Relationship builder Featured

8:00pm EDT July 28, 2006
 Jim Anderson likes to think of himself as “a propellerhead with a personality.”

And as founder and president of Urban Science Inc., he prefers to hire people like himself. He’s had plenty of opportunity to do just that, as his company’s revenue has grown from $47.5 million in 2003 to $65 million in 2005.

Today, his consulting firm — which combines scientific analysis and marketing expertise to help companies evaluate, structure and manage their retail sales channels — employs 400 people across the globe and 170 locally.

Anderson expects 2006 revenue to hit $72 million.

Smart Business spoke with Anderson about how he focuses on vision, mission and strategy to grow his company.

What advice would you give other business owners who are trying to grow their company?
Understand how you are competing for your business. I like to compete by having innovative products that nobody else has that the customer really needs and wants to buy. That’s not the only way to be successful but that’s what we try to do.

It’s so important to understand your competitive edge. Are you competing on price or quality of service? What is it that makes you different, and ideally, unique?

You need a vision of where you’re trying to go. You need cornerstone strategies that, when successfully implemented, will produce that vision. Then you need to take those strategies one at a time and develop a more tactical plan to achieve the goals.

I challenge many people in my life to tell me what their vision of the world is, and the answer back typically is, ‘What do you mean by that?’ If you don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to get there?

You’ve got to know where you’re going, and then you’ve got to stick to the path.

How do you ensure customers are completely satisfied?
You have to talk to them, and you have to build a relationship with them. When you don’t have the right relationship, they tell you they’re not satisfied by not being loyal, and they go somewhere else.

But when you have that right relationship, they’ll tell you, and you have to be responsive immediately.

How do you ensure that responsiveness?
We measure customer satisfaction on a systematic basis twice a year, but on an ongoing basis with our employees talking to our clients. When you have highly satisfied clients, they not only tell you that but they bring to you new opportunities.

When they see you as a resource to help them solve their business problems, that’s when the relationship becomes strong.

How do you grow as a business owner?
I have a couple of management consultant mentors, and I try very hard to hire people better than me to be on my team and listen carefully when they are critical of me. I establish objective goals, not only for my employees but for myself, and if I’m in danger of not achieving the goal, I re-evaluate my strategies.

How do management consultants benefit a business?
They challenge you. Any time you’re challenged on your philosophies, goals or strategies, if you keep coming back with the same answer, and it’s successful, that’s confirmation that it’s right.

But if your strategies are not producing the results you’re looking for, something’s wrong, and you have to figure it out.

My training was not in business; it was in engineering. I don’t claim to know all of the things you need to know on how to run a business, so I enjoy talking to people who have that expertise and learning from it.

How do you measure employees’ understanding of your growth strategy?
Productivity of our people is something that’s easily calculated. Customer satisfaction is something we measure and report objectively.

For each of our cornerstone strategies, we have these objective measures, and we have a vision for where we want the company to be regarding each of those measures. We’re always working toward either achieving that vision, or if we’re already there, maintaining our status as having achieved the vision.

The growth strategy is very much based on building long-term relationships of increasing value through completely satisfied customers. Not just highly satisfied, but completely satisfied.

HOW TO REACH: Urban Science Inc., (800) 321-6900 or www.urbanscience.com