San Francisco Oven’s menu features made-to-order pizzas cooked in a brick oven, as well as hot and cold sandwiches and freshly made salads and soups. The restaurant’s concept combines the speed and convenience of fast food with the food quality of casual dining restaurants, and prices that fall between the two.
For today’s diners, good food is a given ,but they also expect a dining experience. Harper used San Francisco and Northern California as branding elements in the new restaurant’s dcor and entre names on the menu.
“The currency of today is time and will continue to be so far into the future,” Harper says. “Those businesses that are able to provide products and services to busy consumers that save them time will be successful.”
This speed of service is so important that vice president and executive chef Eddie Cerino uses a gas-fired hearth that bakes at an extremely high temperature. This allows San Francisco Oven to prepare, bake and serve an 8-inch pizza in five to seven minutes.
“Generally, restaurants whose main menu item is pizza do not do a significant lunch business,” Harper says. “Over 50 percent of our systemwide business comes at lunch. This innovation has also been a significant factor in signing franchisees, as this is a differentiating factor in the marketplace.”
Harper and Cerino are also operating partners of Eddie’s Creekside Restaurant and Bar in Brecksville. Until they created the San Francisco Oven restaurant concept, neither of them had franchise or multi-unit experience.
There are 14 San Francisco Oven restaurants operating in Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina and Virginia. Harper says by year’s end, there will be 18 to 21, and there are signed development agreements to open 60 more restaurants.
HOW TO REACH: San Francisco Oven LLC, (440) 717-9450 or www.sanfranciscooven.com
The Cuyahoga Falls High School and University of Akron graduate began his career at IBM and then founded two start-up companies, which were successfully sold to Multigraphics Inc. He went on to work for Digital Systems and A.B. Dick/Multigraphics Co.
Leach earned his master's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2002 while serving as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence for CommonAngels, Boston's largest angel investing organization. He also founded Capella Investments, which has advised and invested in numerous start-up technology companies.
When NorTech was looking for a leader with vision to energize and increase the entrepreneurial resources and services in Northeast Ohio, Leach returned to his roots. He joined NorTech in July 2003 and, within a year, became the founding CEO and president of JumpStart Inc.
JumpStart's creation was the result of NorTech and Case Western Reserve University joining forces and merging four formerly separate organizations -- Enterprise Development Inc., NEOpreneur Inc., NEOpreneur Exchange and JumpStart LLC -- into one new model. JumpStart is a nonprofit venture development organization that focuses on providing critical intellectual and financial resources to early stage companies in 16 Northeast Ohio counties.
Under Leach's leadership, JumpStart has invested nearly $6 million in 16 Northeast Ohio companies and should surpass 20 investments by the end of 2006. The organization has created 75 new jobs in its portfolio companies to date, and Cleveland State University calculates that JumpStart has had an estimated $30 million economic impact on the region.
The organization has set a goal and is on track to commit more than $20 million in 60 promising Northeast Ohio companies for a total economic impact of more than $400 million by 2011.
In addition to being recognized locally as an asset to the region, JumpStart has been honored nationally by PricewaterhouseCoopers' 'MoneyTree Report' as one of the top pre-seed investment firms in the country. JumpStart also plans to secure recognition for this area among America's Top 10 regions for entrepreneurship and innovation, as measured by Entrepreneur magazine and other national publications.
HOW TO REACH: JumpStart Inc., (216) 363-3400 or www.jumpstartinc.org
Know your natural leadership style.
Each of us has a natural leadership style and for me, my natural leadership style would be coaching.
That style fits my personal makeup and my personality. I really enjoy the kind of teaching and supporting role that you play in that coaching style.
As you take on different leadership roles, you have to be able to move through a variety of leadership styles. It would be very easy to say, ‘My natural style is to be a coach.’ When the company really needs some direction to be set, that’s not the time to coach.
Recognize the difference between management and leadership.
The notion of management and leadership are two different things. Management tends to be about getting things done; it can be about making sure that you have the appropriate resources to deal with schedules and budgets.
Leadership is about developing capability and deciding where that capability will be exercised.
Maintain your curiosity.
Leaders have to be curious. They have to be open and aware of the world around them. There are signs in every part of our society that can give us indications of things that are going to impact or provide opportunities for our businesses in the future.
It is so easy for a leader to become internally focused, to say, ‘What am I doing with this company?’ By becoming extraordinarily internally focused, you continue to replicate today onto tomorrow, and you miss what tomorrow might end up becoming.
If leaders expect their companies to survive for the long term, they should say, ‘What is the world doing around us? What is the world becoming?’
It’s being aware of what’s going on, economically, societally and environmentally. What issues are going to drive the people that you ultimately serve?
Exceed your customers’ expectations.
You don’t create the desire for people to come back to you, especially in a service industry, simply by meeting their minimum expectations. At some point, there has to be a realization on the part of the client that you have created value beyond the minimum services for which you were contracted.
They have to see value. Either the project has to turn out better, or their life has to be easier; there has to be something else that went beyond it to create value.
Contribute to your customers’ success.
The competitors that I most respect in our industry recognize the success models of their clients. Our definition of success might be a technically accurate, complete set of drawings that a contractor can take into the field and deliver a project that’s on time and in budget.
That is likely never enough. Successful companies recognize that the client is ultimately not the end user in most instances. There’s some other lasting contribution to be created.
We really have to understand why our services matter to a client. It requires building the relationships. It makes it more essential that we have a real understanding about what that client is ultimately trying to get done and what their success parameters are.
Behave in an ethical manner.
Ethics becomes part of a company’s culture. I cannot claim the credit for the ethical culture that exists here today.
Those leaders who came before me created it. I certainly have learned it, adopted it and believe it still to be in place.
When you see behavior that is a significant deviation from the culture, you have to be very specific and say, ‘This is not the way we do business.’
Find the right people.
Business may be all about the people, but success in business is about the right people. There is no way that a leader can spend too much time in addressing that notion of the right people.
It’s knowing about yourself, the company, the culture that you value and the values that you hold as a company, to have some screen against which to judge people. If you cannot say who you are, what you care about and what’s important to you as a company, you have no initial filter.
Beyond the technical qualifications, the required degree or licensing, the test is this person’s values. What do they care about? Do they have the opportunity to grow themselves, as well as to contribute to the continued growth and evolution of our company?
Show discipline during the hiring process.
Our evaluation of candidates is fairly rigorous, and we have become better at showing the discipline to not settle for a candidate simply because we don’t have another one.
There’s a real discipline in saying, ‘Despite the fact that I may not have yet identified my ideal candidate, I am not going to panic and settle for less than what I believe we should have.’
If there is a clash in values between the company and an employee, you may survive that for a little while, but eventually that disparity between the individual’s values and the company’s values is going to be exposed, and it’s going to be more painful to deal with it then.
You get better at it by recognizing the situations when it didn’t really work, and more times than not, it’s not because the person didn’t have the right technical skills.
HOW TO REACH: Burgess & Niple Inc., (614) 459-2050 or www.burgessniple.com
Glean good ideas from your employees.
One of the things that I’ve been doing is to form small working teams that can address a particular issue, not try to cure world hunger but focus on a process issue, a structural issue or something dealing with our roles and responsibilities.
I like to give that team of three to six people a set of expectations but then really let them come up with the creative ideas and recommend a solution to me and the other executives so that they take ownership. Otherwise, everything’s going to be handed down from me as the CEO, and I really don’t want that.
I want people to be self-motivated to come up with ideas, and I want to give them an environment where risk-taking is OK. I really want people to take some calculated risks and to be as creative as they can in coming up with solutions that they’ll help implement.
Make mistakes and learn from them.
If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not making decisions. I don’t want people to feel that they can’t stick their neck out or try something new we’re not going to try things that are so crazy it hurts a customer or is detrimental to our business but I like people to test different ideas in a safe environment and not feel that they’re going to get their hand slapped.
Create a positive work environment.
You really have to create an environment where people take initiative and aren’t just coming to work to get a paycheck. They really believe that there’s a sense of belonging and that they want to be at the company.
Not every day is going to be fun there are going to be issues that you have to deal with but it’s an environment where people feel there’s a lot of teamwork and collaboration. Life is hard, work should be easy, and I tell my folks that all the time.
Establish clear expectations.
CEOs need to focus much more on defining clear processes and how work gets done, especially when you have multiple locations. People will come up with the best way of doing work, but if you’ve got multiple locations or business units, you can create common business processes, and then it’s much easier to plug in people if someone goes on vacation or if they’re sick.
Most companies struggle with that because they’ve got so much variability in their process. Oftentimes, that’s one of the greatest opportunities for improvement defining clear processes and flushing the waste out of their system.
Emphasize human resources.
Many companies and CEOs work around people and don’t necessarily put the right people in the right positions. It’s important to recognize what people’s strengths are and where they can add the greatest value.
Sometimes you have to move people into new roles so they can have more enrichment and personal development. If one of our associates is not learning, it’s not fair to that person or to our company.
I don’t think anything should ever be permanent; companies should always be a work in process. We should always look to improve our business and never be satisfied.
Look for ways to reinvent yourself.
It doesn’t mean that you have to completely change everything that you do, but it could be one or two things a year that you implement, that your customers look at and say, ‘Wow, you guys really are a valuable partner, and I’m really glad we’re working with you.’
Or, if they’re not working with us, they would say, ‘I want to work with those Continental guys. They’re really doing some cool things.’
Complacency is when executives look at their business and say, ‘This is as good as it’s going to get. I’m pretty satisfied,’ when they don’t look at the market dynamics, when they don’t continue to ask their customer what they’re looking for and what problems they need to solve.
When you become complacent, you don’t bring in new talent and fresh ideas from the outside and help elevate everybody’s game. You don’t want to walk away from your current people, but if you’re going to grow, you need to bring in fresh ideas. You need to understand that other people outside your industry have different paradigms, and they can help you look at things differently.
Redefine the markets you serve.
For a lot of companies, there are adjacent markets in which you could get involved. Do a lot of research inside and outside your industry. Ask a lot of questions of your customers and suppliers as to what’s going on in their business.
Look at all the forces that are out there. Ask your own management team and employees what they’re seeing, what ideas they have and on what other opportunities the company could be capitalizing.
Seek out new information.
I’m a voracious reader. I read a lot of business magazines, books and publications, and I talk to a lot of people outside my industry. You need to balance the time in your industry [with] seeking out mentors and contemporaries outside your industry to understand what they’re going through. It gives you fresh ideas.
Probably 75 percent of the issues that CEOs and other executives face transcend industries because the issues are common trying to maintain low-cost operations, having efficient distribution, having a high-performance sales force, making sure that your cost of quality isn’t too high.
People get locked into their own industry, and they have blinders on, and they don’t look out and say, ‘Boy, I could learn a lot about how other industries tackle their issues.’
Establish a culture of success. I define success through our customers’ eyes, through our associates’ eyes and then through our company, in terms of profitability.
HOW TO REACH: Continental Office Environments, (614) 262-5010 or www.continentaloffice.com
Build a solid infrastructure.
When you grow a business and you grow those employees, it’s absolutely critical to have operating management that has the decision-making power to continue to run their businesses. The typical mistake is integrating the companies and creating operating pressure on the parent company.
When I buy a company, there’s an operating president. He reports into me, but he’s still responsible for managing his 100 employees, even though they’re ultimately employees of the parent company as well.
When we acquire the companies, we don’t change their culture, their name or their management structure. When you buy a company and change the entrepreneurial attitude and what the employees have been accustomed to for so many years, it makes employees uncomfortable, and they don’t have the proper buy-in.
It’s important that these employees feel that they still have local management and leadership after an acquisition takes place.
From a financial standpoint, we’re acquiring solid revenue and profitability. From a people standpoint, we’re investing in good people management and employees who can continue to perform their individual responsibilities.
Make sure employees feel comfortable, that they’re part of one team, and that the cultures of the different organizations are not changed just to improve the bottom line. It’s a balancing act of making sure you get continued revenue growth and profitability while ensuring that the continuing management has the motivation to participate in a much bigger company and strategy.
The process that you go through to accomplish that balancing act is getting comfortable with the people you work with and having fun with what you’re doing. I have a lot of passion, and I try to extract passion from everybody else, because if you get out of bed in the morning and don’t like the place where you work, it’s not the right company for you.
When you’re making money, and you’re growing, it sure helps. Our plan, by going to a public offering ... provides an incentive that each employee has the opportunity to participate in the ownership of the company. That is the game plan.
Establish the rules.
You need to make sure the rules of the game are established, and everybody understands the rules. In the acquisition business, when you don’t explain those rules of the game and then you try to establish rules after the company joins you, surprises happen, the people don’t feel comfortable with the new team, and then you have to deal with the culture change after a deal takes place. If that’s not clearly defined up front, with both managements and employees of the company, it doesn’t make sense.
Promote open communication.
Open communication within your team is part of the leadership responsibility of the CEO. It’s absolutely critical that all your employees understand the vision of your business and understand the performance of the company.
Whether it’s sharing the company’s triumphs or challenges, they have to understand where the company came from, where the company is today and most importantly, where the company’s going, from a financial performance standpoint and from a strategic standpoint.
There are various communication tools that the company can provide to its employees to show how the company’s doing. We have a quarterly newsletter that goes out to all the employees of all the companies. We’ll send out a DVD to our employees in the field.
We send out monthly communications on our performance. These are examples of continuing efforts to maintain the highest level of consistent information and active communication to the employees because your employees and your customers are your biggest assets.
Without your customers, you don’t have employees; and without employees, you don’t have customers. So it’s really a balancing act to make sure that our customers and our employees are being supported.
Ask for advice.
I won’t do an acquisition until (the executive team has) recommended and authorized it. I may like an acquisition but if the rest of the team does not like it, we won’t do it.
It’s a team decision. The company is run as a team. At the end of the day, I just force the decisions to be made.
Make timely decisions.
I never want to lose the capability of making timely decisions with our customers, our vendors and our employees by a growth strategy that takes the company over $500 million. One way of doing that is to make sure you have people involved in details and you have operating management.
When management isn’t involved, the ability to make decisions is uneducated and takes too long. Then there’s typically an effect that happens in the decision that’s being made.
Remember the five key elements.
What I’ve learned over the years through networking and direct experience is that in the acquisition strategy, it’s got to be a win-win for the shareholders, the management, the employees, the vendors with whom we do business and the customers. Those five elements are my litmus test before I will approve a deal. If you’re not comfortable with that, then typically the deal’s not a good deal.
So many times companies will merge with another company or acquire another company because of the financial benefit, but the way the process is implemented, three of the most important things are not looked at in how the business gets run moving forward. So after they buy the business, they end up spending the time that should have been done upfront to try to make the deals work.
On your checklist, if all five are checked off, then you’ve gone through a part of your due diligence that you are responsible for as the CEO. Those five elements have to be clearly understood and defined when you bring companies together.
HOW TO REACH: Visual Edge Technology Inc, (800) 321-9874 or www.visualedge.com
With headquarters in Powell and offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai, Canfield is challenged to create a corporate culture of collaboration. The 45-employee ESOP was founded as a contract manufacturer, but over time, Canfield realized that his customers needed a one-stop shop that would allow them to remain in control of the development of their products and their strategically timed release into the marketplace.
Today, NPI integrates product design, development and manufacturing for its customers. It reported $50 million in 2005 revenue, and Canfield expects that to increase 10 percent this year.
Smart Business spoke with Canfield about how he keeps his company and his employees on track for continued growth.
Employ collaborative management. We have a lot of diversity in skills research and design, engineering, logistics and manufacturing. My leadership style is one of seeking collaboration, not consensus. One employee will be very analytical and one will be very creative, but we have to be able to deliver all of that, wrapped up into the finished product.
We have organized ourselves around customer-centric teams. We will organize all of the skills that we need to satisfy a particular customer into one team. It doesn’t matter whether they happen to be here in Columbus or in one of our Asian facilities, they are empowered to do whatever it takes to fulfill the promise we’ve made to that particular customer.
Cater to customers based on their individual needs. Each customer’s needs and wants are different. It’s kind of a hybrid of the old traditional hierarchical and a matrix approach.
It keeps the focus clearly on the customer’s needs. It keeps the focus away from the internal demands of particular functions or managers.
Focus externally, not internally. If we were focused internally on our organization, that just wouldn’t work. It worked OK when we were smaller and younger, but it got to the point where it no longer would satisfy the magnitude of elements that we had to coordinate.
It was a matter of effectively scaling and then reminding ourselves (why) we were in business to begin with. That keeps growth from causing you to implode.
A lot of young, small companies can be successful as small companies, but they have a hard time making the transition to becoming larger companies. It’s usually something they do internally that limits their growth. We try to be very mindful of that, so that was the impetus of our organizational customer-centric construction.
Understand cultural differences. Every one of our [Asian] employees speaks English very fluently. Some of our (U.S. employees) have taken Chinese. So we are trying to conquer the great divide there a little at a time.
But what’s more important is that you understand the differences in cultures more than the differences in the language. Folks in Asia will interpret the same set of words differently than we will, based on their standard practices of doing business.
They’re not as frank, as candid or as critical. They have cultural differences around organization and hierarchy. We try to get a lot of our folks in our Asian leadership team to spend a period of time here in the U.S. That helps them quite a bit.
Focus on the big picture. You can never lose sight of the vision because your short-term course is going to change often and unexpectedly. You have to have a dogged determination and dedication to where you’re headed so you can keep in perspective every time you get knocked down in the short term.
Make employees owners. You better surround yourself with some good people who also believe and understand pretty completely where you’re headed. Every one of our employees is an owner of the business, so we have a built-in mechanism to help us keep sight of where we’re headed.
Owners have a different way of talking about what your company should do than if you’re just an employee gaining a paycheck. It’s a very effective piece to know that your employees own a piece of the rock.
Establish buy-in. You have to be able to contrast where you are and where you’re going, and show employees how you’re going to connect those two things. If you can take that approach and you’re clear, concise and straightforward about it and you keep reminding people of that then it all works.
People want to know where you’re going because any given day is full of challenges. If you lose track of where you’re going, there’s a good chance you’ll end up someplace else.
Go with your volunteers. Whenever you’re set on a course and something comes along to disrupt it whether it’s a customer situation, a competitor or an environmental situation and it causes a defocusing of your folks, and you have to make a change, you always want to go with those people that are always behind you.
When an organization is in a situation of change, there’s usually three kinds of behavior you’re going to find. There are people who say, ‘Let’s get going on this because time’s a-wastin’.’ The second kind of person says, ‘I’m going to sit on the fence and see what happens’ and the third kind of person says, ‘No, I don’t want to do that.’
Any reaction other than that first group just slows you down. The faster you can (implement change), the better off you’ll be, and the volunteers are the ones that are always ready to go wherever you need to go.
HOW TO REACH: New Product Innovations Inc., (866) 879-6744 or www.npi.com
American Laser Centers is barely 5 years old, but already it’s hit 2005 revenue of $52 million. And its president, Rich Morgan, is aiming for 2006 revenue of $100 million.
Headquartered in Farmington Hills, American Laser Centers provides laser hair removal, skin rejuvenation and cellulite reduction therapy. The company employs 40 at its headquarters and 570 nationwide.
“It’s not just about building a company, it’s about building people,” Morgan says.
Smart Business spoke with Morgan about how he’s enhanced his company’s credibility and implemented proprietary technology while supporting his employees.
How did you establish your board of advisers?
It’s the medical directors that we use in all the different states that we operate. We looked for those high-end plastic surgeons and dermatologists who were the best in each market and those with whom we could affiliate. We lease space from them and operate out of their office. It’s important to affiliate yourself with people who have already been successful in the area that you’re doing business.
There was really nothing complicated about it. We had a business model, and it was a matter of setting up meetings, getting to know them and getting them to know us. It’s just been a process of continuing to build that relationship ever since.
It puts us in a position where it’s much easier for us to operate within the guidelines of the law in each state. It also gives our clients a feeling of assurance to have these procedures done in a medical facility.
In an industry where you can have anywhere from a 4 to 7 percent incident rate, our incident rate is less than one-half of 1 percent, so safety is a big concern for us. Safe and effective those are the mantras that we try to follow.
How do you manage your nationwide clinics from your Michigan headquarters?
We’ve put a lot into building a support infrastructure. We’ve got an automated system that measures exactly what’s happening in each clinic. It’s all in real time, so we can watch how many consults we have and how many people they’re treating. You can even watch the treatments in real time online.
The biggest key for us to be able to manage the staff and the fact that we’re spread out all over the country is that we’re able to see everything happening in real time. Automation was a big key for us.
We have a call center here in Michigan. All the incoming calls and scheduling for the clinics is done out of the central location. The system is completely interactive and Internet-based, so we can load somebody here at corporate, and one of the clinics can be working on the system simultaneously. We’re all seeing the same information and communicating in real time. All of that links into our accounting software, which allows us to monitor exactly what’s going on with our cash.
We built that system from scratch, so it was a matter of hiring some really good IT people and giving them the space and freedom to go out and be creative. It’s not something that’s for sale or anybody else could use it; it’s really proprietary to our company.
How do you support your staff?
We go to the expense of flying our entire staff in twice a year to the Ritz-Carlton here in Detroit, and we do a two-day training. We talk about technology and new advances in the industry. We do a portion on the medical training, and a lot of that training is in sales and management.
We also have regional managers who are out in the clinics on a regular basis ... so they’re able to work with the staff in a hands-on type manner.
Twice a year, we do a road show where we go to 14 different cities. We take our executive staff and visit managers and have lunch and dinner with them. We put a lot into spending a lot of personal time with our staff.
If you’re going to build a successful team, they’ve got to understand the goal and the vision of the company. It’s amazing what type of results people will achieve if you give them the encouragement and support to go out and do that.
HOW TO REACH: American Laser Centers, (888) 645-3312 or www.americanlaser.com
The former Indianapolis 500 winner and Pennsylvania car dealership owner recognized Patrick’s desire to succeed in a predominantly male industry. But he didn’t plan for his newest team member to rewrite Indy history by finishing fourth in the 2005 race.
“She’s transcended the sport in a lot of ways,” he says. “And while I expected that to happen at some point in time, I didn’t quite expect it to happen as quickly as it did.”
Rahal co-owns Hilliard-based Rahal Letterman Racing with “Late Show” host David Letterman. The open-wheel racing team employs 75 people and reported $20 million in 2005 revenue.
Speaking to Smart Business from Florida’s Homestead-Miami Speedway, Rahal discussed how he chooses his crew, both on and off the track. Several weeks later, Rahal Letterman Racing driver Paul Dana died following a practice accident at the speedway, and the team withdrew its other entries for that race.
How do you recognize talent?
You bring people in because of a reputation they may have in terms of their capability; however, we take what we hear from the outside with a large grain of salt. It’s only after they’ve been with us for a while do we really come to know their contribution and whether that meets our standards.
We set very high standards because we’re here to win. While a lot of people talk the talk everybody says they want to win there are very few that really do want to win. We push them all year to continually improve themselves because, in the end, if they improve, then we improve.
This is the ultimate team sport, where everybody’s success or failure is intimately tied. Unlike other supposed team sports, like football or baseball, no one person in racing can stand out above the rest because everybody’s results are the same, which is a true reflection of what the concept of team is all about.
How do you maintain high standards?
We’re constantly examining everything we do on any given day. In motor racing, your results are pretty immediate and you know fairly quickly whether you’ve done the job correctly or not.
As a result, it gives you ample opportunities to investigate and look into what you’re doing and whether you can do it better everybody from the driver and the owner to the engineers and the mechanics, especially where pit stops are concerned.
The expectation at Rahal Letterman is that you do what it takes. That example starts with me and runs throughout the company. Every employee understands that they have to be a leader in their own right.
We don’t have time for people who are just along for the ride. That’s really a cancer to an organization. Everyone in the operation knows who’s carrying their weight and who isn’t. We don’t accept those who only commit 50 percent of themselves to us.
There are a lot of people who can do the job, but what’s the attitude that they represent? Is it a positive, committed attitude, or is it one that is begrudging? We want people who are ready to hold their hand up and make their case because that’s the only way we’re going to go forward.
The worst things any organization can have are the Monday morning quarterbacks.
It takes no commitment to criticize after the fact or to make comments as though to separate themselves from everybody else, the ‘Well, if somebody had asked me ... ’ kind of attitude. That is a cancer, and we will not accept that.
How do you promote a winning attitude?
By your own example. You can’t ask a lot from other people if you don’t ask the same of yourself. While there are high standards and demands within our organization, we also try to create a family atmosphere. It’s not just a place to go to work, it’s an environment that provides for advancement and learning.
Everybody wants to get paid, but the environment is as crucial a factor in their satisfaction with their job, and in some respects, even more so. They feel that there’s a sense of obligation from the company to the employee and vice versa.
In this environment, they can grow intellectually as well as financially, and that has a huge effect. We’re not the biggest payers out there, but we create an atmosphere and an environment that makes up the difference and then some.
It’s not something you can do once a quarter and create this concept of team. It really takes confidence, daily care and feeding because it’s a very fragile concept. Every day, we practice the things that create the kind of environment we want: interest in them as people, not just as team members or employees, being communicative with them and sharing information that ultimately impacts them.
(It’s) making an inclusive environment where there’s a sense of ownership. We do that daily, and it’s not just me, it’s at every level and facet of the organization.
HOW TO REACH: Rahal Letterman Racing, www.rahal.com
That was the situation in August 2002 when G. Barry Huff was named president of Columbus-based Glory Foods Inc.
“Right away, we put together a strategic plan with a small team, and we were able to pull that together to give us a little bit more focus,” Huff says.
That focus has helped grow Glory Foods into a company with 2005 revenue in excess of $55 million as it has expanded its role in the Southern-style canned, frozen and fresh-cut vegetable industry.
Smart Business spoke with Huff about how he got Glory Foods back on track and how he manages change in the industry.
How did you create your strategic plan?
It’s nothing secretive. We just talked about what our mission is and who we see ourselves as being in terms of a company. We looked at our strengths at the time and what weaknesses we had. We assessed the competitive set.
It was a tool to get us all aligned in the same sort of business thoughts. That was critical to the team, that at least we had something (on which) we could anchor.
What was your next move?
We said, ‘One of our strengths is putting out seasoned and tasteful food, and that’s where we should be focused with our new product offerings.’ We talked about our need to continually introduce new products and to stay ahead of whoever the imitators were going to be.
We also needed to shore up our core products. When you look at a national (distribution), we were probably in a third of the country nationally, and there are certain regions of the country where we were stronger.
One of the things we initially talked about was (making) sure we get more of our core placed in the accounts that we’re currently selling, (as well as) new accounts across the country. We sell at different depths of distribution. We have 50 items that are shelf-stable. Some accounts may have only four or six items. There’s room to improve so we’ve focused there.
What role does consumer feedback play in product development?
We have had some feedback from consumers who have said, ‘We love your products, but is it possible for you to take some of the salt out?’ We just introduced a new product line of 10 items that have lower sodium, no meat flavoring, and it’s just a more healthful option
You always have to talk to your customers those people who buy into the account and your consumers those who are eating this stuff.
How do you prepare for future growth?
We are now at a point in our growth cycle where we’ve doubled the business in the last three years. We’re assessing places that we can stretch the brand. We’ve stretched it into different types of vegetables with a flavor profile. The question now is, how many more of those can we do, and where else does it make sense to take this brand?
In 1998, the company went into frozen entrees and side dishes. We’ve had some nice success with some of those items now. (We’re using) the Glory name and stretching it over into a different part of the grocery store.
There’s tremendous opportunity to sell into more accounts: more stores, more items and different channels. We’re not operating today in any real way in the club store environment.
We don’t operate in food service. We get calls and e-mails all the time from people for food service. If we could get some of the larger groups who could distribute to those mom-and-pops, then we (would) have a nice little business.
Growth is all about change, and when you think about the business, we have a tremendous opportunity ahead of us.
You’re always struggling to cap the infrastructure in place, anticipating the growth. We’re doing that through proper planning and making sure that we’re communicating within our organization around that growth: Who are the customers to whom we’re speaking, what’s the timetable for them possibly coming on, what items (will be involved), and then working with our third-party processors and communicating that information in a timely fashion.
There’s so many logistics involved in food processing that many of us take for granted. If you don’t have them in place as you’re continuing to grow, then you have some challenges. We’ve tried to stay ahead of it (by) mapping it out, putting a timetable together and saying, ‘Here’s how we’re going to do it, and here’s when we’re going to do it.’
HOW TO REACH: Glory Foods Inc., (800) 414-5679 or www.gloryfoods.com
Its “Five-Point Pledge: Commitment to Excellence” a written promise to its customers and a way of life for its employees is the foundation of the company.
“They have to have their own mission, and every industry is different, but this surely works in our industry,” says company president Paul Hanna. “There has to be a companywide involvement to support that, even from the hiring process of our people. This document is often imitated but never duplicated.”
Blue Technologies, a document imaging solutions provider, was founded in 1995, and through a persistent focus on customer service, has grown to $30 million and 170 employees.
Smart Business spoke with Hanna about how he builds on his experiences to manage his company.
On corporate vision
We took the good of our experience in the industry as employees and the knowledge that we learned as owners and built a pretty successful company. We had experience in the strategy of selling office equipment and backed it up with service.
It’s called our Commitment to Excellence, and it’s really the foundation of our company. It’s a way of doing business and a set of performance guarantees that differentiates us from our competitors. Our five-point performance guarantee ensures total customer satisfaction.
We didn’t want to be like everybody else, we wanted to be better. It’s our pledge, and to this day, this five-point guarantee is what our sales staff is marketing to potential customers.
On the Commitment to Excellence
It’s not a wish or a hope, it’s a legal document in writing that tells the way we’re going to do business: product performance commitment, service commitment, supply commitment, easy acquisition commitment and complete satisfaction commitment. It covers every issue that a potential customer would have. They don’t have to ask and probe for it; we tell them how we’re going to do business. That adds a comfort level, and today, we have over 15,000 customers that experience that Commitment to Excellence. Every piece of equipment that we sell or lease comes with a Commitment to Excellence.
It’s one of our best hiring tools because everybody wants to do a good job. By putting this in writing, it gives our sales force a confidence level that the product that they sell is going to perform above the customer’s expectations. When an employee sees that type of commitment, it gives them a confidence level in the company that they’re working for. We’re not just trying to hire employees; we’re trying to hire people with a career vision.
On complete satisfaction
‘A satisfied customer is not loyal, only a completely satisfied customer is loyal.’ That quote came to me from a friend of mine in my early days, and it was in the Wall Street Journal. That line really impacted me because it’s very true. People like to do business with people they’re comfortable with, who they trust, who they know and are satisfied with. ‘Completely satisfied’ covers all those areas.
If they think you’re (simply) OK, you’re going to have a hard time retaining them. Our business is built on building those customers and keeping them. We’re not interested in losing them.
With my 20-years-plus in this industry, I wanted to make sure that I had something that had an advantage over everyone else, that we did it better than everyone else. To this day, I still believe in that.
We’re in an industry where the technology changes annually. Today, we’re far more technical than we were 10 years ago because of the digital revolution. You have to grow with the technology so that you can educate the marketplace on what’s available.
The fortunate thing was that we have the assets to financially be able to do that. As a start-up company, we had to be good, but today, we have the availability to be even better because of our training. We are one of the very few locations in the United States that’s an authorized training center for our manufacturers. Our technicians get trained from a certified trainer that works for Blue Technologies as opposed to having to go and ship our staff to a manufacturer’s location for training.
We have a dedicated trainer to train our sales staff, and that occurs onsite. It gives us a cutting-edge advantage, as opposed to making a decision whether to shut down a portion of our company and send X amount of employees out of town for training. (We have) the ability to do it without interrupting our normal flow of business.
On strategic acquisitions
If you buy garbage, you have to clean the garbage up. A poorly run company that you acquire takes a lot more cleanup than if you acquire another good, quality company. You get what you pay for.
Sometimes it’s better to buy another quality company, if you have the wherewithal to do that, because in the long run, it’ll save you a lot of headaches. When you try to put that other company into your system, bring that account base up to par and educate them on what they can now expect from you, hopefully you can keep them around long enough to experience that their new way of life should be a lot better.
When you buy a company that is not experienced, does not have any loyalty to you and didn’t do the right things, it’s very difficult to get past that period.
You have to pick the right people to do the job. Someone who gets hired at Blue Technologies, depending on the position, they may go through three, four or five different interviews. We’re not selling them on why to come to work here; we’re educating them on why they should come to work here.
Traditionally, we have not been successful hiring people from within our industry because they were poorly trained and picked up bad habits. I’d much rather give a new employee good habits than try to correct bad habits.
We have been far more successful hiring good, high-quality people that excelled somewhere in their life outside of this industry. We were able to train them from the ground level up to be able to fulfill the obligations necessary with our job descriptions.
HOW TO REACH: Blue Technologies, (216) 271-4800 or www.btohio.com