Most companies know the key to long-term growth is generating repeat business. Repeat customers mean greater brand loyalty, higher referrals and a steady stream of sales. Adding a new customer also costs considerably more than retaining an existing one.
But creating the kind of brand relationships that drive customers back again and again isn’t easy, especially for businesses that outsource their marketing and sales efforts to third-party call centers.
Smart Business spoke with Monica Ross, the vice president of training and development at InfoCision, on the value of first impressions and how to enhance customer relationships.
It’s about more than just taking orders
You don’t want your brand to get lost by having representatives who might treat a call with your customer as just another interaction. While they can help your customers make their purchases and answer their questions, it’s not creating a customer experience that is going to convert into future sales.
Companies need more than just order takers. To be competitive in this disjointed marketplace you need call centers that can build outstanding interactions by being as professional and connected to the brand as your own employees are. The order taker will process an order and get it done, but brand ambassadors will take it to a higher level to ensure the person feels good after the call.
You need to leverage the people on the phones if you’re looking to create outstanding customer interactions. Your call center is the voice of your company, so it's crucial to have mature, experienced professionals on the phones. The agents making and taking your calls are representing your company in front of your most valuable asset — your customers. Reputable call centers have highly selective hiring policies. At InfoCision, the average age of our Communicators is 42 years old, close to 80 percent are full time and almost 75 percent are their family’s main provider. Successful call center companies will also have robust recognition programs to retain and reward top performers.
Separate yourself from the crowd
With the trend toward multiple communication channels and a brand ambassador approach, an extensive training curriculum is essential. What separates brand ambassadors from typical call center representatives is their deep level of product and client knowledge, which can enhance the value of a call in a number of ways. Instead of just answering questions, brand ambassadors act as an extension of the brand they’re calling for, so they do a better job connecting with the customer from the first phone call. Brand ambassadors convey the feelings and voice of a brand. They are also comfortable enough with product and service lines to present other opportunities and upsell the customer and boost conversion rates.
Often, people are not 100 percent sold when they call in initially, and it’s going to translate into lost revenue. The phone call should be looked at as an opportunity to pin-point customer wants, answer questions and create need. Because of their training, a brand ambassador is going to know what questions to ask and what benefits their product or service offers. They will take this information and build on it to create that need for the customer.
Creating stronger brand ties
By enhancing brand value, brand ambassadors also add future value in customer retention. The real value of the brand ambassador comes after the phone call is completed: The prospect will have a stronger tie to the particular brand as well as a clearer feeling of who the company is and what it has to offer. Even if it’s a purchase of a singular item, it’s a company that the customer will want to go back to.
The success of brand ambassadors really comes down to the investment a company is willing to make upfront with time and training. The more involved they are in developing training materials and programs, the more ammunition they can provide to brand ambassadors. When those on the phone know the product and client, it’s going to positively impact the bottom line on that initial call. It’s about creating a better impression of who we represent. And, in this economy, where competition for customers is extremely fierce, strategic use of call centers can provide a company with far-reaching benefits that will help them to achieve goals, to enhance market position and to maintain their good reputation.
We’ve reached an age where technology is bringing businesses and customers closer together. Communication channels like teleservices, direct mail, Web allow for a customer’s diverse needs to be met. But it’s only as good as the person on the other end. By improving the quality of a customer’s experience, they will form a stronger bond with your organization and, as a result, increase your profit potential.
Monica Ross is the vice president of training and development at InfoCision. Reach her at (330-) 668-1400 or Monica.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Intellectual property (IP) is an area regularly overlooked; however, this is a pivotal area of law, especially for entrepreneurs and mid-size businesses.
“We often get calls once a client has already landed in some sort of IP trouble, but many of these issues could have been averted through some simple diligence early on,” says Salil Bali, an Intellectual Property Litigator at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth.
Bali says many people are overwhelmed by the topic and might think it to be in the purview of larger companies.
“Surprisingly, for small businesses, this is an area we have seen affect them the most, and often this impact is significant,” he says.
Smart Business spoke with Bali about the importance of protecting your intellectual property, regardless of the size of your company.
What types of businesses are most at risk when it comes to IP?
Most people, when they think about IP, assume it pertains just to tech-based innovations. However, at some level, every company has IP rights to protect. In today’s world, fewer companies have tangible assets such as equipment, manufacturing facilities or real estate. Instead, the vast majority of companies today have most of their assets based on IP rights. This includes the ‘mom-and-pop’ yoga studio that needs to protect its name, all the way to the biotech company that has inventions to protect. No matter what type or size company you have, there are aspects of IP law that touch your company and those rights need to be protected.
What are some common intellectual property issues entrepreneurs should recognize?
The four main areas of IP affecting business today are trademarks, copyrights, patents and trade secrets. Companies need to be aware of all four areas and how to protect themselves with regard to each.
Trademark law deals with the protection of a word, name, symbol or device used to indicate the source of the goods or services. The purpose is to distinguish from other similar goods or services and prevent public confusion. When determining your brand or company name, you should perform trademark clearance to ensure you don’t infringe on pre-existing marks and that your desired mark is strong and protectable. Discussing such issues with a trademark attorney early on can minimize exposure and create IP assets for a company right out of the gate.
Copyright law deals with the protection and permissible uses of original works of authorship, including photographs, videos and written documents. These issues often arise with hastily launched websites, when companies start loading copyrighted images or text without first getting permission or the appropriate licenses. This could lead to cease-and-desist notices and claims for damages. Similar issues can arise with the use of personal likenesses, especially those of celebrities.
Patent law grants an inventor the right to exclude others from making, using or selling his or her invention. If you have an innovative idea, it’s important to talk with an attorney to determine what is patentable and whether or not your idea infringes on other patents. Doing this early diligence can protect your idea from being abandoned to the public domain or help you sidestep and minimize potential litigation exposure.
As far as trade secrets, companies need to be mindful about how they manage information to make sure secrets stay protected. Early-stage companies often aren’t careful about employment contracts and what information is being divulged to whom. This lack of discipline can adversely affect the company’s ability to claim trade secret protection. If you share sensitive information without outlining the recipient’s duties to hold it in confidence, you can lose the ability to protect your trade secrets.
What are the potential consequences of ignoring intellectual property issues?
The risk of not protecting your mark is that someone else assumes a similar name and thus limits or destroys the value of your brand. Though there may still be recourse, it becomes an uphill battle. An infringement lawsuit by a trademark holder for your use of a confusingly similar mark could cost your company its brand and/or logo, the goodwill associated with them and subject you to potential damages.
The risk with copyright infringement is financial penalties. Unlike patent and trademark laws, there are express damages written into the copyright statute that can be considerable.
The consequence for infringing on a patent is litigation, which may result in an injunction preventing further sales or use of the infringing product. Damages and costs in such cases can quickly add up. Conversely, if you fail to seek patent protection for your innovation, you could permanently lose your ability to protect your invention. When you have a new idea, there are key timelines you should be aware of that can be impacted by public disclosure and sale. You must act quickly to secure your idea or you could lose your rights, even if your invention is otherwise patentable.
With trade secrets, it’s simple: If you don’t protect them, you lose them. As soon as a secret enters the public domain, it’s gone.
How could these problems be avoided?
Often, talking with someone who is knowledgeable can help you understand how to protect yourself from infringement. The costs associated with protecting yourself are proportionately low and can have a big impact on your company’s valuation when you’re looking for funding. The stronger your IP portfolio is, the stronger your company is. However, if these issues are ignored, it can become a costly distraction for you and your company. Taking steps early on to make sure your IP house is in order can pay dividends.
Salil Bali is an Intellectual Property Litigator at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. Reach him at (949) 725-4278 or email@example.com.
Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth
When Bill Nuti took the reins at NCR Corp. in 2005, he inherited a troubled company. As he describes it, NCR at that time was a stagnant 120-year-old technology conglomerate that had developed “muscle memory on how not to grow.”
Eight years before Nuti came aboard, NCR had been spun off by AT&T as an independent company after having been owned and operated as a unit of the telecommunications giant for six years. From the point of that 1997 spinoff until Nuti took the helm at NCR in 2005, the company’s revenue growth had been practically nonexistent. In fact, Nuti says, NCR’s compound annual growth rate for that eight-year period was less than 1 percent.
“We had bad habits,” he says. “We were not fast-moving or agile or entrepreneurial enough, and we were not taking enough risks as a company. We had a culture that had simply learned how not to grow.
“Now, [NCR] was still making profits during this period, but it was doing it the wrong way, by cutting costs — costs that were not sustainable in nature,” Nuti says. “They were making cuts in areas like training and development, innovation expenses, costs around research and development. You just can’t do those things. But we were doing them in the early part of the last decade, because we made everything about the current quarter versus building a great company for the long term.”
What NCR needed to fix itself went well beyond mere makeover. The company’s problems were deep-seated. Some were cultural, some were structural, and they needed to be addressed directly.
“What we needed to do, essentially, was to reinvent our company,” Nuti says. “We needed to reinvent the iconic brand that NCR is. And reinvention is a completely different business process than a turnaround, and much more difficult.
“You know, ‘Chainsaw Al’ does turnarounds,” he explains. “We don’t. We’re not in here to cut the costs and get the short-term profits up. We’re in here to build a long-term sustainably growing company that is meaningful to our customers, that can attack new market opportunities, and can also continue to grow its profit while building a stronger and larger customer base on a global basis.”
Quicken the pace
Nuti says one of the first things he did when he joined NCR was to address what he calls the company’s lack of agility by installing a new system to give managers more timely, useful company-performance data to base their business decisions on.
“We installed a management system in the company that was designed to speed up — like an engine’s RPM would speed up — the way the company works, in order to report on what was going on with our business and our customers.”
The new management system, Nuti says, has “a very strong, regular cadence.”
“We started to review our business, the key metrics that run our company, on a weekly basis, something we hadn’t usually done on a quarterly basis [in the past],” he says.
Among the metrics that NCR’s management team now reviews once a week are orders, revenue, services, “file value” or backlog, customer loyalty data, operations by country, data about the company’s manufacturing plants and their effectiveness, accounts receivable, and accounts payable, as well as a deep dive on every business line the company operates.
“We have a two-to-three-hour meeting per week now to discuss all of those key metrics and customers,” he says. “What this does is it very quickly ferrets out who can run at that speed and who cannot. So you almost have people self-select, based on this increased speed and momentum of the business you install.”
Fix broken contract
Another area Nuti turned his attention to early in his NCR tenure is what the company calls its social contract with its employees. This pact encompasses items such as compensation, health care benefits, retirement plans, the company’s culture and personality, its work environment, which includes facilities and the tools provided to workers to do their jobs, and employee training and development.
Nuti and his leadership team assessed the status of NCR’s social contract with its employees and were deeply dissatisfied with what they found.
“Candidly, it was broken,” Nuti says. “We had broken the trust with our employees. We had not been well focused on these elements that we feel make for a better company.”
While virtually all aspects of the social contract needed upgrading, some parts of the it were in much worse shape than others.
“We had OK compensation; we had OK benefits; we had less-than-OK facilities, at the time,” he says. “But those things could be fixed relatively easily over time.”
The element that needed the most work was employee training and development.
“We had been haphazardly cutting costs for the sake of [quarterly profits], without understanding the long-term impact on the company and our people,” he says. “As a result, training and development was destroyed.
“If you know the history of NCR, going back 127 years, we were well known for training and development. In fact, we invented sales training and many other contemporary sales training techniques today. But we had gone on a rampant cost-cutting campaign. We took out the training and development department, all of their people. We sold our training center in Dayton, Ohio. We removed virtually all aspects of training — leader-led training, online training and so on. And therefore, from that perspective of the social contract, we had broken that bond.”
With a lot of sweat, a lot of nerve and at considerable investment cost to the company, Nuti says he and his leadership team put NCR’s employee training and development program back on track to sustain the company’s success over the long haul.
“Today, NCR is 180 degrees from the NCR back in 2002-2003 that I described to you,” Nuti says. “At the height of the Great Recession in 2009, we rebuilt NCR University in Peachtree City, Ga. It’s a university system we have down there. We have a staff, a dean who runs our university. We flew in and trained over 5,000 people last year at that facility. And in 2009, we invested in online e-learning. Last year alone, we had about 230,000 registrants for training online. That’s about 10 courses per person at NCR.
“We now do training of our people in multiple countries around the world,” Nuti says. “We have completely revamped and reinvested in training at NCR, to the point where I would say we’re back at our height in terms of our company capability and in terms of delivery on that piece of the social contract. The most important element keeping NCR competitive long term is having people who are well trained and developed to do their jobs.”
Move the rocks
Another important move to rebuild NCR that Nuti’s team set in motion was a trio of company infrastructure changes. The first was to build a global manufacturing footprint by closing its plant in Scotland and building five new plants around the world. The second was to spin out Teradata, NCR’s highly profitable database software division. And the third was to move the company’s headquarters from Dayton, Ohio, to Duluth, Georgia.
Up until 2007, NCR had a single 40-year-old manufacturing plant in Dundee, Scotland, that served the globe for all of the company’s automated teller machine needs. Today, NCR operates manufacturing plants in Columbus, Ga., Manaus, Brazil, Budapest, Hungary, Pondicherry, India, and Beijing, China.
“We knew that longer term, we needed to be better positioned in the emerging markets, to have a balanced geographic footprint and revenue contribution coming from higher-growth emerging countries,” he says. “So, tactically, we had a program to move out of Scotland and build five plants around the world.”
Nuti says when NCR started the ball rolling with the change in global manufacturing footprint in 2007, the company got some tactical short-term gain in terms of cost savings, because it was moving from high-cost manufacturing locations to lower cost.
“So it helped us in the short term,” he says. “But over the long term, of course, the investment was significantly higher, and therefore you recycle those savings into building your longer-term strategy. And as you do that, you gain more traction in those other markets.”
When NCR spun out Teradata in 2007, the database software unit was the company’s most profitable division. “People thought we were crazy,” Nuti says.
“The problem was, Teradata was essentially getting all of the resources in the company, and the rest of NCR was starving,” he says. “We knew we needed to spin out Teradata for several reasons, one of which was that they served a different marketplace with a different technology and required a completely different infrastructure to be successful long term.”
The Teradata spinout has been a resounding success. In 2006, just before the move, the combined market cap of NCR and Teradata was about $6 billion; the combined market cap of NCR and Teradata today is more than $12 billion.
“It might go down as one of the best spinouts in history in terms of market cap appreciation,” he says. “We not only created a lot of value, we took two great companies that weren’t getting enough resources internal to themselves, and gave them enough resources and focus, and now they’re both thriving.”
In 2009, NCR moved its headquarters from Dayton, Ohio, to Duluth, Ga. Nuti says the move has had multiple benefits, the main one being cultural.
“We brought in a couple of thousand new people, new ideas, best practices from other companies, and a lot diversity,” he says. “It has made a big impact on NCR culturally. It’s been very positive.”
“So, strategically, we had a long-term view, but we knew we had to do things tactically to get us there — that would benefit us in the short term and medium term while helping us to achieve our long-term goals. And those are three big rocks that we moved.”
All of the infrastructural and cultural changes at NCR are starting to bear fruit. The company has put together two straight years of solid growth and strong financial results. And Nuti notes that in the fourth quarter of 2011, the company posted a record year-on-year revenue increase, which was up 17 percent, as well as records in operating income, cash flow, and earnings per share.
“All of those numbers are the best we’ve ever achieved, on top of a tough [comparison year], because 2010 was also a very good year for NCR. We had a good growth year, a solid growth year, and a great profit year. So we’ve now strung together a couple years of significant growth and expansion of profits.”
HOW TO REACH: NCR Corp. (800) 225-5627 or www.ncr.com
THE NUTI FILE
NAME: Bill Nuti
TITLE: Chairman, president and CEO
COMPANY: NCR Corp.
Born: Bronx, New York
Education: Long Island University, Bachelor’s Degree in Finance and Economics, 1986
What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?
I started as a newspaper boy when I was 9. I delivered newspapers for the New York Post. And I learned that hard work pays off. I used to deliver papers roof to roof. Because I lived in the projects, I would actually walk up one building, and my last paper would be delivered on the top floor, and then I’d go over the roof to another roof, and I’d start delivering papers from the top floor to the bottom floor. And then I’d go to another building, start on the bottom floor to the top floor. So I actually delivered papers by jumping over buildings and rooftops. I was kind of like Batman.
Do you have an overriding business philosophy that you use to guide you?
Do the right thing when no one is looking.
What trait do you think is the most important one for a CEO to have in order to be a successful leader?
I think the most important trait is a willingness to learn, and continue to be a learner. You know, when you get to this level, people think that you’re supposed to have all the answers, and that if you don’t have the answer, it’s a sign of weakness. And I think that you have to recognize that life is a continuous journey for learning. In this job, listening and learning is critical.
How do you define success?
I define success as being the most important business to your customers in the sector that you participate in.
What the best advice anyone ever gave you?
It would have to be John Chambers, my boss at Cisco [Systems Inc.], and his advice was, ‘Don’t be afraid to take risks — always.’
It takes a lot of time and effort to create, implement and manage a powerful brand, but the payoffs are significant.
“A well crafted and well managed brand helps you distinguish yourself among the competition,” says Rochelle Reiter, agency principal at Orange Label Art + Advertising. “It motivates customers and prospects to do business with you.”
The end result? Higher gross profit margins, more net profit, and a much stronger, competitive company that creates a high return on investment for the owner(s).
“Many companies struggle with coming to grips with their own individual brand. But it doesn’t have to be painful,” adds Wes Phillips, also an agency principal at Orange Label Art + Advertising.
Orange Label itself underwent a rebranding process five years ago. “After more than three decades of success, we rebranded so we would be viewed as a valuable and relevant marketing resource versus just another advertising agency. That informed how we changed our name, logo and positioning to clearly identify what sets us apart: our integrated focus,” Phillips says.
“After five years, not only is our name and identity different, the makeup of our staff is different, our services are different, and how we deliver those services is different,” Phillips notes. “The net effect is that we have expanded to a more diverse client base. The changes have improved profits, but, most importantly, our clients are more successful.”
Smart Business asked Reiter and Phillips about how companies can go about creating powerful brands.
What are the components that comprise a brand?
There is no black-and-white definition of a ‘brand.’ A brand encompasses all the thoughts and feelings that prospects and customers have about an entity. A person can be a brand. For example, a celebrity has his or her own brand, personality and value — good, bad or indifferent. A brand is not just a logo, but can involve all the senses as well. Someone might hear a jingle or see a symbol such as the Nike swoosh and relate it to the brand. The key is to recognize that brands are driven by emotions — people have emotional relationships to brands. They buy things that make them feel something positive, so the purchase is emotionally gratifying.
What does a brand mean internally?
The brand informs a company or organization’s overall strategy. A brand serves as an internal compass, guiding the strategic direction of the company and culture. All employees should be trained on the brand, embrace the brand and behave in ways that reinforce the brand.
Why is a powerful brand so important?
A powerful brand distinguishes the product, service or company from the competition; creates additional perceived value; emotionally motivates people to buy; and translates into more market share and better profit margins. At the end of the day, it will dictate what someone is willing to pay for the product or service.
If the brand is not seen as powerful, it can be viewed as a commodity. When a company is viewed as a commodity, rather than a distinctive product or service, the consumer has no compelling reason to buy, other than price.
What should be taken into consideration when developing a brand?
Take the time to ensure team alignment on: who you are, where you are going and why customers and prospects should do business with you. There is also value in engaging with your external audiences to capture their authentic perceptions of your products or services.
Be sure to identify your company or organization’s niche; being all things to all people does not produce the best result. Be aware of strengths and weaknesses and really home in on what the company or organization does well — what people can get and experience from you that they can’t elsewhere. Have the brand permeate every part of your business. Let it guide your goals, objectives and strategic plan. Be sure to link the brand to the emotional benefits.
You’ll also want to develop your identity visually to bring the brand to life, but underneath it all is the core brand message. All of the tangible things — your logo, promotional and marketing materials, advertising — need to always be consistent with that message.
When is the right time to refresh a brand or rebrand completely?
The answer to when to rebrand is not clear cut. If a brand is proactively managed, it should naturally evolve so that as changes occur with your company, customers or marketplace, your brand will evolve as well. However, it may be time to rebrand if faced with one of the following circumstances: 1) you’re facing competitive pressures from someone who is gaining more market share; 2) your target demographics think or feel differently about your brand than they used to; 3) you’ve made significant changes internally such as a name change, ownership change or acquisition. A thriving brand leader will proactively manage the brand as an ongoing activity and consider it as an integral part of the business strategy.
WES PHILLIPS and ROCHELLE REITER are the agency principals of Orange Label Art + Advertising. Reach them at (949) 631-9900 or firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
As the new president of Burger King Corp.’s North American business, Steve Wiborg was charged with leading a brand suffering from declining sales and a limited menu. Under siege from a market flooding with fast food hamburger competition, it was struggling to keep its foothold in its narrow niche of 18- to 34-year-old male burger consumers.
Yet at the same time, the company was initiating a four-pillar strategy to enhance its menu, overhaul the restaurant image, streamline operations and improve marketing communications, even phasing out the company’s Burger King mascot. Wiborg had the opportunity to apply his 20 years of experience in the Burger King system to help the No. 2 hamburger chain start fresh and expand its appeal.
“When we’re looking at a larger consumer base, we’re really expanding our target to Quick Service Restaurants,” says Wiborg, who became the president of North America and executive vice president of Burger King Corp. in October 2010.
“Any of these changes has to do with focusing on 100 percent flawless execution. That’s really what everything is focused on right now in order to make everything we do or any of those four pillars come to life.”
Today, Wiborg is leading the roll out of these initiatives across 7,200 restaurants. Here’s how he drives execution to help is team deliver results and grow Burger King as a quick-service authority.
Engage your team
To make the brand more competitive, improvements in the new strategy called for the company to add new products, such as salads, desserts and breakfast items, as well as improve upon some existing products, such as a new french fry recipe. Wiborg was also responsible for implementing the company’s new “20/20” design at all of its North American locations, which would create a more attractive and brighter environment for guests. Coming in, he and his leadership team examined research to see where the brand stood in terms of cleanliness, speed of service, food quality and operations.
“That’s always going to be a challenge as we look to innovate off of different platforms and make sure we’re looking at our opportunities from competition,” he says.
But to make the sweeping changes the brand had in mind, Wiborg knew he needed to go outside of corporate to involve people in the process, especially because 90 percent of the company’s restaurants are owned by franchisees.
“It’s really our restaurants and employees that make the change in the end,” he says.
In the past year, Wiborg has added numerous programs and initiatives designed to increase collaboration between franchises and the corporate office. By inviting more employee and franchisee participation, it’s been easier to get people on the same page with consistency and alignment on goals.
“It’s a big system … and getting them all to agree is never going to happen,” Wiborg says. “You get a majority of them to agree, and as long as the other group understands where you are going and what their part of it is, then you’re going to have the best success.”
Because menu innovation was a change that would affect many franchisees, who would end up implementing it at their restaurants, Wiborg selected a handful of franchisees that had been in the system a long time and brought them to the company’s headquarters in Miami. Along with the brand’s vendors and suppliers, they spent three months working with R&D to update the menu to appeal for a broader audience.
“We had to take a look at every single item on our menu and make changes,” he says.
Recent menu additions include everything from funnel cake sticks to a Chef’s Choice burger and a variety of breakfast menu items.
Wiborg says that collaboration with franchises, combined with the initial research the company did in 2010, revealed the areas of the company’s menu and marketing strategy that had strong appeal — flame grilling and the Whopper, for example. But it also helped clarify areas for improvement and opportunities to reach more consumers, such as adding a dessert platform with soft serve ice cream.
Again, many changes in product often come back to execution. For instance, the decision to start cutting lettuce and onions in restaurant creates higher quality sandwiches but also requires more labor.
“There are a lot of things that go into the menu innovation process and how we roll that out,” Wiborg says. “Engagement of our franchisees has helped every step of the way.”
One way the company has improved employee engagement is by making sure everyone works together to set priorities rather than having the corporate office in Miami hand them down. Wiborg says that engaging your team is vitally important.
“I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the engagement that you get from your employees when you make them part of the process and not just the execution part of the process,” he says.
To increase collaboration between corporate and the restaurants, the company created a marketing council, a restaurant council, a people council and a diversity council, each made up of approximately 13 franchisees and corporate members.
While Wiborg thought he’d initially have to twist some arms to get people involved, it was actually the opposite. It was just a matter of ensuring the councils were formed to represent a diversity of opinions. So to get a well-blended group, the company’s directors picked half of the council members and let the National Franchise Association, which a majority of the system belongs to, choose the other half.
“The great thing is there is a wide range of thinking on these councils,” Wiborg says. “It’s not everyone thinks the same and we all move cohesively. But if we can come to agreement in these councils of how to move the brand forward, I know we can move the system forward.”
For example, when the people council recognized a new way to improve communication at restaurants through virtual learning, the company introduced the initiative in 2011.
“It has been a great way to actually get things done within the system because it’s not just me of Burger King in Miami saying that this is the way we should do things,” Wiborg says. “It’s a group of 13 franchisees plus Burger King that all across the United States and Canada are coming up with the ways to move forward.”
To build a better and stronger brand, Wiborg also knew that the company needed to narrow the range of excellence. So another challenge of execution was getting franchisees and employees operating in one consistent way across the system.
“We have all levels of excellence,” Wiborg says. “You may go to one Burger King and it’s your favorite Burger King, and then you go to another one and it’s less consistent. So it’s really about consistency.”
Wiborg says that for any brand that has national or global locations, improving brand consistency is often the result of how much support people have out in the field.
“So when you’re talking restaurant image and you know that that’s a very capital-intense decision, in order to move in the right direction, it was about coming up with programs that enable people to do that type of stuff,” he says. “It’s one thing to say we want to do 1,000 reimages in here in 2012. It’s another thing to be able to get there. So just because people know what I’m doing and I’ve been in Burger King a long time, you have to create ways for people to execute.”
That is true for each one of the four pillars the company is implementing. So to help franchisees and employees execute the numerous changes, the company launched a field optimization restructuring program in September to double its number of sales and operations coaches nationwide.
“When you look at operations, it’s one thing to say, ‘We want to have cleaner restaurants serving the best food with the best people and the fastest service,’” Wiborg says. “It’s another thing saying, ‘I’m going to double the field staff for Burger King.’”
Instead of having 80 field people working on operations, the company now has 160 people helping franchisees identify strategies to improve their businesses and offering field support.
“If I’m serious about being the best restaurant and operations company, I think I need to back that up by putting more people in the field working on becoming the cleanest restaurants, the fastest service, the best quality service, and that’s what we’ve done over the last six months here,” Wiborg says.
This added support has helped people stay focused on execution across the board so that no one area or location suffers. If one restaurant needs more help, the company has available resources to accommodate people.
“We have more touches now and we have more people in order to get that more consistent brand up there,” Wiborg says.
Be part of the process
Even through Wiborg felt employees trusted his leadership in implementing changes because of his history with the organization, he also knew getting them to buy in wholeheartedly would take personal investment.
“You have to be part of the process and lead throughout that process in order to be a good leader,” he says. “It’s one thing to say you want the process, it’s another thing to be part of the process.”
To help restaurants embrace the new menus, store images, marketing and operational improvements, Wiborg has been actively involved in discussions and implementations with restaurants. When they began to do the reimaging, Wiborg went out and visited franchisees in a 13-city tour. In the meetings, he worked with franchisees to take them through the new programs and help them understand the timelines, details and execution process.
The company did the same thing with the menu platform rollout. Wiborg often invites groups of franchisees from the NFA or larger franchisees in before rolling out new programs to get their feedback and figure out what support they need to be successful.
“I roll them out for them first and they help kind of shape things a little bit and work on the communication piece,” he says. “So it’s not just about Burger King. It’s about our franchisees and Burger King. If they are more successful, we’re more successful.
“The key to success of Burger King is helping all of our franchise businesses be more profitable and the best QSR business out there. Their engagement, the councils, working hand in hand helped us overcome that and get everyone moving in one direction.”
Wiborg says the four pillars — menu, restaurant image, operations and marketing — probably won’t change but will continue to evolve at different levels. For instance, the restaurant reimaging has already begun, with much of the progress anticipated to take place in 2012. On the other hand, menu innovation is something that Wiborg says is ongoing.
“I think Burger King is two things,” he says. “One is it’s a restaurant company and the second is it’s an operations company.
“Our biggest opportunities are moving all of those four pillars constantly and making those changes with the menu innovation, restaurant image and so on.”
While the company’s global revenue for the third quarter of 2011 was slightly higher than in 2010 — with $608.1 million — only time will tell how these changes play out and how consumers and employees will embrace them.
“I’ve seen a lot of success in the building blocks of what’s to come,” Wiborg says. “Now it’s about the executing part over the next year.”
How to reach: Burger King Corp., (305) 378-3000 or www.bk.com
The Wiborg File
President of North America and executive vice president
Burger King Corp.
Education: B.S., Northern Illinois University
Burger King fast facts:
- Founded in 1954, Burger King is the second largest fast food hamburger chain in the world.
- The company operates more than 12,300 locations serving more than 11 million guests daily in 76 countries and territories worldwide.
- In 2009, BKC was recognized by Interbrand on its top 100 “Best Global Brands” list and Ad Week has named it one of the top three industry-changing advertisers within the last three decades.
- In October 2010, the company was purchased by global investment firm 3G Capital, which is focused on long-term value creation.
Wiborg on menu innovation: Every time we roll out a menu, we look how that fits into our brand. The different things that we’ve rolled out, whether it be toppers or different products or Chefs Choice Burger, it really needs to take the place of something else but be a higher quality. … So it really doesn’t stretch our brand it really stretches the ability for our consumers to want to go to Burger King.
1. Get your team engaged in key changes.
2. Provide support in areas of focus.
3. Be personally involved in the transition.
If you frequently watch the Home Shopping Network, then you probably recognize Tony Little. He’s that energetic fitness guy with a ponytail and baseball cap, standing next to some healthy product, talking to you about changing your life and saying, “You can do it!”
Maybe you were convinced, and maybe not. But for Little, “you can do it” is much more than another sales tagline used to sell exercise equipment. It’s a personal philosophy for success.
“I’ve just always felt that whenever you hit that roadblock, there are a zillion other ways around it,” says Little, founder, president and CEO of St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Health International Corp., which sells Tony Little-branded consumer lifestyle and fitness products. “I think that too many people quit too soon.”
Little’s own roadblocks have included everything from a handful of near fatal car accidents, to going completely broke, to last year, having an employee steal more than $600,000 from his company.
“That was probably one of the toughest areas for me, because I still had to carry on business,” he says. “I still had to make up the money that was gone.”
At the time, Little’s newborn twins, born prematurely, had also been hospitalized for medical reasons. With his children in a life-or-death situation and the business he’d built facing catastrophe, Little says he only got through it by believing in himself.
“You’ve got to come out fighting,” he says.
Today, Little’s twins are doing fine with occupational and physical therapy, and he has already made up much of the lost business. In fact, his company generated $100 million in revenue last year.
By overcoming personal and professional challenges time and again, Tony Little has become one of the most successful television sales people of all time, selling more than $3 billion worth of products to date. Here’s how he builds, grows and preserves his successful brand.
Pick the right opportunities
Little’s incredible sales track record stems first from his ability to identify profitable market and product opportunities that grow his brand.
“I have well over 45 million people that have brought Tony Little products, which I never really thought that would happen in my life,” he says. “I’ve been successful in the fact that the percentage of projects that I do have been winners.”
He says the first step in building a brand is clearly articulating your niche and purpose.
“You identify that there’s problem out there,” Little says. “You identify the fact that you know the solution.”
Growing your brand is then a matter of finding ways for that solution to extend to other products under your brand name. By focusing on the lifestyle market, for example, he has been able to expand his company to sell everything from shoes to food to pillows and even a personal care line.
“My brother calls me a living oxymoron,” Little says. “He says, ‘You started in fitness. You exercise people. You get them all jazzed up about fitness. Now you’re feeding them, putting them to sleep and they’re wearing your shoes the next day.’
“If you’ve been successful with the direction you’re going, then you just need to keep complementing that direction with other extensions.”
When you see an opportunity that fits within your brand’s niche, you want to make sure it’s something that you and your company can grasp and understand before you pursue it.
“The most important thing about selling a brand is not being overly technical with something and bringing it home so that everybody understands it,” Little says.
You have to be able to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. So do your research and make sure that the opportunity is within your knowledge comfort zone. If it is too complex, you may have trouble communicating it to customers or getting enthusiastic about it yourself. Little finds that the best sales results come from choosing opportunities that you can connect to and inspire your passion.
“Everything in your life is selling,” Little says. “It just comes back to the belief factor that you have in what you’re selling.
“I think I motivate a lot of people to feel better, look better, take charge of their lives and do things because I’m such a strong believer in what I do.”
While having enthusiasm alone doesn’t guarantee that every customer will jump on board, when you are selling something that you truly believe is positive versus negative or middle of the road, it’s infinitely easier to transfer that enthusiasm to customers.
“The more ammunition you go into war with, the better off you are,” Little says.
“I still believe that people love to get excited about something. So I have a large excitability about something if I truly believe in it. And it just translates. And that’s why I always say passion sells. Enthusiasm sells.”
Have a winning mindset
From the time he started in the sales world selling his own vitamin regimen, and later, helping grow a chain of pet food stores, Little has seen the power positivity and perseverance has in selling anything.
“No matter how much money you make, no matter what kind of education you have, no matter who you are in this world, you are always excited about someone who shows up in your office who has enthusiasm, passion and confidence,” Little says. “And so many people lack it.
“I’d never done television. I’d never sold pet supplies. I’d never sold vitamins. I never did infomercials. I just had the attitude.”
Little says that he’s no different than any other CEO when it comes to stressing about bills or an order not coming in on time. Yet he’s found that turning around any tough business situation often just starts with having a winning mindset.
“If you look at our economy now and how tough it is and how people get so beaten up and depressed so quickly, I think that it has to do with your mindset,” Little says.
He says that today’s business environment favors those who are prepared to think proactively and take the initiative to find something, figure out something or do something another way.
“If you’re sitting there waiting for people to bring you something, that’s a mistake,” Little says. “If you have an idea, follow it.
“You hear it every day with different people you work with. You ask them to do something, and they ask, ‘How do you do that?’ You just want them to go, ‘I’ll figure it out. Go ahead, Tony. Go away.’”
A winning mindset starts with eliminating attitudes such as fear and negativity that can inhibit your ability to make decisions and chase opportunities.
“The key to a successful company really is the person who is a decision-maker above anything else, because even if they are wrong with their decisions, their opportunities are at bat that much more,” Little says. “They are bound to get a home run.”
But understanding what good ideas and opportunities are out there isn’t enough if you don’t have the attitude to run with them.
“There are so many people that are going to say no, and it becomes a bit of a numbers game,” Little says. “If you take 99 no’s and you get one yes, the yes could make you a fortune or make your whole life.”
When Little first pitched his idea of selling a low-impact exercise video on HSN, the network had never sold an exercise video in its history. But after much persistence, he was able to track down the company’s owner, Bud Paxson, and convince him to try the idea.
“Bud looks at me and says, ‘So you are the guy that calls my company all the time,’” Little says. “I said ‘Yes sir.’ And he said, ‘Well, videos don’t sell.’ I made a bet that my videos would sell if they were presented a certain way.”
In the first airing, Little’s tapes sold out in four minutes. When Paxson called to order 1,000 more of the tapes, those sold out too.
“Certain people will get right up to a goal line and fail, whereas you really need to be the person who is going to bring it over the line,” Little says.
“There are actually a lot more opportunities out there. So many people are not realizing that the person who is going to get the job right now or the person that is going to be able to innovate on a product is someone who has an energy level and enthusiasm and a belief.”
Protect your reputation
Lastly, the strength of your brand is based on more than just your ability to choose the right products or get people to buy them. Because your brand name is synonymous with all aspects of your customer’s experience, everything from manufacturing quality, to shipping time, to how you handle a return affects how your customers feel about you and whether they’ll continue to buy your products.
“You must keep the customer’s experience great and never lose sight that it’s the customer who made you a brand,” Little says.
Once Little did a show to sell a shoe product, but it turned out that some customers who bought the shoes had high insteps so the strap would not fit them. Instead of just accepting that there would be more returns, he called the manufacturer and asked them to create a Velcro extender so that customers could extend the shoes to fit. He shipped the extenders out immediately, and the result was twofold.
“One, it reduces returns and it helps the customer have something that they originally bought,” Little says. “So I was able to make these extenders for the shoes and get them off to the people who had an issue and then they were all happy. Then what was a problem became an asset for my company. I was able figure out that that’s a really good thing to be able to adjust shoes. Now all of my shoes are adjustable.”
Whenever he discovers a customer issue, Little takes swift action to let people know that he cares and is going to make the issue a priority.
“What I do is try to cut the product off immediately, try to revamp everything,” Little says. “Let your consumers know that you understand their concerns and you are working on it. That’s how you preserve your brand.”
If something gets screwed up, he knows that it’s still his name that the customer associates with the problem and subsequently, his brand’s reputation.
“It’s a lot more work for me because people are buying Tony Little in the respect of, ‘I believe that he’s already checked this out,’” Little says.
“If I have a consumer that’s not happy with something, the type of e-mail you’ll get from that consumer is basically, ‘This has to have been somebody else. Tony Little would never let me down like this.’”
That’s why Little uses a range of media channels to connect with customers and talk to them about their feedback.
“The common mistakes are usually in the way people market a product, not understanding their demographics and not understanding the people they are selling to,” Little says.
He still writes in all of his online guest books, answers customer e-mails and always responds to anyone who reaches out to him personally about a product.
Transparency with customers also gives you a more accurate picture of your customer satisfaction, so you can gain insights from the positive feedback as well as the negative.
“The majority of people that send in a review on the Internet on something normally are always going to skew to the negatives,” Little says.
“People we find who love a product or are satisfied with a product aren’t just all of a sudden sending you stuff. They don’t have the same emotion.”
Being responsive, approachable and showing consumers that you’re really thinking about how they use your products builds trust with them as well as with your own business partners. When your brand faces challenges and you need to make up lost ground, having that trust is an invaluable asset.
“Obviously there will be certain times that you just don’t agree…but in the long run no matter how negative a person is or what their experience has been ? as a person who built their business off of their brand – you try to always respect your customer,” Little says. “I don’t think I would be in business if it wasn’t for taking care of my customers.”
How to reach: Health International Corp., (727) 556-2959
1. Build your brand with products you understand and believe in
2. Develop a can-do mindset in decision-making
3. Be accountable for your customer’s experience
The Little File
founder and CEO
Health International Corp.
Born: Fremont, Ohio
What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?
That I’m a very quiet person, and that I love reading books — as many as I can get my hands on.
How do you regroup on a tough day?
I’ll give myself a self-motivational talk and put myself through a challenging workout. It never fails to energize me.
What is your favorite part of your job?
It’s important that I have fun when I work; I don’t like to get too serious. Even when I’m selling or presenting new opportunities, I like to be myself and have a good time. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing for a living, you should find another line of work.
What is your favorite Tony Little product?
The Gazelle. The Gazelle was an exercise machine that has been used in more motion pictures than any other infomercial. I also used it on the Geico commercial, which was fun. It was over a billion in sales for just that one product. It was just fun and the amount of mail, the amount of letters and before and after pictures and stories — even to this day I probably get two or three a week. People just still love the product.
Whom do you admire in the business world?
I have great respect and admiration for people who are self-made. I’ve always looked up to Donald Trump as someone who is willing to speak his mind and create victories from adversity. I would also include Cornelius Vanderbilt. I just finished reading his biography, ‘The First Tycoon,’ and he really was an amazing man. He wasn’t particularly well-educated, but he wound up being one of the wealthiest people in American history. Then there’s Steve Jobs. So much has been said and written about him since his death, but I admired him most for never giving in to a challenge, no matter how tough it got. He never gave up on himself, and that’s a lesson for all of us.
Gary Kiedaisch is charged with leading one of the strongest consumer product brands in the country. The chairman and CEO of No. 1 cooler manufacturer Igloo Products Corp. understands that achieving the top spot didn’t happen overnight or by accident. It took Igloo’s industry awareness, brand building and unmatched innovation to keep the manufacturer atop the cooler industry.
The $250 million, 1,200-employee company originated the cooler category in 1947 and for more than 60 years it has held the No. 1 market share. Kiedaisch has helped excel Igloo’s brand and its products and has the ongoing challenge of keeping the company relevant and continuing its reputation as the top cooler manufacturer.
“We have, in my humble opinion, the best products in the category,” Kiedaisch says. “I don’t think anybody has a lineup of coolers like Igloo does. We live, eat, sleep and breathe coolers.”
While Kiedaisch can enjoy the comfort of leading a No. 1 market share company, he hasn’t been resting on his laurels. Here’s how Kiedaisch combines a strong brand with industry leading innovation to help grow Igloo Products Corp.
Build and advance your brand
Research shows that three in every four U.S. households own at least one Igloo cooler. Igloo has achieved this level of market penetration by being the best at what they do.
“We specialize in coolers,” Kiedaisch says. “Our two main competitors, Coleman and Rubbermaid, are generalists. The cooler business for them is a fraction of their whole. Coolers are our shirt, and with them, they are a sleeve on their jacket.”
Igloo’s ability to continually produce high-quality, durable cooler products is what helps drive the company’s reputation and relationships.
“We are delivering to our customers a truly great product that they need and we have good relationships with them,” he says. “What that shows is our branding and they’re going to then put our brand on the shelf front and center because retailers want to know what they’re buying and that consumers have confidence in it. That’s the first stamp in the marketplace.”
There’s a reason you don’t see a lot of marketing dollars for coolers and that is because the cooler itself is a billboard.
“Once you sell a cooler, it’s not going to get used only by one person one time and put away in a closet,” Kiedaisch says. “The first time it gets used it’s probably going to get used by at least three, maybe four, maybe five people. It’s going to be taken out repeated times and when it is taken out it is going to be the center of the party. You use it when you go to the beach or going to camp. I’ve got some contractors restoring a property in New Hampshire and at lunch time they’re all sitting around their Igloo coolers and its part of their daily life. They live with those products.”
The many uses of a cooler along with the quality and durability of each one of them have helped Igloo sell more than 20 million coolers a year, which exponentially builds the brand.
“You’ve got 20 million impressions going to the marketplace multiplied by two, three, four or five, utilized four or five times a year with a life cycle of how ever many years coolers go on and you just have a huge penetration in American households,” Kiedaisch says. “That’s why the brand is so well-known and recognized.”
To make your brand well-known and recognized you have to not only have a product that people want to use, but you have to associate your brand with things that your products are regularly used for.
“In sporting goods products there are many, many likes; for example skis,” Kiedaisch says. “You watch the Olympics and you see the skiers coming down and at the end of the race they pick up their skis and there’s a big billboard with the name of their ski right beside their head and that’s what’s commonly called sports marketing. I call it opinion-reader marketing and hundreds of thousands of consumer products companies use that strategy.
“It’s the same with car racing. I think it’s great that Chevrolet is on a NASCAR because that’s a Chevrolet engine and that’s a pretty tough piece of equipment. When you get a company’s brand on a NASCAR vehicle that has nothing to do with automotive or mechanical or engineering or doesn’t have a part in the vehicle, that’s just trying to get your name in front of the consumer demographic, but there is very little correlation between the two. It’s a very expensive and very indirect way to build a brand.”
Igloo tries to team up with events or activities that directly correlate with the use of its products.
“We sponsor the FLW Tournament, which is the biggest bass fishing tournament in the country,” he says. “We’re on television with bass fisherman and … they have to bring these fish in for weighing and they have to keep them alive, so they put them in an Igloo cooler. That’s similar to the NASCAR race where our equipment and gear is being used by the celebrity. That is direct cause and effect and the person choosing a cooler at the moment of decision is going to recall, ‘This is the one that’s used by all those FLW guys, I see on TV all the time.’”
Discover avenues to grow
In order to lead a consumer category for more than 60 years, you need more than a good product to continue that dominance. You need to have strong employees that can recognize the right business strategies.
“Anybody will say that the toughest leadership challenges are always getting the right people focused around the right business strategies and having them executed and implemented with precision,” Kiedaisch says. “The most important thing is to really surround yourself with experts in fields of the discipline that you do business in. If you’re in the consumer products business and you sell products through whatever it is that’s your specialty, you need people that understand the habits and behaviors of not only the end user but the retailer that you’re dealing with and how they interface with their consumers.”
Kiedaisch has been able to surround himself with people who are experts in the cooler industry and that expertise has led to growth for Igloo.
“Since 2008 we’ve grown this company significantly,” he says. “We’ve grown more than 20 percent and in the specialty channels outside of Walmart, we’ve grown close to 30 percent. It’s come from recognizing what we do and doing what we do better.”
Igloo’s strong brand and market dominance has led to penetration in 70 percent of American households in a category that has penetration in 90 percent of American households.
“You could argue the market is saturated and there’s no room for growth or you could argue that it’s a staple of life that the product that you make, almost every household needs one or two or three,” Kiedaisch says. “All you really need to do is bring them new reasons to buy one — compelling new reasons to buy a replacement or take new consumers. It’s a combination of sustaining what worked before and also bringing new innovation into the category to improve it.”
To continue to grow your company, your products and your brand you have to be in the right mind set. You can’t be turned away at the first sign of adversity.
“You have to make sure that you know your business and never, never, never give up,” he says. “If what you try today or this morning didn’t work quite as you wanted it to, take a look at it and see what went wrong or what assumption was incorrect and keep going until you get the result you think you want. That’s not to say you go until death. Sometimes certain strategies are wrong and you need to course correct. You only course correct when there is clear evidence that the direction that the group felt the company should be going is unquestionably proven to be wrong.”
When you are trying to be new and different and make a stand in an industry there are always people who will disagree.
“There are a lot of naysayers, especially when you’re trying to do something new and you’re trying to be great, that are going to want to slow down or dumb it down or maybe not chase that ring and then you settle,” Kiedaisch says. “The worst thing that I’ve ever seen other executives do is settle. That’s when you get companies that don’t have great performance in their products, great performance in their innovation, great performance in their financials, and they don’t have, in my opinion, motivated and happy executives and employees.”
Innovate the industry
Kiedaisch and the employees at Igloo refuse to settle for anything less than their best. The company is always looking for the next innovation to keep its products relevant.
“It’s all about the quality and efficiency of the product,” Kiedaisch says. “It’s got to outperform anything else that’s out there in the marketplace and that’s what we’re constantly working on. If you’re not constantly reinventing your product there’s no reason to replace it, there’s no reason for somebody to be motivated to buy it, and you’re not going to have very good sales.”
Reinvention is what Igloo is great at. The company explores numerous avenues to make a good product even better.
“Take for example our soft-sided coolers,” he says. “The original soft-sided coolers are just square sewn together boxes with insulation in them and they were lunch boxes and they looked like that. What we’ve done is we’ve developed a series of bags, totes and across-shoulder messenger bags that are insulated and have fashion and design to them that women will carry to the office or men will carry to a boat that doesn’t look like it’s your lunch pail, yet it is.”
Igloo looks to other industries and product functions to get inspiration for its innovations.
“What we did was we studied the women’s handbag business and how women carry their daily accessory needs,” he says. “We look towards the luggage industry and we look toward the refrigeration industry to see what they’re doing. I don’t know who came out with wheels first, but I would bet that the luggage industry came out with wheels first and you can’t buy a piece of luggage today without a wheel on it.
“We’re in the food transportation and storage business. If you’re in that business you look at what other companies make products that move personal items by an individual and you can learn things from those people as to what you can do with your company.”
Igloo did something similar when designing its new rickshaw-inspired glide cooler. It took a page out of the Chinese lifestyle.
“We looked at the Chinese rickshaw and saw these frail people carting around two heavy people in a two-wheel wagon,” Kiedaisch says. “The art to it was the balance of the rickshaw and that the handle is set away from the wheels and acts as a lever. So we created a cooler that has a handle that extends out much like a rickshaw and you reduce the weight of lifting it by 50 percent and you also move yourself further away from the cooler so if you’re pulling it the cooler is far enough behind so it’s not bumping into your Achilles tendon.”
Kiedaisch doesn’t just look to similar industries or functions that could contribute to a cooler. He also watches how consumers utilize the products.
“We wander around a lot,” he says. “I’m often accused of being a chief product manager myself. We respect the fact of how the product plays. We watch how people use products. We look to related industries and how they manufacture products and what you can bring to the consumer in ways of better performance or better value and then we will incorporate it into the product. I probably on any given day of the week will see four or five innovative new things that the team will check and see if there is something we can do to incorporate that technology into our products.”
Innovation doesn’t stop at finding new ways for a product to be used it also applies to the ways you make a product.
“I’d challenge what technology ends up being used in the manufacturing or materials that are used in your products,” Kiedaisch says. “If Igloo didn’t do that we’d still be making metal fabricated coolers and they’d be horribly expensive.”
HOW TO REACH: Igloo Products Corp., (713) 584-6800 or www.igloocoolers.com
- Build your brand and align it with uses that directly correlate
- Use your brand and turn it into growth for your products
- Take what you do best and innovate to make it better
The Kiedaisch File
Born: Cambridge, Mass.
Education: Attended college for two years and was studying pre-law before joining the military.
Do you have a favorite Igloo product?
My 28-quart personal cooler that I use to travel to and from my boat with.
Who is somebody that you admire in business?
I admire Jack Welch and Steve Jobs. I say Jack Welch because when he ran General Electric, he had his hands on the ball. He had constant meetings with his employees and he was always motivating his employees and sharing where the company was and where it was going. I say Steve Jobs because he not only [ran the company] but he was the chief product development guy and he understood that the wellness of Apple Computers is as good as the last innovation you came up with and he drove that.
If you weren’t a CEO what job would you have?
If I were not running a company, I would be a lawyer of some sort because it is very similar to what I do. It’s getting the facts, preparation, presentation, cause and consequences, and it’s high stakes, winner takes all.
Cool facts about Igloo:
- Igloo is the No. 1 cooler brand in the world
- No. 1 market share in the U.S.
- No. 1 cooler brand used in the marine channel
- No. 1 cooler brand used on commercial worksites
- No. 1 brand recognized by consumers in the cooler category
- Igloo adds more new coolers to its line each year than any other cooler brand
- Playmate is the most recognized cooler product in the U.S.
- Almost three in every four U.S. households owns an Igloo cooler
- Igloo offers more than 500 different products
- Igloo coolers are sold through more than 15,000 outlets in the U.S. and around the world.
When CEO Lauren John Reid joined PuroSystems Inc. in 2010, the company’s PuroClean brand was already the fastest-growing franchiser in the $210 billion property damage restoration industry. But despite a decades-long track record of restoration industry experience, Reid had no concept of what it meant to run a decentralized franchising operation.
“You are dealing with a group of people that in some cases maybe were at an executive level one day, and then all of a sudden they are out of a job, and the next day they are running their own business,” Reid says.
“This is my first kind of ‘ivory tower’ experience. When you are operating a decentralized business, the branch manager or district manager or franchisee that is out there in the field — they are the brand.”
Because PuroClean had recently gone through a growth spurt of expanding its franchise organization, many new entrepreneurial business owners were now part of its franchisee network. Reid was now leading 320 other CEOs, all of whom were responsible for the brand’s success or failure, and many of which lacked experience in key management areas, whether it was with managing cash flow, marketing the business or generating inquiries.
To immerse himself in the franchisee culture, Reid launched an ambitious “100-100 Tour,” to meet with more than a third of the franchise network in his first 100 days in office. The goal was to give people a chance to put a face with a name but also for him to hear about what kind of support they needed from corporate to successfully deliver services.
Before Reid could continue to scale the $190 million business for growth, the first step was getting everyone in the company’s franchise network on the same page, delivering restoration services in a way that outshined competitors in the eyes of its customers.
“We backed away from focusing on growth of new franchisees because we really needed to take an introspective look at our network and make sure that our current community had all the tools necessary to start to take on additional growth,” Reid says.
Convincing franchisees to fully commit to this focus was a little different than getting buy-in from any employees. To get a diverse group of entrepreneurs thinking like businesspeople and salespeople, Reid needed to sell them on his vision of the company.
“In a lot of my former positions, I was the boss, and as a boss, you can tell people what to do,” Reid says. “With franchisees, I have to appeal to more of the making them understand, and then encouraging them that it’s in their best interest, because they are independently owned and operated businesses.”
During the 100-100 Tour and through 18 regional follow-up meetings, Reid spent time meeting with franchisees to discuss the 10-year vision plan, using his industry expertise to gain support for the company’s long-term goals. When talking about the vision, he sticks to what he calls “the vital few” in terms of the areas he wants the company to focus on.
“When you are out in the field looking back at corporate, you’re thinking, ‘Don’t these knuckleheads see what needs to be done?’” he says. “They want to see results. When you try to do 25 things, you don’t get anything done. You focus on a few things and say ‘These things we are going to get past.’”
Once people see the long-term goals, you then need to show them how changes involved in the big picture connect to and benefit them.
“It’s more about influencing and making them understand what’s in it for them,” Reid says. “So ‘If I go on to this program it means that I’m going to get more business, and that means I can grow my top line.’
“When you get people started thinking about that and they can start to think in a bigger scope, a bigger framework, it makes it a lot easier to get there.”
Once franchisees saw the benefit of bringing consistency into the network with new policies and standards in service delivery, the next step was giving them the tools and guides to make the necessary changes successfully.
“They said we want to be in these national programs,” Reid says. “My response was that if we want to be in those programs, we’re going to have to put a lot more focus on being consistent if we’re going to make that commitment.”
Give people the tools
If you want to have consistency in service across hundreds of offices, you need to give people a common set of service standards and guidelines for everyone to follow. So upon joining the company, Reid began work on installing a new operating system and launching a national Certified Priority Response program for franchisees.
With CPR, Reid says one of the benefits to ensuring consistent protocol is making the program optional. While whoever opts in can gain benefits for their business such as getting referrals from the company’s call center — enticing franchisees to participate — they also then must agree to adhere to a common set of service expectations.
“We have 300-plus offices across the U.S. and Canada,” Reid says. “I have to get all 300 offices delivering a consistent invoice with consistent data, consistent response times.
“So we go out to them and say in order to be a part of this program this is the way that you are going to have to do the work, and we actually make them sign an agreement that, ‘OK. Yes, I signed up to do this.’”
The second part of consistency in service is the human element of selling a brand.
“People do business with people they like,” Reid says. “Making everyone understand that is a very important part of the process.”
While some franchisees had no experience managing a P&L or operating in the restoration industry, they really needed help with selling themselves as the brand. For example, one of the challenges Reid saw numerous franchisees having was getting past gatekeepers, such as the receptionist in the front office or assistant, to the decision-makers with whom they could build relationships.
“They are the ones that are going to have control over whether or not you are going to get past them to in this case, the agent or the broker,” he says. “So it’s treating them nicely and with respect. Just because they aren’t in many cases the decision-maker — they are the decision-maker in whether or not you are going to get past them.”
To address this issue, the company began providing interim sales training for all franchisees. When you are building consistency in a brand, how your sales people handle relationships is extremely important in what kind of reputation you gain with customers. Having good relationship-building skills is critical when you are trying to get in the door or, in a franchisee’s case, on a list.
“You have the loss of your house and you call your insurance agent,” Reid says. “Your agent wants to help you, so he or she will call in a restoration company, and you want to be at the top of that person’s list.
“The innovation and the technology — those are all nice things to build into the value proposition, but as a general rule, if people like you, they have a hard time firing you, which means you are going to get some chances if you stumble. And you are going to stumble because we are in the service business.”
Hold people accountable
Today, approximately 60 percent of PuroClean’s franchisee network has enrolled in the CPR program. But to keep people operating within a new set of guidelines, Reid has had to institute methods to hold them accountable to the higher standards.
“We are at such a size right now that there’s a 90-plus percent chance that if somebody calls to do business with us, they are going to be doing business with the franchisees,” Reid says.
“We can’t afford to lose a vendor program or a national account because of the actions of a few franchisees that aren’t following the process.”
For one, he put in place a desk audit system to poll a sampling of work from franchisees and ensure people are acting within the guidelines. In addition, a network leadership council, composed of a tribunal of franchisees, now serves as a disciplinary group for franchisees who deviate from the standards of the brand. If there is a deviation, management goes and works with that particular franchisee to help him or her improve.
For a decentralized business, giving people support in the field is vital in keeping franchisees accountable as well as motivated. With offices throughout the U.S. and Canada, the company’s ability to maintain alignment relies heavily on having strong, effective communication from management.
“The most difficult thing for a decentralized business is communication,” Reid says.
In addition to using training programs and regional meetings to maintain operational consistency, Reid uses field support specialists who can go out in the field and work with franchisees, talk to them about the vision and mission and answer their questions. These are people who have significant restoration industry experience and who Reid brought into the organization to lend another level of support.
“We’ve got to support our franchise community with the best trained folks,” he says.
“They want to know that you know that they are out there every day trying to make it happen on behalf of themselves. They are looking for whatever support they can, and they want to know that you are there to help them.”
That is also why Reid travels at least once a month to meet with franchisees throughout the network. Rather than being a removed CEO, he enjoys this time out in the field, connecting with franchisees and renewing focus on the brand’s mission and vision. He even encourages franchisees to come up with their own mission statements, which helps people stay focused on their part of the brand’s success.
“When you are in a decentralized business, the brand is you,” Reid says. “You are the only one who can look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and say, ‘Did I do something today that advanced the mission?’”
With the goal of growing to a $1 billion company with 1,500 locations by 2020, Reid knows that having this group of people who can deliver the brand’s products and services consistently will be vital to future expansion.
“If we are going to be a player in the industry, we have to be able to deliver this consistency of our services if we are going to be successful,” Reid says.
“Everybody’s got the same equipment. Everybody has the same dehumidifiers, the same air movers, the technical equipment we use at the actual job site. There might be slight variations or differences, but it’s the way that you handle their client that differentiates you.”
How to reach: PuroSystems Inc., www.puroclean.com or (800) 775-7876
The Reid File
Lauren John Reid
Education: MBA, Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Business
Born: Toledo, Ohio
What was your first job?
Short-order cook at a pizza place
What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?
I speak to everyone daily in the office and let them know I recognize their contributions.
What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?
I didn’t go to undergraduate school but earned my MBA.
If you could have dinner with one person you’ve never met, who would it be?
George W. Bush — The challenges he dealt with and decisions that had to be made every day and his reliance on his team were some of the most challenging in this time.
Reid on learning the franchising business: In my former life, I reported to the CEO. Now I have 320 CEOs. They all want a piece of you, and you have to recognize what is the core issue, what is the main issue. Nine times out of 10, a lot of the issues come back to communication and maybe lack of follow through or follow up. It’s really no different than any other business. The challenge is just recognizing that and making people understand that ‘I understand this is a big concern of yours, however, in the grander scheme of things, we have this issue that is affecting a third of the network, and we’re really focusing on that first, and your issue we’re going to put on the list. We’re going to get at it, but it’s not going to be today.’ Or trying to figure out some sort of a workaround. … I think the good news about entrepreneurs is that if they believe that you are trying, first of all that you are listening, you’re documenting and you are doing something about it, that’s a big part of it.
Joy Gendusa used to be a small business owner, which is why she knows from experience just how many misconceptions some of them have about marketing.
“Most businesses fail in three to five years from opening because they don’t market enough to get in the amount of business it takes to sustain themselves and be very profitable,” says Gendusa, CEO of PostcardMania. “I learned this on my own.”
Since she founded her direct marketing business 13 years ago, Gendusa has lived and learned many of the marketing lessons she stresses to clients. Today, with 192 employees and projected $20 million in revenue this year, she’s also a walking success story for how marketing can make or break a business.
Smart Business spoke with Gendusa about the keys to effective marketing.
Be persistent. You will remember when you were a kid — your parents had to tell you the same things over and over again for you to get the message: ‘Do the dishes. Take your shoes out of the kitchen.’ That is marketing. You’re marketing all the time whenever you are trying to get someone to change a behavior pattern. It’s the same thing when you are trying to market your business. … You need to get that message out over and over and over again. I would say that any small business person, whatever amount they think is a reasonable amount of marketing in their minds, they should just ‘10x’ that in their mind.
One mailing one time to one list is not going to change your bottom line. It’s not going to change your life. It’s not going to change your income. Marketing is a continuous activity. So it’s something that you have to do, just like you pay the bills, just like you do everything else that’s a continuous activity.
Make it priority. No outside force is going to come in and do something to you if you don’t budget your marketing. …They’re not going to say, ‘You’re in default of your mortgage. We’re turning off your power. You’re not going to have phone service if you don’t pay.’ These are outside services that are imminent if you don’t pay them, whereas marketing, the effects of it are a little bit later down the line.
It is very easy to turn off your marketing budget just so that you can pay the mortgage or pay the electric bill or pay the phone bill, and when you do that, you’re cutting off your own nose to spite your face. Without marketing you cease to bring in new clients, and when you cease to bring in new clients, you cease to bring in continued growth and new revenue.
I hear a lot of business owners say, ‘Well, as soon as this is done and this is done, then I’m going to market.’ Any marketing is better than no marketing. You always have the opportunity to improve it as you’re going, but keep sending out communication in a broadening sphere so that more and more people are getting your message on a continuous basis.
Keep it simple. When you look at an ad you have to instantly know what it is that they’re trying to sell you. I see businesses that try to cram way too much information onto a postcard. … They’re really just confusing the person. They need to just concentrate on an item or service that will get the person hooked right away and then they have an opportunity to sell them other products and services once they have their attention. That’s a big mistake that guys make. They are so worried about the pennies of the cost that they’re not looking at the big picture and the real return on investment you can get from doing it properly.
Take the reins. Business owners — they’ve also been burned. They’ve relied on experts to tell them what to do. They do what the expert says. They don’t get the results they were hoping for, or they’ve been promised something that is unrealistic, and when they feel that they have been burned they cease to reach in the direction of continuing in that line. So you’ve paid for some marketing and you feel like you’ve flushed the money down the toilet, and now you feel like you don’t want to market anymore because it didn’t work. Well obviously it works, because those big companies are doing it. It’s a matter of getting educated so that you are in the driver’s seat.
How to reach: PostcardMania, (866) 803-2421 or www.postcardmania.com
Eileen Gittins knew creating an online book publishing business meant she wouldn’t have physical stores where she could her meet customers face to face. And yet, she’s found other ways to reach out, from sponsoring international events to opening temporary pop-up stores in London and New York.
“Without having permanent retail locations, when you are an online brand like this whose product makes physical things, how do you get out there in the physical world?” says Gittins, founder, president and CEO of Blurb Inc.
And by answering the desire of digital consumers for shared, interactive experiences, she’s grown Blurb to $45 million in revenue in five short years.
Smart Business spoke with Gittins about how to build relationships with consumers as an online brand.
Focus on your customer. You are just uncommonly focused on the people, on your sweet spot. And just staying ahead of that is the way that you continue to become the one that matters.
For us, it’s the creative enthusiast and the creative professional markets. So we’re explicitly not focused on what others call the ‘chief memory officer,’ the mom at home who’s got 40 minutes to whip something out before the baby wakes up. That’s not our market. Our market is people who are creative at some level and who are really enthusiastic about their photography, their design — whatever it is, they’re into it — all the way up through creative professionals. When you focus your efforts like that, it becomes possible to stay ahead of the curve because you’re not spread too thin.
Build an experience. Instead of looking at this challenge as: We print books, so that’s the business you’re in, we said, ‘No, no, no.’ What this is about is experiences increasingly for people who are digital natives and they want an experience of making the book that frankly helps them relive the content, whatever it was — their trip to Jamaica, their family reunion, a recipe book, when they had that fabulous meal for Christmas every year when they were a kid.
We knew if we built an experience, where the experience of making the book was frankly as fun and rewarding as getting the book, then this would be the kind of product that people would talk about and it would get its own viral adoption.
Create opportunities to connect. Every year we have a big, worldwide competition called ‘Photography Book Now.’ It invites people all over the world at all levels of skill to submit their books in different categories. And it’s not just a competition online. … Last year we had meet-ups in 11 cities all over the world, so that there are opportunities for people to come and meet us and frankly for us to talk to folks who are customers or would be customers about their experience.
They feel a personal connection to this brand, and I think it’s because we enable them to do something that makes them look better than they ever thought.
This last year we had almost 40 percent of the entries from outside of the United States, which is why we go to Paris and Berlin and London and New York and L.A., Toronto, just all over the place in these meetups. So that’s a huge part of our approach to the markets. We joke here — but it’s not a joke — that offline is the new online for Blurb. Our books are physical, tangible things, and people want to meet up in physical space and check each other’s books out, look at books, hold books — hold them in their hands.
Share your passion. I joke that my title should really be chief storyteller not chief executive officer, because that’s how I manage and lead is through stories, great stories that help people understand why things matter, instead of just the data telling them why things matter. When there’s an emotional component to that, it’s memorable and actionable.
The first thing that we look at in terms of hiring people is passion … and the reason for that is if you are passionate about something, anything, whether it’s skydiving or making cupcakes, then you are going to have a lot of empathy for our customers, who are extremely passionate about the thing that they are making. You get it. You just get it. So that’s like music is to you. That’s like skydiving is to you. This is somebody’s passion.
How to reach: Blurb Inc., www.blurb.com