No one who lives in southeast Michigan needs a reminder that the region has been one of the epicenters of a massive economic recession. But it might help to remember that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, and you can reach that tunnel in better shape if you are prudent in how you lead your business. You can take steps to become more opportunistic, managing your spending and focusing your employees on the vision and mission of your company.
Over the past couple of years, Smart Business Detroit has spoken with a number of Detroit-area business leaders about the steps they’re taking to help their companies weather the economic storm. Below is a sampling of what three of them had to say.
“Employees are smart, and many of our employees have been here a long time. They can see when we are going after the real problems, not just the appearance of problems. That’s one way we convinced them of our intentions through actions instead of words.”
Marty Kahn, CEO, ProQuest LLC
“Take all of the other distractions away. Get rid of ancillary businesses, ancillary and unimportant initiatives, things that are taking away from the core, uniform strategy that you’re trying to deploy. It’s an ongoing effort. It’s an evolution, and you keep working through it. You keep building momentum over time, and eventually it does pick up."
MaryAnn Rivers, president and CEO, Entertainment Publications LLC
“As you think about the future of your organization, you have to do scenario planning. You need to come up with best-case, most-probable-case and worst-case scenarios. You need to be able to anticipate and stay ahead of the curve. Leaders need to do that all the time.”
Patricia Maryland, president and CEO, St. John Health System
Employees know when you're addressing the real problems
Get rid of factors that take away from your core businesses
Plan for many possible situations
The way to build an online strategy is to forget about your online strategy for a second.
Carmen DeLeo, the general manager of CDM Electronics Inc., made that his first step when he and his team were trying to formulate the best way to build a presence on the Internet for the $20 million logistics and software company, headquartered in Turnersville, N.J.
“We put ourselves in the position of engineers and technical buyers — our main customers,” DeLeo says. “They’re the ones who are going to fit the profile for us. We thought about the things they would come to us for — specification of part numbers, drawings and so forth. So we started to decide what our customers needed, and let’s try to get as much information on the site as we can, and we can make it a 24/7 part of our customer service.”
Once you have identified what your customers need, you have to develop your site to meet those needs. DeLeo and his team partnered with outside firms, including business IT support company ThomasNet, to start the development process.
“They educated us on things like (search engine optimization) and other terms we weren’t familiar with. In addition to that, we spent a lot of time online, just playing around and experimenting,” DeLeo says. “We spent a lot of time just reading and stumbling upon different websites, seeing what some other companies were doing. We looked outside our industry, because there weren’t a whole lot of people in our industry doing this yet.”
Above all else, DeLeo says the quality of your site content should rule your decisions about how you market your business online. It’s great to have an eye-catching sight with attractive graphics and sound, but if the substance isn’t there to back up the style, you’ll never be able to leverage your site to help grow your business.
“If you supply the site with as much content as possible, it is only going to help serve your customers,” DeLeo says. “We’re still very early in this era. The computers that are doing the rankings of your website’s value to customers are still very rudimentary. At sites like Google, it is obvious humans don’t review the results. But they still do a remarkable job of returning what is relevant. Even having an ugly site with content is still better than a website without an adequate amount of content. If all you have is an address and a little bit about the company, it’s not going to do you much good.”
Regardless of whether you use internal resources to build your online presence or acquire outside help, you need to partner with people who will engage you in a dialogue. You need to bring different perspectives to the table to get the right look and the right content onto your site.
“You need development people who understand the real goal,” DeLeo says. “Sometimes, we don’t ask for what we want all the time, or there might be a better solution out there. That type of communication has to be the key, so when you’re selecting vendors for this service, you want people who you know you can communicate with. Experience is the number one thing with regard to that.”
How to reach: CDM Electronics Inc., (856) 740-1200 or www.cdmtech.com
Take sales online
By Brooke Bates
You already know how to make your website more effective, if you ask Linda Rigano. You’re already doing it offline.
“A good Web strategy starts with … creating a Web experience that replicates the company’s sales process,” says the executive director of strategic services at Thomas Industrial Network, which connects buyers and sellers through offerings like the sourcing site
ThomasNet.com and a Web solutions group that improves website performance.
ThomasNet’s VSET strategy breaks that down:
• Verify. “The first step in the process is that a buyer wants to verify that you make what they (want),” Rigano says. “(If) I’m looking for a container and I see a big picture of the facility, I see a mission statement, but I don’t see a lot about containers, am I going to spend time there? No.”
• Search and evaluate. “That might be questions they’re asking that customer service person on the phone; it’ll be questions that customer service person is asking back: How many, what’s the material, what’s the size, what’s the quantity?”
• Take action. “This is what you want to do when you get off of the phone with somebody. Is customer service preparing a quotation? Are they sending more information? Are they taking an order? … It’s all about making it easier for that buyer to do business with you.”
How to reach: Thomas Industrial Network, (866) 585-1191 or www.thomasnet.com
As a pilot for 43 years and president of Voyager Jet Center, Rich Ryan knows what it takes to create excellent customer service.
Ryan leads by example and demonstrates the level of effort and commitment it takes to deliver the customer service that Voyager Jet Center, a private aircraft company, is known for.
“I think when the employees see the president pitching in, whether it’s picking up a piece of trash, flying an airplane or cleaning something, I think they know that I’m committed and therefore they should be committed,” Ryan says.
Attention to detail by all 60 of Voyager Jet’s employees allowed for $25 million in sales last year.
Smart Business spoke with Ryan about how he keeps customer service the focal point of his business.
How do you keep your employees motivated?
I’m a walkabout manager. I am in every department every day observing, showing my face and asking people how things are going. That’s a management style that’s worked well for me. Make yourself visible. Make yourself visible to the customer and to the employee. Don’t hunker down in your office, get out and about.
I also have an open-door policy. People aren’t hesitant to speak with me, because I see them every day. If you’ve ever been to a presentation by a senior executive to his staff, at the end invariably the lecturer will say, ‘Any questions?’ and people are reluctant to speak openly. So the follow up is, ‘If you have any questions that you don’t want to say now, I’ll be available in my office for the next half hour and you can talk about it.’ If I address the employees as a whole, I usually end up in that arena. Some people just don’t speak well in front of a group of people, yet they may be perfectly lucid in a one-on-one conversation.
How do you create and evaluate customer service?
Training is one way to keep the quality of service up. Voyager Jet Center spent roughly $650,000 on employee training last year. Most of that training was simulator training for the pilots, but we also train our dispatchers and our line service personnel. As a company, we sell several types of products, so our line service personnel need to be trained in safe and efficient service.
A lot of the customers are my friends or associates so I will call them and ask them or send them an e-mail and ask, ‘How was your trip last night?’ By constantly evaluating what our service is by getting feedback from our clients, we hope to improve our service.
We have evaluation forms … for the pilots to fill out who come in and buy fuel from us or use our facilities.
For employees, we have a standard evaluation process. I’m a big believer in the sandwich technique, the good the bad and the good. So I would say, ‘Mark you’re doing a great job; however, you’ve been tardy three times in the past two months, so once you correct that, overall, you’ve done a good job.’ Evaluating progress is critical. Otherwise the employee would be operating in a vacuum.
How do you improve customer service?
Listen to what the customer says and listen to what the employee says. The employee knows more about his job than you do, so listen to him and then react.
Make sure that you involve employees in the decision-making process. Push decision-making down and make sure that each employee has bought in to the goals of the company. Employees need to understand what the goal of the company is, and they need to buy in to it. By involving them in the decisions, it becomes their decision, not your decision.
How has customer service helped grow your business?
We sit in one airplane every week. We sit in it for several hours, and we open every drawer and open every table and look in every nook and cranny to make sure it’s clean and that some old magazines haven’t gotten in there. That’s very important to us.
People talk about what’s a good restaurant or what’s a good tailor and who’s a good jet provider. Who can you rely on, who’s safe? So if you have a cadre of happy customers, then they’ll tell their friends, and that’s an important manner in which to build the business.
HOW TO REACH: Voyager Jet Center, (412) 267-8000, or www.voyagerjet.com
Every industry constantly searches for the next thing to alter and improve how business is done. For Houston and the energy industry, that thing is clean technology. Lisa Epifani, an expert in the energy field, explains how it is bringing change to the energy capital.
Leading the energy industry
Houston will be a great leader in the clean tech world. Texas is super lucky to have great resources for wind and solar energy, and Texas has been harnessing those newer and renewable resources.
Clean tech versus oil and gas
It’s obvious that oil and gas are going to be a major part of the portfolio for a long time. We have to acknowledge that and be realistic about the tradeoffs as we transition to cleaner and cleaner fuels. Houston is positioned well, given its knowledge of the energy industry and its geographical location. Texas is a very attractive location for a number of headquarters. Houston is an attractive place for companies to come with its lower taxes and larger labor base.
Regulation in the pipeline
EPA regulations are coming down the track requiring cleaner energy. Companies are going to have to find ways to meet their production demands using cleaner technologies.
Oil and gas companies accept the reality that our economy is turning toward more carbon constraint. The traditional oil and gas companies are going to start making investments in clean energy, particularly as we see tax incentives, different policies, or perhaps something like a national clean energy standard calling for a greater use of those. These companies have money to invest in the energy industry and are going to position themselves to play across the full spectrum of resources.
Oil and gas are still boss
There is going to be a continuing demand [for oil and gas] for a number of years. I don’t see [clean technologies] as competing, I see them as offering a layer to the cake in the foundation of our oil and gas tradition and now we are going to improve on that with these cleaner, newer technologies.
It’s not a matter of one part knocking out the other but blending in a way that makes sense from an economic point of view, security point of view and from an environment point of view. It’s an exciting time in the energy industry and things are improving and it’s a matter of phasing in newer technologies in a smart fashion.
HOW TO REACH: Van Ness Feldman, (202) 298-1800 or www.vnf.com
Van Ness Feldman
About: Lisa Epifani is a partner at Van Ness Feldman and advises a range of clients on energy and environmental matters, with a special focus on climate change strategy, oil and natural gas issues, nuclear policy, and financial regulations. Her clients include industry coalitions, financial institutions, oil and gas pipelines and think tanks. Before joining the firm in April 2009, Lisa spent 10 years serving in key governmental and business community roles, developing energy policy and strategy. She was appointed assistant secretary at the department of energy for congressional and intergovernmental affairs by then-President George W. Bush.
Thomas Kirkpatrick, a 19-year veteran of the Procter & Gamble Co., had an urge to try his hand at entrepreneurship. In 1998, he bought the assets to Eco Engineering LLC, a lighting energy services company.
Kirkpatrick saw big potential for the service his company provided, but it was lacking an organizational culture. The values that Procter & Gamble used touched home with him, and he figured those same values could work for his small business.
“Those ethics fit well with my own beliefs, so I tried to establish those same values here,” says Kirkpatrick, president and CEO. “I wanted to develop the organization to create a culture that would bring the good things I experienced at P&G and leave behind some of the things that could plague a larger organization and prevent it from being a nimble, customer-focused organization.”
By following core values and his company’s vision and mission, Kirkpatrick revitalized Eco Engineering, which saw 2009 revenue of $15 million.
Smart Business spoke to Kirkpatrick about how he runs his business by sticking close to the values he knows can create success.
Establish cultural values.
As the CEO of a small business you have the sole responsibility in being the leader to establish the vision, the values and the culture to set the tone for your organization. It surprises me every day how carefully people observe what you do, whether or not you’re setting high personal standards. It is absolutely essential and critical to communicate well and make certain that you are sharing your own personal character and standards.
As a CEO, you need to make sure that you communicate clearly the mission and vision of the company. [Employees] need to have something they believe in with passion and something they can get excited about.
You’ve got to decide what kind of an organizational culture you want to have, your values. You need to establish honesty, openness and integrity and create partnerships. Once you get a clear mission and core values set up, you will be able to get an organization in place that can go to work. You have to put together a set of measures so that you have something you can look at to see if you are achieving what you set out to do. You then have to evaluate what you have established, and from there, you set out to try and be the best.
Record and update values.
One of the first things I did back in ’98 was put down on paper a vision, a mission and core values. Most small business owners might say they don’t need a vision, mission or values. But they would agree that they need to provide written guidelines on how the work needs to be done. Some have very basic guidelines and others just use an apprentice program where new people learn just by watching. They need to formalize that and instead of letting new people learn by observing, they need to force themselves to put the process down on paper, and as a result, they can have specific measures of how they’re succeeding or where they’re falling short. That will help them become a better company.
It’s important to continually be looking for the best practices from outside your own company. Participate in a CEO round table to share ideas with other CEOs or keep up on the latest business books. It’s making sure that the CEO doesn’t get so caught up in running the business day to day and that you’re taking time for your own personal development. If you’re not out there looking for the best practices and bringing those to your organization then you’re going to be stagnant.
Reinforce core values.
Every three to four weeks, I meet with all 53 employees, and every quarter, I meet with my leadership team, and we review our values and how we are doing. Have we made progress over the last quarter in working toward our vision and our mission? Are we living up to our core values? I reinforce the fact that our whole focus is customer satisfaction and that we are proud of ourselves and we want to be the best. The only way to do that is by focusing on getting better. As I review these values, it hopefully empowers every employee to live up to those.
HOW TO REACH: Eco Engineering LLC, (513) 985-8300 or www.ecoengineering.com
Since Normandy Catering Inc. opened its doors, the company has been on a continuous hunt for new areas of business it can break into. Not satisfied with simply filling its 500-person banquet facility on Friday and Saturday nights, the food service company has been growing in niche areas.
Ryan Baker, general manager, and James Carmigiano, vice president, have been expanding Normandy Catering’s niche business in both catering and in food service management.
“Normandy is a family-owned business that started in 1978,” Carmigiano says. “We started doing school food service in 1984, and from there, we started in delivery business and expanded our food service into other schools and higher education.”
It has been the food service side of the business that has really taken off.
“The focus that has caused our growth has been in the food service area versus the catering,” Baker says. “We’ll actually run your kitchen, manage the employees that are there, and we’ll manage the procurement procedures with all of the vendors and produce the food.”
Normandy has seen a lot of growth in this area with schools in Northeast Ohio.
“We can run a public school kitchen by delivering food cheaper than they can actually manage and run their own kitchen with their own people and realize substantial savings while increasing the participation rate that the children are purchasing,” Baker says. “It’s been a win-win and there’s been a lot of growth and a tremendous amount of activity in that section of our business.”
Normandy has also been expanding its service to schools that don’t have kitchens.
“What we’re doing is we’re actually catering the food,” Baker says. “We cook every morning and we deliver breakfast. We set up and have equipment there to serve it. Our people serve it, we clean up and we come back here, load up again and we head out and do lunch. We’re doing a couple thousand a day in those types of meals and there’s been a lot of growth in that area for us.”
The growth Normandy has seen has been due to the effort to find new niche areas that others can’t compete in.
“We decided that there’s only so many Friday’s and Saturday’s in a year for us to load people into our facility and so we’ve gone out and went after this section of the business,” Baker says. “We’ve been here for a long time, but we’re a young, progressive, forward-thinking and hardworking company that really sees a strong future.”
HOW TO REACH: Normandy Catering Inc., (440) 585-5850 or www.normandycatering.com
When partners Steve Goodman and Craig Swill purchased Welcome Wagon International, Inc. in 2009, the business was still the world’s largest welcoming service for new homeowners at 82 years old. They decided to keep the company updated and relevant moving forward by refocusing the company completely on sales and marketing. The problem was, the company’s corporate culture was very negative and communication between the corporate and sales sides of the company was poor.
“You kind of had a sales versus corporate clash going on within the organization,” says Swill, the company’s CEO.
The corporate side cared more about technology and was insensitive to many sales-oriented issues. The sales employees felt cut off from many changes at the corporate level, with some of them working as individuals in remote parts of the country.
“When people do not have communication and are out in the field by themselves, they kind of get this paranoia. … So you have a lot of missed communication when there is lack of any communication,” Swill says.
To get employees re-engaged in the vision for Welcome Wagon, especially on the sales side, Swill and Goodman needed to reopen some lines of communication that hadn’t been open for decades.
Together, they went on a “world tour,” visiting every company region to give presentations for the sales teams and to discuss their vision and goals for the first 12 months of their leadership transition. Most of the people they talked to had never met anyone from the corporate office, much less the heads of the company.
“They were very touched that we felt enough to go out and really learn about their challenges in selling and about their challenges in the economy,” says Goodman, Welcome Wagon’s president.
“We asked them questions to learn what they were looking for within the organization. From the very beginning, we opened lines of communication between the corporate office and our field organization.”
They implemented weekly meetings to provide sales training for corporate employees, so they could better understand the experiences of their sales counterparts. On the sales side, they offered representatives and managers training opportunities to learn new technology and skill sets, giving them the resources needed to be most effective. Now, sales officers communicate weekly and daily with field officers to reinforce and align their goals.
After their one-year anniversary in 2010, Goodman and Swill did another world tour to discuss progress and go over their five-year strategic plan. Their reception this time around was a lot different. They’d grown sales every month, and in less than a year, they made Welcome Wagon a debt-free company.
“We started receiving hugs. Literally, people wanted to come and hug us,” Swill says… “We were able to check off bullet point by bullet point, page after page, all of the things we promised them, and we hit everything that we promised them. We were able to gain their trust, and that is huge.”
Today, Swill and Goodman continue to make themselves very accessible to the organization’s employees by talking on the phone to address sales problems, questions or issues, and always looking for ways to support the sales team with the resources they need to succeed.
“Some of the most negative people that I could give examples of a year ago were so positive this year and saying thank you for taking this organization and totally revamping it, turning it around, giving us products and giving us a company that we can now go out and truly be proud of in the way that we sell it every day,” Goodman says.
How to reach: Welcome Wagon, www.welcomewagon.com
Law of limits
According to Steve Goodman, successful strategic planning isn’t just about winning people over to your vision. That is one part of it, and so is communicating that vision effectively. But another key part of executing a strategic plan is recognizing and understanding other people’s limitations.
“You have to always understand, that just because we can get something done and we see things going from A to Z, that doesn’t mean that all of the people that you lead see things in the same way,” Goodman says. “Some people are really pigeonholed in what they do 100 percent; they don’t understand how to tie things together at different levels within the organization.”
As a business owner, CEO or entrepreneur who is used to fast-paced change and goal-setting, you may be tempted to push hard and move fast in carrying out your plan. However, leading people isn’t about pushing people in the direction you want them to go, it’s about guiding them, showing them you are aware of their capabilities, and giving them the resources needed to get there.
“It’s the ability to get people to see things in a way that makes sense as they move forward and to help them further their careers,” Goodman says.“You have to see people’s strengths and weaknesses to see how to move them.”
Garry McGuire is entertaining you in those little moments of boredom throughout your day. Whether it be waiting in line at coffee shops, watching CNN while on the StairMaster or while on a flight, he and his team of about 70 people places television-quality media there for your entertainment pleasure as CEO of RMG Networks.
When he came on board two years ago, the company provided content to about 10,000 screens but now reaches 60 million viewers each day through more than 190,000 screens.
“As we are growing and expanding rapidly, we are trying to stay focused on what we do best, which is entertaining and informing people when they are on the go throughout the day,” McGuire says.
Smart Business spoke with McGuire about how he’s grown RMG.
What is the key to successfully growing a business?
The key to growing a business is singular focus on one, two or no more than three objectives — and being able to be flexible and change your plan as needed to stay focused on those same objectives.
How do you choose what to focus on?
The most important one is really focus on the customer and the problem you are trying to solve. A lot of companies try to focus on how great their product is without keeping in mind the problem you are trying to solve at the end of the day. A lot of technology companies in particular tend to do that. They invent a really cool technology that does a really cool thing, but it might not actually be solving a problem that people care about. Timing your product with a particular pain in the market place is probably the most important element.
Just stay focused on what you do best, what you do better than any other company in the marketplace. As you begin to grow your business, don’t lose focus on those core fundamentals that you’ve become successful at or that you’ve become known for in your quest for new business or adding new features to your business.
I worked for really small companies and really large companies. At one point in my career, I worked for Compaq when it was in massive acquisition mode, and it was sort of a race to become the biggest computer company in the world. It made all kinds of acquisitions — some of them were brilliant and some were disastrous mistakes. What I was able to ascertain from that was that in your quest for getting bigger, bigger is not always better. I’ve seen that in so many examples, large and small. Sometimes you get very wed to an opportunity, and it’s very emotional rather than rational. I’ve seen a lot of business leaders make mistakes based on that.
How can you stay rational when you are looking at those big growth opportunities?
I think just talking to as many advisers or people you respect who come from a pretty independent perspective is the most helpful way. I try to do that a lot with my board, with investors, with advisers — just to try to collect as many data points as possible. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Especially in a company as a president or CEO, you tend to be surrounded by people who agree with you. So as many people as possible who you can talk to outside of that circle, the better decisions you make.
How do you choose good advisers to speak to about these things?
Look for people who have worked in senior positions in your same industry, who are not currently working in the industry. They’ve maybe retired or they’ve changed or they’ve moved on to another profession. I have a couple of advisers who are in that role. I think it’s good to have an adviser completely outside of your industry, because they can look at it from a truly outsider's position. It’s also good to get advisers who don’t have the same background as you. My background is more sales and marketing and our business has a lot of technology and finance, so I tend to try to surround myself with advisers who have different skills than I do, just to try to complement my weaknesses.
How to reach: RMG Networks, (415) 490-4200 or www.rmgnetworks.com
Are you reluctant to call out an employee who is not meeting your expectations? Do you worry about the conflict you might create by raising these concerns? If you answered yes to these questions, you’re not doing your job as the leader of your business.
“You read a lot about making sure you’re not hurting people’s feelings and not being over the top and too aggressive when you talk to people,” says Greg Harris, founder, president and CEO of Backhaul Direct LLC. “You need a level of aggression. You’re paying someone to do a job. They need to know where you stand. If you’re not happy with the productivity of an employee, you have to let them know.”
Before you get the wrong idea about the corporate culture at Backhaul Direct, you should know that Harris loves to have fun both at work and away from the office. The 75-employee freight management and logistics firm sponsors a collegiate bowling tournament each February and has a group of employees who bowl regularly.
“You have to be able to come here and enjoy what you’re doing,” Harris says. “That’s the last thing I want is for someone to come here and hate everything about their job.”
Harris considers it part of his job to foster a strong and healthy workplace culture. But it’s also his job to expect and demand the best from his employees and give them a kick in the butt when they need it.
“It’s the job of a manager, just like a personal trainer, to always be pushing you a little bit,” Harris says. “I tell my guys all the time, ‘You’re always going to feel some resistance from me. I’m always going to be pushing and challenging you.’”
Harris takes the physical fitness and training analogy a step further.
“I’m not going to tell you to fire off 10 reps at 15 pounds when I know that you can fire off 20 reps at 30 pounds,” Harris says. “At the same time, you don’t want to establish goals that are so far out of their range of capability that they will be disheartened and disgruntled with their job.”
The key in establishing goals is to make them a priority. Put them down on paper so that there is a record of what you and your employees have determined to be goals worthy of pursuing.
“You absolutely have to put them in writing,” Harris says. “You also have to create a plan on how you’re going to hit those goals.”
Backhaul Direct has made the pursuit of sales goals more fun by creating groups that employees can aspire to join. Newcomers are “Lottery Picks,” a nod to the elite rookies picked in the NBA Draft.
Next is the “Contenders,” a group of employees who have risen above the first stage but aren’t at the top of the heap yet. And at the top is the “Top Dogs,” the sales reps who handle the company’s most important accounts.
“They have the big clients, the flexible schedule and the company work card for unlimited lunches,” Harris says.
The idea is to create a sense of competition that energizes employees and drives growth. It’s a fun way to keep the motivation level high at a company that has plans to add more than 300 jobs by 2015.
“We try to maintain a competitive atmosphere where everyone is privy to the company sales goals, their numbers and the other sales reps’ numbers in our office,” Harris says. “We look at that as a motivating factor. You don’t want to be the low man on the totem pole.”
How to reach: Backhaul Direct LLC, (800) 518-1664 or www.backhauldirect.com
Ask the questions
So what happens if goals aren’t being met and revenue isn’t growing in your business? Greg Harris says you can start by appraising your own performance.
“Are they responding to your message?” says Harris, founder, president and CEO at Backhaul Direct LLC. “Are you giving employees the proper tools to meet those goals? Are they targeting the right clients? Have they not been taught appropriately from day one?”
If you determine that you’ve done your job, start looking at what’s going on with the employee.
“Do they not like the product they are selling?” Harris says. “Do they not like they are selling? Are they just not interested in what they are doing anymore? Is there something else I can challenge the person with? Maybe they have outgrown what they are doing. Ask the question: ‘You seem burned out. You seem complacent. Is there a reason for that? Can I do something different? Is there something within our scope that you can do in the company?’”
In addition to these questions, you also need to make it clear that there is a problem if an employee is not performing to expectation.
“Show concern and try to set something else for them to do,” Harris says. “But let them know, ‘Right now what you’re doing, it’s just not working for us. Is there something we can do to help?’”
How to reach: Backhaul Direct LLC, (800) 518-1664 or www.backhauldirect.com
Darla King founded King Business Interiors Inc. in 1998 on the principle of delivering customer service that exceeds clients’ expectations.
As a woman-owned commercial furnishings and flooring company serving Greater Central Ohio, King, the company’s president and CEO, is also a big believer in sustainability and developed an entire line of “green” workspace solutions for its clients. She also created an environmentally friendly program called “Connecting the Dots,” which collects reusable furniture from clients and distributes them to nonprofit and charitable organizations in need.
King was named one of 2010 Smart Leader honorees by Smart Business and Blue Technologies. We asked her how she overcomes challenges, innovates and gives back to the community.
Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.
Our big challenge was … getting rid of used furniture … how to sell it, move it or donate it so it will not take up space in our warehouse/distribution center. This is very common for furniture dealers, I have found, from our industry association friends. Do we start a separate retail operation? It did not fit our daily business model working business to business for our furniture sales.
We were dealing with bulk amounts — 50 used private offices, 100 stack chairs, 90 tables, 450 task chair, etc. … They take up space and don’t all stack well. When trying to sell them through an outlet store, it was time-consuming, personal expense waiting for traffic, and customers just needed one or two — not 50 or 100 units.
After having the opportunity to serve on a local nonprofit board, I realized the less than desirable office environments they were working within and saw a solution to both problems. We have an abundance of furnishings, and they need better furnishings. We started the ‘Connecting the Dots’ Program — we simply connect the needy organizations with the excess furnishings we have and make all parties happy. Our contribution is to understand their needs, design the space, deliver the product and make it happen. We have made so many organizations look more professional, become more productive and feel much better about their surroundings.
In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?
An innovative leader, for me, it is putting myself in our employees’ shoes and think what they would need and what can I offer. Sometimes I feel my role is the hostess or problem solver.
We have several young people starting families as they are a part of our company family, and this is so important to us and to them. Kids grow up fast, and we like to say, ‘Don’t miss a ballgame; … get out of work at whatever time you need to.’ They won’t rewind the tape. Our parents are very active with their kids including coaching their teams. Kids come first around here. … We love to watch them grow and are very family-focused. We are after all, a family business, our son, Chris, and our daughter, Chelsea, work with my husband and I here at King. Several of our kids come to work during breaks or if they are slightly ill and need to stay home. Most of our employees have access from their home computers as if they were sitting at their desk at work … so they can be present if they need to be for the children. Is that innovative? I don’t know — but it is part of our culture here.
The Smart Leaders class of 2010
In August, 2010, Smart Business and Blue Technologies recognized 14 business leaders for their commitment to business excellence and the impact their organizations make on the regional community. Treated to a keynote address by TechColumbus CEO Ted Ford, these 14 leaders comprised the honor roll:
- Michelle Adams, president, Prism Marketing
- Jeff Brock, general manager, Loth Inc.
- Tom Dailey, president, 2Checkout.com
- Jennifer Griffith, president, Commerce National Bank
- Darla King, owner, King Business Interiors
- Elizabeth Lessner, CEO, Betty’s Family of Restaurants
- Rick Milenthal, president, Engauge
- Michelle Mills, CEO, St. Stephen’s Community House
- Janis Mitchell, founder, Precise Resource
- Neil Mortine, president & CEO, Fahlgren Inc.
- Debra Penzone, president, Charles Penzone Family of Salons
- Joel Pizzuti, president, The Pizzuti Companies
- Bea Wolper, partner, Emens & Wolper
- Eric Zimmer, CEO, Tipping Point Renewable Energy
Nominate someone for the 2011 Smart Leaders today by contacting Dustin S. Klein at email@example.com. Honorees will be recognized during the summer 2011.