Roger Kent Featured

7:00pm EDT November 24, 2006

When he founded Rug Doctor, Roger Kent struggled to make headway against larger and more established companies, but he continued to fight by focusing on doing a better job and having a superior product. The formula worked, and today the 800 employees of Rug Doctor, which manufactures and sells carpet cleaning machines and supplies, generate $150 million in annual revenue. Smart Business spoke with Kent about how he maintains focus and why a lack of growth isn’t necessarily bad.

Build trust and care for employees. To build trust, it’s a day-to-day thing over a period of years — just your daily dealings with them, that’s what builds the trust. You can’t just hire somebody and say, ‘We’re a trustworthy company’ and then not show it.

If someone is associated with you for years and years and years, they know if you’re trustworthy or not because of what happens over a period of time.

We’re not the type of company that indiscriminately lets people go or changes or transfers people around the country to places they don’t want to live.

They stick around because they grew up with the company and have been treated fairly. If they want to go to another company, even if that company made them think they could get more money, they could be fired in six months when someone wants to reorganize. That happens all the time.

These companies are buying, selling, hiring, transferring people, and doing this and that. It’s like somebody upstairs just makes a lot of decisions without any real compassion for the results of the decision.

Don’t fear the plateaus. Just because you don’t have growth doesn’t mean that everyone’s not doing well. You can still make good money, and you can compensate your people without growth.

Sometimes you have a nice, profitable company, and you have to take time to work on other things, and you have good income from it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Wall Street likes to see growth quarter to quarter, like you’re walking up stairs, but private companies aren’t always that way. Some companies get themselves into trouble growing too fast.

Determine what assets you have to grow the company and look for acquisitions, too. If you do start working with something new, sometimes it takes time to develop it, market it and play it out. When you hit plateaus, be satisfied that the plateau is still a nice plateau to be at, and it’s still making you good money.

If you haven’t had growth for two or three years, or even little growth, you can be working on growth for the future and start going up stairs again looking for that next plateau.

Maintain focus. It’s easy to get sidetracked, but it’s just using good business practices to maintain it. People come up with ideas every day, but [you have to] realize that an idea is only one-tenth of 1 percent of something.

It takes a lot of execution, and you just can’t go deviating off on different things just because it sounds good. If you do, you just bog your company down. Our business is renting carpet cleaning machines; it’s a good business practice to stay focused on it. That’s how you ultimately build your company.

Don’t try everything. You ever read all the reports on heart attacks? If you take (a prescription drug), it reduces your chance of heart attack 30 percent. If you take an aspirin a day, it reduces your chance of heart attack 40 percent. If you take the cholesterol pills, it reduces your chance of heart attack 40 percent, and blah, blah, blah.

I could keep going until they come up with 400 percent, but if you do all those things, you’ve still got a chance of having a heart attack.

Business is like that, too. People come in your office all day long, and they can prove

that if you do this, it’s going to cut your expenses by this much. You can have hundreds of different people prove it, but if you did all those things, when you combine them, they wouldn’t cut your expenses that much and you would go broke trying to implement all those things and paying them for it.

Over the years, we’ve tried things and we waste money on it, and you don’t see any difference. You could have just as well let that money drop to the bottom line. Discern which ones will really benefit your company and what ones won’t when you combine them all together.

It takes a real qualified person to make those decisions and determine those things. You can’t teach somebody how to do that. You have to have a business mind, be good at it and have some experience at it, too.

If somebody has to make 1,000 decisions over a period of years, I can’t tell them how to make those decisions because I don’t know what all the circumstances are. It’s impossible to teach that to somebody.

Even if you could, it would take several years to sit them down and give them all your experiences. You can’t tell somebody how to do it in 10 or 15 minutes, and you probably couldn’t tell them in a year.

Look at the big picture. Have a broad vision and understanding of business and what will economically work and what will not. Somebody who’s very sales-oriented may say, ‘I can sell a million of these,’ but if it costs $1.30 to sell something that sells for a $1, you have to be able to put the broad picture together, understand and be able to know what your cost is and will the economics work for what you want to do.

Anybody can go into business and take in some money, but the question is, can you take in more money than you spend? That’s important. A lot of people over the years have brought up ideas, and once you look at the whole picture, I can determine it won’t work because the economics of it won’t work.

That’s an important thing in leadership and business.

HOW TO REACH: Rug Doctor, www.rugdoctor.com