It’s no secret that finding able, experienced
employees was tough in a small market. One
small bushiness owner, who avoids local recruitment firms, told me that he preferred to do his
own search through networking and local classified ads. He said, “God gives milk an I have the
pail for it.” (Maybe his solution starts with reflective leadership or market based management?)
He’s right. Small companies with less than
$6 million in sales, rarely have the money or the expertise to find the winning salespeople, customer
service people and managers.
So, to set ourselves apart, I changed
our business model. It will take WTC in
a uniquely different direction.
The goal has always been to
grow slowly, organically, steadily,
and profitably, but with an intense
passion for performance.
In contrast, plenty of flashy start-ups,
especially high-tech companies, believe in the
“big bang” model, with very fast growth, fueled
by lots and lots of poaching, investment and debt.
Bootstrapped companies start slow on
somebody’s cash. And in their turnaround, you
learn a lot about ambiguity in making a profit. It
can mean becoming a high risk venture.
In opening our 35,000 sq.ft. sheet plant in
El Paso, I hoped that it would not be insular, but
cost-effective on a limited budget.
Thus, when I bootstrapped, rather than
viewing mistakes as something I’ve done wrong,
I look at improvement opportunities. I wanted
to better grasp the degree to which customers
were aware of our box business competence.
Hopefully, never to outstrip the quality of the
goods or services we were providing them.
Unfortunately, the future has a way of
sneaking up on us. We weren’t afraid of our competition, as we believed a kite rises against the
wind, not with the wind. But it did mean we had
to hire a team that understands and shares goals.
After hiring two new applicants, in 2000,
I was still ambivalent with their caliber of innovative skills. They had some experience, but didn’t
meet all my sales criteria. As a performance
oriented entrepreneur I definitely didn’t want to
hire someone else’s mistake. Besides, local sales
commission was based on sales dollars, which
was customary in El Paso.
My plan needed to be the right fit. It is all
about a basic work ethic. This is normally difficult
to change in people. A new salesperson needs an
investment of time and money to learn the territory
and its accounts. Usually it takes six months
to a year to be productive and pay for themselves.
The result? WTC needed $1 million loan from
our other plants to escape from the valley of death.
A crucial next step was to improve the timeliness
of quotes and corrective action by
our employee centered management.
The art of being wise is knowing when
to stop. In California our sales expertise is with
broker/agents and distributors. The trick is to understand the sensitivities of the market.
Our nimble sheet plant would offer fast quoting, broker load tags on shipments, office space,
phone, fax, copier, postage and Internet access. We
also would provide commission and inventory reports; on-site design services,
free inside sales backup when the salesperson
is sick or on vacation; and a secure, friendly
Within a month we had half a dozen responses. Most came from people who had
their oars in the water and were anxious to start
or had their own small broker business. We had
a tough time selecting those we believed would
be credit worthy and row our ‘sales’ boat faster.
Brokers/agents and packaging distributors
have many product lines. They bring with them
a price-bid business. Value added products become a commodity and difficult to sell at higher
margin because most sell on price. When we do
300 quotes and receive 30 orders, something is
The sales process can be a win-win situation for all involved. Typically in our box making business, the inside salespeople have been
order takers. But from the start, we made them
more proactive. They now call customers, to inform, build rapport and relationships. You can
sense the soul of West Texas when speaking to
our sales service team
Today, we believe that our best sales
growth solution for manufacturing in smaller
markets is a combination of selected direct
sales by our employees and through loyal
broker/agents, distributors, plus our website
Events are forcing changes. WTC is
grabbing hold of the future with continuous
improvement. For starters, we have moved
into our own 85,000 sq. fit. building near the
Mexican boarder. Plus, we have upgraded
every machine, every interface and every
system into one vast, interconnected virtual
manufacturing web that is accessible, traceable and trackable from any secured smart
phone anywhere in the world.