Strategies for Boosting Sales
TTV Architects: Commercial/institutional architecture and design
Background: Moved to the United States from Vietnam at 19 with his parents, who were entrepreneurs in importing and exporting. His first job out of college in 1979 was working with renowned architect E. Fay Jones designing and handcrafting Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which has been called one of the most significant architectural projects of the 20th century.
Challenge: Building name recognition and relationships. Vu was surprised when people who respected him as an architect when he worked at two large architectural firms seemed to forget him when he went out on his own. He re-established himself in the community by fighting his introverted tendencies and meeting at least six new people a month. Soon, it no longer became a job. "I know more people than anybody in the city now," he says. He also bought a two-story building downtown near the Florida Theatre and put his firm's name on the side of it.
Who handles sales: Mostly Vu, but also his entire staff of eight, mostly through word-of-mouth marketing. "I encourage every architect in the office to be an extension of the selling," he says. "When they're happy and proud of their work, it sells itself."
Marketing strategy: Volunteering in the community has kept his name in the media and given the firm credibility. As president two years ago of the 250-member American Institute of Architects chapter in Jacksonville, Vu spearheaded a push to install decorative lights along key bridges to better showcase downtown's riverfront skyline for the 2005 Super Bowl. He has been giving lectures to civic groups citywide since then. His firm did not do the engineering on the project, but the publicity -- including a mention of his name by Super Bowl commentators during the game -- helped his firm double its revenue.
Big break: Being awarded a $16 million project about three years ago to design the children's building and welcome center for First Baptist Church of Jacksonville. Favorite tools: Accounting programs that give him charts and graphs to show where his business stands every month so he can determine which projects bring in the most profit and which to avoid in the future.
Word of Mounth
Pam's Motor City Automotive: Retail automotive repair and tire sales
Background: As a fourth-generation automotive technician, Oakes takes after her great-grandfather.
How the company started: Oakes began in a rented seven-bay shop, adding employees in the first year, including an oil-change technician and her father, who started the tire department. By 2002, Oakes had the money for a 12-bay shop.
Staff: Fifteen employees, all certified in automotive repair ?-- even the front-desk staff.
Who handles sales: The entire staff, by concentrating on quality work that leads to repeat business and referrals.
Challenges: Competing against auto dealers.
Marketing strategy: Oakes develops free public-service tools. They've included "Car Care for the Clueless," "Hurricane Car Care Guide" and "Empower Woman's Car Care Guide." She also does a 60-second segment on car care tips on TV news programs called "Pam's Automotive Minute."
Building customer loyalty: Technicians educate customers. Those who wait at the shop are invited to look at the equipment before and after the work, and those who drop off their cars receive their old parts in a bag so they can understand what was done.
UrAssist: Manufacturer of pump-assisted portable urinal device
Background: After two hospital stays, founder and Chairman Edgar Otto envisioned the battery-operated UrAssist, which helps patients avoid urinary tract infections from a catheter -- the top hospital-caused illness -- and prevents spillage from a traditional bedpan or portable urinal.
Market: Institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities. The secondary market will be individuals who use wheelchairs or cannot get out of bed.
Who handles sales: A commission-only sales force of 13 contracted healthcare product representatives nationwide. Miller chose this option instead of hiring full-time employees because the salespeople had already established relationships with healthcare professionals in their territories.
How he boosts sales: Miller spends face time with the salespeople, who also represent other products, to build enthusiasm for UrAssist.
Marketing strategy: Selling first to hospitals. Once they endorse a product, others will pick it up. This is not as easy as selling to individuals, but it will pay off in the long run, Miller says.
Genicon: Manufacturer of laparoscopic surgery equipment
Background: The company's devices are used by surgical specialists in about 45 different procedures involving minimally invasive surgery on the gall bladder, the intestine, the uterus and other parts of the body.
How the company started: Conceived in 1996 on a napkin at a Bennigan's, the company has since grown into a multimillion-dollar organization with more than 300 products used in 44 countries.
Who handles sales: About a dozen distributor representatives in the United States, Puerto Rico, Egypt, Belgium, Singapore, Nicaragua, Mexico and Brazil.
Favorite tool: A laboratory in Nicaragua where Genicon brings potential customers so they can work on live tissue and try out a product side by side with a competitor's. "The product stands on its own merits and sells itself that way," Haberland says.
Big break: Taking advantage of educational opportunities about exporting from Enterprise Florida, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Metro Orlando EDC. "Expanding our international export market has had a huge impact on our sales," Haberland says. "More than 80% of what we do is to the export market."
Import/export challenge: Watching world events such as politics, currency, oil costs and war. "This requires daily monitoring," Haberland says.
Advice for business owners: "Globalization is an essential, inherent part of any successful venture," says Haberland, who works with a Mandarin language tutor because of the opportunities in China. "Gone are the days when the American shows up with his briefcase in Shanghai and they're rolling out the red carpet. We are in a global market."
Ropella & Associates: International executive search
In a Niche
Background: The firm acts as a headhunter, seeking upper-level management candidates for Fortune 500 companies in the chemical industry with a focus on three areas: personal care and cosmetics, soap and detergents, and pharmaceutical ingredients.
How the company started: Ropella started in Milwaukee and has been in the business
20 years. He replaced a recruiter who was retiring, and that person taught him about the chemical industry. After working in Chicago for another large firm, Ropella and his wife, Robbie, visited Florida's Panhandle and loved the area, so they relocated. The firm employs 20.
Sales strategy: Offering corporate clients extra tools they won't get from other recruiting firms. Ropella finds out what the client is looking for, turns the qualifications into questions for candidates and creates a custom application for that job. He gives job candidates a customized marketing package, often 15 to 20 pages, about his client corporation and its culture.
Marketing plan: Boosting his company's name recognition. Ropella sets up a tradeshow booth at annual chemical industry conventions, where he appears in a tuxedo. He routinely writes articles for the local newspapers as well as several chemistry industry publications.
Challenge: Ironically, corporate turnover. Today's norm is to move on after three to five years, which poses a problem for someone outside the company who's trying to establish a rapport with, say, the vice president of human resources. "It's becoming a challenge for all sales people," Ropella says. "The revolving doors -- and they're spinning faster and faster -- make it harder to develop long-term relationships."
Advice for business owners: Instead of assuming what your customers want, learn their specific problems so you can solve them. "That might sound passé and obvious, but you wouldn't believe how many people skip that step," Ropella says.