Many employers realize that their commitment to their employees doesn’t necessarily end at retirement. But wanting to deliver post-retirement health benefits and doing so in an effective and affordable manner is not always possible for all businesses.
However, employers do have several options, including outsourcing retiree billing administration to a firm that specializes in that area.
“It may make sense for many companies to outsource their retiree billing administration,” says Tammy Clay, manager for Flexible Spending Accounts and COBRA with UPMC Benefit Management Services. “It can save a company money, time and valuable resources.”
Smart Business talked with Clay about retirement billing administration and why it can work for many employers.
What is retiree billing?
Basically, it’s a Web-based service that provides coordination of enrollment and billing. For many companies, retiree billing is considered as a sort of a yolk around their necks. They need help in this area and sometimes an outside source is the best place to look for it.
What makes retiree billing difficult for some employers?
Retiree billing is generally considered to be among the most time- and paperwork-intensive assignments that a human resources department ever has to deal with.
There are a number of ‘necessary evils’ employers have to deal with where retiree billing administration is concerned. When billing the appropriate premiums and relaying timely eligibility updates to the carrier, a multi-functional billing system should be at the heart of the process.
In some cases, an employer provides credits to the retirees to apply toward Medicare supplement plans. The process used to determine if the money leaving an account matches the amount claimed, and ensuring that the correct credit is being applied for a certain time period, is account reconciliation. Account reconciliation is important because it helps with cash management and protects businesses against fraudulent activities.
Regardless of the size of the company, the retiree populations will always continue to grow. For some companies that growth might dwarf the active population. As a result, many companies find that they cannot afford to grow their HR departments to keep up with it.
What are some advantages of outsourcing retiree benefits administration?
Employers want to reduce their liability for post-retirement health benefits and can often do that by outsourcing. Retiree premium billing administered by a neutral third party can protect retiree privacy. Health and financial matters are sensitive issues that retirees may not want to share with a former employer. Moreover, there can be complications and frustrations in dealing with the complexity of retiree benefits. It is best for all involved that any frustration is not directed at the former employer.
What are some advantages for employers of outsourcing the process?
Retirees will no longer call an employer’s human resources department to ask questions that the HR department may or may not be able to answer. This can save both money and time, and increase the productivity of the HR department. When billing is outsourced, the people dealing with the retirees are specialists in this area who can answer any questions or concerns retirees might have. In many instances, retirees can access 800-number phone lines and 24/7 websites to make it easier for them to get information and answers to their questions. An employer is saved the hassle of dealing with multiple phone calls and emails to resolve these issues.
By outsourcing retiree billing to an experienced, reliable organization, employers can be confident that the service is compliant with federal, state and local laws. Employers also like the fact that by outsourcing retiree benefits administration, they have more time to focus on strategic planning that can create value for a company.
Tammy Clay is a manager, Flexible Spending Accounts and COBRA, at UPMC Benefit Management Services. Reach her at (412) 454-8739 or email@example.com.
WEBSITE: For more information about what UPMC Health Plan has to offer employers, please go to www.upmchealthplan.com/employers/index.html.
Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan
Young adults ages 19 through 29 are the largest growing age group in the U.S. at risk for being uninsured. Officials estimate this age group accounts for approximately 13 million of the 47 million Americans living without health insurance.
“As young adults transition into the job market, they often have entry-level jobs, part-time jobs, or jobs in small businesses and other employment that typically come without employer-sponsored health insurance,” says Keith Kartman, client advisor at JRG Advisors, the management arm of ChamberChoice.
The Dependent Insurance Coverage provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was designed to address the millions of young adults currently uninsured.
Smart Business spoke with Kartman about how dependent coverage laws work.
What are the dependent coverage laws?
The PPACA requires private insurers that offer dependent coverage to children to allow young adults up to the age of 26 to remain on their parent’s insurance plan.
A number of states also require insured health plans to cover dependents past age 26. Every group health plan purchased by employers from commercial health insurers and health maintenance organizations must comply with Pennsylvania’s dependent coverage laws. However, self-funded plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act are exempt from this dependent coverage law. Pennsylvania’s dependent coverage only applies to medical. This excludes dental and vision only, hospital indemnity, accident or specified disease only, Medicare supplement, long-term care and individual health insurance policies.
Who qualifies for this dependent coverage?
Regulations specify a young adult can qualify for this coverage if he or she is no longer living with a parent, is not a dependent on a parent’s tax return or is no longer a student. Both married and unmarried young adults can qualify, although that coverage does not extend to a young adult’s spouse or children.
The law also states that young adults can only qualify for dependent coverage through group health plans in place prior to March 23, 2010, if they are not eligible for another employer-sponsored insurance plan. In other cases, a young adult can choose to remain insured through a parent’s dependent coverage, even if the young adult is eligible for other employer-sponsored coverage.
What do employers need to know?
The Department of Health and Human Services has stated that young adults gaining dependent coverage under the PPACA can’t be charged more for coverage than similar individuals who didn’t lose coverage due to the end of their dependent status. Also, young adults newly qualifying as dependents under the law must be offered the same benefit package as similar individuals who were already covered as dependents.
What are the tax implications?
Treasury Department-issued guidance on the tax benefits states that employer-provided health coverage for an employee’s child is excluded from the employee’s income through the end of the taxable year in which the dependent turns 26. The benefit applies regardless of whether the plan’s coverage is required or voluntarily.
Key elements include:
- The tax benefit continues beyond extended coverage requirement. Some employers may decide to continue coverage beyond the 26th birthday. In that case, if an adult child turns 26 in April but stays on the plan through Dec. 31 — the end of most people’s taxable year — all health benefits that year are excluded for income tax purposes.
- Broad eligibility. This tax benefit applies to various workplace and retiree health plans, as well as self-employed individuals qualifying for the self-employed health insurance deduction on federal income tax returns.
- Health premium shares for both employer and employee are excluded from income. In addition to excluding any employer contribution toward qualifying adult child coverage from income, employees can receive the same benefit by contributing toward the cost of coverage through a cafeteria plan. The IRS states that a cafeteria plan allows employees to choose from two or more benefits consisting of cash or qualified benefit plans.
Keith Kartman is a client advisor at JRG Advisors, the management arm of ChamberChoice. Reach him at (412) 456-7010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by ChamberChoice
When I meet with business-to-business and professional service clients to discuss their marketing strategies, one comment that consistently arises is “No one buys professional services through the Web.”
While that may be true — you don’t typically buy an accountant online as you would a product through e-commerce — how your brand is perceived most definitely will impact a prospect’s buying decision.
Decisions to work with professional service firms don’t happen overnight. They take time. And because of this, any B2B organization must ensure it is “seen” in the strongest possible light before the sale actually occurs.
In fact, it’s just as important to not lose prospective customers because your organization is perceived as weak or subpar as it is to convert a prospect into a client.
The simple truth is that you never know at any given time who is researching your brand and through what channel. Having a consistent brand message, whether they’re looking to engage you now or somewhere down the road, helps you to not lose them before they need your solutions.
To accomplish this, you must get your brand messaging across in a consistent manner across multiple channels.
So how do you that?
First, a solid marketing strategy must include a website that clearly articulates the brand message and value proposition of your services — and it has to be on the home page.
It also should include supporting content that allows a prospective customer to quickly understand who you are, what you do and why you’re different.
For example, let’s say you’re an accounting firm. Being able to articulate why you are the best at providing risk management solutions for clients can help you differentiate yourself in the marketplace.
Providing and highlighting content that explains your service, along with case studies and client examples that include measurable results, is a smart move. It allows prospects and site visitors to get a feel of what it would be like to work with you.
Additionally, your website should offer prospective clients an easy way to contact you — either through a phone number or a simple contact form that includes a name, email address, phone number and short explanation of the prospect’s business problem.
Beyond your website, other channels to consider include social media, which includes LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. In these social media channels, you need more than just simple company pages. Instead, you should offer visitors relevant and current content that consistently supports the brand message and your organization’s value proposition, along with company information and executive profiles. And it’s extremely important to continually be “active.”
Using the same accounting firm as an example, it could utilize consistent content around recent changes to government policies, updates on recent business wins or sharing a solution that helped one of its clients overcome a business challenge across all social media channels.
And when that information isn’t timely, something as simple as new hire announcements or employee promotions will show visitors and followers that there is activity within your brand — and your organization. It makes you “active,” which makes you more attractive to prospects.
Other channels to think about include mobile or tablet experiences, print marketing and event sponsorship. Every channel you can imagine should be used to express your organization’s brand message because there are always people watching.
So while your clients may not choose or buy their professional services online, they will evaluate your brand even prior to consideration. And while it’s impossible to measure what clients you may lose by not having this strategy in place, it is clear that a solid marketing strategy of this type can save you from losing consideration — even when you don’t know you’re being considered.
David Fazekas is vice president of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at email@example.com or (440) 250-7056.
According to The Business Dictionary, attitude is: “A predisposition or a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person, or situation. Attitude influences an individual's choice of action, and responses to challenges, incentives, and rewards (together called stimuli).”
The words that jump out as important in this definition are:
- Positively or negatively
In light of this, we can say that when we respond to things with a positive attitude, that response influences positive action in us and others. We can also say that the opposite is true.
We could end this article right now by simply saying – As a leader, manager or executive in business; do the former and not the latter. But if you are like me, I bet that you could use some “how to” examples and tips.
Here they are, six tips for having a positive attitude in business:
1. Keep an open mind. Always be open to the possibility that a life change you have refused to consider might be the key to transforming your life for the better.
This type of attitude impresses your colleagues. Why? Because most of them have been faced with the same challenge and chose to not change. Their attitude towards the change has been clouded with self-doubt and lack of courage.
When you are willing to keep an open mind, you are responding positively to the challenge of a life change that has the possibility of a great reward.
Be different than those around you. Be open.
2. Be proactive, not reactive. A reactive individual is at the mercy of change. A proactive individual sees change as a part of the process and takes action to make the best of it.
Having a proactive attitude requires work. You must be able to think ahead and anticipate. It involves being involved.
In business (and life) you cannot simply sit back and let things just happen as they will. In truth, you could, but that attitude is a negative response that influences negative action, namely, reaction.
Do a little mental work beforehand. Get in the game and be proactive.
3. Go with the flow. Present an easy, casual and friendly attitude that shows your flexibility, yet at the same time portrays your persistence in the face of obstacles and adversity.
This is not the negative “sit back and let things happen” attitude described above. Persistence in the face of obstacles and adversity is what sets it apart.
Having an attitude that is easy and casual, without stepping outside the bounds of proper etiquette and being friendly, is some of the best advice I can give to leaders in business.
Be persistent while going with the flow.
4. Think big. If you think small, you will achieve something small. If you think big, then you are more likely to achieve a goal that is beyond your wildest dreams.
When we allow ourselves to have an attitude that pushes boundaries and explores possibilities, we draw in people who have the same attitude. In other words, by thinking big we find big thinkers.
Want to have a team full of big thinkers? Want to have meetings where ideas are shared and positive plans are made? Want to grow leaders out of your team and promote them to new heights in their career? It all starts with your big-thinking, boundary-pushing, dream-inspiring attitude.
Go ahead – think big.
5. Be persuasive, not manipulative. Use your persuasive talents to persuade others of your worth. Don’t use it to convince someone that others are worth less than you.
Have you ever had a manipulative boss? Have you ever had a persuasive boss?
6. Enter action with boldness. When you do something, do it boldly and with confidence so that you make your mark. Wimping out is more likely to leave you stuck in the same old pattern and immune to positive change.
In the end it’s all about getting things done – with a positive attitude. As leaders, we need to be able to move and work with a certain sense of boldness. A boldness that inspires us and those around us to reach for new horizons in all we do.
It’s obvious, action is better than no action – but bold action that leaves a mark is what we should be doing in our life and business.
Do something and do it with a bold attitude.
Attitude really is everything in business. It is the force that empowers us to respond positively to the challenges we face on a daily basis. It allows us to enjoy what we do as we do it. It builds us and our teams.
DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.
She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.
Should hard-nosed, thick-skinned, ice-water-running-through-their-veins executives who live and die by facts and profit and loss statements believe in things they can’t totally understand and certainly can’t explain?
We have all been there. At various times, for virtually inexplicable reasons, an undertaking that has been struggling suddenly takes a 180-degree turn and begins an upward trajectory. There was no indication from the numbers, substantively nothing extraordinary was changed, but all of a sudden, it’s as if the sun, moon and stars all aligned and you are heading toward Fat City.
Of course, we’ve all experienced the converse, when everything seems to be jelling and all of a sudden out of the blue your project takes a nosedive, plummeting to earth faster than the fastest falling star — or the stock market crash of 2008.
Even though you fancy yourself as tough as nails, you must hope against hope, experiment with unusual fixes, devise out-of-the-box solutions — do just about anything, including making promises to a higher power, along the lines of, “Let me get through this, and I’ll never ______ again.” (You fill in the blank as it is best kept between you and the great power in which you believe.)
Don’t get me wrong I don’t really believe in the good fairy or the ability to make everything better with the wave of wand, but I do very much believe what the famous New York Yankees manager Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
There is “magic” when some inexplicable ingredient kicks in that enables the best leaders to continuously generate “what if I try this” scenarios and then, out of nowhere, one of those ideas turns sure defeat into a salvageable success. Is this skill and intelligence at play? To a certain extent, yes, but there is more to it than that. The only thing I believe about unadulterated pure luck is the explanation from that overused phrase, “The harder one works, the luckier he or she gets.” The real answer more likely is a combination of knowing how to run a business: using your head, your heart and your gut to tackle a dilemma, recognizing that on any given day one of these faculties will get you through a difficult issue. On a great day when all three kick in, it’s almost as if it were magic, and you start hearing sounds that become music to your ears as the needed solution suddenly emerges.
In reality, the “magic” is having faith in the people with whom you work, maintaining a strong belief that for most of the seemingly insurmountable questions there are answers, trusting that good things do happen to good people, and knowing that every once in a while the good guys do win. This doesn’t mean becoming a naive Pollyanna. Instead, it all gets down to not throwing in the towel until you have exhausted all possibilities and logically and systematically explored all the alternatives, some of which may be very nontraditional.
This approach is also a direct reflection of positive thinking and mindfulness, which is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and ignoring all other distractions. In essence, some psychological studies have shown that when one is committed to success and has the discipline not to let the mind travel down a negative path, the brain can focus on producing unique solutions. Using positive psychology techniques can result in intense absorption that can lead to coming up with unlikely fixes. Some shrinks call this increasing mental flow. I call it a little bit of magic.
My simpler explanation for this phenomenon, which I’ve written about many times, is that success is achieved when you combine preparation, persistence with a bit of perspiration, along with a few ingredients that can’t always be explained, including having a little faith.
My advice is don’t always worry about your image of being a buttoned-up, corporate type. Instead, when the going gets particularly tough, it’s OK to become a Dorothy, as in the “Wizard of Oz,” click your heels twice and quickly repeat to yourself, “I believe, I believe.”
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at email@example.com.
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Also available wherever books and eBooks are sold, and from Smart Business Magazine and www.SBNOnline.com. Contact Dustin S. Klein of Smart Business at (800) 988-4726 for bulk order special pricing.
Effective content strategies empower you to get the right message to the right people through the right channel at the right timeWritten by Dustin S. Klein
Everybody’s telling you that you need a content strategy, but what exactly is content strategy?
An effective content strategy coordinates all of your organization’s messaging — internally and externally — and gets the right message to the right people through the right channel at the right time.
When it works, people are motivated to interact more with your company. You attract new prospects. And you increase opportunities to secure new clients and expand existing business relationships.
Your content may consist of feature stories, press releases, videos, Web content, blog posts, books, whitepapers and even case studies. Essentially, it is everything and anything that discusses your business, professional expertise and ability to solve clients’ problems. It includes news about your organization and human-interest stories that feature your employees.
You can deliver your content through traditional media (newspapers, magazines, radio or television), a corporate website, YouTube channel, Facebook page, e-book, TV show, movie or social media. It is quite literally every single way you digest information online, offline and on the go.
Any content strategy starts with understanding your audience. Learn who that audience is, what different groups are in it and what messaging resonates most with each group.
Every audience comprises two unique segments — those who support you, such as vendors, investors or employees, and those who use your services, including clients and engaged prospects.
It’s also important to take a hard look at this list and ask, “Who is missing from this picture?” By doing so, you may identify new prospect streams to target that you previously had overlooked.
Next, identify your key messages. What is it that you want people to know about your organization and why?
Start at the most macro level so that your brand message becomes part of the content — the part everyone receives. Then get into the specifics. As you do this, you create a series of customized messages for each specific group in your audience.
Third, recognize that not everyone digests information the same way. Learn the best channel or channels to use for each group. Some like to read it — in print or online. Others prefer to watch or listen to it — live in-person or through a mobile video. And still others prefer their information delivered in 140 characters or less.
What works for your website visitors doesn’t necessarily resonate face-to-face with people at a trade show or conference. And print ad messaging may not be aimed at the same people who devour industry whitepapers or read thought leadership articles in trade publications.
The actual format of the content won’t matter as long as it provides the “why” people should care about your organization, frequent your establishment, buy your products or services, or use your solutions. If you accurately match message with audience and channel, you’ll do just fine.
Effective content strategy can quickly become a powerful tool in moving your business forward. Treat it as you would any highly critical strategic business initiative.
Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations of SBN Interactive, publishers of Smart Business magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7026.
When the economy dips into a recession, companies have two basic responses: hunker down to weather the storm or be aggressive by attacking weakness in competitors and opportunities in the market. I have always preferred the latter approach.
During the past two years, our company made several important acquisitions and recruited top talent to forge a new business that positions us as a leading provider of a full range of marketing services for clients ranging from manufacturers and professional service firms to nonprofits and consumer products companies. I am pleased to announce the official launch of SBN Interactive, our content-driven interactive marketing firm.
SBN Interactive is the culmination of months of planning and hard work. It combines our long-standing expertise in creating award-winning content with our intimate knowledge of the latest marketing trends and tools. More importantly, it allows us to leverage our expertise in offline and online marketing to drive measurable business results for our clients across the full range of marketing channels: Web, mobile, video, social and print.
Today, customers move seamlessly across online and offline channels and expect the experience to be consistent, connected and available when they want it and how they want it. What does that mean in practical terms? It means that businesses need to deliver a consistent brand across the spectrum of marketing channels that their customers use. Some prefer print, others video, still others social media. Regardless, marketers need to present the right message to the right customer through the right channel.
Our team of interactive marketing strategists, content strategists, content creators, designers, developers, optimization experts and technologists understand and embrace this. They collaborate to develop strategies and solutions that meet the specific business goals of our clients. From custom magazines and website content optimization to social media strategies and fully outsourced marketing services, they have the expertise — and dozens of proven tactics — to help move the needle for a business.
At the heart of everything we do is our core competency: content. Content drives differentiation, and there are few organizations that exist or are organized in a way to efficiently deliver relevant content in the context of the connected world we live in. But we, at Smart Business, live and breathe content on a daily basis.
We have spent more than two decades working with and writing about some of the most successful business people in America, from iconic business builders like Wayne Huizenga and Les Wexner to maverick billionaires like Ted Turner and Mark Cuban. Now, we are putting those same skills — and many more we have developed over the years — to work for other companies.
We will still continue to bring you management insight, advice and strategy from the best and brightest business minds in the pages of Smart Business. However, thanks to SBN Interactive, we now have a more direct way to help businesses like yours meet their goals and prosper.
I invite you to learn more about SBN Interactive by visiting our website at www.sbninteractive.com or by contacting me directly at email@example.com or (440) 250-7034.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you ask Doug Taylor what it’s like putting on a fireworks show, he would tell you that it’s like taking the Rolling Stones on tour. There are potentially hundreds of people involved in the background and a single show can require five or six tractor trailers, a few straight trucks and more than a week to set up, using 15 to 20 people a day.
“This should all be background for our customers,” says Taylor, president and CEO of Zambelli Fireworks. “All we want our customers and the spectators to see is 15 to 20 minutes of a fantastic display, just like the Rolling Stones really only want their spectators to see them up on stage for that hour-and-a-half concert.”
Zambelli Fireworks is one of the best-known names in the fireworks industry. The company employs 50 people year-round, increasing its employment to roughly 1,500 people around the Fourth of July. Zambelli launches 2,300 firework shows across 32 states each year with nearly 600 of them being around Independence Day.
The company puts on shows for municipalities, Major League and Minor League Baseball, the NFL, MLS, professional lacrosse, amusement parks, festivals, weddings and private parties. Productions can range in cost from $3,500 to more than $500,000.
“Our company has one of the best names in the industry,” Taylor says. “We have that, but if we don’t keep working on that every day, we’re not going to have it at some point. We have to continue to earn our reputation and that level of trust with our customers.”
That reputation, the ability to put on a fantastic show and customer service focus has been challenged recently due to three major issues that have put added pressure on Zambelli. The company has had to overcome delivery disruptions from China, the challenge of the U.S. economy, the impact of increasing raw material costs and labor problems in the Chinese market, which is the source of 95 percent of the product in the U.S.
“With those combinations we’ve seen product costs go up somewhere in the range of 45 percent in the last five years,” Taylor says.
Here is how Taylor continues to put on a great show by dealing with unexpected challenges through close relationships with vendors and customers.
Expect the unexpected
There are about 14,000 fireworks shows shot on the Fourth of July in the U.S. every year. So in 2008 when China shut down two of the four ports from where fireworks are shipped, it created a 25 to 30 percent decrease in the capacity of delivery.
“An awful lot of companies didn’t get deliveries that year and there were a significant number of shows that did not end up being shot,” Taylor says. “We ended up getting most of our deliveries that year, and with a large inventory, we survived it.”
Typically, smaller companies get in a couple of containers of product each year. They use up 90 percent of it and then order more for next year. Zambelli tends to carry over a year’s worth of inventory each year.
“That way we have a lot more cushion than smaller companies can afford to have,” he says. “That certainly helps us in a time like 2008 where the shipping was such a problem, but it doesn’t mean we had the exact inventory we wanted.”
With China controlling 95 percent of the fireworks used around the world, there really wasn’t a good alternative for Zambelli to get product from.
“You can get product out of Europe from Spain and Italy, which is extraordinary product, but it’s three to five times as expensive as what you get out of China,” Taylor says. “So that’s not a good solution. We did go out and find some pockets of product because we moved very early.
“Ultimately, we had to design our shows differently based on the product that we had available within our existing inventory.”
To help combat the issue of product availability, Zambelli put a focus on communicating with its producers in China.
“We worked for years to make sure we treated our vendors as partners and that they treated us the same way,” he says. “Because of that relationship, we began to hear early that there were going to be problems. Vendor relationships are very important — making them a partner versus just a vendor.”
Aside from problems abroad in China, Zambelli faced challenges here at home due to the poor economy. A number of the company’s customers had to rethink whether they could do a fireworks show similar to what they had done in previous years or at all.
“We saw a number of cities that had to decide where they were going to spend their money,” Taylor says.
One city in Ohio was in a position where it had to lay off more than 50 employees and as much as the leaders wanted to have a fireworks show, it was politically inappropriate to lay off staff and then spend $20,000 on a fireworks show.
“We had some communities that canceled their fireworks and a number of communities that reduced the size of their fireworks,” he says.
Zambelli has been shooting shows for some customers for more than 30 years. Maintaining those kinds of customers goes back to having a good relationship.
“We didn’t want them to begin to think about talking to somebody else, because there is always a competitor that will do it cheaper,” he says. “We worked with them and gave them as good a deal as we could possibly give them. These were customers that we had for a long time, and that’s the kind of relationships that we like to maintain.”
One of the other interesting changes that occurred during this time was that if a city couldn’t afford to pay for a show anymore, it found an outside group to take it on. Zambelli has begun helping customers find ways to afford a fireworks show if they don’t have the funds necessary.
“That’s a new role for our company and for firework companies in general,” he says. “We’re working with certain larger corporations and trying to find places where they feel it would be a good investment for their brand to go in and support a community. We’ve had to change our marketing role to where we are marketing more directly to sponsors.”
The solution to this problem again comes back to building relationships and forming partnerships.
“If you look at the crux of what a true partnership is, there are going to be ups and downs,” Taylor says. “The sooner that you can anticipate what’s going to happen, the better positioned you are to adjust to it. You have to have an open line of communication with a customer or partner.
“Keeping those lines of communication open allow you to be aware of any issues. Having that communication … helps make sure we are hearing what’s important to them.”
Improve your relationships
Due to the issues with product delivery, the economy in the U.S., the challenges of increased costs of raw materials and labor problems in China, Zambelli’s ties to its vendors and customers have had to be stronger than ever.
“Many of our customers make a decision through a purchasing agent, and they’re trained to find the best deal,” Taylor says. “The easiest way for them to find the best deal is if they said, ‘We have a $10,000 budget.’ If one company offered them 900 shells and another company offered them 925 shells, they’re going to the 925-shell company, even though they don’t fully understand how that count was come by.”
That’s one point where Zambelli will work with its customers to explain it is offering a complete event, not just a number of shells.
“We’re selling the level of trust you can have in Zambelli Fireworks because of what we’ve done for years and what we’ve done for you as a customer,” Taylor says. “We’re selling you some of the highest quality product out there. We’re selling you a safety record, which is as good as anybody’s. We’re selling an entire package. We’re not selling a count of fireworks on a page.”
This level of selling has been somewhat of a transition for the Zambelli sales force, because not only has it become more competitive over the last five years, but the Zambelli sales team has had to learn to sell a turnkey package and not let people make decisions based purely on a shell count.
“It’s been an education process to not only educate our salespeople, but for them to turn around and educate our customers so they can make better decisions,” he says. “The more understanding customers have about each decision they make and why those decisions are important, the more likely they are to hire us.
“We have to develop a level of trust with our customers that they know we’re going to deliver that fantastic show. We’re focused on maintaining and improving a high level of service to our customers and maintaining our reputation.”
How to reach: Zambelli Fireworks, (800) 245-0397 or www.zambellifireworks.com
Be prepared for unexpected challenges.
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Find ways to improve relationships with customers.
The Taylor File
President and CEO
Born: Port Arthur, Texas
Education: Attended North Carolina State University where he received a BS degree in science education and in zoology. He also received a MBA from Indiana University in Bloomington.
What was your very first job? What did that experience teach you?
The first job I had where I was working for someone else was mowing lawns at the age of 12 or 13. The first job I viewed as a real job was working in high school at a hardware store. What I learned there more than anything was the value of customer service.
When did you get into fireworks?
The first idea I ever envisioned of being involved with a fireworks company was in early 2007. I started work as the president and CEO of Zambelli in late May 2007.
What do you like most about fireworks?
It’s a fascinating industry, and it’s related to what I said about taking the Rolling Stones on the road. It is the entertainment business and although there are all kinds of technical and regulatory issues we deal with, at the end of the day if the spectators and the customer are happy with the result, then we entertained them.
Do you have a favorite Zambelli show?
At the Kentucky Derby Festival, we have two sets of barges that are each 600 feet long in the river and in the middle is a bridge that we shoot off of 3,200 feet of bridge. We’re able to fill the sky where people miles up and down the river are watching the show. The magnitude of that is incredibly impressive. On one side it’s the emotion and importance of the event to the community, and the other end is just the artistry and magnitude of what can be done.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
My father taught me that the thing that you can’t give up is that level of trust that people have to have in you.
The world is changing faster than ever. We now face megatrends of monumental proportions: a global population of 7 billion, greater disparity between rich and poor, increasing numbers of cataclysmic events, the rise of emerging countries, increased consumerism, increased social and technological complexity, increased globalization trends, and so forth.
As leader of a business, how do you face these trends and events?
Can you survive by conducting “business as usual,” or do you embrace, adapt and leverage their potential? Fundamentally, can a firm and its leaders operate without facing these trends and transforming their business to play a productive role in society?
For many decades now, economics and management scholars and behavioral scientists have studied and debated the role of the firm in society.
Why does the firm exist, and what is its role? From these discussions, the theory of the firm has evolved over the years from concepts of profit maximization (neoclassical economics) to customer satisfaction (customer-value theory of the firm) through the management of resources to create competitive advantage (resource-based view of the firm) and the organization of agents and actors to make choices and decisions (behavioral theory of the firm).
Among the vast array of derivative theories and multiple schools of thought surrounding the theory of the firm, none of them actually captures the fundamental question facing our businesses today: Why do firms exist in society, and what will their role be during the next 50 years?
More recently, the concept of sustainable value has emerged at the nexus of discussions about sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Based on Chris Laszlo’s work, this concept proposes that just “doing good” is no longer enough. Firms need to think strategically about their long-lasting value to all stakeholders and make it part of their strategic orientation.
This is a holistic approach that requires vision, action, support and resources. The following quote captures this concept well:
“Companies that are breaking the mold are moving beyond corporate social responsibility … to social innovation. They view community needs as opportunities to develop ideas and demonstrate technologies, to find and serve new markets and to solve long-standing business problems.” — Rosabeth Moss Kantor
So, you might ask, what does this mean for me? It means that you cannot ignore the megatrends. You and your firm can make a difference in society. The question then becomes how to get started.
The following are some recommendations for starting your journey.
Start small, but do it fully.
Select a few programs and partnerships to work on, and fully engage your firm and your staff. Less is better. At Ardex, we work closely with Habitat for Humanity and the local food bank, and we support veterans in need every holiday season. It starts at the top: Business leaders and owners are the organizational champions.
Capture the energy of your employees.
You will surprised by the amount of employee support you receive, as well as the positive impact on the organizational climate. You might not reach everyone, but many of your employees will be motivated and enthusiastic.
Leverage the power of social innovation.
Study the trends and capture their innovation potential without trying to make additional profit. Make it part of your regular business model and be realistic.
Include it as part of your DNA.
Sustainable value is not short term. It is a journey for the long term, and programs cannot be cut at every downturn. It is a transformational journey toward becoming a better corporate citizen and leading with compassion at the organizational level.
Whether you work for a small business or a large corporation, you can make a difference and create lasting value. Everything counts. The role of business is changing, and the best-in-class companies have emerged. Do not sit on the sidelines. Your community, your customers and your employees are watching. The world is watching. ?
Stephan Liozu (www.stephanliozu.com) is the founder of Value Innoruption Advisors. He specializes in disruptive approaches in strategy, innovation, pricing and value management. He earned his PhD in Management at Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at email@example.com.