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Saturday, 30 June 2012 20:01

Concert and business: Two-part harmony

I recently had the opportunity to attend a Keith Urban concert. I had never attended one of his concerts and I’m not a huge fan of country music, but I thought it would be fun and an enjoyable night.

As the concert started, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the experience and how much I learned about business during the show. Let me explain the comparisons that I see between a Keith Urban concert and a successful business:

  • Communicate: Urban addressed the crowd a bunch of times during the night with a fun story and a clear message.
  • Use surprises: Urban walked into the crowd playing his guitar. In fact, he did this with security to the other end of the stadium. Lots of performers do this — but I have never seen one give away his guitar. At the end of the song, he gave his guitar to a fan!
  • Use the latest technology: Urban had some cool video screens behind him that reinforced his message and kept everyone’s interest for the entire concert.
  • Highlight individuality: Urban did an amazing job introducing his band and their talent. Every lead singer will do this, but Urban really personalized them and genuinely looked like he was having a great time.
  • Flexibility: Urban jumped around and was very flexible. OK, maybe this is a reach, but don’t we want our businesses to be flexible?
  • Leave your customers wanting more: Urban did two encores, and at the end of the second one, not one person out of the 20,000 people in the audience wanted to leave. Clearly, everyone left wanting more.
  • Create raving fans: Urban did just that. The tweets, the posts on Facebook and the discussions that everyone had because of that night will pay enormous dividends in the future. I’m sure most of the younger attendees downloaded Urban’s songs from iTunes that night, and the older ones went to Best Buy the next day and bought a CD.
  • Use PR: Everything Urban did was highlighted on the video screens. He gave away his guitar; it was highlighted. He walked into the crowd; it was highlighted. He brought someone up on stage; it was highlighted.
  • Engage the audience: Somehow, some way Urban seemed to notice everything in the crowd. A sign in the top deck of the stadium. A shirt that someone was wearing. Two people dancing to his music. I’m sure his staff worked very hard at this. Who knows, maybe some of it was staged, but it was well done and it made people feel special. Isn’t that the exact message we want our business to convey to our clients?
  • Involve the past: During the evening, Urban highlighted and spoke about Waylon Jennings and The Beatles. He mentioned how much they helped him with his music and how much he respected them. In business, we should all be doing this with former leaders or influencers of our companies.
  • Have fun: I’m not sure who had more fun, Urban or his audience. He was engaged with what he was doing the entire time he was on stage. Clearly, it was his goal to give everyone a memorable night, and his goal was accomplished.

Keith Urban is a great talent but probably a better showman and businessperson. His concert was an amazing night. He gave so much of himself during his performance. Every aspect of his show was about his fans and ensuring that he delivered a picture-perfect performance and experience.

I took away so much from his concert. I hope this piece enables every reader to take away at least one good idea or tidbit of information to help their business. <<

Merrill Dubrow is president and CEO of M/A/R/C Research, located in Dallas. The company is one of the top 25 market research companies in the U.S. Dubrow is a sought-after speaker and has been writing a blog for more than four years. He can be reached at merrill.dubrow@marcresearch.com or at (972) 983-0416.

Published in Dallas

David Hoffmann has never tried to make DHR International Inc. the most affordable executive search firm in the market. His goal since launching the firm in 1989 has been to provide the most value to his clients.

And despite an economy that still has some business leaders feeling skittish about their finances, Hoffmann says his philosophy about pricing still fits.

“The overall competitive global landscape that we are all dealing with today makes price a secondary issue,” says Hoffmann, founder, chairman and CEO at the 410-employee firm.

“[Clients] are more interested in something that can change the marketplace and give them a competitive advantage that before this product or service offering, they didn’t have. In almost any business you can think of, they are all going after market share.”

Pricing may be more important in some industries and less important in others. But however your clients feel about your costs, how can you get them to really focus on the great value that your company wants to provide them through your product or service?

“If you’re going to have that ‘McDonald’s hamburger’ around the world, you need to be consistent,” Hoffmann says. “Any great company has a consistency with its message and a consistency with its product. General Motors is a big client of ours and those cars are distributed all around the world.

“They pretty much function the same in any part of the world as they do in Detroit where they are manufactured. Consistency of quality and consistency of brand is critical when you’re thinking about growing a company at any level.”

That doesn’t mean that you come up with one way to do something and then never change. It means you’re consistent about how your product is presented, consistent about how it is packaged and consistent about the way you respond to concerns.

“We say, ‘Look, not only are we going to find you the best executive to fill this need, but we’re going to tell you how we did it, demonstrate how we did it and build a competency that tells you that this is not just a good candidate, this is the best candidate on the planet and here’s why,’” Hoffmann says.

You need to be the kind of company that clients know they can turn to for anything and you’ll come through for them. You build a reputation and they just expect you to come up with great results.

Those results don’t just come from your own initiative, however. They come from an intense and consistent study of your competition.

“One needs to look at the competition and say, ‘OK, where are they weak?’” Hoffmann says.

Go back to the time when you launched or took over your business and identified a need you wanted to tackle in the marketplace.

“You had to see a need or why would you have started the business?” Hoffmann says. “I would define those needs and then I would exploit those needs in terms of messages to the marketplace. It could be that my widget has a lifespan that is 50 percent longer than the next competitor’s lifespan. Be able to demonstrate that is factually correct.”

The key is you’re constantly focused on your product or service and never assuming that you’ve got it all figured out.

“One needs to explore their competition, analyze their weaknesses, create a product around those weaknesses and exploit it to the potential customer base in a way that is going to be effective through advertising, marketing or media placements,” Hoffmann says.

“You have to be adaptable to change in a changing environment and evolve, but keep the fundamentals of that business intact. At the same time, you have to be anchored to that which made you successful in the first place.”

Being consistently great is never easy, but it’s what your goal needs to be. Don’t be afraid to use your team to make it happen.

“It’s getting everybody together and saying, ‘Look, in 30 days, let’s go out and figure out what our competition is doing and see how we can differentiate,’” Hoffmann says. “It’s not a bad starting point.”

How to reach: DHR International Inc., (312) 782-1581 or www.dhrinternational.com

Do your homework

Studying your competition is a very different thing than copying what they are doing. You’re trying to take what they do and do it better, says David Hoffmann, founder, chairman and CEO at DHR International Inc.

“The way I did it is I looked at our competition that was much bigger than us and I looked at their outlets that they utilized to get their message out,” Hoffmann says. “So we looked at the competition of the big five search firms in the world. Today, we’re one of those.

“Look at who is doing it really well, look at where they are going and take aspects that you think you can capitalize on in whatever business endeavor you’re in. Some of those will be attainable and some of them won’t.”

Hoffmann knew he couldn’t replicate the kind of advertising campaigns of companies such as Coca-Cola or Budweiser. But he found ways to sell his brand in a way fit his budget.

“There is just a whole host of ways to get one’s name and brand to the marketplace,” Hoffmann says. “You’ve just got to see what fits.”

Published in Chicago

Laboratories with tanning booths?

That’s what Lewis Shender sees. The president and CEO of Sewell, N.J.-based Hollywood Tans sees his chain of tanning salon franchises as a nationwide collection of 140 labs conducting experiments in marketing and customer service.

“Each of our locations does things a little differently,” Shender says. “Ultimately, the stuff that does work, the stuff that does not work, people find out about that. It sort of reaches its own level at some point. I think insisting on rigid compliance to certain corporate standards can create an ivory tower. You develop a bureaucratic style of leadership, and it becomes more like checking-the-box leadership, as opposed to managing the business to really work at a particular location, with a particular set of customers and a particular staff.”

Shender speaks from experience. Previously, Hollywood Tans — officially known as Hollywood Tans Group LLC — was governed by a highly structured and compliance-oriented model. Like many franchise systems, the corporate leadership at Hollywood Tans was focused on driving uniform standards across its entire chain, so that a customer who walked into a location in Pennsylvania would have the exact same experience as a customer walking into a location in California, or anywhere in between.

But then the recession hit, and Shender quickly realized rigid adherence to a corporate rule book was not going to help his company weather the storm.

“The dramatic freezing up of the credit markets and the loss of employment was a real game changer,” Shender says “It super-accelerated what we needed to do to respond to the crisis. It really was an existential threat. Many companies did not make it through that patch.”

Hollywood Tans reshaped itself. The company got out of the tanning accessory manufacturing business, it revised its franchise model from a royalty-based system to a flat fee-based system, lowering the startup costs for franchisees in the process, and the company revised its culture to put more power in the hands of the store owners and managers.

“We moved from the compliance-oriented model to more of ‘Here is our way, but if you have a better way that works for you in your location, if you feel you need to do something unique to beat a competitive threat, you’re free to do that,’” Shender says. “It is much more flexible, and it is interesting to see how that is playing out in a positive way for so many people.”

Attack the market

Like just about every business, Hollywood Tans has tried to develop market separators — unique advantages that customers can’t obtain from the competition. Hollywood Tans’ market separators, including stand-up tanning booths and proprietary tanning lotions and skin care products, have played a big role in the company’s growth to $60 million in revenue during 2011.

But if the separators stopped there, the competition would have caught up and surpassed Shender’s company. With the ability to offer variations and add-ons to only a single service, Shender and his leadership team had to get creative as the economy hit the skids.

More specifically, he had to let everyone else under the Hollywood Tans umbrella get creative.

“We have salons in affluent communities in Southern California, in college towns in the Northeast, in urban areas in the central Atlantic states,” Shender says. “Those are very different types of customers, so if we try a one-size-fits-all approach, it just won’t work.”

The trick for Shender and the corporate team has been to allow local salon owners the latitude to tailor their approach to the needs of their respective markets while still maintaining a well-defined vision and set of values for the company’s brand. Shender’s team answered that challenge by providing some basic, systemwide marketing materials to all locations while still allowing salon operators to sit in the driver’s seat on marketing initiatives in the community.

“We try to give some structure in terms of coherent, timely and current marketing initiatives,” Shender says. “We have posters for salons, and there is always marketing collateral that goes along with that. Then there is online-based initiatives and other complementary creative projects that go along with that, so hopefully we are all communicating with the public in a unified way, with a single voice.”

Beyond that, it is up to the salon owner to crunch the numbers and decide how to best spend his or her marketing dollars.

“For instance, in Philadelphia, if our salon owners want to put commercials on the radio, and that works for them, that is great,” Shender says. “But it might not necessarily work for the guys in Birmingham or Nashville. So those are the types of situations where we try to get them to the right vendors who can help them make the decision about which path to take. We look at our data and give them our best judgment on it. But ultimately the decision for how they want to address the consumer is up to them.”

Shender looks at local marketing through two lenses — creative and media. In other words, what form the advertisement takes, and through which medium it is delivered. When the recession hit, everyone at Hollywood Tans had to place a newfound emphasis on creativity and discovering new ways to utilize various media outlets.

“In our old model, owners were required to contribute a certain percentage of their revenue toward an advertising fund,” Shender says. “Those funds were used to advertise in our various markets, and that worked particularly well in areas like Philadelphia, where we are highly penetrated. Philadelphia is our densest urban market in terms of coverage. But when the recession hit, the money dried up and the contributions began to sink. We were making more calls for collections, more owners were worried about paying their mortgages ahead of paying for advertising. So we had to rethink the whole strategy at that point.”

Utilize new media

Shender and his team came up with a plan that took advantage of new media. Hollywood Tans’ primary customer demographic is 18- to 32-year-olds — a majority are women, but with an increasing number of male customers. Younger customers are more apt to use social media platforms to interface with businesses.

Radio, TV and billboards weren’t completely kicked to the curb, but for franchises to survive, they needed the tools to connect with new customers in the target demographic.

“Our new customers don’t listen to the radio like I did when I was younger,” Shender says. “They don’t focus on billboards like I did, and they might not read the newspaper at all. So at a time when we were losing resources for advertising because our owners couldn’t contribute as much to our advertising fund, we found better and more focused ways to advertise online, targeted demographically and geographically.”

Needing to reach a younger customer base, Shender has helped spearhead social media initiatives, utilizing platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to allow individuals stores to connect with potential customers without any mediation from the corporate level.

“As an example, we have a graphic package every month or season, in order to promote salons and refresh what we are marketing to consumers,” Shender says. “There are icons that people can use on Facebook or Twitter, so that every month, whenever there is a change in our marketing campaign, we go online with locations that haven’t picked up on the new icon and connect with them. We don’t force them to change their icon, but we say ‘Have you seen this icon, we think it goes well with everything else we are doing, is this something you could think about?’ Most salon owners are happy to participate when it is in a constructive, partnership kind of way.”

The company’s online marketing efforts are styled in a way that attempts to relate to many different types of tanning customers. It’s something Shender says the rest of the industry can tend to ignore, in the name of selling out for celebrity endorsements.

“The ‘Jersey Shore’ TV show has really captured the attention of a lot of people in our marketplace, and many businesses in the market are using affiliations with ‘Jersey Shore’ stars to promote themselves,” he says. “We are going in another direction for a variety of reasons, one of which is recognizing that our customers tan for a variety of reasons, and might not identify with ‘Jersey Shore.’

“You need to embrace what you believe is a relatable and reliable method of reaching out to people. For us, we want to recognize that people don’t just tan to look hot for the weekend. Some people tan because it makes them feel better. Some tan because it’s a nice break in the week. People in sales might tan because they believe it gives them a competitive advantage. We love New Jersey, our home is in South Jersey, but you sometimes really need to question the mentality of the herd. We want to move beyond the stereotype of the fist-pumping ‘Jersey Shore’ guy, because we’re a lot more than that. If you try to identify too closely with one thing from a marketing standpoint, you sell yourself short.”

Shender has found that the Internet can be more forgiving than traditional media when it comes to marketing. Your business can alter or terminate media campaigns and online ads more readily than ads on TV, radio or billboards, which could involve a contract that lasts several months or longer.

“We have found that the newer forms of media are shorter term and come with less risk,” Shender says. “When it’s online, if you find something isn’t working the way you wanted it to, you can turn it off. It’s very easy to make changes on the run.”

Recognize your role

In Hollywood Tans’ new organizational setup, Shender sees himself as a promoter of his vision and a facilitator who can help everyone else in the organization realize the vision. In order to maintain every customer interface point as a laboratory, each experimenting with new ways to reach and maintain customers, you need to pay constant attention to what is happening on the front lines of your business, what is working and not working. The ideas that aren’t working might need an adjustment, or in some cases, might need to be altogether abandoned. The ideas that are working need the type of support and systemwide publicity that only upper management can provide.

“I have the bully pulpit as the CEO of the company, and I can see broadly what is occurring in the different markets, beyond what an individual salon owner could see,” Shender says. “With that kind of vantage point, you can be helpful in trying to move the entire organization toward what is working best for everybody. That is why we let go of our compliance-oriented culture to build more of a laboratory atmosphere.”

The people who interact directly with your customers have a great deal of power in your organizational structure. They might be on the bottom rungs of the organization, but they are the face of your company to outsiders. They build the relationships that drive sales. By putting more power in their hands, you deliver the message that you trust them, and over time, everyone in the company develops a more collaborative mindset.

“If people trust you, you trust them more, and it becomes a better overall environment,” Shender says. “For us, it is much less adversarial between the company and salon owners. It is much more open, and people are going in the same direction.”

How to reach: Hollywood Tans Group LLC, (856) 716-2150 or www.hollywoodtans.com

The Shender file

Company background: We have approximately 44 salons in the Philadelphia area and approximately 140 salons nationwide. So Philadelphia is a big part of our business. It is our hometown, so it is sort of the heart of our business. Most of our employees are in South Jersey; we have a distribution center in South Jersey, our accounting and finance teams are there, our internal sales teams are there. We have a very small office on the West Coast for marketing and administration.

Shender on setting his company apart: Our salons are generally based on a stand-up (tanning) model, which is a faster way for people to tan, which sets us apart. But it is not like walking into McDonald's, which is exactly the same no matter where you go. Here, there is a lot of opportunity for store owners to customize their situation to better address their competitive challenges, and operate the way they want to operate.

More from Shender on developing a marketing strategy: You have to understand if you are the market, because everything we look at, we look at through our own lens. One of the hardest things for me to realize is that I am not the target market. Just because I happen to watch a certain TV show or listen to a certain radio station, or read a certain paper, doesn't mean my consumers do. It's not that they might just watch a different TV show or read a different newspaper, they might not watch TV or read the papers at all.

I think particularly with the rapid changes in technology, we have to be very humble about what we know and maybe not so much rely on experts, but get good input from some solid vendors on how to reach the market you want to reach, and then just test the hypothesis to see if it is working or not. We can market so much more efficiently now, it is just stunning to me.

Published in Philadelphia

The World Class Customer Service awards honor companies for their superior customer service. The program serves to raise awareness of the importance of customer service in the business world, recognize organizations that demonstrate exceptional customer service and share best practices in customer service from those that do it best.

Learn more about the class of 2012:

Akron-Canton Airport

AkzoNobel Packaging Coatings, Inc.

Ambiance, the Store for Lovers

Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan, & Aronoff LLP

BlueBridge Networks

COIT Cleaning & Restoration Services

Collection Auto Group

Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE)

EmployeeScreenIQ

Event Source

Faber-Castell USA

Family Heritage Life Insurance Company

Findaway World

Firestone Country Club

Hyatt Legal Plans

Industrial Heat Sources

Invacare Corporation

Marriott Cleveland East

Moen Incorporated

Overload Fitness

PartsSource, Inc.

Post-Up Stand

Rock the House Entertainment

Seeley, Savidge, Ebert, & Gourash Co., LPA

Skoda Minotti

SS&G

The Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland

The Shamrock Companies Inc.

Today's Business Products

Visual Marking Systems, Inc.

Zinner & Co.

Additional reading:

Notes from our sponsors

John Spearry on "gnat tenacity"

John DiJulius: Getting to Benny

Surprise and delight: It’s no longer enough to simply deliver world-class customer service

The 2012 World Class Customer Service Awards are presented by Metro Lexus and sponsored by Smart Business, Blue Technologies, The Brewer-Garrett Company, Cleveland Clinic, SummaCare, John Robert's Spa, Colortone Staging & Rentals, and Executive Caterers at Landerhaven.

Published in Akron/Canton

When SugarHouse Casino opened its doors to the public in September 2010, the buzz was palpable throughout the region. Located on the Delaware River, it is Philadelphia’s first casino, and its debut came with a full royal fanfare: media headlines, applicants clamoring to apply for jobs and a leadership team assembled from a pool of experienced gaming industry experts from around the country.

At the center was Wendy Hamilton, the casino’s general manager. Like everyone else associated with SugarHouse, she basked in the glow of the casino’s debut. But she also knew the spotlight wouldn’t always be this bright.

“It was all new, novel and exciting,” says Hamilton, now in her second year running the casino. “We were all making decisions every day that were going to determine who we are and how we would do business for the rest of our lives here. It was really a high energy and exciting time for everyone. But now, it’s not so new anymore and it is not as exciting. The media isn’t as interested in everything we do. So the challenge has become about how we ensure this is still a great place to work, ensure people still enjoy coming to work every day when it isn’t so novel anymore.”

It happens to virtually any business that opens to a heaping helping of pomp and circumstance: At the outset, it’s an event. After some time passes, it becomes a job. Even if the Phillies are in first place this month, by now home games have become a matter-of-fact part of summertime life. The buzz surrounding Opening Day is a distant memory.

Replace the crack of the bat with the ringing of slot machines, and you have Hamilton’s predicament over the past year-plus.

“It is something that the leadership team here thinks about every day,” she says. “We are always looking for new ways to keep the team engaged, ways to get everybody on board with what we are doing.”

Plug yourself in

Maintaining a high level of engagement with your employees comes down to how you communicate. That is the simply stated version of the solution. What Hamilton has discovered is that you need to choose your interaction points for the best possible impact.

In an organization like SugarHouse, which employs just more than 1,000, you can build communication touch points through a variety of mediums. The tried-and-true methods include newsletters, e-mail blasts, speeches and videoconferences.

But what works best for Hamilton and her leadership team, and what she emphasizes, is relationship-building through informal interaction. Hamilton walks the casino floor, visits the employee lunchroom, chats with cashiers during a lull in business, so she can learn what they are learning. Hamilton says it is critical to develop a sense of familiarity between the casino’s executive team and the employees working the floor, because those employees talk to customers every day. They find out what customers like and don’t like about their experiences at the casino, and can help the executive team to identify issues at ground level before they become major problems.

“We are in a very consumer-oriented business, in a very high-touch industry,” Hamilton says. “For example, we do a lot of giveaways to certain customers who are worth a certain dollar level to us. They are usually invited to the casino at a specific day and time to pick up their gift. Let’s say it is a set of pots and pans, which is a gift that creates some logistical concerns. A set of pots and pans is not easily handed over to a customer and carried around the casino for the rest of their visit.

“So what might happen is an employee relays a suggestion from a customer about doing the pot and pan giveaway at the end of the visit, so they can just pull up to the valet stand, put the package in the car and drive away. On the executive level, it might make more sense to us if we give the package away at the promotions center, but the people at ground level will have a better feel for the details of the situation.”

Through their daily observations, employees can formulate common-sense suggestions that can have wide-ranging positive results over the long term. But if you don’t put in the time and effort to connect with them and develop a sense of familiarity, they won’t feel engaged, their enthusiasm for the job will wane and they won’t come to you with their ideas.

“I like knowing people’s names, knowing what part of the casino they work in, and even knowing a little bit about them personally,” Hamilton says. “If you can keep it casual and informal, it’s not a big deal to run into them somewhere and ask them to help you out with something. You can comfortably ask them about a new potential policy and how it might impact them in their area of work. It keeps the communication very quick, easy and efficient.”

You won’t be able to use every single idea that an employee brings forward. But even when you have to reject an idea, or table it for a while, you can still use that as an opportunity for connection, engagement and motivation.

“When you can’t use an idea, there ought to be a reason,” Hamilton says. “Either it is a good idea for your purposes or it isn’t. If it is a good idea, you use it. If it isn’t, you need to explain to the person why it won’t work. If it is a regulatory reason or something along that line, just tell them that. More often than not, it’s going to be a situation where you like the idea but you just can’t use it right now. It might be something you can do a couple of months from now. If that is the case, you have to tell them it is a great idea and there is a better chance of it happening in a few months. But it all comes back to how you communicate with the person in that situation.”

Though you can’t often develop the same level of familiarity with customers that you can with employees, you can take some of the same informal communication principles and apply it to how you interact with customers.

“I find that the little tidbit you get from a five-minute conversation with a customer is as valuable as the customer surveys we send out,” Hamilton says. “It’s a lot of being around the operation, being there while they are playing or while they are having dinner. You just ask them what is going good about their experience and how their experience could be better. I would say it is difficult sometimes in a business setting to really get a group of executives used to just being there and having those kinds of conversations – the type of conversations you would have around your own water cooler in the executive offices. You need to be able to talk like that to your customers and your employees because that is where you are going to get the real information.”

Build your team

If you’re going to keep your employees engaged over the long haul, your communication philosophy has to become a fundamental building block of your culture. Putting words on a piece of paper, or stating it to your work force, is only the first step, however. You need to promote your communication philosophy, and you need to have a leadership team that fully buys in to your plan and can implement your communication strategy.

At SugarHouse, Hamilton had the advantage of building her own leadership team from scratch, and doing so months before the casino opened its doors.

“We were very lucky here, because at the time we were hiring, this industry was experiencing some turbulence in other markets like Atlantic City and Las Vegas,” she says. “What it meant was, people who were some of the experts in this business, people who had been in a certain field for quite a while and might have turned us down under other circumstances, were willing to take the risk and come here. The field was kind of open to us.”

After Hamilton made the first couple of management hires, a chain reaction developed as those hires then started recruiting via their own professional connections.

“Once I had one or two people on board, those people did the same things, helping me by recruiting some of their own peers to fill out their own teams,” Hamilton says. “We also hired a number of people who applied to us cold, but it helps to have connections through somebody that you are working with, and you’re able to reach out and recruit through those connections.”

As Hamilton was recruiting to build her leadership team, and her team was recruiting to build their departmental teams, she emphasized three overarching traits that all management-level team members needed to possess.

“They needed to be smart, like any executive would, and they need to be a bit clever about solving problems,” she says. “Beyond that, they also need to be people who can interact in a social setting. If they are people who can function in their neighborhood or in their kid’s school, it’s largely the same thing. Sometimes you have to train people to have those informal conversations at work, because it’s not how they were coached previously. But anybody who is smart and fairly social can pull it off once the main idea is introduced.”

When building a team that can stimulate dialogue and engage employees, you need to consider your culture first. If you want to build a management team that can promote open communication, that concept first needs to be a part of your organization’s core values. If you can’t define your values accurately, you won’t be able to hire to fit your values.

Through her professional connections, Hamilton knew of many people in the gaming and casino industry with a high level of technical competency in their areas of specialization. But by getting to know those people over the years, she developed a sense of who would fit the culture at SugarHouse and who wouldn’t.

“I can name a couple of good finance folks, but I knew right away the one who would fit perfectly into the culture we wanted to build here,” she says. “You really have to be committed to making sure that you don’t have someone who might be very strong on the technical side but won’t add anything to the culture. But while you want everybody to identify with your culture and values, you don’t want to hire people who are all the same. So I don’t like to use the word ‘fit’ when it comes to culture. You don’t want to end up with 10 vice presidents who all have the same type of personality.”

Good team-building falls under the heading of “chemistry.” It’s a nebulous word when it comes to social interaction and what it means to have everybody working together. But somehow, the issue of chemistry must be addressed if you’re going to have a unified management team, and in turn, a unified, engaged and motivated company at large.

“At the end of the day, it’s up to you to make the call about whether a person is a good cultural fit or whether they simply bring the technical skills,” Hamilton says. “You could have the best people, but if they don’t fit with the culture and won’t get along with certain people, it weakens the team.

“You want to create a team that likes being together, a team that will look out for each other and have each other’s backs. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses, and if you build a team that is complementary, the job gets done, everybody plays a part and nothing falls apart because of a conflict or somebody’s weakness.”

How to reach: SugarHouse Casino, (877) 477-3715 or www.sugarhousecasino.com

The Hamilton file

Born: Philadelphia

Education: Degree in biology from Duke University; MBA in finance from St. Joseph’s University

First job: I sold saltwater taffy on the boardwalk in Ocean City, N.J. when I was 14 years old.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

Don’t take it personally. Let me define that a bit. On one hand, people do their jobs well because they take it personally. However, some days you just can’t get a hit. And when things aren’t going your way, that is when you have to be careful to not lose enthusiasm. Sometimes, things are going to get tough and something is not going to go right. But especially in a leadership role, you can’t let it affect your energy and enthusiasm. You still have to project a positive attitude, because people are going to look up to you.

What is your definition of success?

Obviously, you need to be producing a quality end product. But for me personally, I want to be able to assume those things are happening. It sounds ridiculously simple, but success is when you as the leader have the people around you fulfilled and your employees are happy. You want an environment where people enjoy coming to work. That, to me, is when you can say you are successful in your role.

Published in Philadelphia

Abby Stancik, a financial adviser, was happy with the results she was getting from her workouts at Overload Fitness. But there was another aspect with which she was even more impressed.

“I really do like that the trainers take your workout as seriously as you take it,” she says. “There is not a lot of chit chat. And beyond that, though, all the staff is very knowledgeable in nutrition.”

She was very interesting in the connection between nutrition and fitness.

“That is as important to me because you can work out like crazy, but if you are putting junk in your body, you’re not going to get the results that you want,” she says. “Overload’s trainers give you good guidance on that. They’re very knowledgeable; they have tools at Overload to measure your body mass index, so it’s really kind of all-encompassing facility.”

At Overload Fitness one of the core values is to over deliver, says Jeff Tomaszewski, vice president and co-owner.

“We pride ourselves on going above and beyond the call of duty or what is expected of us from a client,” he says.

While Overload believes it offers the most efficient and effective exercise program available, the staff doesn’t stop there.

“We want the client to have a world-class experience every time,” Tomaszewski says.

From uniformed staff, to a 67 degrees temperature in the facilities, a ban on mirrors and music, a continuous training of staff on customer service and more, Overload offers world-class customer service.

“We have discussions about not only exceptional customer service experiences but also terrible ones,” Tomaszewski says. “At each monthly staff meeting, we ask each person to share an experience in which they implemented world class customer service in their personal lives. This has a dramatic effect on changing behavior, and it is truly amazing to hear some of the stories that come from this exchange.”

How to reach: Overload Fitness, (440) 835-9090 or www.overloadfitness.com

Published in Cleveland

When PartsSource Inc. launched its ePartsFinder online locator for hospital equipment parts in 2006, the company’s leaders were confident it would resolve any issues regarding customer response time. After all, it enabled customers to receive replies to requests for parts pricing and availability in 30 to 60 minutes, dramatically faster than any other company hospital equipment parts provider.

But over the last couple of years the company realized that sites like Amazon.com and Orbitz were beating it by providing instantaneous pricing and availability for parts. Therefore, being the fastest company in its market niche was no longer good enough. PartsSource’s president and CEO, A. Ray Dalton, challenged his company’s IT department to build an application within ePartsFinder that would deliver instant information on pricing and availability to customers. Essentially, he was demanding that ePartsFinder become as quick and reliable as Amazon.com.

Last October, the company launched the new application, SmartPrice, and after some tweaking and training of employees and customers on how to use the service, customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, the company reports.

In addition, PartsSource has found that strong customer adoption of the new service has quickly taken hold. The company is experiencing a surge in new users, the first such upswing since its launch of ePartsFinder six years ago.

PartsSource also reports that it is seeing increases in parts requests and customer satisfaction scores since launching the SmartPrice application. As the company adds more parts to the available SmartPrice matrix, it is experiencing additional increases across the board in each of those key metrics from its entire customer base.

PartsSource’s mission has always been to improve health care delivery while reducing associated costs. Due to changing demographics and health care reform, the need to help its customers reduce costs further will increase dramatically over the next decade.

HOW TO REACH: PartsSource Inc., (330) 562-9900 or www.partssource.com

Published in Cleveland

At Post-Up Stand Inc. every department is focused on customer service and the ways to make it better. Alon Weiner, vice president and co-founder of Post-Up Stand Inc., a manufacturer of tradeshow displays, banners and stands, is helping provide customers with service they come away satisfied with and a product that keeps them coming back time and time again.

The employees of Post-Up Stand take pride in their work and realize the importance of delivering a quality product to customers. No matter what an employee’s position is within the company, they are considered part of the customer service team. From the accounting department to production, all employees work with the customer in mind.

New employees undergo training sessions to ensure they are prepared to handle the questions that come in from customers.

New hires are handed a binder filled with product specifics, procedures and pricing at the start of training to assist in the customer service education process. These employees will also go through a shadow program with senior account executives for the first month of employment. They spend time in each department to learn the complete order process and gain knowledge of the product portfolio.

Training doesn’t end there. New hires also have to be familiarized with the company’s website to understand how the navigation works in order to assist any customers with online issues and questions. Post-Up Stand doesn’t just train new hires. Existing employees get reviewed through incoming calls, client surveys and are offered continuous training on new products and services.

All of this is in an effort to make every customer experience a positive one. The company aims to meet every deadline given and goes above and beyond what customers expect. Employees are trained to never say no and more often than not they are willing to go the extra mile by staying late to the job done.

How to Reach: Post-Up Stand Inc., (216) 332-0530 or www.postupstand.com

Published in Cleveland

For The Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland, every guest that walks into the hotel is considered a VIP. This exceptional treatment of its guests is standard practice and Joseph Mattioli, general manager, makes sure that level of service is consistently being offered.

In fact, customer service is woven right into the hotel’s credo, which reads, “The Ritz-Carlton is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission. We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience. The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”

Every employee of The Ritz-Carlton uses the credo as a guide to providing top-level service. Each employee is empowered to make a guest’s experience special in a personal way. For instance, by noticing a guest’s interest in music, an employee can arrange for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tickets to be delivered to his or her room or if a guest has obviously had a rough travel day, a glass of his or her favorite wine is sent to the room.

The anticipation of needs also plays into how the hotel recognizes guests. If a guest only orders Diet Coke while dining in the hotel, wait staff will have a Diet Coke poured and brought over to the table prior to the request or even have a personalized beverage amenity in their guestroom awaiting their arrival. Even children get special attention and are offered toys during the check-in process. For guests that frequently stay overnight, milestones are recognized by the staff through cards signed by staff they have been in contact with.

The customer service provided transcends the physical product of hotel guest rooms and meals. The Ritz-Carlton strives to deliver a unique, memorable and personal experience to people visiting the hotel, making them Ritz-Carlton guests for life.

How to Reach: The Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland, (216) 623-1300 or www.ritzcarlton.com

Published in Cleveland

Rock The House Entertainment was founded on the principles of concierge-class customer services. It’s that willingness to go above and beyond customer expectations that has helped build the company’s customer base through word-of-mouth referrals.

About 80 percent of Rock The House’s customer base comes from referrals, according to founder, owner and CEO Matt Radicelli. Unsolicited testimonials from customers to family, friends and colleagues have helped to increase the growing reputation of Rock The House as a customer-oriented company.

Rock The House also puts a great deal of control in the hands of its customers. Once a potential customer makes contact with the company, they are in control of the flow of information they receive and how quickly the next steps — if any — are taken. Customers may choose to have preliminary information sent to them via e-mail, elect to have an event professional come to their home or place of business for a private presentation or visit Rock The House’s facility in Oakwood, Ohio, for a personal consultation.

Rock The House takes a high-tech and high-touch approach to maintaining its superior customer service program. At every turn, the company’s staff works to keep customer interests first.

The company’s RTHLive software platform allows for a high degree of efficiency from the initial collection of a customer’s contact information, all the way to an automated post-event satisfaction survey. Every e-mail and phone call, along with other correspondence, is electronically documented to better assist all departments in serving the customer.

In addition, Rock The House has implemented a single point of contact strategy when working with customers. It minimizes stress for the customer and increases accuracy when communicating a client’s wishes, needs and preferences. Additionally, clients are provided cell phone numbers of the company’s full-time staff, allowing access to assistance outside of normal business hours.

How to reach: Rock The House Entertainment, (440) 232-7625 or www.rthgroup.com

Published in Cleveland