As Royce Pulliam walked out of the gym he exercised at more than a decade ago, he was disgusted at its poor condition and told his wife he could do it better. He wasn’t just talking – he bought and opened his first gym in Lexington, Ky., just six months later.
“When I said that to myself and to my wife 17 years ago, I didn’t know what I meant. But I knew I could have a facility that was clean, had good equipment and offered a good service,” Pulliam says.
While those were good starting points, he is now the owner and CEO of Urban Active, a brand consisting of 38 clubs in seven states. Years of subsequent growth have given him greater insight into the needs of a larger company encompassing multiple locations.
The most important component for growth is choosing a successful location. Establish criteria you deem essential and evaluate potential sites against them.
“We look at competition, we look at the education of the demographic in a three-mile ring, we look at population density in that market and we look at income,” Pulliam says.
“Once those four things match up, if the lay of the land changes at all or the design changes, we’re nimble enough that we can work with the model and tweak it. But if it doesn’t fit with the main criteria, we won’t pass it.”
While expanding, maintain strong investment in existing company locations to ensure a solid foundation, and choose new locations with traveling distance in mind.
“We were definitely going to continue to develop out our existing territories, but also to geographically try to expand into neighboring states that were an hour, hour and a half flight time away and easy for our people to get to,” Pulliam says of his initial growth plan.
Another component of growth is the challenge to maintain effective communication with clients.
“We expected all the club-level people to get the information up the ladder, and as we grew, we found that that became more challenging,” he says.
“It was just taking too long and there were too many middle people, and that’s what happens with companies until you go straight out and put yourself out there.”
To improve communication, empower customers to contact senior executives directly through email. Back up the gesture by making sure each concern is addressed.
“(Another CEO told me) ‘It’s a gutsy thing to do but it’s the right thing to do, because everybody needs to have access and you need to know.’”
Although management must strive to be directly informed, growth challenges the ability of executives to control all areas of business. This makes investing in employees instrumental to success, as they will be working directly with customers.
“You’ve got to trust your people. You can train them, you can spend endless hours, but they’ve got to execute,” Pulliam says.
Hire friendly, energetic employees who can set customers at ease. Instruct employees to smile and wear name badges to make them seem more accessible.
“I want our members to be able to walk up to someone and know their name – not have to ask what their names are. We have a lot of members in our facilities and I want them to feel comfortable.”
How to reach: Urban Active, (877) 824-3571 or www.urbanactive.com
After years in the industry, Mike Broderick realized that audience response technology could be applied to benefit education in a meaningful way. He decided to found Turning Technologies, a company focused on building a response solution geared to and focused on education at all levels.
Over the past 10 years, he has managed just that, growing his Youngstown, Ohio-based company into a multimillion-dollar industry leader. Broderick, the company’s president and CEO, says the most important ingredient to starting a company is vision, to be able to “understand and articulate what you’re going to accomplish as a company.” But he also says it takes much more to build a company successfully from the ground up.
Identify challenges and solutions
To transition audience response technology from use in corporate meetings and events to education, Broderick knew he had to develop a way to provide the technology in a format that would be easy to use, affordable and compatible with other classroom tools.
But even after successfully developing a product, Broderick says the challenge of establishing credibility remains for any start-up company. In order to sell his learning solution to schools and universities, Broderick had to convince them the technology was a viable solution from a long-term, sustainable business that would be there to support them.
“That was probably the biggest issue,” he says. “We overcame that gradually over time through a lot of partnering, and likely a lot of product giveaways, building stories to tell.”
Document how your solution effectively meets a need
To earn credibility, a company needs to effectively document how its solution improved a legitimate need, Broderick says. For Turning Technologies, the need was achievement in education. After developing a product designed to engage every student in the classroom and ensure each one is learning, the company had to test its effectiveness.
Broderick got Turning Technologies involved in implementation studies that measured the results of using the company’s products. The studies found that if used effectively, test scores, as well as student learning and engagement, improved. What was more, students liked using the product.
“Publishing that information and getting that message out was obviously key in seeing rapid uptake and continues to be,” he says.
Define your role as a leader and hire the right employees
After establishing his product, Broderick realized he had to focus on his leadership style and grow his staff. He decided to manage his company pragmatically, with the idea that his most important job as CEO was finding, challenging and encouraging employees. He says successful leader needs to recognize his or her own limitations, hiring others to complement strengths and compensate for weaknesses.
“That’s probably one of the biggest reasons for failure, the tendency of an entrepreneur to try and replicate himself in key members around him,” Broderick says. “That’s the last thing that we need. What we need are people who are different, people who can bring new and complementary things to the table. Recognizing your own limitations is probably one of your biggest strengths as a successful entrepreneur.”
When hiring employees, Broderick says he recruits strategically through networking to find the right people. By being well connected within its industry, a company will know who the key players are.
To hire quality employees, a company needs to be willing to pay above market rates. Promoting within the company, when possible, is also important to maintaining an invested staff. A successful employee doesn’t see work as a job but as an opportunity for a successful, lifetime career, Broderick says.
Establishing a leadership style and hiring the right employees to fill out a business isn’t where the process ends, however. As a company grows, a leader must take a step back and let his role evolve. Broderick says a successful leader gives up authority as employees grow into their own roles, maintaining influence by focusing on the “big picture” of the company and how its pieces interrelate.
Treat clients as partners
Creating strong relationships with clients is just as important as having a strong employee foundation. Broderick approaches every client relationship as a partnership, whether a single school, major district or university.
“We listen and we’re involved with our clients,” he says. “We have a sort of holistic approach to client relationships. We do things that may seem like no-brainers, but our clients absolutely love (them).”
One such no-brainer is providing tech support from a local call center. To provide the best customer service, customers must be able to talk to a support agent who is intimately familiar with the product and dedicated solely to providing support, Broderick says. Having a local call center also limits customers encountering communication barriers
To ensure customer satisfaction with products and services, companies should acknowledge customer feedback from sources such as Net Promoter Scores, he says, as well as solicit feedback themselves.
Realize it’s not an overnight process
Even seemingly “sudden successes” have years of effort behind them, as with Turning Technologies. Broderick says the first three years of starting any company will be difficult as a company tackles the above-mentioned steps while trying to find sources of revenue.
“Looking back today, quitting wasn’t an option,” he says. “I didn’t have a plan B in my mind of what I would do if it didn’t work. And I almost wonder that if I did, if Turning would exist today. There will be tough times and a lot of days where you come to work and just slog through it, but that’s the perspective the entrepreneur needs.”
How to reach: Turning Technologies, (866) 746-3015 or www.turningtechnologies.com