When I bought Superior Lighting in 2008, it was a small, local lighting supplier that only served customers in the immediate South Florida area. But by building a strong foundation for growth, maintaining outstanding customer service and staying ahead of the game, we were able to move into larger markets. Today we're a prominent, statewide wholesaler of LED lighting.
If you're the owner of a business and are looking to transform your company into one that competes in larger markets, then consider taking a few pages from my playbook.
1. Adjust the way your team sets goals to help you move into larger markets.
As CEO, my main purpose is to create and execute strategies that enable my company to successfully accomplish its vision.
But if you want your business to step up into a larger market, it helps to keep in mind that growth isn’t just about doing what you and your team do day in and day out. To compete in larger markets, it’s important to set manageable goals and follow through to make sure any roadblocks to meeting them do not get in your way.
At my company, we are continuously working to improve our processes so we can grow as a business and reach customers we have not served in the past. One way we do this is by holding an all-hands meeting at the beginning of each quarter. At this meeting, we identify and describe what our goals are for the quarter: This includes specific goals for sales, customer service, marketing, product sourcing and order fulfillment.
By regularly pushing loftier goals and following up with different teams that are responsible for making sure specific goals are met, Superior Lighting has been able to achieve growth year over year, and the company has successfully expanded into new markets.
The role of CEO can be about more than simply ensuring the smooth operation of a successful business. It can include promoting a work environment that encourages teamwork, learning, open communication and individual growth. When the CEO promotes these actions with employees, it can help the company expand into larger markets.
Consider making yourself available to employees to answer questions or help out with issues that may arise. CEOs are busy people, so I don’t think it would be wise to make yourself available 100 percent of the time. Instead, consider reserving one or two hours each day to immerse yourself in what’s going on with the company and your employees.
One great way you can accomplish this is by what I like to call “managing by walking around." You can take an hour or so each morning to walk around the office and engage with your employees. Ask them what they’re working on and how things are going. Do they have questions you could answer? Could you help them improve their process in any way?
With this method, CEOs can make it more apparent they're invested in their employees and the tasks they accomplish each day to help the company succeed. The team may come to learn this is a time to discuss issues and ask questions if they have them, and operations are more likely to improve when they are reassessed frequently.
2. Double down on providing good customer service.
If you want your business to expand into markets it doesn’t currently reach, having a strong foundation of loyal customers can help. These customers can provide feedback about their experiences, which businesses can then use to improve operations and plan for new customers and/or customer types to successfully expand into larger markets.
I strongly encourage business owners to never lose sight of existing customers. One great way to encourage customers to return to your business is by following up. After your products are delivered, consider calling customers to find out how the goods were received and what they think about them. Ask them what they like and dislike about your company’s services and methods—anything that can help your business improve in the future. Then, you can use the feedback you receive to improve business operations and/or product selection.
Keep in mind that everything from browsing items online, to checking out, to finally receiving an order is all part of the customer experience. Focus on giving customers memorable and positive experiences for every part of the buying and receiving process. Having an easy-to-navigate website may help bring in new customers as well, because they will be able to place orders without issue.
Businesses often underestimate the potential of existing, long-term customers bringing in new business. That is partially why we dedicate so much time and effort on our existing customer base. Make it known to your company’s customers that you care about them and their business. And for the customers who keep coming back for more, show them a little extra care. (We often send repeat customers gift cards.)
Word-of-mouth references are one of the most powerful ways to make a name for yourself in any industry. One way to harness word-of-mouth references is to ask your satisfied customers to tell their friends and acquaintances about your business. By providing outstanding customer service to your customers, some of them may tell their friends and acquaintances about the satisfaction they experienced with your business. This can help your company expand into larger markets by helping to create a reputation as a business who puts its customers first.
Great customer service is something businesses can provide without great investment, and it can lead to business growth and expansion.
3. Keep your eye on what's next in your industry.
We owe a lot of our success to our loyal customers and hard-working employees. But staying abreast of new technology played a large role in the recent growth and success of the company.
Before LEDs became mainstream, we prepared for their arrival a full two years in advance. We knew the awareness and adoption of LED lighting would be quick. Some companies did not anticipate just how quickly consumers would adopt LEDs, and many incandescent suppliers are now out of business today. Embracing LED technology and change within the industry allowed us to step into markets we were not previously in.
Our strategy was—and continues to be—to stay ahead of the curve as best we can. I recommend this same strategy to other business owners. You can never know exactly what’s going to happen in the future, but try to anticipate the changes in your industry as best you can. Being able to predict product demand months (if not years) ahead of time helps position your business as a leading supplier, ready to supply the product that customers demand as soon as they demand it.
If your competitors are able to stock the latest and greatest products before you can, you may fall behind the curve and miss ideal opportunities for growth. Staying ahead of the curve, predicting product demand and keeping up-to-date with the latest industry trends can help bring steady growth year over year and help you expand into new and bigger markets.
Zev Herman is an entrepreneur focused on growing his wholesale light bulb and lighting business, Superior Lighting, specializing in energy efficient lighting design and retrofits. He is also a member of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC).
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