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.”
Although it’s the best-selling brand for fillo dough and mini fillo shells in the country, Athens Foods Inc. still faces a challenge to distinguish itself in the marketplace.
Because it faces tough competition from brands such as Pepperidge Farm and Pillsbury, the company has to work hard to create a marketing campaign to encourage consumers to buy its products, says Bill Buckingham.
“Those folks have deep pockets, and we don’t have the funds like they have,” says Buckingham, Athens’ vice president of sales and marketing. “But we do have a marketing strategy, and it’s important that our sales force goes out and talks to our customers and conveys our message that this is what Athens is doing in terms of educating their customers.”
For several years, Athens has been working with Benghiat Marketing & Communications on its evolving marketing plan, using Benghiat’s smart marketing approach, which creates results for clients based on attainable and measurable goals and helps them better understand their customers.
Buckingham meets each August with Benghiat’s founder and president Russell Benghiat and with Athens’ Chairman Eric Moscahlaidis to begin the process of developing the strategy for the coming year for the 200-employee company.
“It’s not something you put together in a couple of weeks; it takes months of planning,” Buckingham says.
“We define the problem or opportunity in terms of customers, competitors, organization or production capabilities, and then establish clear and measurable goals and objectives,” Buckingham says.
Establish longer-term goals first, and then determine what needs to be accomplished each year to ultimately accomplish those goals.
“It is helpful to create quarterly goals to break down the process,” Buckingham says. “It may also be necessary to incorporate research if all of the necessary answers are not known.”
Once the plan is complete, Athens executives meet with the sales force to explain the plan.
“It’s a trickle-down effect,” Buckingham says. “We start with our sales force, the sales force educates our direct buying customers, and then we leave it up to Benghiat to educate the consumers.”
Executing a marketing plan requires extensive communication. Athens uses a blend of traditional and new media advertising, public relations and direct-to-consumer outreach programs to promote the use of its products. It employs press events, Internet news, a consumer recipe contest and an online community for consumers to chat with each other.
Once the plan has been implemented, measuring results is imperative to judge its effectiveness. Each month, Athens receives a summary of the number of visitors to its Web site to gauge how many new consumers it is reaching; in a single year, the company has had as many as 1 million hits.
But even after you’ve gone through the process of creating, communicating and implementing your marketing plan, you’re still not done. A good plan isn’t something that you do once and never look at again. Instead, you need to revisit it frequently to make sure you are working toward your goals.
Do your research and listen to your customers to identify whether changes in your market require adjustments to your plan. For example, Athens identified that its consumers had nutritional concerns and, as a result, changed its product to make it healthier. The company also reduced its packaging size to meet retailer needs and to better fit on store shelves.
Implementing a marketing plan can help increase both sales and consumer awareness, says Buckingham, as well as give you goals to reach for. And by keeping a constant eye on the plan, you can continue to find new ways to implement it to make buyers more aware of your service or product.
HOW TO REACH: Athens Foods Inc., (800) 837-5683 or www.athens.com
Finding a good marketing partner
Working with a partner can help make your marketing planning process easier, says Russell Benghiat, founder and president of Benghiat Marketing & Communications.
Here, Benghiat shares his tips for finding a marketing partner that works for you.
- Look at results. “As you’re talking to them, find out what measurable results can they obtain for you. The more clarity of purpose there is, the better job they’ll do for you and the more responsible you can hold them and the more focused you will be.”
- Test their knowledge. “What is their knowledge of their business and your industry and needs or knowledge of the specific situation?”
- Determine what type of relationship you’ll have. “Do you want a firm that can be a consultant, an adviser to you and lead you, or do you have all the planning you need in-house and want someone who can say, ‘Do this brochure.’”
- Test the chemistry. “How well do you click? You want to look at the specific team you’ll be working with at the firm, not just the people who are coming out to sell to you because those are the people you’re going to be in contact with day in and day out.”
- Get referrals. “Ask for referrals from similarly situated companies in your industry but those who are not competitors. Talk with your current partners and vendors ... people who you trust and admire and can ask, ‘Who’s doing a good job for your key customers?’”
HOW TO REACH: Benghiat Marketing & Communications, (216) 831-8580 or www.benghiat.com
Focus is a key word in the business world. Focus on finding the right people to hire. Focus on meeting the goals that you set at the beginning of the year. Focus on sticking to your budget.
In group purchasing, however, too much focus can be a killer, Dennis Burns says.
“If everybody comes in saying, ‘This is what I do, and this is the way I do it,’ it’s never going to happen,” Burns says.
“In order to make it work, everybody needs to come together with an open mind, a willingness to change and a willingness to look at things differently than they looked at them in the past.”
Burns is the strategic procurement manager at The Lubrizol Corp. The $4.5 billion specialty chemical company is a founding member of Corporate United, a group purchasing organization that brings companies together to help save money on things they all need to buy.
Burns says the development of faith and trust among partners is one of the keys to making group purchasing work. You have to look beyond your own needs.
“You need to realize that if the whole group benefits, you’re benefiting, as well, and don’t try to monopolize it and get all the benefits for yourself,” Burns says. “You can’t be cutthroat.
“Let’s say it would take me 40 man-hours to source a commodity, and it would take my neighbor down the street 40 hours to source a commodity. If we do it together, it’s going to take us 60 hours, but only 30 hours each. So we’re actually saving time. Even if you go part-way down a path and something doesn’t go anywhere, basically, it was a couple meetings and a couple hours each.”
A good first step for a company wanting to get involved in a group purchasing program is to talk to someone who has experience doing it. Get a few companies together — it’s best if the other companies aren’t your direct competitors — and have a meeting.
“You have to have several companies who agree that, ‘Yes, it’s something worth exploring,’” Burns says. “Somebody is going to have to make the first call and take the lead.”
When you meet, brainstorm about products or services that every company needs to buy on a regular basis.
“What happens is everybody has more ideas than they could possibly ever work on,” Burns says. “You throw out a dozen items each, and you have a hundred ideas. Fairly quickly, you say, ‘I can’t work on all 100, but it would be easy to work on this one.’ ... We don’t go in with a preconceived notion of what the final commodity is going to be. Therefore, we don’t waste a whole lot of time trying to force it to work. We move on to the next one.”
Communication is key. Talk about what it is you’re looking for and have somebody in your group do the research and report back on the findings.
“We talk about our specifications and our requirements and how long we use them and what we use them for and come up with common specifications,” Burns says. “All those upfront conditions and internal issues are actually addressed upfront.”
Through the flow of communication, you develop trust. You also get to know each other and what needs your partners in the consortium have. And while your company may not benefit from the purchase of light bulbs, perhaps you’ve been looking for a deal on safety glasses.
The key is to look beyond both the light bulbs and safety glasses and see the bigger picture.
“Just keep brainstorming the ideas until something clicks,” Burns says.
Keeping it friendly
It’s a lot easier to build camaraderie with corporate partners when you’re not working in direct competition, says Dennis Burns, strategic procurement manager at The Lubrizol Corp.
“You would be cutthroat, and you would not want the other members to get the benefits,” Burns says. “Most of the commodities we’re buying are not of strategic importance. We’re buying the stuff everybody uses that no one of us considers a strategic advantage. You don’t have that distrust of each other.”
In addition to trust, you also need to accept both the good and the bad that come with being part of a team.
“If you and I are both in a consortium, your problem is my problem, also,” Burns says. “There needs to be that all-forone type of mentality. If we’ve got 10 members and we’re each doing 10 percent of the total, and one of them starts having problems or issues, I might say that’s not my problem. But if I do that, all of a sudden my volume is 90 percent of what it used to be because that person dropped out, and now I’m not getting as good a price as I might have gotten.
“There does need to be the realization of speaking for one another and helping one another.”
HOW TO REACH: The Lubrizol Corp., (440) 943-4200 or www.lubrizol.com
Name recognition is critical to a company’s success, and having Arnold Schwarzenegger associated with your company certainly helps increase the odds that people know its name.
At Global Fitness Holdings LLC, growing that name and brand recognition is the task Royce Pulliam faces every time the company opens a Gold’s Gym in a new market. “If you took a look at our industry, on a global picture, and you took one out of every 10 people who are familiar with fitness and you did a brand awareness test, Gold’s Gym wins by 70 percent brand recognition,” says the CEO and founder of Global Fitness Holdings, which owns the Gold’s Gym franchising rights for Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.
Pulliam will be spreading the gym’s recognition through its new location slated to open early this year at Westlake’s Crocker Park and at future spots in Rocky River and Legacy Village. “Typically, when we go in and do marketing, we have a really professionally designed component trailer,” he says. “It’s kind of a modular. We’ll have the public come in during construction, four months out from opening, and we’ll do this big blitz. We’ll let people know that we are coming, and this is what we do.”
Although Gold’s association with Schwarzenegger may conjure up certain images about the gym’s customers, Pulliam markets his franchises as a family-oriented place to exercise. “There’s much more awareness on fitness for kids and child obesity,” he says. “People are paying a lot more attention to that, especially at the club level. We’re adding a lot more programs and equipment to become more of a full-service solution for all the families. “There’s a lot of glitz and glamour and amenities for people, a lot of energy and high-tech stuff to keep it fresh,” he says.
As the number of locations grows, Pulliam believes in studying each location carefully before and during the negotiation process. “We do a lot of diligence,” he says. “We investigate and spend a lot of time on every site and through demographic studies. It’s endless, time and time again, until we buy property.”
While it’s important to stay true to your business model, Pulliam says it is also all right to step a little outside the box.
“We’ve done some projects where we’ve tied in retail, an office component, some mixed-use instead of a stand-alone gym,” he says.
Pulliam says management should never be so confident in a company’s success that it forgets the basics. To continue to have a strong brand in any market or business, no matter what you do, you make a marketing and advertising budget a priority, he says. “Keep the brand out there and keep it fresh and have new promotions tied to it,” he says. “I don’t think we step back and smell the roses. When you are growing your company, it’s not time to pat yourself on the back.”
HOW TO REACH: Global Fitness Holdings, (859) 281-5110
McCann and another person started Vocon in 1988 as an interior architecture firm. Since then, it has expanded into all facets of architecture and design, and has grown to 51 employees.
“It’s hard to get employees, and it’s hard to retain employees,” McCann says. “So what we are saying to folks is, ‘Your lease is coming due in a year-and-a-half. You need to look at ways to create more of a brand for your company, as opposed to just building office space, and create a culture that helps you attract and retain employees.’
“It’s not limited to just the young folks anymore. Everybody is looking for a culture that promotes the team.”
One idea for improving an office setting is to have a caf instead of a traditional lunch room, McCann says.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people say, ‘I don’t want a caf. It’s not productive,’” she says. “Yes, it is productive. Your folks aren’t walking downstairs or next door or over two blocks to get a cup of coffee. They actually feel that they have gone to a space different than their office, which is 30 seconds from where they sit. They can actually sit down in that space.”
McCann said Vocon’s caf helps foster relationships.
“I don’t have a door on my office and I am 25 feet from our caf,” she says. “People ask, ‘Isn’t it bothersome that folks are sitting there all day long chatting and talking?’
“It isn’t. If I see someone I need to talk to, they are right there. And it promotes that whole feeling of team and openness within an organization.
“We have meetings in our caf. We don’t just use it for lunch. All day long, when I need to talk to somebody, I’ll walk right out there, they’ll grab a Diet Coke and you sit down and you can really get to know somebody in a more casual environment than locking yourself into a traditional conference room.”
The wrong office set-up can hinder communications among employees.
“That means no cross-marketing is going on,” she says. “You may have a client that’s come to you for PR, but that PR team isn’t saying, ‘By the way, we can do your advertising.’ By changing the culture, you also promote more collaboration, promote cross-marketing, which in today’s market is critical.”
But McCann warns that no matter how good your intentions, there will still be someone complaining.
“When you are trying to change or alter culture in any environment, there’s always a level of stress because you’re never going to be able to satisfy everybody,” McCann says. “Part of our job is to find that zone where you to try to listen to everyone and come up with a solution that touches the masses.
“You’ll never please everybody, but, in general, you try to push an organization as far as you can without upsetting their core business.”
HOW TO REACH: Vocon, www.vocon.com
“You want to be successful in today’s marketplace; (and) whether you’re selling widgets or zippers, you just need to have service,” says Peter Miragliotta, CEO of security company Tenable Protective Services.
Miragliotta’s approach to service has enabled the Cleveland-based company to grow revenue from $870,000 to more than $17 million in the last 13 years. The company has also opened offices in Akron, Toledo, Cincinnati, Columbus and Detroit.
Tenable Protective Services provides security and guest services for Cleveland Browns Stadium, among other clients, and in April it was awarded a contract with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Here Miragliotta shares the business techniques and ideas that have enabled his success.
Treat every client like it is your best client.
Treating clients equally is a great way to build loyalty, especially with smaller clients who may have felt snubbed by other vendors in the past.
“Whether we’re doing eight hours of security or we’re providing 1,000 hours worth of ushers, everyone is our No. 1 client,” Miragliotta says. “Nobody gets slighted. My management knows to take care of all of them equally, to the best of our ability.”
Listen and communicate. “As we went around and listened to (new clients), we kept getting (told) this same thing that basically companies were telling them what they needed, instead of asking them and working with them,” Miragliotta says. “Our management have learned to sit there and ask the client what they want, and then we know that we need to adapt.”
This doesn’t mean you can’t offer guidance or suggestions, but you need to ask lots of questions to determine what’s going to make your client happy.
“It’s communication, both on the top end and on the bottom end with your client to find out exactly what the expectations of your client are and where they see things and where their priorities are,” he says. “Then communicate that to your work force and say, ‘Look, this is what’s important to our client. This is why.’”
Offer customized solutions. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to service. You’ve got to be prepared to offer each client a specialized plan that’s customized to their needs.
“In Cleveland, the way we handle a rib cook-off will be different from the way a promoter may want something at the IX Center,” he says. “At the IX Center, all those shows have a different promoter, and each one of those promoters all have a different priority system.”
Here’s your opportunity to offer suggestions. For example, Tenable worked with the Browns to come up with a wheelchair response team. When patrons in need of assistance get to the gate, someone is dispatched with a wheelchair to assist them in getting to their seat.
It’s a simple premise that requires little additional effort on the part of Tenable, but the idea was received with delight, Miragliotta says.
Be accessible. People are tired of calling a company with questions or concerns and speaking to a machine or not getting the immediate help they need. That’s why Miragliotta gives every client his personal cell phone number.
“If you’ve got a problem and it’s not resolved within my chain of command, I’ll be here,” he says. “It might take me a day a two, but I’ll get in front of you and you can tee off on me if you need to. By my senior staff members and my junior and mid-level staff managers knowing that, that sparks them to answer our clients’ questions.”
HOW TO REACH: Tenable Protective Services, (877) 836-2253
If you have a database of customers, you can probably use it to increase your sales. All it takes is a little planning and a little cleaning up.
“The Cavs took the right approach,” says Gary Seitz, executive vice president of Strongsville-based C.TRAC information solutions. “They started with their existing database and started doing some hygiene on it. Everyone has a database of names and addresses, but you have to clean it up first to meet postal standards. You have to identify who has moved and where everyone is located so you can reach them with your message the first time. Once you have a clean database and have eliminated duplicates, you can start doing profiles.”
Information from multiple sources is combined to give you a more complete picture of each customer. With that in hand, you can figure out what type of person or customer is most likely to buy your product or service.
“It gives you a better handle on who your customers are and allows you to niche market to specific groups,” says Seitz.
By using the right information collection techniques and some database management, you can create a profile based on just about anything: Industry, SIC code, sales size or number of employees. Take the profile of your best customers and target similar companies with your marketing efforts to maximize sales.
“As clients get larger ... they have all sorts of different arms, which you as the corporate finance lawyer might not be thinking about,” says Hill, managing partner of the 140-attorney firm. “Start trying to create relationships with some of the other individuals within that client who are in different areas of the business.”
For example, a client for whom you handle tax planning may also need help with employment law or intellectual property law.
“If I’m a corporate finance attorney, my likelihood of going out to lunch with the woman who’s head of HR may be fairly remote,” says Hill. “However, if I start thinking about and talking to the principals about, ‘OK, well, who does your employment law work?’ or, ‘You should know more about our employment law work’ ... they begin to not have 14 different law firms but maybe three or four, and maybe ultimately one or two.”
This kind of business development approach is a win-win for both the service provider and the client, says Hill.
“Nobody of those 14 [other firms], with rare exception, has a real understanding of your total business,” says Hill, a fact that he points out to clients looking to consolidate service providers. “And there’s no real consistency between what one firm does and what another firm does.”
Hill says this targeted approach can be applied to any professional service firm, especially those whose employees have individual goals and who aren’t working as effectively as they could be as a team. It’s a matter of getting employees to change the tunnel-like vision they often work with and stop concentrating on how just their specialty can help their company.
“There’s statistics that really show dramatically how much more effective account management is with a team versus people hoarding (clients),” says Hill. “The profitability of firms that actually do this kind of team account management are so significantly higher than firms that still have four or five rainmakers who hoard the clients and say, ‘These are my clients, and you can work on them, but don’t ever think about getting too close to them.’”
It’s also a great tool for customer retention, because clients aren’t looking at one lawyer or one sales representative as the sole person in the company they should be dealing with.
“Over time, you develop a stronger bond, they know more of your people,” says Hill. “So if Jim Hill got hit by a bus or Jim Hill left to go to another law firm, there still are other relationships within the firm that may very well keep that client at the firm versus just packing up his business and going somewhere else.”
This business approach also has allowed employees at Benesch to gain confidence in their ability to create business relationships for the firm.
“It’s more comfortable because you may be initiating a relationship with the head of HR, but you already know there’s a lot of people (at your company) who know people within that organization,” says Hill. “So, you’re not just calling somebody up out of the blue who doesn’t know you or your firm from Adam and saying, ‘Why don’t you come out to lunch with me and I’ll tell you all about our employment law practices.’”
HOW TO REACH: Benesch Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff LLP, www.bfca.com
It found the answer in international markets.
“Our focus is design and production of communication products for harsh environments,” says Jon Adams, president of Garfield-Heights based Ultra Electronics Audiopack. “Our goal from the outset was to be the world leader in that niche. We started with that goal, and we always wanted to look internationally.”
Adams began searching for potential customers in overseas markets, targeting customer bases similar to those it markets to in the United States, including firefighters, HAZMAT crews and other first responders.
“We began to understand the key players in our market worldwide by attending trade shows, by reading periodicals, by talking with distributors in our field,” he says. “We looked at the competitive landscape worldwide. You want to verify that the product you have is of interest to someone. You want to identify potential customers and visit those customers to validate the interest in your product, and it starts to build relationships. If you have a customer that is really interested in what you have, they will often help you out through the build-up phase.
“We identified potential customers in Europe and then in Asia, and then began to reach out to those potential customers to show them products we had designed and understand their needs.”
That outreach enables companies to identify what elements of their products will be successful and what elements might need modifications or improvements to make the product more marketable or conform to international regulations, he says.
“The certifications in both Asia and Europe differ slightly from the U.S.,” says Adams. “We had to learn how to design products to meet international product certifications for the markets we serve.”
Because of the nature of the company’s products, Ultra Electronics Audiopack had to take a hands-on marketing strategy and work closely with sales agents and distributors as well as directly with customers.
“We’re not really selling a consumer product,” says Adams, “so it’s much more directive to us to make sales calls, demonstrate products and work more directly with products internationally.”
Adams says company leaders also should look at ways to work with competitors who already have a strong stake in the market they want to enter, especially if their products complement each other. For example, Ultra Electronics Audiopack has had success selling in Japan through Kawasaki, the largest supplier of self-contained breathing apparatuses to the fire service in Asia. Ultra Electronics Audiopack makes a heads-up display that integrates with Kawasaki’s apparatus and tells firefighters how much air is left in their tanks.
“This was a technology that we had already developed,” Adams says. “So we took that technology to potential users worldwide. I think to the extent we can cooperate, then there’s mutual benefit working with competitors.”
The company has also had success in Italy, France, Singapore and Norway.
“I think there’s more resistance to sourcing products from that kind of distance than I had originally thought,” he says. “A big part of what we have had to do is find ways to minimize the perceived risk. Part of it is building the relationship, which happens over time. Part of it is having a good reputation and an innovative product that they can’t get elsewhere.”
HOW TO REACH: Ultra Electronics Audiopack, http://www.ultra-ap.com or (216) 332-7040
St. Barnabas, known best for its extensive housing and health services aimed at the elderly, is trying to attract some "youngsters."
It looks like a smart move, since the health system is playing to its strengths while reaching out to a slightly different and more affluent segment of the growing elderly population.
To bring the younger retiree population into its system, St. Barnabas is building the Woodlands at St. Barnabas, a complex of single-story homes on a 42-acre site on its Valencia Woods Nursing Center campus. The system broke ground last month on the first four-unit structure, expected to be completed by September. Seven additional buildings are in the plan, which will mean a total of 32 homes in the development.
St. Barnabas says the attraction will be the low-maintenance requirements, housekeeping services and accessibility to the restaurant and social activities at The Village at St. Barnabas, its 252-unit community for people over the age of 65.
St. Barnabas also will have an opportunity to cultivate a group of retirees who, as they age, will likely need additional services and may find comfort in assimilating into other parts of its health system, such as The Village at St. Barnabas.