Monday, September 26, 2005

Volume 11- Independence2 (review of a start up company)

Please refer to the below listed Volumes for additional insight into this start up venture with the emphasis on the customer, the basis of our core values:

Volume 2- Customer Satisfaction & Accountability
Volume 3 – International Transportation
Volume 4 – Building block business update on the new start-up venture
Volume 6 – Independence2 update with the Operations & Marketing Member’s remarks
Volume 8 – How to Predict Success for Architectural Door Hardware distributors
Volume 9 – Value Experience

Independence2, LLC is an Ohio Corporation created in January of 2005, shortly after I separated from WWH/Amweld Building Products after almost two decades of dedication and work, with five of those years as Amweld’s President/CEO, during its most profitable and biggest growth years 1996-2001. At that time the company was solid and making immense profit for its ownership. Greed and ‘experts from afar’ along with insiders who wouldn’t know a customer, or understand ‘distribution’, took control and, like all ego built plans, that concentrate on ‘top-line’ numbers and imaginative ‘smoke and mirrors’, are destined for failure.

So, it was time to put forth a company based on a different set of core values. It was time to build a company that respects the customer. It was time to build a company that provides ownership to its founding members/employees. Actually, I owe a debt of gratitude to my former company and all its previous owners for they enabled me to acquire a business education of the highest quality and to establish a company founded on core values that respect the customer. To be part of building a company that runs on ‘execution and implementation’ with various revenue streams and not on ‘pounds and pieces’ and top-line revenue theorists junk thinking.

Our customer is that entrepreneurial stocking distributor who sells architectural door hardware products to the end user with the expertise that allows them to call on architects, contractors, facility managers and operational property executives. If you go into our Web Site you will see that it is under development and construction as is this entire process of building a company from the ground up. And like our Web Site, upon completion, it will be very interactive and have the best features that technology allows, so its development is slow and tedious as we progress through this building phase of our start up company. There is nothing simple about building a company from the ground up and the last thing that should be done is to rush such a process. From establishing core values to putting the financing into place to securing sourcing partners that have the same customer focus are but broad strokes over the process. Nevertheless, the process continues with a group of founding members that are relentless in their mission to accomplish a great task.

Independence2 will be a private labeled architectural door hardware company supplying architectural grade door hardware products ranging from the latest in Biometrics through grades 1 and 2 hardware including an association for commercial grade steel doors for the commercial construction industry sold only through stocking type distributors. It is owned and operated by a group of owner-founding members that understand the value of the distributor customer, respect for the supply chain and the obligations to each other within this company. Our customer is not the big box store nor is it any in-house retail unit. It is only that stocking distributor who sells architectural door hardware products to the end user. This company will run on execution and implementation for the customer’s benefit. It will maintain as a core value a customer consciousness that starts with specifying value from the customer’s perspective. We will not only encourage enterprise thinking on the part of our members, versus functional or departmental thinking, but also make enterprise thinking a way of doing business.

The question that we address is the one that most companies don’t consider: What do customers really want? Customers don’t care about trivial differences between brands. What they really want are quality products, reliable services, and a fair value for their money. Why do most companies consistently fail to meet even these basic customer needs? Because, they have no process of knowing how to meet and exceed the ordinary of customer expectations. Too many businesses have focused on the wrong things. The reality is different than the conventional wisdom in many ways. Whereas, most companies would agree that the customer is ‘King’, we, at Independence2, know that, in most cases, the customer does not feel that way in his relationship with most vendors. Ask almost anyone about his or her latest bad customer experience with their hollow metal or hardware vendor. Most can tell you about something recent like material not being 'ready' when told it would be, or not being told when orders would be 'complete' and ready to ship or how it shipped, or never really being satisfied over credit issues which make no sense to the customer. This list is endless.

We, at Independence2, also believe that we do not have to offer something unique to attract customers. Customers rarely buy a product or service because it offers something unique. They usually choose the brand that they expect to meet their basic needs a bit better or more conveniently than the competition. What customers want are products, and the ease of attaining those products, that are profitable to them, in all facets, not more differentiation. And, finally we, at Independence2, start with the inside the box philosophy with emphasis on the basics ensuring that we reliably meet customers reasonable expectations on our products.

Most of the business problems that I have witnessed over the years stem from the fact that people have failed to keep their eye on the ball, failed to listen to customers, and failed to deliver on the basics. I have witnessed manufacturing people spend countless hours and ridiculous amounts of money on projects that never served the customer’s purpose; never increased capacity; had terrible reliability and never worked to the expectations of the customer nor the company. The projects took on a life of their own and became the focal point and not the basic requirements like offering good service, quality products, with on-time delivery at a fair price. At Independence2, we know that it requires effort, as well as empathy and imagination in meeting customer expectations. Our company is created on this principle with owner-members dealing daily with this customer focused business mentality involving a combination of customer and competitor insights, good systems and the right culture. We understand the critical distinction between the viewpoints of customers and suppliers. We run counter to the conventional wisdom that abounds about competitive positioning and differentiation. Our differentiation is in how we deal with the customer and not merely the product. It is how we structure, train and correctly operate a company. Innovation is still critical, but its directed more at improving the delivery of the category benefits, and less at trying to develop unique brand benefits. And, execution is always more important than strategy.

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