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How Matt Hlavin stays on top of customer needs at Thogus Products Co. Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2010
Matt Hlavin isn’t trying to take Thogus Products Co. to $100 million in sales. He’s trying to make the injection molding company a better company today than it was yesterday. It’s a philosophy that allowed him to make $2.5 million in capital improvements last year without accumulating any debt.

“Your litmus test is: Are you growing with an account or are they pulling business?” says Hlavin, the 72-employee company’s president. “We’re growing with customers because they feel we’re a partner. We’re not just trying to get more money out of them. We don’t look at every transaction as dollars and cents.”

Hlavin believes the dollars and cents will come, even in a time of recession. The key is realizing that you need help running your business and you need help making sure your customers are completely satisfied with what they are getting.

Hlavin didn’t even try to do it all by himself. Instead, he launched a customer concierge program.

“Basically, it’s a dedicated person,” Hlavin says. “You call in, they answer. Whatever your needs are, that person is there to satisfy those needs. Whether it’s information on the production floor, visibility into scheduling and how parts are being produced, they can get it. But it’s also extracting information from customers and suppliers that help us.”

Hlavin recognized the need for this type of service when he looked at the pace of new product development at Thogus and the opportunity it presented for miscommunication.

“You tend to lose details when communication breaks down with too many people in line,” Hlavin says. “So I brought in a person to be that program manager, that concierge. Their job is to own all of that information. They communicate with each of those departments and each one of those people. They even go out to the customers and all of our suppliers that have input in the process. But that one person owns that.”

So what if you’re the type of leader who doesn’t like giving up that kind of control to other people? What if you still want to be the one who’s always talking to the customer and making all the important decisions?

“You’ve built the business to a certain point but times have changed, and you need to recognize it,” Hlavin says. “This economy and the customer dynamic has changed. You need to recognize you have weaknesses and gaps on your floor. You have to be receptive to that criticism. You may not like it, but you need to be receptive to it. If you’re not and you still think you’re better than everybody else, why are you struggling?”

You need to use your employees who are experts in what they do and let them play an active part in the process of running your business. If you’ve been too stubborn to admit you need help, but you’re ready to do it now, then just be honest with your people.

“It’s almost like a 12-step program,” Hlavin says. “‘Hey employees, I’ve promised change in the past and we haven’t done it. It’s a problem.’ You have to own that. ‘I haven’t made the changes that I promised you, and I’m coming to you because I want you to recognize that we now have to, and I need your help.’ Employees respond well to open and honest feedback and feel that they are part of changing an organization or saving an organization.”

Many of the tenets of leadership that are espoused in countless journals and textbooks are made fun of as being cliché. But the problem isn’t in the message. It’s in the failure to act. And if your customers are as important to you as you claim, you need to take action to make sure your company is treating them right.

“It’s not just shipping parts because they placed a purchase order,” Hlavin says. “It’s understanding how the process flows from bringing in the parts, assembling or manufacturing them, and then getting it to the customer. If you have transparency all the way through, it breeds a more successful environment.”

Just do it

Matt Hlavin makes sure he talks to every one of his 72 employees at Thogus Products Co. on a rotating basis. The meetings are called “Matt’s Chats,” and they are an opportunity for an employee and the president to sit down for a one-on-one talk about anything and everything.

“It’s three questions,” says Hlavin, president of the company. “What do you like about Thogus? What don’t you like about Thogus?”

The third question is actually more of an opportunity for employees to bring up anything they want to bring up confidentially, whether it’s about a colleague, a supervisor or some other matter they want to keep private.

Of course, many leaders talk about holding one-on-one sessions with employees or maintaining an open-door policy. Then why don’t they usually work?

“You have to execute it,” Hlavin says.

When someone brings you an idea in one of these sessions, perhaps try implementing it and see what happens.

“Execute on their idea,” Hlavin says. “Try it. Then communicate the results of it. It really comes down to the X’s and O’s. If you’re going to make a promise, you have to follow through on that promise. If not, it’s just another harebrained idea.”

How to reach: Thogus Products Co., (866) 933-8850 or www.thogus.com