Last Monday night I found myself at a reunion with five old friends.
Our group initially had come together as a part of our membership in an entrepreneurial organization some 15 years ago. After a few years, our collective membership in the organization came to an end, however the six of us all decided that we would continue to meet for dinner each month to share ideas and offer support to one another.
After about 10 years, our monthly meetings started becoming stale. We began talking about the same old topics each month... same old problems... same philosophies... same ideas.
Soon the members began to miss meetings on a regular basis as the meetings no longer took precedent over other multiple demands for our time.
After meeting each month for over 10 years, the group disbanded.
Every so often, I’d have lunch with one of the former members, just to stay in touch. It was during one of these recent "get-togethers" that the two of us decided that it had just been too long since the entire group had gotten together and that a "reunion" should be planned.
After contacting the other four members, we all agreed to meet for dinner on the last Monday of October.
For several hours, we each took turns presenting the group with a short autobiographical synopsis spanning the last 5 years. We talked about our families, our health issues, and the state of our businesses.
Although the economy over the last 5 years has been difficult (to say the least), each of our 6 businesses had grown significantly over this same time period.
This fact fascinated me.
I then began to query each of the group’s members as to why they believed their businesses had actually grown during the "great recession".
Here is a sampling of their responses to the question...
The first person to respond was Danny. Danny’s company is involved in providing financial services to high net-worth individuals. The financial services segment of the market has seen a great shakeout over the last 5 years but Danny’s business has grown significantly.
"We deal with clients who are accustomed to receiving personalized service. Our business model has changed significantly in that we no longer are trying to sell investments or stocks to clients. They can do that on their own on the Internet."
"Today we help them to design a complete financial plan that includes tax planning, estate planning, capital preservation and diversity. Because of the level of service that we perform for our clients, we needed to limit our overall client base."
The ones we have kept with us appreciate the level of service and expertise that we offer and have in turn given us more and more assets to manage."
"Today we continue to grow by focusing on a select client base and eliminating the other distractions that prevented us from providing our existing customers with unmatched customer service."
The next person to offer an opinion was Craig. Craig’s business is supplying gadgets and equipment to the golf industry. The golf industry has been hammered with the latest economic downturn but despite this gloomy environment, Craig’s business has prospered handsomely.
"The golf industry is a people business. Our growth and continued success starts from hiring the right people. Our sales representatives are seasoned professionals who have long-term relationships with our customers and our fulfillment team is trained to eliminate shipping and billing errors. Our customers trust us to do the right things right. This, in turn, helps them to build their businesses and become successful."
In addition to growing our base of customers, our product offerings have also increased. Our customers now can come to us for 90% of what they need instead of parceling out their requirements to several different vendors."
"As we’ve helped our customers to grow... we’ve continued to grow."
Mark was our next speaker. Mark’s company is a retail and wholesale distributor of professional fitness equipment. Large Internet retailers and "big-box" stores have significantly changed the fitness equipment market. Additionally, with disposable incomes for most people down over the last several years, the overall market size for personal fitness equipment has diminished also.
After listening to Danny and Craig, Mark offered his explanation as to why his business is thriving in hard times.
"In the past, we used to try and compete on price, selection and inventory, but online retailers have all but closed that window of opportunity. They have centralized warehouses, no showroom space costs, and agreements with most if not all of the major manufacturers."
"We knew that we needed to do something differently if we were to survive. We looked at market segments where the e-tailers and big box stores can’t (or chose not to) compete. We found that many customers were coming into our "brick and mortar" stores to look at the equipment but then decided to make their purchase online."
"At first we tried to stop this practice from occurring but now we embrace it. Now when a customer comes into our store, we help them to check the Internet to make sure that they are getting the best deal. Once we can demonstrate to the customer that our prices are truly in line with the other retailers then a whole new level of trust is established. As trust is established, we can point out quality and warranty differences between several pieces of equipment and manufactures."
"We become a part of the customer’s buying decision. We also establish a communication channel to provide the customer after-sale support to the customer in terms of delivery, set-up, and repair.
"The online retailers and big box stores just can’t offer these services."
Each person who spoke that evening gave several unique examples of how they managed to grow their businesses despite the worst economic environment in more than 80 years.
The underlying theme of the evening was that companies can survive (and thrive) if they are determined to build continued trust between them and their customers.
Trust can be built by employing transparency, outstanding customer service and creating value for their customers, even if it means that they are serving less customers in the process.
Trust is is hard earned and should never be taken for granted. Once it is established, it should never be compromised.
Trust is basis for all strong relationships... be it professional or personal.
Never break the trust!
Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we believe that actions are stronger than words in matters of trust.
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