Featured In This Issue
It was another day at the office for Izzy Sanchez. He was in a training class for American Standard listening to the instructor carefully explaining how to use new software to a group of employees.
The employees were dutifully following along on their laptops; things appeared to be going well. But Sanchez’s job was to dig deeper than appearances.
During a coffee break, Sanchez asked the employees how the training will work for them. Their response is a resounding “thumbs down.” When Sanchez asked why, an employee pointed to the classroom.
“You see all those computers in there? Well, we don’t have those computers at work,” he said.
“The new software was useless without computers,” remarks Sanchez. “So I found a way they could accomplish the same thing using a pencil and a calculator. Sometimes it’s something that simple.”
Sanchez has a lot of stories like that. For some, the answers are simple; for others, much more complicated. But it’s stories like that and the problems that cause them that led to the formation of Lean Sigma Professionals, LLC.
Founded in 2007 as a partnership between Sanchez and Ian Cato, who are both managing partners, Lean Sigma Professionals provides business performance solutions through Sanchez and Cato’s extensive expertise in Lean Six Sigma solutions for business.
Borrowed from Manufacturing
“Lean Six Sigma is actually a combination of two business efficiency methodologies,” explains Cato. “Lean dates back to the Toyota assembly line. The purpose of Lean is to reduce waste, to streamline and add value.
“Six Sigma is all about reducing variation and defects. In a Six Sigma process, 99.99966 percent of the products are free of defects. Motorola was first to use Six Sigma in producing their pagers. But Six Sigma became well known when Jack Welch used it at General Electric in the 1990s.”
“Lean Six Sigma is a blueprint,” adds Sanchez. “It allows you to identify errors, find root causes and eliminate them. Mistakes can cost companies up to 30 percent of their revenue each year. That’s why this is so important. Lean Six Sigma transforms business processes so they deliver their intended results reliably and consistently.”
Both Sanchez and Cato first came into contact with the Six Sigma methodology while working in large corporations—Sanchez at Xerox and Cato at Johnson Controls—when both were picked as promising leaders and sent for Black Belt training. Each one is now a Six Sigma Master Black Belt and Certified Lean Master.
Lean Six Sigma skill levels are designated by “Belt” designations. The standard hierarchy is Green Belt, Black Belt and Master Black Belt. A Green Belt can handle most problems within a company, a Black Belt is an expert and a Master Black Belt is equipped to handle highly complex issues as well as train others in Lean Six Sigma.
Both Sanchez and Cato entered into training with a healthy skepticism. They were quickly persuaded.
“By the second week I was beginning to see sense in it,” says Sanchez. “I’d just finished grad school for mechanical engineering and realized that if I’d known Lean Six Sigma then, I could have written my thesis in half the time. That’s when I decided that this is really powerful and I turned into a believer.”
“I was sold after I learned about the transfer function,” Cato says. “The transfer function states that outputs are a function of inputs. Most companies focus on their outcomes, on their net incomes. A Lean Six Sigma company focuses on their inputs, on all the items that contribute to their net income. That’s the fundamental difference between companies who’ve implemented Lean Six Sigma and those who haven’t.”
“And it’s quantifiable,” Sanchez adds. “You analyze and quantify. It’s measurable at the end. You’re getting data from it. Lean Six Sigma was developed for manufacturing but it’s expanded into just about every industry now. It can be applied to anything that has a process.”
“But we mean something different when we talk about a process,” Cato points out. “For most people a process is a group of tasks. To us, a process is a foundation, an infrastructure. It has a measurement system and an owner. It tells technology what to do; it tells people what to do. That’s a process.
“We’ve found that most companies with a problem don’t recognize it as a process issue. They think it’s a people issue. So they go out and hire smart people and they expect the smart people to fix things. In many companies the people are constantly fixing things because the problem is about the process infrastructure, not the people. Companies invest massive amounts of dollars on people and technology and ignore their process.”
“What they don’t realize is that if you have a process problem, better technology will only create your problems faster. They’ll now manifest at the speed of light,” interjects Sanchez.
Sanchez, who has an engineering background, and Cato, who has a finance background, first crossed paths while working at Bank of America headquarters in Charlotte. Part of the wave of professionals with Six Sigma experience the bank hired to help refine their processes, Cato became Sanchez’s backfill when Sanchez was promoted.
In hindsight, they credit their partnership to serendipity. Often they would be leaving the bank, hours after the official end of day, and run into each other in the parking lot.
“We would stop to talk about issues and concerns,” Sanchez remembers. “We found we had a lot in common, that we had the same values.”
Those conversations and their mutual belief in the power of Lean Six Sigma principles were the building blocks that led to their startup of Lean Sigma Professionals.
The partnership had an unconventional founding. The two lived on different sides of Charlotte so when it came time to make the business official, they agreed to split the driving distance and meet somewhere in the middle to sign the partnership agreement. The middle turned out to be a dirt road of an undeveloped housing subdivision off I-485.
“We signed the papers on the trunk of my car,” Cato recalls with a chuckle.
The business is unconventional in other ways too. It uses only Lean Six Sigma methodology. That, coupled with their self-designed S.I.M.P.L.E. framework, provides practical and sustainable solutions customized to each client’s needs and objectives.
And unlike other businesses, the company, which they founded in December of 2007, didn’t launch until February of 2009.
“We kept our day jobs and took time to apply the Lean Six Sigma tools to building our own business,” Cato explains. “We built our strategies and got mentorship from another consulting firm. We developed the company on our values. In our careers we’d had experiences with business consultants, and there were things we wanted to do differently.”
A Different Approach
“First, we were determined not to go into a company and disrupt their culture. We didn’t want to be the type of consultants who set up tent, camp in the organization, and then hand down the ‘Holy Grail,’” says Cato. “Where other companies send in 10 or 15 consultants, we send in one really experienced and capable one. And our consultants are there solely to work; not to sell the company on additional work. We don’t allow our consultants to sell.”
“We also ask questions about the corporate culture before we get on-site so that we fit into the company environment,” adds Sanchez. “We’ve actually gone to a nearby Wal-Mart or Target to change clothes when it was necessary.”
“We wanted to use a softer approach when we come into a company,” Cato adds. “We ask questions instead of telling people what to do. We stand back and watch. Many times when we come into an environment, it’s the first time someone has directly asked the employees what’s going on.”
“If people feel that you have a true interest in their pain, they’ll talk to you,” says Sanchez. “But you have to demonstrate your interest. So when they say, ‘You won’t be back here at 3 a.m. when the real work starts,’ you show up at 2 a.m.—with coffee and doughnuts. You make them know what they do is important, because it is.
“We don’t sit in a conference room. You will find us on the manufacturing floor, potentially under a machine figuring out how it works. We’ll be offloading a truck to feel the weight, the girth. In a bank, we’ll be with the teller or loan processor making a connection with the person actually in the process.”
“We come into a project because a company is feeling pain,” explains Cato. “They know they have a problem but they don’t know the legacy of the problem. It’s up to us to figure out what the key driver of the problem is.”
The different approach has already yielded Lean Sigma Professionals success. Last year, they were awarded the Supplier of the Year Award from the U.S. Postal Service for their work with them in 2010. Only 13 companies out of the Postal Service’s 20,000 suppliers received the award.
“Price Waterhouse, Deloitte, Accenture and Booz Allen—all the big consulting firms—were in the mix, but we were the only consulting firm honored,” Cato says with obvious pride. “We may have been a small company without a big name profile, but we went in there and delivered $60 million worth of real money in savings for the Postal Service.”
In addition to custom-designed business solution programs to improve existing processes, Lean Sigma Professionals also designs new processes based on client specifications and allows companies to bring Lean Six Sigma principles in-house by providing flexible training in Lean Six Sigma for employees. Training ranges from a one day overview through Master Black Belt training.
“Another piece of our business is implementation,” says Cato, “and a key part of implementation is messaging. It’s not just about what we’ve done in a solution. We have to take the Lean Six Sigma jargon and translate it into something that makes sense to the client. If they don’t understand it, there isn’t going to be any implementation.
Experts for Charlotte and Beyond
Sanchez and Cato are proud of what they’ve built in only four years of business. They now regularly handle projects all over the country and internationally as well. Their goal is to grow by 100 percent every year and they firmly believe this is an achievable goal.
“We started this business with our personal money and credit cards,” Cato states. “In 2009, our net income was negative $60,000; a year later we were at $3 million. We’re doing things that are unique. We want to make this methodology available to small business. Lean Six Sigma could be especially helpful to small businesses and we’re working on strategies to get it into the small business community.
“We’re also working on a performance-based contract option in which companies pay us based on what we do. We’re putting skin in the game.”
“And we want to commit to being the Lean Six Sigma consulting experts inCharlotte,” Sanchez says. “Every week we see consultants flying into Charlottefrom other places to do what we do. Charlotte is our headquarters and it’s a great business city. We have a stake in seeing that Charlotte business thrives and we have the expertise and passion to accomplish that.”
After Rick Cantwell graduated from West Point, he and his wife Becky made a deal: If she would support his choice of a military career, he would retire at the end of 20 years. So, in 1995, Lt. Colonel Cantwell wrapped up his distinguished career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and retired from the military.
Cantwell interviewed with six companies. When he talked with Odell Associates inCharlotte about opening an international branch of the company, it was a good fit. Furthermore, Becky liked Charlotte. “The community embraced her,” says Cantwell.
So Cantwell began his second career heading Odell International, a program management firm with clients ranging from various U.S. Department of Defense agencies to foreign Department of State agencies.
His job was to make sure Odell International excelled at creating strategic planning, system development, operations, and infrastructure across a broad spectrum of client needs for a broad range of global clients.
“Whether the project is in healthcare, government, education, or transportation, we can plan it, estimate its cost, help complete it, commission it, and train the staff to make it sustainable,” says Cantwell. “We make sure the client gets what they want.”
Originally established as a company in which Cantwell and Odell Associates both held ownership, Cantwell now owns 100 percent of Odell International and completed the certification process making Odell International a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business.
As a Certified SDVOSB, Odell International is eligible to pursue set-aside and sole source government projects, including several for the Veterans Administration Medical Centers located in Salisbury, N.C., Columbia, S.C. andHuntington, W.V.
Experience Around the World
Cantwell was the oldest of five children in a military family. When he was in the fourth grade, his father was stationed at Ft. Hood in Texas. The five children shared two bikes, so when the school had a reading program that offered a new red bike as the top prize, Cantwell went after it. He read over 200 books and won the bike. Cantwell credits all that reading to his passion for global business.
“By the end of fourth grade, I knew I wanted to be an engineer,” he says. “I also knew I wanted to go to West Point and that I wanted to travel and see the world.”
Not only did Cantwell graduate from West Point in 1975, he also received a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas in 1983, and completed the Construction Executive Program at Stanford in 1987.
As the engineer program manager of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, Cantwell was responsible for the planning, programming, budgeting, design, and construction of all facilities. He commanded a 625-man combat engineer battalion in South Korea stationed on the 38th parallel of the Demilitarized Zone to plan for and prepare against aggression by North Korea.
He was a member of special operations teams that conducted threat and vulnerability assessment in dozens of countries around the world and has been called on to testify and brief Congressional committees.
Altogether Cantwell has traveled to 87 different countries, fulfilling his childhood desire to see the world. After 27 years of experience in special operations engineering, program management and security operations, Cantwell is a subject matter expert on counter terrorism procedures and methodologies.
Congresswoman Sue Myrick appointed Cantwell as the Chairman of her Homeland Security Task Force. Additionally, Cantwell co-chairs the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Homeland Security Working Group with Major General (retired) Wynn Mabry.
Odell International is consulted by leading corporations and government agencies on complex Command and Security Technology Management practices, including 2020 Imaging.
Altogether, the experience Cantwell gained from his 20 years with the United States Army Corps of Engineers has translated smoothly to his work at Odell International. In the position of MACOM Engineer for the United States Army Special Operations Command, he supervised the long range planning, environmental assessment and master planning for the command. He also supervised the preparation and submission of capital investment programs and project development brochures.
Odell International’s first project was a 2.6 billion upgrade to health care in the United Arab Emigrates. Cantwell was able to help determine the strategic plan and to develop a sustainable program.
“In this case, as in all our projects, I’m there to work myself out of a job,” says Cantwell. “Every Westerner who heads up a department has a National as his deputy to provide for the eventual transfer of the technology and the skills to manage it to the UAE.”
Intended as a 14-year project, the UAE venture came to an early end after 9/11 when the Arab world pulled back from partnerships with U.S. companies and the U.S. instituted more stringent regulations governing the working relationships of U.S. businesses and foreign states.
Nevertheless, Odell International has thrived. Its latest projects include providing mobile command units to Nigeria, developing global wellness clinics for a Portugal client, and continuing care retirement communities in Cypress andChina.
Additionally, Odell International has teamed up with Parsons on a $500 million project to help rebuild the health care facilities in Iraq. Parsons is a leader in many diversified markets with a focus on infrastructure, environmental, and defense/security.
Today Odell International is a leading program management firm with the resources and capabilities to manage multiple health care projects simultaneously as part of a comprehensive program. In an environment that involves numerous contractors, vendors, suppliers and agencies, Odell International ensures that resources and activities are integrated, synchronized, and efficiently employed, resulting in program success.
“We make sure the project happens within budget and on time,” assures Cantwell. “In today’s world it is all about optimization. You have to use the right amount of energy and use it appropriately.”
It is also about having the right people in the right place. Odell International is organized around a carefully designed project team that is unique to each client. The project team allows the firm, with its numerous skill sets and assets, to offer personal attention to clients while providing the widest range of professional expertise available. Not surprisingly, 90 percent of Odell International’s employees are veterans.
“They have great skills and great work ethics,” explains Cantwell “They’ve been in the area; they know the culture, the language.”
Contrary to traditional models of program management that involve simply executing a client’s plan, Odell International becomes involved at the earliest stages and participates in program identification, definition, and planning. Through the review and development of short- and long-range business plans, growth projections, organizational culture, and other reviews, Odell International is able to assist the client in creating a strategic plan that maximizes the business objectives. The strategic plan allows for purchasing needed services, materials, and equipment in sufficient time and quantities to insure on-time delivery and favorable pricing. Odell International then executes the program on time and within budget.
When Odell International was contracted to provide $71 million of medical equipment in support of the Buildings, Health and Education Sector of the Rebuilding Iraq contract, it managed the process from start to finish. This included working with the end user, the Iraqi Ministry of Health through the Project and Contracting Office and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Odell International was in charge of purchasing equipment that would be installed in 150 primary health care centers that were to be constructed throughout Iraq.
“We take on a challenge, like this project in Iraq, that the client himself is unable to do or has never done before,” explains Cantwell. “Then we bring in the expertise and the technology to help execute and sustain the project. But, in the end, the project is only sustainable if the nationals are trained in the technology and prepared to assume responsibility for it.”
Cantwell understands and appreciates the sacrifice made by the men and women who serve in the armed forces, particularly special operations units, and the stress their deployment makes on the families left behind. During his childhood his father was frequently absent and Cantwell himself was gone 230 days a year for 12 years straight while his own three children were growing up.
“That is nothing compared with today’s tours where some officers are making 15 deployments,” he asserts. “Nonetheless, while the country has come a long way in appreciating the service of these officers, it isn’t doing nearly enough to support their families.”
In 2006, Cantwell helped form the Military Family LifeStyle Charitable Foundation (MFLCF). MFLCF is dedicated to providing financial, physical, and emotional support for military members and their families. The foundation does this through donations, fundraising activities, and by sponsoring events. These include a variety of annual golf tournaments and other events such as their annual Charlotte “Honor the Warrior” Ride.
MFLCF then supports the existing charitable organizations that provide funds for military personnel who have been disabled in the line of duty; provide educational grants for children of military personnel, and provide other miscellaneous financial needs to the military families.
MFLCF has done everything, from buying a $1,100 exercise bike for a little girl with a brain tumor whose father was a member of special operations, to partnering with a resort facility to provide family reconnect weekends for military families.
“Eleven hundred kids have lost a parent who was in special operations since 9/11,” asserts Cantwell. “We can’t forget these kids or their parents.”
Odell International has also supported the marketing of new products, the sale of which contributes to MFLCF. One of these new products, VeteranShield 24, emerged from a new technology called GoldShield. The core formula for GoldShield, which was invented at Emory University in Atlanta, is water-stabilized and will bond to surfaces, equipment and textiles, providing long-term protection against disease-causing germs. VeteranShield 24 is a new alcohol-free hand sanitizer and antiseptic foam that shows evidence of 24-hour protection in the absence of hand washing.
Not only does VeteranShield 24 have the potential to provide funds for MFLCF, the VeteranShield formula has long-range implications for fighting germs at hospitals, day care centers, and schools. The American Journal of Infection Control published evidence in its October 2010 issue that one application of VeteranShield performed a residual disinfection action of 85 days. Unlike other antimicrobial agents that modify surfaces, VeteranShield is the first to be aqueous-based, non-toxic, mercury free and non-flammable.
While Cantwell missed a lot while his own three children were growing up, he is determined to make up for lost time with his seven grandchildren.
“Last weekend I went to eight soccer games,” he laughs. “I am there for my kids’ kids.”
Cantwell’s son, Rick, works for Odell International, managing information and technology matters. His wife, Becky, and youngest daughter, Emily, also play a big role in the company as well.
“They bring the same energy and intellect to the business,” Cantwell asserts. “It’s truly a family business now.”
Cantwell also depends on the veterans he has recruited to serve Odell International in its regional offices. He points proudly to Steve Bridgman, whom he convinced to return to the Middle Eastafter leaving military service. Bridgman, who heads Odell International’s operations in the UAE, is able to build personal relationships with national leaders through his on-going presence and experience in the area.
“Guys like Bridgman have the same resumé I have,” says Cantwell, “and the same global passion. They differentiate us from our competitors. As former special operations forces, they know the area, including the culture and the language. They understand how to deliver what the client expects.”
Cantwell believes the work being done by Odell International and similar companies abroad are also essential to the future economic growth and strength of the United States.
“While the United States has a lot to offer, particularly in the area of technology, participating in global projects also adds value to U.S. companies. Global business helps the U.S. form lasting partnerships and opens new markets for U.S. firms,” offers Cantwell.
There are thousands of different types of paint and wall coverings used in the painting trade; hundreds of floor coatings and finishes on the market. Andy Robbins, CEO of A&K Painting Company, Inc., has worked with a large number of them during the years since he rode the paint bucket on his father’s van as a teenager.
Today, he spends a lot of time standing in the brand new 10,000-square-foot Operation Training and Showroom Center—the pride of A&K Painting—which he owns with his brother Kevin, president of the company.
A&K Painting is a full-service commercial and light industrial painting company headquartered here inCharlotte. Started in 1994, the company has grown to be a highly respected painting contractor serving clients in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Virginia,Tennessee and Pennsylvania.
“If you have the right size project and we can agree on terms, then most definitely—there’s nowhere we won’t go for the right job,” says Andy spiritedly.
With revenue exceeding $5 million, the company has enjoyed strategic partnerships with the likes of CB Richard Ellis, Childress Klein, Bissell Companies, Myers and Chapman, Harker Doerre, DSS and Choate, to name a few.
Projects range in size and scope within industry segments including up-fits, new commercial construction, commercial repaint, and multi-family rehab. The company has worked in office buildings, big box stores, banks, health care and fitness centers, car dealerships, university facilities, data centers and restaurants. National accounts include Target, Starbucks, Applebee’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Wilco-Hess and Burger King.
A&K Painting’s slogan—“A Relationship You Can Trust”—sums up the company’s philosophy. “We take a different approach to our projects,” says Andy. “We’re not followers. We don’t come to the job asking what to do. We come with a plan of action to review with the client and then get to work. To do that, we have to have their trust.”
Kevin is quick to point out, “That trust had to be earned. When we first came toCharlotte, nobody knew us. We had to earn our way, and that’s a big deal to us.”
Painting by the Numbers
One of the toughest and largest contracts for A&K Painting was a massive, multi-state repaint project for Wells Fargo Bank in the fall of 2010 through the fall of 2011.
“We did the first 23 branches in three weeks!” exclaims Andy, who describes the project as a great opportunity to showcase their talents. “They were so impressed with our work that they awarded us the contracts on 227 additional branches.”
The project was started in Florida, moving at a pace of 60 to70 seventy branches every six to eight weeks. While some of the project consisted of prep and paint, other parts of it involved removal of decades-old wall coverings from 100-year-old plaster walls. But the most difficult part was that, in almost all of the branches, they had to work during open hours of the bank.
“We had to leave the sites spic-and-span, everyday, while staying on schedule,” remembers Andy.
Last summer A&K worked on another project in Winston-Salem for Caterpillar, Inc. which required 23,000 gallons of dry fall material to be sprayed onto 900,000 square feet of ceiling space.
“We were working alongside people in other trades, which is difficult to do,” says Kevin. “Our products are applied wet and dry solid. Plus, the scheduling restraints were such that we had to do our work late at night between 6 p.m. and 4 p.m.—also quite a challenge.”
Last year A&K also completed a 750,000-square-foot interior and exterior paint project for Becton Dickinson in Cary.
“Last year was a very good year for us,” agree the partners. “Those projects were definitely catalysts for our boom in business,” says Kevin.
Creating a New Canvas
“We outgrew our old offices and operations space,” says Andy. “All this is new,” he motions around at his remodeled office and gestures towards theOperation Training and Showroom Center (OTS) just a short distance down the street. The company moved into the facility in November of 2011.
“Workers check in and out of the OTS and that’s where they gather supplies. We also hold monthly training sessions as well as foreman roundtable meetings there,” continues Andy. “Additionally, we wanted to create a space where clients could see how various products actually look when applied.”
“We are on the finishing end,” explains Kevin. “The operation time for us is usually fairly small, which doesn’t leave time for adjustments or changes. Preferably, we want to be brought in on the front-end, when choices of products are being made. We want to educate the client up front.”
The actual showroom is 1,600 square feet and displays over 100 types of paints, 40-plus different wall coverings, eight different types of floor coatings, faux finishes and a mural.
A&K Painting’s growth in core business and market share has spawned new hires. The company currently employs 80-plus employees. Eighteen of those are in office positions; the remainder are field personnel including foremen, project managers and estimators.
Keeping employees safe is critical. All field personnel have lift certification, 30-hour OSHA certification, and are certified for first aid and CPR. Workers are required to have all of their personal protection equipment—ear plugs, hard hat, safety glasses and boots—before going out into the field.
Foremen wear green shirts so clients know who’s in charge. Painters wear white shirts and white pants. All staff members are sent out with digital tablets, a colored set of plans, large paint samples to match against paint, and directions to the job.
“We are constantly looking for innovative ways to manage,” says Kevin, describing the company’s recently investment in a massive cloud-based job management system to handle purchase orders, bids, information about jobs and reports.
“We run our business the same way Well Fargo or other corporations run theirs,” says Andy. “We consider ourselves to be very professional and take pride in that.”
Like most businesses, A&K Painting had to make some changes to weather the economic downturn of the past few years.
“We’ve had to enlarge our operational radius to find the types of work and contractors that best fit our personality and philosophy,” says Andy. The downturn also drove segmentation changes. Whereas new construction had been plentiful previously, the downturn has led to more repaint projects.
Finding experienced workers is often a challenge. “Back in the day there used to be craftsmen and they had apprentices. They took time. They had time. Now the world has gotten itself busy,” says Andy. “We’re still painting with the same tools we used 50 years ago—so it’s very challenging to meet the lightning speed schedules and train an apprentice.”
The paint industry has also been impacted by the green movement with new products coming out with reductions in volatile organic compounds which produce off-gases and recycled products being added to the market.
“We feel like we’re one of the first [paint companies] to embrace the green movement,” says Kevin. “We make every effort to stay abreast of these issues so we can keep our clients informed.” That commitment is reflected by the staff, some of whom carry Green Advantage and LEED certifications.
Prepping for Painting
Andy and Kevin grew up in Rock Hill, S.C., the sons of a residential painting contractor. Seven years older than Kevin, Andy worked with his father from time to time and learned to paint. After earning a business degree from the Universityof South Carolina, Andy first pursued fitness and coaching, considering painting more seriously.
”My father was adamantly against being partners, but he made a call to a contractor friend who had two spec homes side by side. That’s where I got started. He let me borrow his van,” says Andy, officially starting his own company in 1994 at the age of 26.
His first big job came in the second year of business. Driving down the road from his old high school, he noticed a large construction project. He decided to turn around and talk with the contractor and walked away with a contract for the 475,000-square-foot West Marine Distribution Center.
Then he landed another large project in Spartanburg. “I had no experience with building plans, books or balance sheets,” says Andy. “Dad had taught me the application side of painting, but now I needed to learn the business side. But I was smart enough to realize what I didn’t know and started reaching out.”
Andy was fortunate to find a series of mentors in the industry and in organizations like the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America to help him understand contracts, bidding and estimation. Then, in 1998, Kevin came on board.
Kevin had attended Winthrop University and worked with U.S. Tobacco. He joined A&K Painting as vice president to fill the estimation and project management role. At the time Andy was doing new home construction but wanted to venture into commercial business.
“My job was to develop the commercial division,” says Kevin. “I discovered that there is a very big difference between being a painter versus an executive who owns a painting company.”
Kevin did learn and a year and a half after he came on board, the company went 100 percent commercial. The two partners moved their growing business toCharlotte in 2000. From an efficiency point of view, it made little sense to remain in Rock Hill. Most of the work was in Charlotte.
“Long term, it was the best decision we’ve ever made,” says Kevin. “Short term, it was difficult. We jumped out of our comfort zone in Rock Hill; now we were the new kids on the block.” The brothers understood that to reach their goals and be the company they wanted to be, they needed a strong Charlottepresence.
In 2003, Kevin left the company for seven years and went to work for PPG. “I wanted to see what it was like to work for a large corporation. It turned out to be a very educational experience. I learned how to manage a large, diverse group.”
Returning to A&K Painting in 2010 as a partner, Kevin now oversees the work of the department heads, manages finances, monitors negotiations with vendors and advances the company through operations and systems development. Andy focuses on sales and business and client development.
With roots in both Rock Hill andCharlotte, Andy and Kevin give back to both communities. Both Andy and Kevin are family men. Andy has three children and lives in Lake Wylie; Kevin has two children and lives in Indian Land.
A&K Painting is forging ahead with business development but the company is reasonably cautious.
“In this economy, it’s impossible to plan much further than five years,” says Kevin.
Commenting on their success, Andy says, “We are getting a lot of exposure now; our reputation is growing, but I prefer to stay very humble. As difficult as it is to reach the pinnacle, it takes continued hard work to stay there.”
The brothers express a lot of gratitude for the success they have experienced in Charlotte.
Billboards and outdoor advertising have come a long way from the displays used in our grandparents’ days. Billboards first came into use near the turn of the 19th century, once lithography had been invented and standard sizes were established. Among the early adaptors were Barnum and Bailey, who pasted up large posters to advertise their circus appearances.
“Up until the last 20 years or so, there was very little change in outdoor advertising,” notes Kevin Madrzykowski, lead regional executive in Charlotte for Adams Outdoor Advertising, the fourth largest outdoor advertising company and the largest privately held outdoor advertising company in the U.S.
“But in the last 20 years, there have been dramatic technological and other advances that have changed the entire dynamic of our industry,” he continues. “The poster product in use now is far more environmentally friendly; a different substrate has replaced the older environmentally-unfriendly pastes and paper. Modern signs are composed of biodegradable vinyl. Lighting has been made more energy efficient. And the newer digital messages can even adjust brightness depending on the time of day.”
“The innovation of digital billboards itself has been a tremendous game changer,” Kevin asserts. “Advertisers now want social media integration, activation of their brand, and interaction with potential customers. Digital displays have allowed companies to deliver a message unlike they have to this point. It’s exciting, and opens up the advertising market to a far broader spectrum of customers.”
Seeing the Signs
Madrzykowski’s first exposure to outdoor advertising came after college, when he answered a want ad for a salesperson at one of the larger outdoor advertising companies in the country. He hadn’t necessarily envisioned himself in sales, but in the interview he discovered he had a lot in common with the general manager. He got the job and worked in sales for two years before beginning his ascent in the outdoor advertising field.
Fifteen years later, Madrzykowski is now general manager of the Charlottemarket for Adams, having worked previously for them as a sales manager in northern Virginia and as general manager in Pennsylvania.
Adams Outdoor Advertising operates primarily on the East Coast and in the Southeast, and it also has offices across the Midwest. The Charlotte region has 65 employees and is the only location in North Carolina. Its territory extends as far as Statesville to the north, Pinehurst to the east, just south of Rock Hill to the south and as far west as Boone. The office is centrally located on North Graham Street with good proximity to uptown.
When asked about the business, Madrzykowski is almost scientific in detail.
“We’re a tightly-regulated industry at the federal, state and municipal levels,” he says. “In Charlotte, we’re fortunate to have a large and effective inventory of billboards. But stringent state and municipal requirements make it very challenging to maintain existing billboards and nearly impossible to build new ones.
“To meet our customers’ evolving advertising needs, we are constantly looking for innovative ways to expand our portfolio, such as converting existing signs to digital displays or adopting whatever the latest technology might be.”
TAB Billboard Ratings
Recently the Traffic Audit Bureau for Media Measurement (TAB), an advertising trade organization, launched a new rating system called TAB Out of Home Ratings which is changing the way out of home advertising is planned, bought and sold. Similar to the Nielsen and Arbitron systems, it assigns a specific demographic rating for each billboard.
The new ratings allow out of home to become an audience-driven medium. Now, TAB Out of Home Ratings will help transition the industry from a legacy of selling based primarily on showings and locations, to accountability-based selling of the audiences that out of home campaigns actually deliver.
For the first time, out of home has scalable audience estimates that can be projected to the DMA or CBSA standard media market definitions used by other media. TAB out of home ratings can be compared and used in conjunction with the ratings of other local and national media.
“The ratings make it easier for planners to assess the power of out of home media when used in combination with other media,” explains Madrzykowski, “and, most importantly, provide a new level of accountability that will generate more confidence and use among both local and national advertisers.”
He cites an example: “If males ages 18 to 34 with a certain income and education level are being targeted, Adams can design a campaign that delivers that demographic based on the billboards selected and their ratings. From a measurement standpoint, the company can precisely measure how many times the target demographic sees the message, the cost per impression, and a variety of other performance data for advertisers.”
Outdoor advertisers have always been able to provide daily traffic counts for their billboards. Kevin explains. But while Adams could provide data on the number of people driving by certain billboard locations, it couldn’t offer any insight as to who those people are or what they might be thinking.
“The basis for our rating system is census data, which obviously can tell you a great deal about each market,” says Madrzykowski. “Legally, each citizen must complete a census form. The data collected reveal a lot about who you are, where you work, how much you earn, what your education level is, what your ethnicity is and how many kids you have. Our modeling takes this information and draws conclusions about lifestyles, especially how certain types of people move around the area. The demographics can then be applied to our inventory, specifically to tell us who views our billboards and when.”
“The really interesting thing about our rating system is that it’s based on a ‘likely-to-see’ versus an ‘opportunity-to-see’ model. For example, a television commercial’s potential value to the advertiser is based on the ratings of the shows which are on when the commercial runs. It doesn’t take into account what the viewer does when the commercial comes on. But when we give a rating for the likely number of people who will view a billboard, it is based on whole series of factors comprised in a visual index.”
Before the advent of sophisticated ratings systems, it was difficult to determine the true effectiveness of outdoor advertising. With this new rating system—arguably the most sophisticated out there—Madrzykowski says Adams is on a level playing field with radio and television.
Using digital displays has also been a major advancement. “In advertising, the push now is for greater interaction with potential consumers. Advertisers want campaigns that integrate their social media channels, such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as websites. Our digital displays enable companies to deliver on the promise of consumer interaction and engagement to an unprecedented level.”
Adams’ digital displays can now feature live Twitter feeds, show real-time updates about promotions, or broadcast messages to consumers using an RSS feed that sends information directly to the unit.
“You can take a photo, upload it to a designated site using a smartphone, and the photo can be displayed on a billboard. Billboards can even display real-time scoring for football or basketball games and the latest weather conditions,” Madrzykowski beams.
These innovations have taken outdoor advertising from being arguably the most inflexible medium to the most flexible available.
“Ten years ago, a bank wanting to advertise interest rates for savings accounts would have had a hard time using outdoor advertising. The signs had to be painted and installed, and if the rate changed, it would take at least three to five days to make the necessary modification. Now, you can post new rates using a wireless interface with the digital unit in literally less than a minute,” Madrzykowski snaps with his fingers.
“Think about consumer lifestyles,” concludes Madrzykowski. “We spend a lot of time outside of our homes shopping, commuting, playing and socializing. From a marketing standpoint, it makes perfect sense to provide advertisers with a way to reach consumers in these contexts. The optimal time to reach someone with a promotional message is when they are in position to act on that message.
“Imagine it’s lunchtime and you are hungry. You leave the office but haven’t decided what or where you would like to eat. A digital display advertising a special at a nearby restaurant could help you make up your mind.”
Driving is a dominant factor in Charlotte’s culture, as Madrzykowski points out. As advertisers seek ways to reach more potential consumers, the future is bright for the outdoor advertising industry, especially with new rating methods that allow companies to more accurately deliver an audience.
“Technological advances like TiVO, DVR and Satellite Radio have affected other media in similarly significant ways. Advertisers are focused more than ever on return on investment for their advertising dollars. Fortunately however, we have a growing audience and detailed information on how we reach them.”
Nationally, Adams has 100 digital displays out of a total inventory of 1,600 billboards. Charlotte has 19 digital displays in operation. Madrzykowski says digital billboards likely will not become a dominant part of their repertoire because of regulations involved.
But they will remain very attractive to advertisers because of the flexibility for message changes they offer, he says, and the real-time information they can display will continue to attract potential consumers.
“Our goal is to deliver the best return on investment for our clients’ advertising dollars. The bottom line is that people spend a tremendous amount of time outside of their homes in their vehicles, when they are making purchase decisions,” Madrzykowski says.
“Reaching them then and there is a tremendous selling opportunity—different than when they are cooking dinner, having a conversation or watching a ball game. When a person is alone driving, connecting them with a billboard message can be very powerful, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” he continues.
Adams has long-standing clients that use outdoor advertising as the foundation of their media plans because of this dynamic. Madrzykowski cites the ability to continue to develop new out of home advertising experiences, given the restrictive and in some cases outdated regulations in effect, as the company’s biggest challenge.
Recently, the North Carolina legislature addressed the contradiction that existed between state and city regulations, which according to Madrzykowski, “resulted in a scenario where we could remove little to no vegetation on property under NCDOT’s jurisdiction. These are vegetation concerns that did not exist when the billboards were originally constructed.”
“This duality created an environment where we could not maintain our assets properly,” says Madrzykowski. “For a business that survives by providing advertisers exposure on high-trafficked roadways, visibility is a must.”
The passage of Senate Bill 183, which pertains only to NCDOT Right of Way, alleviates some of this conflict by approving selective vegetation removal.
In addition to being an industry leader in the Charlotte region, Adams maintains a strong commitment to the community. Says Madrzykowski, “Adams is privileged to annually contribute over $1.5 million in advertising space to local non-profit organizations, community interest causes, schools, and municipalities. Additionally, many employees donate their time volunteering with these organizations.”
Madrzykowski sees a bright and dynamic future for the out of door advertising segment as it keeps stride with the social/technological developments across the rest of the spectrum.
There’s the old saying, “Timing is everything,” but the folks at Bissell Hotels have proved that wrong on a couple of occasions, when the timing couldn’t have been worse.
H.C. “Smoky” Bissell and his team were putting the finishing touches on a new luxury hotel in their Ballantyne master planned community in southCharlotte. After years of planning and construction, the hotel was just weeks from opening. Then the world changed forever on September 11, 2001.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, hotels worldwide saw occupancy rates plunge as companies curtailed travel plans amid security concerns and an economic downturn. Although a very challenging time to launch a new hotel, just two weeks after 9/11 Ballantyne Resort opened for business as the first true luxury-class property in the Charlotte region.
Even before the events of 9/11, many had questioned the viability of a luxury class hotel in what was still a relatively new, emerging south Charlotte business park. But Bissell and his team had a crystal-clear vision of what Ballantyne would someday become, so despite the challenges and the risks, they were committed to moving ahead and making the project a success.
Today, The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge is the flagship of the Bissell hotel portfolio in Ballantyne. Along with three sister properties—Courtyard by Marriott, Staybridge Suites, and the Aloft—Bissell now owns and manages nearly 600 hotel rooms providing a variety of service levels and price points for Ballantyne clients and visitors.
Joining the Bissell Family
Bissell Hotels is the hospitality division of The Bissell Companies, an organization specializing in commercial real estate development, office leasing, property management, real estate investments, and hotels. Bissell also has ancillary interests in golf, spa, and media businesses. The company is most noted for two of the Southeast’s most successful mixed-use communities—SouthPark and Ballantyne.
Leading Bissell Hotels is President and COO Joe Hallow. Born in Charlotte, but raised in eastern North Carolina, Hallow returned to his birthplace in the early 1990s as a sales manager for Lanier. Subsequently, he joined medical device manufacturer Boston Scientific and spent the next decade traveling the country in a variety of sales and management roles.
“Working for a Boston-based company, it was hard to stay connected locally and to get to know the city,” recalls Hallow. “I was a Charlotte guy on the weekends, but I was gone during the week.”
So when father-in-law Smoky Bissell invited him to join The Bissell Companies in 2003, he decided the time was right to get off the road and work for a Charlotte-based organization.
Hallow’s first six months or so with Bissell were spent evaluating the business and getting to know the team. But with the rapid growth and early success of Ballantyne came a realization that more vertical focus was needed on some of their assets.
“I certainly didn’t know how to check anybody into a hotel, but we made the decision that I would move into hospitality, and with the help of a great team, we began to evaluate our assets and our position in the market,” explains Hallow. “We wanted to make this a self-sustainable, thriving business unit within The Bissell Companies.”
When Hallow assumed leadership of the hotel team, Bissell was operating four lodging properties—three in Ballantyne, plus The Park Hotel at SouthPark. But in March 2006, they sold The Park to Marriott to help create capital for office expansion in Ballantyne.
“It was very tough for the Bissell family to divest The Park Hotel,” admits Hallow. “It had been a part of the family since the mid-1980s.”
With 200 guest rooms, 14 suites, a 35-room Lodge retreat, a four-room Cottage, and 30,000 square feet of meeting space, The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge is Bissell’s flagship luxury property. A part of Starwood’s The Luxury Collection and an AAA Four-Diamond award winner, the hotel focuses on the corporate group market, corporate travelers, and the social wedding market (the hotel has already booked a record 59 weddings for 2012).
The rustic Lodge retreat, which opened in 2002, focuses on hosting private groups, corporate team building, and corporate board meetings.
The Ballantyne Hotel is also home to Gallery Restaurant and The Spa at Ballantyne, both Forbes Four-Star recognized establishments. The Golf Club at Ballantyne is one of the top daily fee golf courses in the region and has been rated 4.5 stars by Golf Digest. Golf Magazine has also consistently rated Ballantyne’s Dana Rader Golf School as one of the top 25 schools in the nation.
The hotel opened in 2001 without a major global affiliation, making it difficult to sell to corporate travel offices in places like New York and Atlanta.
“They had no idea who we were,” concedes Hallow. “But we needed these larger feeder market travelers to help make The Ballantyne Hotel a sustainable asset.”
So Hallow’s first order of business was to make sure quality and service levels were equal to what these travelers experienced at other luxury hotels. Next, they needed a connection to a broader worldwide marketing organization, and Starwood’s The Luxury Collection seemed like the perfect fit.
“Our target travelers were staying in New York or San Francisco the night before, so there could be no drop off when they arrived in Charlotte,” Hallow continues. “And with Starwood, we liked that we would be in a collection of unique hotels like The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona; San Francisco’s Palace Hotel; and Hotel Danieli in Venice, Italy.”
Originally called Ballantyne Resort, the hotel has now been rebranded as The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge.
“Clearly 2008 and 2009 were challenging years for most businesses,” explains Hallow. “There were quite a few of our larger customers that could no longer meet at resorts, so if ‘resort’ was in our name, it became a challenge in that environment. But while that triggered the change, we had actually discussed making the move as early as 2005 or 2006 when we first affiliated with Starwood. They always felt ‘hotel’ might fit better with the markets we serve.”
Bissell owns and operates all of its hotels under franchise agreements with the hotel brands, and each property is targeted at market segments that complement the Ballantyne area. The first hotel in Bissell’s Ballantyne collection was the 90-room Courtyard by Marriott, which opened in 1998. The Courtyard caters to the business traveler, the weekend traveler, and the overnight wedding market.
The Staybridge Suites opened in early 2001 and targets the extended stay traveler with its 118 studio, one bedroom, and two bedroom suites.
The newest hotel in Ballantyne is the Aloft, a 136-room LEED-certified property with a youthful, modern, and energetic ambiance that opened in November 2009.
“If the worst time to open a hotel was two weeks after 9/11, maybe the second worst time to open a hotel would be the fall of 2009,” laughs Hallow. “The Aloft struggled out of the gate and didn’t approach the pro-forma that was built for it in 2006-2007. But it quickly became financially sustainable after that first year, and this year it has really exploded. So far, 2012 looks like a really robust year for the entire portfolio and our 12-month backlog looks much more promising today than it did a year ago or a year and a half ago.”
As Ballantyne grows, so will the need for more hotel rooms. A recent rezoning will allow over one million additional square feet of office space, 600 residential units, and 200 more hotel rooms. It is important to Bissell to stay ahead of the market, ensuring that Ballantyne has adequate hotel capacity.
“We have already started evaluating what hospitality product will be next for Ballantyne,” says Hallow. “We’re a live, work, stay, play concept out here. If our tenants have guests coming to Ballantyne and they have to stay five or 10 miles down the road, that is probably not a good thing for us.”
Though Bissell’s core business is development, Hallow and his team have turned Bissell Hotels into a major player in the Charlotte hospitality business.
“Joe has demonstrated great leadership and tenacity during one of the most challenging economies in history,” says company founder Smoky Bissell. “His energy is such that sometimes many who work side by side with him do things that they never thought themselves capable of achieving. Joe has truly elevated our hotel portfolio, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for us in hospitality.”
Hallow has a unique perspective on the state of the tourism industry inCharlotte as the chairman of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA). The CRVA is responsible for marketing Charlotte as a tourism destination and managing Charlotte’s public assembly facilities—Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte Convention Center, NASCAR Hall of Fame, Bojangles’ Coliseum, and Ovens Auditorium. The CRVA CEO is Tom Murray, a 30-year veteran of the hotel and hospitality business who came on board last December.
After struggling through some lean years during the recession, Hallow says the Charlotte hospitality industry seems to be on the mend.
“We were gaining inches through 2010 and 2011, but in 2012, we’ve gone vertical,” he says with confidence. “Our occupancy rates are up considerably, but our average daily rate still lags that of the other large markets we compete with. We have grown so fast, but the larger markets had a major head start in the development of higher-end lodging properties.”
“Our primary competitors for conventions used to be more third-tier cities,” explains Hallow. “But today, we’re competing with more first- and second-tier cities like Boston, Atlanta, and Baltimore.”
Hallow attributes Charlotte’s elevation to three primary factors: rapid population growth combined with a culture that accepts newcomers and encourages them to become engaged in the community; strong leadership shown by the banks and other Charlotte business and civic leaders who made amenities like Time Warner Cable Arena, the Convention Center, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame a priority; and the connection that our airport and US Airways has given us to the rest of the nation and the world.
Major events like the Wells Fargo Championship, the CIAA Basketball Tournament, the Belk Bowl, the recent NRA Convention, and the Democratic National Convention are also important engines for the tourism and hospitality business in Charlotte.
“Those types of events don’t just help our businesses thrive; in many cases they help our businesses survive,” says Hallow. “We do not have the transient base of travel in this city that Atlanta has, so we need to embrace major events.”
The Democratic National Convention (DNC) is an example of how success in hosting major events breeds more success.
“You don’t just go from the kind of conventions we had in the early 1990s and all of a sudden get a DNC,” says Hallow. “You’ve got to show a pattern of success and deliver a quality experience. The DNC is a huge win, but now we must be successful with that event to win even more opportunities.”
He says hotels and motels throughout the Charlotte region are booked solid for the Convention, with some impact extending as far away as Columbia andGreensboro.
The Next Level
Whether it is ensuring that guests are greeted with a smile when they check into a Bissell hotel, or helping to chase the next big tourism event for the Charlotte region, Hallow is always looking to take things to the next level.
“In hospitality, having a quality product is great, but it is secondary to delivering an exceptional experience for our guests; and that comes from our people,” he explains. “If you make a great first impression in the first 15 minutes after the guest arrives, you have a great chance at getting them to come back or give you a referral. We’re very fortunate to have top quality general managers in all of our hotels to help make that happen.”
For the city of Charlotte, Hallow says the key to competing at the next level is teamwork between the hospitality industry, other business leaders, and elected officials.
“We don’t have a mountain range or breaking waves like some of our competitors do,” he concludes. “So we win when we work together. With the leadership of this team now, I think we can begin taking it to an entirely different level. It’s fun to be in this city and to get work with so many great people.”
In January of 2008, an article in The Wall Street Journal indicated that seven of 10 mid-size companies would be sold or transferred to new owners over the next 10 years, and that 90 percent would be “ill prepared” to maximize value upon sale or transfer.
In February of 2011, an article in The New York Timesnoted that nine million of America’s 15 million business owners were born in or before 1964, and one business owner turns 65 every 57 seconds.
In May of 2012, the Four Rivers Business Journal reported the vast majority of boomer business owners want to sell their businesses and retire in the next 15 years, resulting in more businesses for sale than buyers to buy them. Consequently, they forecast that 75 percent of boomer business exits will result in the closure of millions of businesses, resulting in trillions of dollars in losses—all due to the failure to plan.
According to a March 2012 survey by Deloitte LLP of mid-market companies, approximately 42 percent thought they would be buying other businesses in 2012 (compared with 35 percent in 2011); and approximately 19 percent thought they would be selling in 2012 (compared with 14 percent in 2011).
What does this information mean for a business owner today?
For Bob Businessman, this information means that if you intend to or have to exit your business in the next five to 10 years through a sale, you need to be ready for a lot of competition. It also means that most of this competition won’t be ready to sell.
Keep in mind that these “sales” referred to above include sales to third parties; or sales to “insiders” (employees or family members) involving cash obtained from another source (like a bank or private equity group).
There are different strategies Bob Businessman should consider depending on whether he has one, two, five or 10 years to plan his exit. The less time, the more focus on the major things that will yield value; there’s not time to waste or make mistakes on things that don’t really matter. The more time, the more focus more on details and ability to recover from any mistakes made.
At a minimum, every business owner should consider the following to maximize value and enable “exit” no matter what type of exit occurs:
- Get the best management and key employees in place and make it very hard for them to leave the company. This is possible through incentive compensation and “stay bonuses” as well as restrictive covenants. Without an “offer they can’t refuse” to keep employees around after a sale, you could be held hostage at closing by your best employees who want a piece of the price in exchange for staying or agreeing to that “covenant not to compete” the buyer is requiring them to sign.
- Get that proven track record of profitability in order to convince a buyer that the earnings of the company will continue for the buyer after you leave. Recurring revenue is much more valuable that project-based revenue. Sell once and collect often instead of selling often and collecting once!
- Be certain all legal and organizational documents are in place and properly filed (properly incorporated, qualified to do business, good standing, annual reports, merger documents, stock books, etc.) so that you have a company that can be sold. You don’t want to find out later you don’t really own the business or some of its key assets or that you get to pay twice as much tax as you should have.
- Correctly file all tax returns (independent contractor versus employee issues, overtime, sales tax, etc.). Don’t give your buyer reasons to lower the price, and don’t give the IRS or state department of revenue reasons to audit you!
- Have reliable internal financial reports and have reviewed or audited annual financial statements. Make certain your financial reports are timely. You cannot operate your business if your monthly financial reports take six months to finish.
- Have financial information that shows the true profitability of the company. Don’t have the company paying for expenses that the owner should really be paying. Think about what you would pay someone to do your job and what benefits would you give that person.
- Protect your intellectual property and confidential information!!
- Live by your strategic plan and update it continuously. Have a goal, and make decisions that get you closer to that goal.
- Understand what taxes you have to pay on a sale or transfer and what you can do now to lower them.
- Don’t think you can do all of this by yourself!! You need people with experience in accounting, management, operations, legal, marketing, sales and every other type of matter affecting your business. Learn from other people’s mistakes, not just your own.
Everybody’s talking about “cloud computing” these days, and most of the conversation is so high in the sky that it’s hard to understand and even harder to believe. It’s true that the cloud is transforming business—in fact, it’s quickly becoming the new business utility, in the same way that email and Internet went from cutting-edge innovation to a basic necessity for keeping up.
But talking about the cloud doesn’t have to feel like a flight into the unknown. In reality, the cloud is a pretty down-to-earth concept.
In short, cloud computing refers to an off-site data center that you access through the Internet, paying as you go for as much as you use. Applications in the cloud include those as simple as data backup, and as complex as customer relationship management.
Examples of commonly used cloud applications include SalesForce, Dropbox and Google Apps. You know you’re using a cloud solution if you pay for it monthly, get your updates automatically, and can access your data from any device, anywhere you have an Internet connection.
But don’t let cloud’s simplicity fool you. Failing to understand its power can leave your company struggling to keep up with cloud-savvy competitors. Here’s why:
• Cloud provides revolutionary security. Switching to the cloud is one of the most important things a business can do to secure data from both theft and disaster. On-site data is highly vulnerable to localized disasters such as power surges, fire and flooding. It’s also relatively easy for a disgruntled employee or disreputable competitor to steal. Storing data in the cloud enables instantaneous backups and top-of-the-line security features to prevent theft and get a business up and running right away after disaster. Private cloud services can further increase security.
• Cloud is radically accessible. Imagine using your data and software any time, from any device, anywhere you have an Internet connection. Now imagine you can grant and control access to your employees. Give some of them read-only access to certain sections. Limit access or deny access entirely to others. Prevent any of them from downloading and stealing sensitive company information. That is the reality of cloud.
• Cloud can be surprisingly affordable. Old-fashioned servers, hardware and software add up to substantial investment. Count in the cost of maintenance, updates, upgrades, and the space and cooling power necessary to store it all, and you could easily run into tens of thousands of dollars a year for a very small office. Cloud-based solutions allow you to control your costs with a reliable monthly fee that includes upgrades, maintenance and service.
• Cloud is amazingly flexible. Scalability is “baked in.” You pay for the amount of service, the number of users, and the exact products you need and want. As your needs change, so can your plan.
Whatever your size or industry, chances are there’s a cloud solution that can revolutionize your business. Most companies don’t realize how much capability they’re missing out on, and for how little money they can significantly enhance their business.
Consider the example of a commercial fire prevention and security products company whose traditional hardware and software systems were messy, complicated and increasingly unmanageable. An established business, they had long faced the challenge of coordinating people inside and outside the office, developing quotes and proposals, and dealing with security and sales issues throughout multiple territories.
A cloud-based solution simplified everything for them. A cloud file storage system gives their employees instantaneous, on-the-go access to exactly the information they need. The system shows up on each employee’s device as a simple drive, so it’s intuitive to access.
Company leadership can control each employee’s level and type of access, ensuring the security of their data and software at all times. Additionally, because the data is redundantly backed up to locations on both sides of the continent, even a major disaster won’t prevent them from continuing business as usual.
Every company is different, but no company can afford to ignore the potential of cloud-based solutions. To learn more, find a reputable provider to help you design the cloud solution that will plant your business on solid ground.
Most mid-sized and larger companies have a person in charge of marketing. I’m solely responsible for our marketing. I have help, of course, but I’m the person that makes the marketing happen. I used to get stressed about taking vacations because, without me, our marketing would come to a dead halt.
It’s critical for us to be consistent in our marketing efforts because when we stop marketing, sales will soon slow. The result is unpredictable sales, cash flow challenges and a lot of stress, or, as Ian Farmer of Ian Farmer Associates calls it, “eating your sales pipeline”.
As a Web agency, most of our marketing is done online. If you’ve done any online marketing at all, you know how much work it can be. While blog posts and social media are core tools for our marketing efforts, we’re also creating downloadable content offers, email campaigns and writing articles for various publications.
As I write this, I’m preparing for a two week trip to Italy. During this trip, I have no intention of being online or working. While I’m gone, marketing our small business will continue. How, you ask? This is possible using an editorial calendar, scheduling the publications and automating the releases.
To create consistency, I create a 3-month plan for content. By planning the content, scheduling time to write and preparing content in advance, consistent marketing is a lot easier and less time-consuming. This frees up my time, giving me the ability to write about timely topics as they arise and work on sales as needed. This is how we avoid “eating our pipeline” when we get busy with client work and sales. Vacations or downtime no longer cause marketing efforts to come to a stop.
An editorial calendar isn’t a new idea. You may recognize the concept from traditional print publishing. The calendar can be as simple or complex as needed and is simply a list of releases mapped to dates on a calendar. By laying out the topics and publishing dates on a calendar, our content is consistent and follows a general theme. The calendar isn’t set in stone. For example, it has changed over the last few weeks while I’ve been building content.
Scheduled Publishing and Automation
We use a combination of tools to manage our online marketing, most of which offer scheduled publishing. For blog posts, I’ve scheduled the publish date to match the editorial calendar using WordPress. For social media releases, I’ve used Hootsuite to draft and schedule the posts across multiple social media networks.
Preparing all the content takes discipline on my part. The key is to stay ahead of schedule, preferably by a few weeks. Approaching our marketing like this makes our marketing less consuming, consistent and easier to manage.
Here’s how you can do this too.
Create a list of topics you’d like to write about. Make sure to record the ‘hook,’ the type of release and where you plan to distribute the topic. I tend to keep this general. For example, ‘blog post’ or ‘social.’
Create outlines for the topics. Make sure to cover the main points that you want to hit.
Start writing or, if you have a writer, delegate the writing. If you’re delegating the writing, personas and a description of the desired voice will help you get better results by creating clarity for the writer.
Add photography to any blog posts to make the posts more interesting to read and test all the website links in the content. Draft releases in software that lets you schedule the releases.
Diona Kidd is a Managing Partner at Knowmad, a Web strategy, design and Internet marketing company located in Charlotte.
The presidential election this year and the debates on health care, taxes and spending that are taking place within families, businesses and communities are being confronted by the realities of our democratic system created in our U.S. Constitution. We are discovering the limitations of our governmental and free enterprise systems that must be overcome by people working together with personal and shared responsibility to maintain the quality of life and the values that serve our collective and individual interests.
Adopted in 1787, our forefathers organized our system of democracy. Having established the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, they designated a separation of powers between them. This separation serves as a system of checks and balances helping them to function together so that we can be confident about our future. At the same time, the same U.S. Constitution provides for the balance of power between the federal government and the states.
The Supreme Court’s recent decision with respect to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), informally referred to as Obamacare, demonstrates the application of constitutional principles on both fronts. It upheld the individual mandate under the taxing authority as opposed to the commerce clause and precluded the federal government from withholding Medicaid funds from states that choose not to participate in the law’s Medicaid expansion.
Scholars and politicians will undoubtedly parse the complicated ruling unrelentingly over the next few months and its impact on the upcoming elections remains to be seen. It is important to note that the lengthy opinion gives guidance to the legislative branch about how the law must be written to be upheld. The campaign will give guidance to the next legislative session about how to improve upon it.
That does not mean this is a “done deal.” This is a process, a continuum of actions. It will continue to change over time; it is a developing series of actions by all participants. And it is important that we all participate.
We need to listen and learn and apply a little American ingenuity to reach agreement. We need dialogue that carries us toward solutions and away from obstructionism and isolation. We need less rancor, less name-calling, less noise, less animosity. We need more respect for each other, more civil discourse and debate that leads to the solution of problems.
Compromise has become a “dirty” word. It seems that people are choosing to disagree rather than seek agreement. That only postpones the problems and makes them worse. Compromise does not necessarily mean acquiescence or giving in to the other side. It means hammering out an agreement that works to benefit of each side in the negotiations. The goal is to create a win- win.
What bothers me most are those who stop, stonewall, arrest, avoid, block, break, cease, close, cutoff, cut, choke, clog, desist, disrupt, forestall, hinder, impede, interrupt, intercept, muzzle, obstruct, occlude, plug, put a stop to, rein in, repress, restrain, seal, shut down, shut off, shut out, silence, stall, staunch, stay, stem, still, stopper, suspend, throw over, turn off, and ward off any attempts at working together to improve, fix or resolve our challenges. Any of these actions or responses gets in the way of learning from each other.
We have never before faced the circumstances and challenges that we face today. We find ourselves confounded by labels, political parties, red states, blue states, gender, race, religion and so many other constructs that push us away from being Americans. At a time when the pace of change from technology and global competition is challenging us to rethink how we conduct business and compete, we must find answers that move us forward.
Let’s raise the dialogue. Let’s elevate the thought level. Let’s seek solutions. Promote debate. Promote answers. Incremental steps or giant leaps are hugely important to finding our way in this new world.