Here’s the story…
Recently, Nancy, Jay and I got to hear Kathy Ireland speak to a group. She is a remarkable businesswoman who is passionate about her brand. She launched her business in 1993 and today it is a $1.5 billion dollar company selling over 45,000 products.
She told the story of starting the brand with a pair of socks selling them out of the trunk of her car. Now she has sold over 100,000,000 pairs of socks.
Her success stems from the intimate knowledge of her customer and what the customer wants. She said to keep those doors of communication open with those you serve. The customer will honestly tell you how you can do better and serve her. Listening to our customers is critical.
A few other points she talked about were as follows:
- We are our own brand. What kind of brand to we portray to the world? If we have to make a change in that brand, do it now.
- A well branded product (or person) will outperform a non-branded, lesser priced product.
- Men buy products but women are loyal to brands.
- Corporate America no longer controls brands. Do to social media like Facebook, Twitter and blogs, people want to be reached in their own terms and not corporate terms.
- Independent retailers can offer what big boxes can’t – customer service.
She was an inspirational speaker who siad her priorities were faith, family, and service to work. She indicated whenever she got the priorities mixed up, she was really in trouble.
Probably my major takeaway from her was her persistence in the face adversity. Anybody can see her now as a celebrated wife, mother and CEO of a $1.5 billion dollar brand. Some may remember her as a swim suit model. But throughout she faced lots of people who told her “no” and she still struggled on to build an empire. The difference between her and millions of others who want the fame and fortune is that she never quits.
Kevin Sauder’s Belief That Independent Furniture Reps Are An Asset to a Manufacturer
In reading an excellent blog post on Furniture Today by Jim Green, I was reminded of an interview I did with Kevin Sauder, the third generation leader of Sauder Woodworking. He leads a company that is one of the top manufacturers in the furniture industry doing over half a billion dollars in sales annually.
In my interview, Kevin spoke of many topics such as
- How Sauder grew from the humble beginnings to the fifth largest furniture manufacturer in the country
- Life lessons in a family business (albeit a very big family business)
- What he has learned from dealing with the largest retailers in the country like Wal-Mart and Office Depot
- Changes he sees our industry needs to address like the new California CARB compliance, getting younger people involved in the industry, how to make our offerings appealing to the consumer and the Green movement
- What he sees successful businesses doing in the jobless recovery
- His take on sales training and it’s not what you think it might be.
- Internet retailing perspectives
- Some of his greatest successes and challenges
What reminded me of the interview when I saw Jim’s column is Kevin Sauder’s opinion on the use of manufacturer’s reps. He felt the use of independent sales reps was much more beneficial for a company on a number of fronts. Here are the advantages he mentioned for employing independent sales reps:
- The relationships independent reps have with the retailers are generally better than any factory guy would have.
- A good experienced manufacturer’s rep is the eyes and ears on the ground in the customer’s door. They can listen not only when they are presenting the manufacturer’s line but when they are presenting other manufacturer’s lines. (In my own case, there are several placements I have made over the years because of my relationship with another line, that allowed me to present a new line)
- Reps have a reason to be in the retailers store and they know more people
- Reps are a variable cost. If business is down, the factory does not have to pay as much.
- And the biggie that he told me was how reps actually create more sales for Sauder from product that didn’t even exist.
Probably the most interesting thing in the whole interview was Kevin’s take on integrity in business. If all businesses (and government for that matter) had his philosophy on how to manage ethically, our country and our economy would be a much better place.
Two months ago my father served as a pallbearer to a friend he’s known for 50 years. Tomorrow he will repeat the process for another friend. It’s sad to have close friends of my parents pass on. These were people I knew since childhood, looked up to while growing up, respected for their business successes while I was starting to get into business, and more recently shared golf games with them and my dad.
For those of us who believe in an afterlife, I know these men are in a better place and so we rejoice in their life with us. But a couple of thoughts struck me hard yesterday when dad told me he was going to be another pallbearer (I think it’s three or four in 2010 alone).
1. There is always a void in the families and friends from a life well lived. The more the people enjoyed life, the more life will miss them when they are gone.
2. I am blessed to have parents who are still going very strong and are of good health. After having great Christmas celebrations with the whole family it’s important to enjoy all our moments together because time is fleeting.
And the thought that hit me the hardest as I am starting to think about my annual goal setting and updating ritual:
3. How many funerals would I be asked to be a pallbearer at? My folks have so many friends that they have cultivated over the years. The fun and joy they shared for 50 some years with these friends more than compensates for the heartache when it gets to the end of the road.
As I prepare and update my goal list for 2011, there will be a new twist on the category of relationships. It’s not as much about how many people you know as much as it is how many people do you know well enough that if you out live them, you will be a pall bearer at their funeral. That my friends is a real testament to a life well lived.
As always let me know your thoughts.
PS. I’ll get back to more uplifting topics next time.