on technology to adapt to what the market can bring next. As a result, the company continues to grow each year, blossoming to more than 100 employees in less than two decades, and it consistently bumps up the level of technology used in the industry.
Smart Business talked to Stahl about how to refuse complacency and why you need to have a few rebels around the office.
Encourage a few rebels to spark business. There’s a word called educated risks. If you don’t take any, you aren’t going to be growing anywhere. Everybody, and every company, is really in a state of metamorphosis, reinventing itself all the time. It has to be.
But then complacency is probably, if you are successful, a thing that sort of sets in. You hear, ‘We’re doing well, why should we be trying to change this or that?’
But if you’ve got people that are curious about their customers, curious about the world about them, they see the opportunities that are out there; if they have that passion, it becomes infectious.
So you talk about it, you make examples of people and promote people that do take some risks. Any type of a business culture has a tendency to try to homogenize itself, and you’ve got to have a few rebels around, and you have to let people see how much they help.
Be curious about everything. You have to have a curiosity about customers, about technology, about industry — basically you can’t define it right down to one particular interest. It’s more of a curiosity of the world about you and everything that affects it.
You can’t just limit it to just your relevant industry idea; you don’t know what technology is happening in Asia or Germany or here in the United States that might eventually affect your product.
And if you can put it all together, if you’re curious and you’re driven by your customers and you understand what their strengths and weaknesses are, what their needs are, then you can look toward the world of technology and put the two together. It’s sort of like keeping one ear to the customer and one ear to what’s happening in the world to help create products that succeed.
Refuse a complacent mindset.Growth and complacency is an oxymoron. Complacency, bureaucracy, lack of risk-taking, they’re all sort of the opposite of growth. You have to help people understand that, even though we’re growing and we’ve got some very substantial growth, the market potential is growing at an even greater rate.
Be aware of that and aggressively go after it by increasing your customer base, increasing the types of customers we’re selling to in different market segments, taking advantage of the international market and the way the dollar is at the moment.
I’ll go back to three words: bureaucracy, complacency and risk-avoidance. You have to try to ensure those don’t set in. It’s communication. If they constantly hear about opportunities out there from you, then it becomes sort of ingrained in the company, and they see the opportunities.
Today, you hear a lot about these troubled times, and I know a lot of people in business, and in certain segments that’s very true, but I know a lot of other people who have been aggressive and who have used their ingenuity to make things happen, and that comes from refusing to be complacent and sharing that with others.
Give employees appropriate perspective. There is an old story about a gentleman who went to a quarry, and he walked up to a mason pounding a stone and asked what he was doing.
The mason said, ‘I’m pounding this stone here, trying to square it.’ He went to another mason and asked what he was doing, and he said, ‘I’m trying to square this stone that goes right next to the cornerstone of this 3,000-foot cathedral.’
So there are two totally different motivations there. So the more that employees understand the products, understand how they’re used and understand the customer, the more they can put that little bit of extra into the way they’re packaging it.
I require that all managers go to trade shows, talk to the customers. They’re what’s it’s all about. Employees have to be totally comfortable with the products that we have. Nothing infuriates someone more than when you go into a store and you ask somebody a question and they don’t know.
So we make sure that one of the tenets of our success is always being the most knowledgeable about our products, how they’re applied, what they’re used on and doing that from a customer’s viewpoint so that we can really understand what they want. That comes from trade shows, face-to-face contact and working from the customer’s perspective.
If the only knowledge I have is what was explained to me ... then I won’t get it.
HOW TO REACH: Stahls’ Transfer Express, (800) 622-2280 or www.transferexpress.com