When you call the offices of Barnes Wendling CPAs, you are greeted by a receptionist, not an automated system. This is just one of many client service techniques that President Jeff Neuman and his team have implemented to set themselves apart from their industry competitors.
The Cleveland-based accounting firm put several systems in place to allow them to provide top-notch customer service to their clients at reasonable rates.
The firm’s two-part client satisfaction program includes an ongoing client survey, which is analyzed, measured and reported to clients throughout the year. If any survey component is marked as “satisfied” or below, a member of the firm’s client service department contacts the client to find out how the firm can first meet and then exceed the client’s expectations.
At the end of the year, the client receives a summary of the survey results, comparisons to the results from previous years and the firm’s plans to improve scores going forward.
The second part of Barnes Wendling’s client satisfaction program is its client visitation program. Clients are randomly selected and interviewed by a member of the firm’s client service department. In getting to know more about the clients, the firm can learn ways to better serve them and determine areas for improvement.
Another key to providing exceptional client service is employing staff members who understand their role in the customer service equation. Barnes Wendling hired a full-time human resources manager two years ago to help the firm attract and retain employees who understand the firm’s vision.
During the interview process, she asks behavioral-based questions that give insight into a candidate’s true “customer and team member service DNA.” As a result, the firm has hired staff members who contribute to a much stronger corporate culture.
HOW TO REACH: Barnes Wendling CPAs, (216) 566-9000 or www.barneswendling.com
Several years ago, Wade Kozich took a radical step. The managing director of GBQ Partners LLC hired a full-time salesperson to promote the services of his Columbus-based certified public accounting and consulting firm.
Kozich says companies need to promote themselves in the marketplace. His CPAs didn’t have much experience in the marketing arena, so he needed someone to open doors outside the firm’s regular referral network.
As a result of that hiring decision and other strategic steps, the $14.3 million firm has grown revenue more than 27 percent since 2004, while its employee base has expanded from 69 staff members in 2004 to 115 this year to support the increased workload.
Smart Business spoke with Kozich about how he hires great people and provides value to his clients.
Q: How can other executives grow their company the way you’ve grown yours?
Focus on people. It all starts out with attracting the best people you can find. Once you have those people on board, train and retain them.
If you have great people on board who are well-trained, those people will go out and do a great job serving clients, which will result in profitability, which will allow you to go out and attract more good people.
Allow people the freedom to perform. If you get strong, intelligent people on board, they perform best when they have a degree of freedom and are not micromanaged.
Q: How did you make recruiting and retention a key part of your growth strategy?
If you look at modern businesses, the battle is not so much for finding customers or clients as it is human capital. The companies who have the strongest and best people are typically the ones that are going to do better.
It begins with a recruiting war. You have to get the best people on board first.
We devote a lot of attention and focused resources to it, both at the campus level and with experienced hires. We put a lot of time into interviewing and screening people. It becomes a sales job of convincing these people that you are a great organization to join.
It’s harder to market to attract talent than it is to attract clients. Once you have good people on board, it makes the sales process that much easier, especially in a business like ours where people are basically buying professional talent.
Q: How do you retain good employees?
We hire a lot of young people, and the No. 1 thing they’re looking for is work-life balance. People want a life in addition to a profession.
No. 2, you have to give people rewards that are in line with their contribution at the firm. There are various types of recognition that you can give people, and pay is just one of them. Acknowledging people publicly at the firm, giving out periodic awards and promotions are other ways.
People also want an opportunity to learn and advance themselves; enrichment’s a big thing, especially among young people. Another one is voice: Give people a say in what’s going on around the firm. Include them in decision-making and make them feel that they’re being heard. They want to believe in an organization that has a purpose and is focused on a mission.
Q: How can companies put the right people into the right roles?
One person can be a great quarterback, but you don’t want that person being a lineman.
People just have different talents. Identifying their strengths and weaknesses, and getting them to recognize that they’re good at certain things, is not always easy. That’s something we’re trying to get better at.
Q: How important is the role of customer service in a growing company?
It’s critical that you have a high focus on servicing clients. Every person in our firm goes through an extensive five-star training program. It’s a structured one- or two-day program of training, and then a 12-week follow-up program.
We also assess client satisfaction and get feedback on a regular basis. It really becomes part of the culture, focusing on doing a great job and providing high-quality service to the client.
Q: How can companies use client feedback for continuous improvement?
You ask, you listen and you respond to the feedback. I went to lunch with a client and got some feedback on something we were doing for them. The person wanted us to communicate more regarding a particular process. I brought it back to the office, talked to my people and now we’ll go forward.
Constantly try to assess what your clients are thinking. What are their goals? What are their plans, and how do you fit into their plans? Are you doing the right things for them?
A lot of times, you don’t know unless you ask.
HOW TO REACH: GBQ Partners LLC, (614) 221-1120 or www.gbq.com
Folded tightly within Keith Maxim’s pocket is a 4-by-6-inch note card inscribed with the word, “Smile.”
The president of North Canton’s Maxim Enterprises Inc. carries this pearl of wisdom every day as a reminder to smile and put people at ease, a technique he learned from Dale Carnegie Training.
When he first adopted this technique, Maxim formerly known around the office as “Grumpy” says his 24 employees thought there was something wrong. But today, they share his positive attitude because they’ve seen the healthy environment it creates.
Maxim’s property preservation company serves the mortgage banking and real estate industries in four states. Revenue has grown 52 percent in the last two years, from $4.6 million in 2004 to $7 million in 2006.
Smart Business spoke with Maxim about how good attitudes breed business success.
Q: How do you convey that message?
We have monthly training. We identify problems in the field. How can I make their jobs easier, through tools or through forms?
Improving upon everything on a monthly basis adds value to what we’re doing. We’re always revisiting how we can do the jobs quicker and better.
Q: How do you learn to delegate authority?
I’ve learned that along the way. I call myself the fire marshal of my business; I’m always putting out fires. People call me and ask, ‘What should we do?’ Instead of telling them what to do, I say, ‘What do you think the answer is?’
We have a form everyone fills out when there is a problem, and we use this religiously. It asks, ‘What is the problem? What are possible solutions? What do you feel would be the best solution?’ Then we’ll sit down and try to accomplish our goals. By the em-ployees making the decision instead of me, they feel they’ve contributed something and what they say makes a difference.
Q: How can executives create a growth strategy?
Goals and needs change periodically, so they need to be revisited at least twice a year to make sure you’re still on track with what you originally planned for the first six months of the year. We’ll revisit that in the middle of the year and say, ‘What have we accomplished? What were our goals? Have we met those needs? Do we need to modify them? Or, do we need to dig our heels in a little deeper to make sure we meet those goals and objectives?’
Going in a direction is always better than no plan of action whatsoever. You may be going in the wrong direction, but you can always turn around and go in a different direction. Standing still makes your company become stagnant.
Q: What distracts a company from growth?
An overwhelming feeling of, ‘This is too much to handle.’ The fear of the unknown is what scares people. Everyone likes things at status quo, but we try to challenge everyone. How can we make this better?
Don’t be afraid of the unknown; embrace it and conquer it. By challenging yourself on a daily basis to make things better or bigger, it gives you something to look forward to, in-stead of becoming stagnant. You never want to plateau; you always want to seek the stars.
Q: How can other executives grow their companies the way you’ve grown yours?
Invest in the right people and define your goals so your employees understand what you’re trying to accomplish. I was able to grow the business by delegating authority and allowing people to assist me in making decisions, instead of trying to take all the responsibility upon myself.
Q: How do you choose the right employees?
When I hire people, I ask specific questions: What’s your outlook? What do you plan to accomplish? How do you want to accomplish these goals? Where do you see yourself in five years? What do you do in certain situations to get things done?
It’s more of a positive mental attitude that I look for: someone who’s self-motivated, driven and has a desire to succeed. The people who want to do a good job will do it, if you assist them with the proper tools.
Q: How do companies benefit by hiring those kinds of people?
You can accomplish much more. Someone may have all the knowledge in the world but may not be exactly what you want. You can teach people and get them to go in a certain direction if they have the right attitude.
Q: How can executives get employee buy-in?
You may have qualified people doing their jobs well, but do they understand the reason behind what they’re doing? Do they feel they’re a part of a greater something?
When people believe they’re a part of something and that they’re actually responsible for some of the decision-making, they have a more ventured interest in it.
HOW TO REACH: Maxim Enterprises Inc., (330) 499-9289 or www.maximent.net
While other business leaders wrestle with the issue of economic development, Ted Ford accepts the challenge with relish. The president and CEO of TechColumbus enjoys entering into a situation with a fresh vision and shaping challenges into opportunities as he leads his nonprofit organization toward technology-based economic development in Central Ohio. TechColumbus was formed through the merger of the Columbus Technology Council and the Business Technology Center, and today, its 253 member organizations represent more than100,000 employees. Smart Business spoke with Ford about leadership, communication and thinking big.
Rally your troops. I believe in surrounding myself with talented, capable people, any one of which could probably replace me if they needed to, with enough experience on the job. Mobilize as much energy, creativity and effort as possible toward the outcome you’re trying to achieve.
Be very clear about the critical competencies you have to have inside your organization to succeed. What’s your market look like, who are you trying to sell to, what’s the best combination of skills and talent you can find in somebody, and where can you go look for that. You can come up with your ideal candidate by doing that.
The challenge is not so much being able to figure out that ideal candidate but to convince somebody who has those skills to join you. You have to make it interesting to them because nine times out of 10, the ideal candidate you’ve pictured in your mind is probably the ideal candidate that a lot of different companies want. Chances are, you’re going to have to recruit that person from another company so you have to make it compelling for them to make that shift.
The last thing I’d want to do is hire a clone of me because there are things I do well and things I’m not good at. I need to supplement myself and supplement others here so as we hire additional people, we create a diverse set of skills that work together as a team.
Don’t analyze things too much. There’s a certain level of analysis that has to happen, and then you have to act decisively. Have the confidence and certainty to go forward and make a commitment along those lines. You have to do it, and if you make mistakes, you’ve got to adjust.
Inspire passion. You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing. You’ve got to be passionate about it if you want to recruit top people. If you don’t have the passion, you need to find out how to get it.
I’ve been able to assemble a very strong team here based on the potential of our organization. We’re going to have a significant impact on this region, and if you’re part of the team, you’re going to be part of that success. That’s very motivating for some people.
Some people are purely motivated by how much they’re going to make, and that’s not necessarily your best hire.
Be objective. You’ve got to be a little bit cold-blooded about your own situation and take a hard look at where you are, what you’re accomplishing, what you’re doing well and what you’re not doing well.
Sometimes it helps to have outside folks who will be honest with you and keep you honest. Some organizations, if they don’t have a board, will have an advisory group whose job it is to come together once a quarter and look at the business as a board would and provide impartial feedback.
It’s always good to get that, somebody’s who’s got enough distance and objectivity that they can look at it in a different way. No matter how smart you think you are, ultimately you are deep into what you’re doing, and you don’t have the perspective that somebody from the outside can bring.
You’d want somebody in finance that could take a look at how you’re managing and applying your assets and resources. Somebody in marketing can look at how you’re presenting yourself in the market and approaching your customers. Somebody with a technical background can look at your technology strategy. In some communities, there are organizations that will assist companies putting together an advisory board.
Encourage communication. You have to be accessible to your employees, as well as having structured settings where you can talk about company strategy and goals, at a high level and an operational level.
The most successful company is going to be one where the employees feel ownership for the objectives that are being sought. There has to be a way to engage employees in the cause and get them excited about it.
You can set up compensation systems where there’s an upside if the organization achieves the objectives you’ve been talking about. If it’s strictly compensation-related though, my experience has been you don’t get nearly the energy or the creativity you do if people actually buy in to it on a more fundamental level.
There’s a certain excitement that goes with the unpredictability of shaping the future. When you get people energized that way, they’re much more creative. They spend a lot more time doing what you need them to do, and they’re a lot more productive at it.
Think big, act big and be real. Combine a big vision with a willingness to step out and make something happen, and at the same time, understand what’s achievable. Reach as far as you can reach, but don’t over-reach.
When you get analytical and realistic about what you’re dealing with, you can figure out where your stretch opportunity is, how far you can really go, and try to set expectations around that. You don’t want to set expectations that are so lofty that they can’t be achieved and people become discouraged.
There’s an old saying from Ray Bradbury, the science fiction author, which was, ‘First you jump off the cliff, and you build wings on the way down.’ That’s a fine saying, but probably not the way you want to run a business.
HOW TO REACH: TechColumbus, (614) 340-1697 or www.techcolumbus.org
Perform assessments. Over the years, we’ve tested (potential employees). You can have them take (an assessment test) on a computer and get an immediate answer. It gives you a full report and shows the applicant’s strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses are things that you’re going to have to work with them on.
You don’t make your entire hiring decision just on that test but it helps eliminate a number of people that are applying for the job that just aren’t going to make it.
Follow your instinct. You still have to interview and you’ve got to get a gut feeling for somebody. If you have a gut feeling that somebody would do well but they bomb on the test, then they did a snow job on you in the interview.
You’ve got to feel comfortable with them because if you don’t, you hired the wrong person.
None of this is precise. If anybody could ever figure out how to hire a great salesman every time, they’d be a millionaire.
Have faith in your employees. They know that I have trust in the job they do. That goes back to not micromanaging. I always tell my supervisors they have to think like an owner: ‘If you owned this company, what decision would you make?’
Establish a standard. We’re going through a process now that we haven’t done in a long time. We’re setting up standard operating procedures, and it’s very important to do or I wouldn’t be doing it. Without standard operating procedures, people will just make a decision on their own that could be costly or might not be the right decision.
We’ve been doing this for about a year. It’s not an overnight deal.
We’re using in-house people to write up the procedures. They put down who’s accountable for implementing the procedures. ... With the standard operating procedures, everybody should do it totally right.
We share it with them as we get it done. You have to do it a little bit at a time because they have to understand it. If you overflood them with information, then it’s going to go in one ear and out the other.
The benefits are that there shouldn’t be any more questions of ‘How do I do this?’ It cuts out mistakes. You can do everything 98 percent right and 2 percent wrong, and guess what gets the most attention?
We’re just trying to eliminate that 2 percent as much as we can.
It’s never going to be 100 percent, but at least it will be better than it was.
Listen to your customers. We do surveys and customer visits where we get feedback. We ask them, ‘What are we doing right and what other things would you like to see that we’re not doing?’ Another question is. ‘If you were going to choose your perfect distributor, what would they be doing for you?’
You need to be prepared to sometimes get negative feedback. That’s what you want, though, because if you don’t get that kind of feedback, you can’t correct things.
Any time somebody responds on a survey, it’s always personal to them. It doesn’t mean your entire company is wrong; it could be just one episode.
For example, if you go out to dinner and get a waiter or waitress that doesn’t treat you very well, chances are you’re not going to go back there. Out of 10 waiters and waitresses, nine of them might have been great. You just got the one that was bad and guess what? They just lost a customer.
It can take five years to get an account and 30 seconds to lose one. You’ve got to keep telling your people that.
Be the customers’ choice. Customers have a number of people they can buy from. They make a decision to buy based on a lot of parameters: price, variety, service.
When it comes down to making that decision, I want the customer to choose Cottingham. We have to convince the customer that we’re the best out there.
How many employees actually come in contact with your customer? Here, it’s sales, customer service and our drivers. You’ve got a lot of other support staff that still have to do their job in order for that customer to be happy. We train that all the time.
It only takes one person in this company to mess up and upset the customer.
Join a networking group. Almost all of the people in the groups I’ve been with are in different businesses but what I’ve found out is almost all the problems are common to all of us.
When you’re running your own company, it’s sometimes lonely at the top because you have nobody to talk to. One thing that’s good about (networking) is you find out you’re not alone.
Hit the road. It took me years before I took two weeks of vacation because I felt guilty. After I hired my current CFO, I felt comfortable that she could handle pretty much everything if I was gone for two weeks.
It’s in your mind; you think you can’t be gone for two weeks. But when you do go, guess what?
Nothing happens. You’re only a phone call away too. Just do it, and you’ll find out that maybe they had the best sales week of the year.
HOW TO REACH: Cottingham Paper, (800) 870-5441 or www.cottinghampaper.com
Whether they work for a multibillion-dollar corporation or a small organization, employees need to keep their technology skills sharp.
To ensure his employees do so, Chetan Bhuta, founder, president and CEO of Dublin-based Digitek Software Inc., continuously upgrades their skills.
“Challenge and opportunity work hand-in-hand,” Bhuta says. “If you don’t keep up with the environment and the technology needs, somebody else will.”
Digitek provides customized IT systems, software solutions and professional services and recently won a university contract, beating out 45 much-larger vendors. The company employs 100 people in the United States and offshore, and sales increased 35 percent from 2003 to 2005, from $7.3 million to $9.9 million.
Smart Business spoke with Bhuta about how he stays ahead of the pack.
Q: How can other CEOs grow their company the way you’ve grown yours?
Know exactly what you’re looking for, know your business and your industry and know the market that you want to go after. Know your customer, what services you’re going to offer and how you’re going to provide that. What is the differentiation your services can have versus your competitors’?
It also requires an in-depth understanding of the market dynamics: What kind of services are people looking for, and what are they willing to pay? It’s whether you can provide a high-quality service within that price bandwidth, and be able to offer that focus and quality service.
[That] not only helps us obtain new customers, but also helps us retain those customers for a long period of time.
It’s easier to retain the customer than to try and find a new customer, provided you can do a quality service. Quite a few of our customers have been a customer from the day when we started doing business.
We were able to provide a quality service at a reasonable price and change some of our services and our functions as their business needs changed.
Q: How did you establish your growth strategy?
It’s twofold: One is word of mouth. A customer provides a good reference.
They understand exactly what we are capable of doing, so they tell other potential clients, ‘This is what they have done for us, and this is what they can do for you.’
The second part of the growth strategy is looking at where the opportunities are in our industry. For example, we have recently built a new product for the insurance services sector. They are so happy with the quality and service that we offer, they wrote an article in their industry journal about how good we are.
Now it’s easier to go out and find a new customer, and show it to them. In fact, we got a couple calls from industry competitors, reading that article and saying, ‘We are interested in talking to you about this product and these services.’
Q: How do you motivate employees to help grow your company?
We start by making sure that they are incentivized enough in terms of project referral and employee referral. We make sure that they get all the best benefits that the company can offer, provide them incentive to learn new technologies and keep their eyes and ears open for opportunities that are coming up.
We make sure that, with every step, they understand the responsibility as well as the challenges that lie ahead. Prepare them for it as well as compensate them for it.
Q: How do you communicate that message to them?
We sit down and talk to them, give them the foresight of what is coming in the pipeline and what technologies we need to prepare for in the next three years.
Q: How can discussing those topics with your employees benefit your company?
One, they keep their eyes and ears open for those opportunities and challenges arriving. Two, they give very constructive and useful feedback to us, and we can utilize it in planning and preparing ourselves. And the third important aspect is that it builds a team environment so that people can use the resources that they’ve found to help each other grow.
Q: What advice would you share with other CEOs of fast-growing companies?
Focus on what your customer wants, listen to the market and to what your employees are telling you. Look for opportunities which other people might consider too big.
The bigger the opportunity, it’s difficult, but it’s not impossible.
HOW TO REACH: Digitek Software Inc., (614) 764-8875 or www.digiteksoftware.com
Edward Campbell, chairman and CEO, leads his company, which manufactures equipment that applies adhesives, sealants and coatings, toward becoming more productive by identifying activities that create value and eliminating those that do not.
- Nordson’s finishing group optimized production in a very low volume/high mix environment. Using the lean tools of value stream mapping,
6S (sort, straighten, scrub, safety, standardize and sustain) and standard work, the company standardized the expectation out of each cell and
implemented a new process of pacer and chaser assemblies. This increased productivity, enabled cross-training of less-skilled assemblers and
provided an easy way to measure multiple assemblies.
- The company also implemented the Total Productive Maintenance program. Rather than the typical “fix it when it’s broke” firefighting mentality, employees adopted smarter evaluation and proactive equipment management, which saves valuable time.
- In 2003, new management was faced with improving delivery to customer request, and Deliver the Goods (DTG) was born with the help of
all members of the operations team. The DTG process has been copied and successfully implemented by other divisions within the company.
- As Nordson’s market increases in Asia, the company has set up manufacturing there to produce equipment for global consumption. The increase in volume for these products is anticipated to be very high there, so Nordson’s U.S. and Chinese engineers worked jointly for the release of new products targeted for manufacture in Shanghai.
Rather than outsourcing to Indian companies, Nordson’s finishing group established an electronics and software engineering group in Bangalore, India, in 2001, where the company already had a sales and application engineering facility. This team works closely with Nordson’s Amherst development team and shares responsibility for product development.
HOW TO REACH: Nordson Corp., (440) 892-1580 or www.nordson.com
Its executives are “ministers,” salespeople are “ambassadors,” retailers are “embassies,” customers are “citizens” and The Republic of Tea’s focus is on its product, from the leaf to the cup.
That’s why Minister of Tea otherwise known as CEO and owner Ron Rubin took his ministers to the tea gardens of India last year. Based in Novato, this 100-employee business doesn’t advertise, but earned in excess of $10 million in 2006. And even though its products can only be purchased online and at select retailers, business has quadrupled in the last five years.
Smart Business spoke with Rubin about why you should throw away the answering machine and how avoiding debt can help you grow your company.
Q: How can other CEOs grow their company?
It starts with an outstanding team: Hiring the right people for the right position. If you can find someone who has a passion for your product, your service, your industry, and then you put these passionate people all together, you form a wonderful team.
Today, you have to have a premium quality product, and you have to listen to your citizens. We listen to our citizens all the time. When you call The Republic of Tea, our minister of first impression answers the phone. If I had to tell anything to CEOs, it would be, get rid of all those answering machines. ‘If you want this, press button one; if you want this, press button two.’
Personalize the business, and take care of your customers. Have someone who picks up the phone.
It’s the way business should be done. It’s a respect for people and for their time. In today’s world, it makes you unique. This is where CEOs should put their resources back into people answering the phone.
It pays dividends that maybe you can’t see [in] black-and-white on a financial statement, but in the long-term, you have a connection with your citizen, your customer, and they appreciate that extra expense that you’ve gone to, to not have the answering machine.
Q: How can executives create a brand without advertising?
A lot of the creation of the brand is just from word of mouth. We like to do product demos in stores, tastings and educational programs. Public relations is a key area for us.
With our tea revolution, we are just going about quietly, trying to get everybody to slow their lives down, and with our mission: Sip by sip, rather than gulp by gulp.
I call it ‘patience marketing.’ Basically, it’s looking in the long term. A lot of tea companies have been around for hundreds of years, so with The Republic of Tea, we take a long-term view to build the brand.
It takes at least 20 years to develop your marketplace, develop distribution, for people to be exposed to and discover your product.
Q: How can CEOs emphasize public relations?
It’s a mindset that takes discipline because the traditional method of brand-building is through advertising. That’s not saying that advertising is not beneficial, but the exposure of a product or a service through public relations is a key.
People are bombarded with so many ads and so much clutter that I just think the public relations aspect people reading about or hearing about your product is a better way to go than traditional advertising.
Q: What are your biggest growth challenges?
Growing the company, you need more ministers. We have a lot of people who are passionate about tea, but that’s a challenge to continue to add to our team. Then you have to reinvest in the company with new equipment to make sure that you can keep up with your demand. We have to continue to innovate and bring new products to the marketplace. We do collaborations with other companies; you take the strengths of two companies, and it’s like one plus one equals 10.
Q: What one thing can prevent a company from growing?
Cash flow debt. Instead of a sales goal wanting to be a $10 million company, a $50 million company or a $100 million company maybe you should think about being debt-free. That’s what I think about. It took me six years, three months and 15 days to become debt-free.
It benefits the company because, instead of paying interest to the bank, you’re able to use those resources to invest in your services, your people, your equipment and new products.
Q: What advice would you give other CEOs of fast-growth companies?
You have to innovate yourself and try to create something different in the marketplace. Listen to your customer better than any of your competitors.
Don’t look at what your competitor is doing; you are your own competition. Look for small niche markets or areas where no one’s gone before. Just be different. Go against the grain. Swim upstream.
HOW TO REACH: The Republic of Tea, (800) 298-4832 or www.republicoftea.com
Sometimes when Mark Mizer encounters a difficult issue in his business, he thinks about how his father, his grandfather and other respected businesspeople would have handled the situation. Mizer, president of RDP Foodservice LLC, is the third generation in his family to operate this Columbus-based foodservice distribution company. The 65-employee business provides more than 2,500 food items to independent Italian restaurants and pizza shops, and last year had revenue of nearly $40 million. Smart Business spoke with Mizer about how he and his executive team create their company’s recipe for success.
Build a unique business model. We are a hybrid between the corporate giant and the mom-and-pop, and we don’t like to be compared to either one. We take the corporate mentality where need be the efficiencies and how we operate and yet we certainly have the face of an independent, family-owned business which focuses on that personal service aspect.
We can compete with the flexibility of an independent and the same buying power, or economies of scale, of a large corporation. It’s very hard to do, and there’s not a lot of room for error, but a lot of that comes with how well you manage your business and the people you have working for you.
Surround yourself with a good team. I like to hire people who are as smart as me or smarter, and I’m not afraid to go to those people to get their thoughts before I make a decision.
I certainly have confidence in myself to make decisions on my own from my gut and from my experiences but I’ve always tried to have a close group of confidantes around me that can give me their opinion. It benefits me because I can look at it from a different point of view or a different set of eyes and see something that I might have overlooked.
It’s like building a baseball team. Go out and get the best players you possibly can find. Help them get to where you want to go and lead them, and that’s really what I’ve tried to do.
Integrity needs to be a common thread throughout your sales department. You need to do your due diligence to find people that are good corporate citizens trustworthy, honest and all those things that you’d look for in someone that you would want to represent yourself or your family.
Don’t be intimidated by the veto. I’m not afraid to be overridden. If we’re talking about a new product or a new item, and other people within the company think it might be a little bit risky, I certainly have confidence in their thoughts. I’m not afraid to go in a direction that they think would be the best for the company.
I trust all of the people within my management group, and it’s a positive if you’re able to do that. They are smart businesspeople in their own right. They all have the best interests of our company in mind.
Know your leadership role. Allow yourself as a leader to work on the business, and not get caught working in the business. There needs to be someone who is not only keeping an eye on current activities, but someone who’s looking down the road to the future of the company and making sure that path is somewhat paved. It’s very difficult to do.
It goes back to making sure you have those senior managers who are very capable of doing the job. Once you’re confident that your senior management group can get the job done, you have to allow yourself some time to have a vision for the future.
If you don’t keep your eyes down the road, life can pass you by, and things can happen around you that you’re not even aware are happening.
Understand your employees and their goals. You have to allow employees to flourish and grow individually within your organization. People like to come to work every day knowing that they can make a difference. Put yourself in their shoes; understand what they’re going through and how to make their lives more satisfying.
If they have an issue in their life that is causing them to react in one way or another, we’re there to support them as best we can. We have employee manuals, but in some cases, where a family may have something catastrophic happen or something that gets in the way, sometimes you have to take those into mind and throw that manual out the window. It shows that you care.
If someone would happen to have a death in the family, there are things that are more important at times than the almighty dollar.
Provide more value to your customers. No matter what you’re selling, you can constantly take a look at the value-added services that your company can provide. There are a lot of things that large corporate companies are able to do over a mom-and-pop, but there are some things they can’t do, and a lot of that is offering value-added services.
Establish solid relationships. Loyalty is somewhat of a dying breed within our industry. When I’m out talking to a client, I let him know what our business is all about and educate him on what we’re doing, and not what his business means to us, but what his business will do for us.
Once the customer feels like he is a part of your success and he realizes that it will allow him to grow that’s where the loyalty factor comes into play. We’re on the same team. Instead of, ‘You have to battle me to get the best price,’ it’s more like, ‘We can do this together. I can help you reach your goals, and you certainly are going to help me reach mine.’ It’s creating a win-win situation.
HOW TO REACH: RDP Foodservice LLC, (614) 261-5661 or www.rdpfoodservice.com
If manufacturing companies want to survive and thrive in today’s competitive environment, their management teams need to welcome change and embrace new opportunities.
Howard Garfinkel, CEO of Brooklyn Heights-based Superior Tool Co., takes great pride in his 60-year-old company’s strong industry reputation and its history of innovation. The company manufactures pipe working and plumbing tools that are sold to hardware and home improvement retailers, industrial distributors and plumbing wholesalers.
A forward-thinking company, Superior Tool recently designed and developed its UltraCut Cordless Power Tubing Cutter, a product expected to become available at more than 1,300 Lowe’s stores this winter. The old-style tubing cutters made work tedious and awkward; the UltraCut is fast, powerful and small enough to fit into tight quarters for hard-to-reach plumbing jobs.
The company “assembled a management team consisting of engineering, sourcing, production, marketing and sales professionals that geared up for the first production run of the UltraCut in October,” Garfinkel says. “Our subsidiary, Neighborhood Manufacturing, added employees to assemble the final product.”
The UltraCut uses AnyFuel power technology, nickel-metal hydride cells that provide better performance and environmental friendliness than common nickel-cadmium cells. While the product’s electrical components, other than the capacitors, come from Asia, the rest of the tool is made in Cleveland. In addition to filling a much-needed niche in the plumbing tool market, the UltraCut was honored in Plant Engineering Magazine as a finalist in its 2006 Product of the Year competition.
By adopting AnyFuel technology, Superior Tool will be able to create cordless versions of tools and appliances that have traditionally been manual. The company plans to license AnyFuel to manufacturers in many industries, including those marketing through hardware/home center, plumbing and housewares channels. “The UltraCut is a complex technical product that has forced the company to develop certain skill sets it previously did not have,” he says. “These range all the way through the product cycle: marketing, design, manufacturing, quality and everything we do.”
HOW TO REACH: Superior Tool Co., www.superiortool.com or (216) 398-8600