Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Colorado success stories - Houg Special Services

Entrepreneurial solutions and flexibility enable growth during the downturn


When all of her high school friends were heading off to college in 1987, Jenyce Houg stayed in Denver to help her Dad, Doug, with the family trucking business. She immersed herself in learning all aspects of the business. Jenyce fell in love with the business and the fast pace and the supply of new problems to tackle and solve. She later attended Regis University and is now the CEO of Houg Special Services, Inc., working alongside her Dad and Brother, Wade. The business revenue has more than tripled since 2003 (from $10 million to $32 million) during a period that has been exceptionally trying for the trucking industry.

Jenyce, why are you involved with the trucking business? My Dad is an inspiring entrepreneur. I wanted to help him make his ideas a reality. Also I love problem-solving and it was a challenge to work in a male-dominated industry that was still much of the "good old boy" network. I have worked hard to earn the respect of people in the industry.

How is Houg different from its competitors? Houg offers a complete logistics solution - a one-stop shop for our customers which is unique in the industry. Our business model is different. We are not ‘asset-heavy.' We do not have significant fixed costs, so we are able to flex our resources to meet customer needs. We constantly look to find ways to NOT be like our competitors. We strive to develop very close, collaborative, long-term relationship with our customers. It is common for us to brainstorm with customers to develop ‘out of the box' approaches that are most cost effective for their business needs.

The last decade was already pretty tough for the trucking business and then the recession hit. How did it affect your business? We saw the recession as an opportunity and hit the accelerator. There were several factors that helped us: we have a great relationship with our bank who provides us the necessary line of credit needed to operate in this tough industry; we stayed tightly focused on the food and beverage transportation niche; with our business model, we have a flexible labor force so we were not stuck with higher fixed costs; and we embrace that our number one customer is our carriers and drivers and treat them with the respect they deserve.

What are your biggest challenges? The biggest challenge has been to learn to work in conjunction with family everyday and successfully stay focused on the same vision. We had to learn how to trust and respect each other in business as well as family, and to focus on the strengths of family members. My brother, Wade, who is president, is absolutely exceptional at customer service and recruiting the best drivers which is crucial to our success. My Dad challenges us every day with an endless supply of ideas, possibilities and boundless optimism that anything can be done if you just have passion.

Managing a $30 million or a $50 million company is different than a $10 million business. We need to continue to develop the systems and processes as well as the capabilities of the team. This past year we invested heavily to upgrade our systems. It is a balancing act to maintain the entrepreneurial spirit, while building the team capable of managing the growth.

I spend a lot of my time on the culture of the company, working with the team to find ways to institutionalize the culture: hiring for attitude, building accountability, adding recognition, and valuing people's differences. We will continue to train and empower the Houg team to make decisions, to develop a culture where people are positive and willing to exceed customer expectations every day, which starts with servicing each other as customers within the walls of Houg first.

So what's ahead for Houg over the next five years? We must continue to enhance our relationships with our internal and external customers and suppliers. We need to hear their issues and problems so that we can collaborate with them to find solutions. Over time we need to learn how to use new technology (social media, etc.), but nothing replaces the power of face-to-face interaction.

The trucking industry has and continues to face capacity constraints so we continually look for innovative ways to increase capacity. Geographical expansion is a potential strategy. We are looking at a hub and spoke plan which would potentially include regional expansion to locations where we are already sending freight. We will also entertain future acquisitions of small trucking companies to increase capacity and market share. It is important for our future success that we are well-positioned to take advantage of opportunities over the next few years.

Colorado success stories: Broadnet Teleservices

Customer relationships propel its growth

(From Issues for Growth Vol.20, No. 8)

From the Front Lines: Colorado Success Stories


This series of interviews with Mead Consulting clients and friends focuses on companies that have succeeded during the recession through disruptive innovation, new business models, or superior execution. The stories are told by the CEOs and business owners themselves. This article was first published on March 7, 2011 in ColoradoBiz magazine or you can read it below.

Imagine if you could call your entire target audience on the phone and engage them in conversation - all at the same time. You know, those very people that make a difference to your bottom line.

It isn't important if you call them your consumers, fans, members or even the general public. And it won't make a difference if there are 200 or 2 million of them. What matters is you can now interact with them like never before. You'll have more than revealing insights into what they're thinking and feeling - you'll have actionable information and statistics to hone your brand and its message.

This is the interactive voice service, Teleforum, that Broadnet Teleservices has pioneered. Recently I met with Steve Patterson, co-founder and CEO of Broadnet Teleservices to discuss how Broadnet has enjoyed continuous growth from its bootstrapped beginnings with co-founder and CTO, Brian Brown in 2004. Over the last six years, company revenue has grown by more than 60 times.

What is your differentiation?

We offer a high quality product and superior service, but more importantly, we want customers for life. We believe we offer more than a product. We strive to continuously build the relationship with the customer, always trying to "feel" what it's like for the customer to touch us. We survey and measure every time we interact with our customers and our customer. We teach our employees to ‘listen well.' Our customers actually drive the product as each customer experience is customized to meet their needs. So while our technology is second-to-none, we view this intimate relationship with our customers as our real advantage.

Who uses your products and services?

We started as a means for people in political office or candidates to reach their constituents and voters. That market fueled our early growth. We also have enjoyed great success in the Sports arena for teams who seek to interact with their fans and ticketholders. In the last few years, the market for companies seeking to interact with their customers has really begun to take off. This is the area with the greatest potential for Broadnet.

How has the recession impacted your business?

We've grown well during the recession. The real question is whether we could have grown faster without the recession. We have benefited from the increasing popularity of social media. People value having a relationship. We provide for a relationship and a conversation that is voice-to-voice - and more than 140 characters.

What are your biggest challenges?

By far our biggest challenge is that many organizations, companies, and people do not really know their customers. A good example of this is a book publisher. The publisher sells books to a bookstore or online and has no idea who the end customer is. Broadnet needs to help them identify the customers so that Broadnet can initiate the dialogue. We are looking to blend our products with social media to create the dialogue. We enable that richer, deeper conversation.

What are the keys to continued growth over the next 5-10 years?

I would say there are several strategic keys to our future: The first is to increase market awareness. We need to drive awareness in two directions - to the large company and the consumer. The large organization needs to understand how Broadnet can enable this unique and deep ability to interact with customers. From the consumer side, the consumer only needs to experience it once. Overwhelmingly, consumers are so enthusiastic that their first response to a Teleforum experience is ‘how can I do that again;' second, we need to scale the infrastructure so that we can offer more events to larger groups of people (an audience of 50 million as opposed to 50,000); third, is to stay in front of the technology so that we can offer increased features in a more cost effective way. We'll also need capital for growth and people who have ‘been there, done that' to round out our leadership team.

Is it difficult finding good people and good leaders?

The challenge isn't finding good people; it's finding world-class people. We look to develop people that can be attracted and molded into exceptional leaders. I have found that one thing you cannot coach into a person is passion. Hire people with passion and stay out of the way of their passion and they'll accomplish great things. Our job is to nurture the flames of their passion.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Colorado Success Stories - BluSKY Restoration

(From Issues for Growth Vol.20, No. 7)

From the Front Lines: Colorado Success Stories


This series of interviews with Mead Consulting clients and friends focuses on companies that have succeeded during the recession through disruptive innovation, new business models, or superior execution. The stories are told by the CEOs and business owners themselves. This article was first published on February 28, 2011 in ColoradoBiz magazine or you can read it below.

Commitment to customer service is key to BluSKY's success

Terry Shadwick, co-founder and CEO of BluSKY Restoration discusses how the company has developed a consistent record of growth despite the recession. BluSKY provides emergency response for water damage, fire damage, flood damage and mold remediation on residential & commercial property.

How did you get into the restoration business?

From an early age I watched my father run his own small construction company. After graduating with a degree in Finance, I started out as an insurance claim adjuster, but found myself looking for greater autonomy. I went to work for a restoration company, opening their Denver office. I thought there was a better business model - a better way to do business. So in 2004, my partner Andy Bakker and I started BluSKY Restoration Contractors.

What is the difference with your model?

Our people and our detailed commitment to customer service. We search for the most professional, courteous employees and sub-contractors who have a strong commitment to customer satisfaction. We measure and monitor customer service closely and we use that information to make improvements to our service and delivery. We think the best measure of customer satisfaction is whether customers would hire us again. Currently over 96% of our customers say they would use BluSKY again. We try to make it easy for our people to provide the best experience for our customers and we reward and recognize the team members that receive "perfect" ratings on customer surveys.

Has the growth path always been smooth?

While the revenue growth has been smooth (from $1.7MM in 2004 to $30MM in 2010), we have learned that the business has a seasonality and cyclicality to it. We deal with insurance and mortgage companies that have multiple layers of approval which can slow payment. We began cash flow modeling to help manage and project our cash needs. The management team has embraced strategic business planning and a goal setting process that has helped us manage the growth. We develop strategic plans every fall and we update the plan twice a year based on actual results and conditions.

The construction industry has been severely hit during the current recession. How has the recession impacted your business?

The recession resulted in a slowdown of the rehabilitation work, as the Real Estate Investment companies (REITs) have deferred maintenance and property updates. We tightened up our collection practices and policies and focused more management attention on business operations as well as the sales process.

You have continued to grow every year. What are some of the actions and new programs you are taking to sustain growth?

We continue to diversify our offerings and we have added new revenue streams that we generate from existing satisfied customers. We have added commercial and apartment rehabilitation and remodeling. We also began to offer roofing and a construction defect business. Today, 60 percent of our business is insurance restoration with 40 percent from the additional business lines.

What are the keys to continued growth over the next 5-10 years?

Geographical expansion is a key strategy. We plan to add more locations (from 8 currently to 50 locations) within the next ten years. This expansion will be a combination of company startups ("greenfields") as well as acquisitions. The second core strategy is to continue to develop the management team and the growth of people who fit well with our commitment to customer focus.

You have a unique culture for a construction business.

We started out to make BluSKY a great place to work and for the past three years, we have been voted one of the best places to work in Colorado. Our motto is to "work hard, play harder." Many of our employees come from the Midwest and we believe strongly in "midwestern values" - fairness, trust, openness - doing what we say we will. We apply those values in a big circle and treat all employees, contractors, customers, and suppliers with respect. We have open book management and give employees wide latitude to find solutions and meet the needs of customers. We hire for culture, values, and attitudes first.

Is it difficult finding good people and developing leaders?

Restoration is less cyclical than construction. The recession has helped introduce construction people to restoration and to BluSKY. The stability of the restoration business looks a bit "sexier" today and we are now on the radar screen for the best employees. As I mentioned, we hire for cultural fit first. We develop our own leaders with an Emerging Leaders program and we encourage lots of training