It's understandable why we marvel at the new businesses on the block, especially household names like Uber, Amazon and Facebook. Newer brands are fresh and exciting, and some of them are clearly doing something right. Still, if you want a business role model, you may want to look at the companies that have been around forever. Why? Because they have business growth strategies that work.
Success is often contingent on a lot of things going right. But it may be worth considering implementing these business growth strategies into the way you run your company. What is growth strategy in strategic management for all businesses if not going with fundamentals that stand the test of time?
With any luck, your business is already doing some—or even all—of these.
1. Be willing to change with the times.
The ability to adapt may be the most important “rule" a business can follow. Jack Marran is the president of Marran Oil, which has been around since 1891—126 years. Despite the name, his family's business is more than just oil. The company specializes in heating oil, HVAC and home security. Back when founder William Marran, Marran's great-great grandfather, ran the joint, it was strictly an oil company. William delivered kerosene by horse-drawn carriage to households for cooking and lamps.
But even back then, William demonstrated a willingness to change: He was delivering kerosene when his competitors were delivering whale oil.
Marran Oil has always been willing to evolve, according to Marran, and that's easily one reason it's still around. After all, think about how many companies nowadays you know of that deliver kerosene oil?
"Always do what will be the best for your customers in the long run," he says. "It's very important to make sure you know what they need or want, sometimes before they do."
2. Make innovation one of your business growth strategies.
There's a difference between changing with the times, staying caught up with the present and innovating and leading society into the future.
—Jack Marran, president, Marran Oil
Jeff Vermeulen, executive director of the J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship at York College of Pennsylvania, says that one of the most important business growth strategies is the ability to anticipate the future and lead people there.
"Successful companies need to be constantly innovating in order to stay relevant for their customers and ahead of their competition," Vermeulen says.
3. Focus on customer relationships
Bob Mullen is the fifth generation to own Mullen Bros. Jewelers in Swansea, Massachusetts. His company started in 1893 by textile mill worker Joseph Mullen.
“He saved up all the money he could, bought a suitcase full of jewelry and began going door to door through the city. He sold jewelry on credit, so there was always a strong relationship component as he would return frequently to collect payments," Mullen says.
Before the days of FICO scores, Mullen says credit was extended on a handshake.
"I often hear stories of appreciation from adult customers who remember my grandfather extending them credit to purchase a gift for their parent on Mother's or Father's Day when they were back in high school," he says.
Mullen says he still attempts to offer that personal touch, which can be increasingly difficult in a digital age.
“We try and do the same on the web, with one-on-one video consultation and direct contact with the owner," he says.
His business has also started a tradition of giving people in his community custom bracelets for the birth of a child or loss of a family member.
“When anyone on our staff hears a story from a personal conversation or social media, they share it with the team and our goldsmith will make them a small gift," Mullen says.
With more businesses moving online, it's easier to lose that human connection. That means that when it comes to business growth strategies, it becomes even more important for companies to be proactive and do more to show that they care about their customers.
Marran agrees. “In the 1930s, my grandmother used to stop by each customer's house once a year to check in with them and make sure they were happy with the service we provided," he says. "We've gotten large enough that that's no longer even remotely possible. But I still speak to customers on the phone every day. Keeping directly in touch with your customers ensures that you hear things that might otherwise get lost in the corporate grapevine."
4. Give back to your community.
Doing good works and for nonprofits and hard-luck cases may not be commonly thought of as business growth strategies. But numerous surveys and reports in recent years have shown that Millennials, in particular, gravitate toward businesses that practice corporate social responsibility.
Giving back sure hasn't hurt Bozell, an advertising firm in Omaha, Nebraska, that started in 1921. (It isn't a family-owned firm; there have been mergers and acquisition over the years.)
There are probably many reasons for the company's success, but one of its hallmarks has been its charitable giving, according to Robin Donovan, one of Bozell's co-owners and its president.
“Thanks to our founders, giving is in our DNA," she says.
The company started as Bozell & Jacobs, named for two newsmen turned ad executives, Leo Bozell and Morris Jacobs.
Jacobs had a saying that the company adopted as its mantra: "We must pay rent for the space we occupy on this Earth."
Their first nonprofit client was Father Flanagan's Boys' Home, a project the founders took on pro bono. They worked around the clock to raise money and community awareness for the charity. Today, that client is better known as the famed Boys Town, which helps at-risk kids (including girls now, too).
Donovan says that she and her two fellow co-owners have continued their company's legacy of good works. For instance, last year, in honor of the business's 95th birthday, they held a Free Ad Day, in which the 40-plus employee firm gave away their services for free to anybody in Omaha. They aimed for 95 projects in a day and wound up doing 111 projects in nine hours.
And while a business should do the right thing because it's the right thing, karma can help pad the bottom line. Donovan cites the example of a woman they helped on Free Ad Day, who has since become the CFO at one of Bozell's larger clients.
“We have a dedicated fan in a very high place, and that never hurts," she says.
So if you're searching for business growth strategies, take a look at what the new companies are doing—but don't forget you can draw inspiration from the old ones. There are probably some pretty good reasons they're still around.
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