Over the past 29 years at EPCO, the constant learning about industry, product and people never stopped, and I feel like I earned an MBA at the EPCO School of Hard Knocks. Here are some things I learned that helped contribute to EPCO’s growth. I think they can help your business, too.
1. Strong business relationships are vital and key to growth and success. In my opinion, technologies such as EDI, websites, e-mail, cell phones and texting can at times hinder or help a business relationship but can never replace a strong relationship. If I was down to my last $100 and my choice was to buy a cell phone or take someone to lunch, I would invest in the lunch. Good relationships will last a lifetime but cellphones barely last two years.
2. Stay easy to do business with. Lots of reps used to tell me they would use EPCO as their example of an “easy-to-do-business-with company” when talking to their other manufacturers. I believe having people empowered to make decisions allows folks to get quick non-committee answers. I also believe hiring motivated employees and retaining them for the long run provides business continuity and consistency. Long tenure allows employees to develop a good understanding of your business, products and the electrical industry so they can be responsive to inquiries from reps and customers.
3. As your company grows, stay devoted to the flexibility and customer focus that helped you get your start. Johnny McDaniel, Enhanced Electrical Sales of Houston, once said at a NEMRA group meeting, “EPCO tries to say ‘Yes’ more than they say ‘No.’” That means when we are given a unique opportunity, extreme low pricing, a custom product request, or other similar challenge, EPCO wants to win it just as much as the rep does. Small companies have much greater flexibility than larger companies to accommodate these types of challenges, so as we have grown, we have tried to maintain the “can do” attitude of much smaller companies.
4. Treat your reps like family or employees, not like independent contractors. People want to work for people they like and respect. Don’t screw with a rep’s money. I’m very proud to say EPCO has never been late with a single commission check in 40 years.
5. Listen. Sales reps, distributor customers, suppliers and contractor customers can provide very important information. When we listened close enough, the input from the field provided us with market information, pricing information, appropriate new product ideas or product improvements. Most of the products in the EPCO catalog were ideas generated from the field. For example, Don Perry, Perry & Associates, Omaha, NE, was relentless in suggesting that EPCO add the 15000 series Utility Light. That was a time when the closest thing to lighting EPCO had was a fixture whip. The Utility Light was a game changer for EPCO that ultimately changed the direction of our business. Thank you, Don!
6. Add value to new products that compete with existing products already on the market. Adding unique features helps differentiate products from the pack. Last year, EPCO sold over 1 million units of its keyless and pull chain lamp holders. I believe by having the nickel-plated screw shell versus the standard aluminum shell along with a neck that accommodates our Temporary Light Cage, we differentiated our product from Leviton, P&S/Legrand and others.
7. Employee ownership empowers your employees with the independence to make their business decisions. They want to do good work, help and contribute towards the profitability of the company. As leaders, it’s important we support and guide them — but then get the heck out of their way so they can do the good job they want to do.
8. Measure and pay for performance. The saying, “Things that get measured, get improved” is true. We created a company scoreboard to monitor and measure the critical activities that makes EPCO successful. We tie company profit sharing to the performance of each department along with the company performance. Two examples of metrics on the EPCO scoreboard that impact our success in the field are measuring on-time performance and measuring complete orders shipped. EPCO has a total of 21 matrices that we pay attention to and are on this scoreboard. Last year, we paid out over $200,000 in profit sharing to our participating employees.
If you are looking to locate Jack during the early years of his retirement, you can probably track him down at one of America’s National Parks or state parks. He, his wife, Mona, and their dog will be full-time RVers in their new 5th wheel camper and plan to volunteer throughout the country at the parks. You can check out where they are traveling in their new blog, at schustersgonerving.wordpress.com or at [email protected] , 952-472-2938.