Archive for the ‘Business Success’ Category

As anyone who has read my blog may have gathered, I love businesses that continually pursue new ideas and believe organizations need to embrace change in order to remain competitive in the long run. A few days ago I got e-mail from Bain Insights on a subtle approach to business change called Repeatability. Bain and Company have set up a website containing articles and research on this topic in support of a new book by two of their partners Chris Zook and James Allen called ‘Repeatability: Building Enduring Businesses for a World of Constant Change.’

The Idea:

The authors recognize that while 80% of high performing companies have differentiation at the heart of their corporate strategy, such differentiation can become excessively complex. As a company becomes more complex they may lose a sense of who they are and what they are good at, as they continually pursue radical change in order to stay ahead of the competition. Such an approach Zook and Allen’s strategic research suggests may not be sustainable in the long run.

The Concept:

Zook and Allen advocate a simple repeatable business model that can be applied to new products and changing markets. The concept requires an organization to constantly adapt over time building on their differentiation in a way that reinforces their strategic advantages and keeps everyone on the same page. Under this concept all employees should know what the company’s key success factors are and change is constant rather than radical and disruptive. This quote from the authors’ Harvard Business Review article sums up the repeatable business model concept:

‘Really successful companies build their strategies on a few vivid and hardy forms of differentiation that act as a system and reinforce one another. They grow in ways that exploit their core differentiators by replicating them in new contexts. And they turn the sources of differentiation into routines, behaviors and activity systems that everyone in the organization can understand and follow.’

In addition, learning systems are put in place to ensure continuous improvement can occur constantly.

Repeatability in Practice:

Organizations with repeatable business models do three things:

  1. They understand what their customers want.
  2. They translate their strategy into clear business principles that can be easily understand and adopted by employees and leaders from all levels of the hierarchy.
  3. They are wired to connect and respond to feedback, adapting accordingly to keep learning.

Lego is an example of a company with a repeatable business model in place. After years of strategic errors Lego developed clear principles and metrics in order to replicate and improve on past successes, while adapting to new markets and the changing business environment. Using their repeatable business model Lego were able to increase their profit margins by 40% creating additional value for the company, which they hope to sustain.

For more information on the repeatable business model check out Chris Zook and James Allen’s book: Repeatability: Build Enduring Businesses for a World of Constant Change.


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A few days ago I was fortunate to hear Dave Polivy owner of Tahoe Mountain Sports speak on content strategy and search engine optimization. Tahoe Mountain Sports is primarily a web commerce company (with one retail outlet in Kings Beach, CA) who have leveraged social media to grow their business.

As an e-commerce business Dave has always recognized that technology changes every day and that change is continually needed to stay ahead of the game. A few years ago Google changed its algorithms lowering many of Tahoe Mountain Sports product search result positions negatively impacting sales. Since the first 3 natural (non-pay per click) search results on any given Google search get the majority of the traffic, changes were needed to improve the positioning of their products. Since the Google algorithm changes rewarded current and timely content, the company decided to pursue a content strategy using their blog as the hub. Here are some of the elements of Tahoe Mountain Sports’ content strategy:

The Blog: Given the greater value Google places on websites that are linked to on other websites, Tahoe Mountain Sports chose to host their blog on a sub domain to improve their website’s ranking. The blog enables Tahoe Mountain Sports to demonstrate their products in a friendly and conversational non-sales manner (with the exception of the occasional ‘steals and deals’ posts). For example they have ‘adventure of the week’ posts on an outdoor activity and gear used is included and linked to. Posts typically align with the products and categories the company would like to come up first in, on a Google search. In addition, the company studies their Google analytics to determine what key words are driving people to the website, then creating posts that include the most popular key words to further drive traffic to the site. Given the timeliness of blog posts relative to the online catalogue, the blog post often comes up higher on a product search than the actual product page, giving the company a targeted short-term search engine optimization boost. To greater engage readers Tahoe Mountain Sports use different writers to add new perspectives and to vary the content and tone. Blog post writers are paid with store credit and such guest posts along with news aggregators syndicating their content have helped introduce the brand to a wider audience.

Facebook: Tahoe Mountain Sports have grown their Facebook following in two ways. First the company teamed up with cause based organization Leave No Trace to donate $1 for every person that liked their Facebook page. Leave No Trace educate people on how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. Since Tahoe Mountain Sports sell outdoor gear the partnership helped extend brand reach. Approximately 2000 fans were gained from the campaign and traffic from the Facebook page to the Tahoe Mountain Sports website increased significantly.

The second way Tahoe Mountain Sports have grown their Facebook fan number is to team up with a non-profit or cause based organization and have semi-annual gear giveaways. Entrants must like Tahoe Mountain Sports’ page and the contests are typically set up to be hosted through the non-profit or cause based organization.

YouTube: Prior to the company creating a YouTube account they would receive frequent phone calls from people who had found their website, liked their prices but won’t sure if they could trust the business wasn’t too good to be true. To offer reassurance that the company is legit a cheesy about me video was created:

Creating this video eliminated 95% of concerned phone calls by making people feel more comfortable to order. Tahoe Mountain Sports also have product demonstration videos on their YouTube channel further improving their search engine optimization.

Google+: Tahoe Mountain Sports created a Google+ page to cover their bases. The company recognized that since it’s a Google product, Google will give it heightened awareness in search results.

Pinterest: In recent months Tahoe Mountain Sports have been building their Pinterest pages and experimenting to determine what works on this new platform. The company have received a lot of pins and it is driving a lot of traffic to their website.

Twitter: Tahoe Mountain Sports can also be found on Twitter sharing interesting content and engaging in conversations.

What do you think of Tahoe Mountain Sports content strategy and what tips do you have to improve search engine optimization? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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My Copy of the Zappos' Culture Book

Back in March I wrote a post on shoe and apparel web commerce company Zappos’ customer-centric business strategy. However, customer service is only one component of the Zappos’ success story. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh attributes much of Zappos success to their strong corporate culture:

“If we get the culture right, most of the other stuff, like the brand and the customer service, will just happen. With most companies as they grow the culture goes downhill. We want the culture to grow stronger and stronger as we grow.”

In this post I intend to explore the ten values that have enabled Zappos to create such a unique and successful culture. The video below provides an introduction into Zappos’ culture:

1. Deliver WOW Through Service: Zappos is known for taking customer service to extremes. The company believes that the more they invest in their customers and the customer experience, the more loyal their customers will become.

2. Embrace and Drive Change: As a growing company the Zappos’ philosophy is that change is constant and unavoidable. In order to be able to react to changing market conditions, the status quo should be continually challenged.

3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness: The Zappos culture is fun and a little weird. Visitors taking the Zappos company tour are typically greeted by employees blowing horns and ringing cow bells. This culture is not for everybody as Zappos’ recruiters recognize by using cartoon like job applications and bizarre interview questions to determine individuality in order to ensure candidates will fit with the company culture. Interview questions may include: What’s your theme song? What two people would you most like to invite for dinner?

 4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded: At Zappos both employees and the company as a whole are expected to be bold, daring and open to new ideas. One bold idea was for all employees to have the freedom to use Twitter, something many companies would be horrified by. No guidelines were given except to use one’s best judgment.

 5. Pursue Growth and Learning: Zappos recognize that it’s important for their employees to keep learning and be stretched in order to keep them engaged.

6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication: The Zappos’ culture encourages open communications between employees, vendors, customers and other businesses. As part of this philosophy managers are required to spend 10-20% of time with team members outside the office, improving communication, trust and possibly building friendships.

 7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit: Being part of a great team where people look out for one another, can inspire outstanding performance. As part of Zappos’ positive work environment employees even have the ability to give one another $50 for a job well done.

8. Do More With Less: The economic downturn has forced Zappos to demonstrate that they can do more with less. In 2008 like many companies Zappos had to lay off (124 out of 5000) employees, a situation they handled with integrity and transparency. The company released the news right after it was decided to mitigate stress and also announced everything that was going on, on their blog and Twitter. Employees affected by the move were given generous severance packages and overall public opinion regarding their handling of the layoffs was positive.

9. Be Passionate and Determined: The Zappos success story is founded on passion and determination to pursue a vision to take the company forward.

10. Be Humble: As part of creating a positive culture where employees can be happy at work, regardless of the situation employees are expected to treat others as they would wish to be treated.

To read Zappos’ employee perspectives on each of the ten values order the free Zappos culture book or consider purchasing Zappos Insights subscription service.

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Earlier this week I had the opportunity to listen to Laura Zander co-founder of Jimmy Beans Wool speak on entrepreneurial success. Jimmy Beans Wool is primarily a web commerce company (with one retail store in Reno), which sells yarn along with its more recent product line addition of fabrics. When you think of a company that mainly sells yarn, you don’t typically think innovation. Yet Laura and her husband Doug have been very innovative in how they have grown their business in ten years from nothing to a $7 million company. The KOLO video below describes a little bit about their successful business model:

Of all Laura’s tips for business success, the one that stood out the most to me was her philosophy of having the brand continually pop up in unexpected places. Since it is estimated 1 in 4 women in the U.S. know how to knit, Laura recognized this gave the company a huge reach offering endless possibilities for branding partnerships. These branding partnerships represented first mover advantages for Jimmy Beans Wool.

Here are a few of the brand’s unexpected partnerships:

The Emmy’s: As part of their strategy of going where no other yarn company has gone before, Jimmy Beans Wool were able to negotiate to have a swag suite at the Emmy’s. As part of the event the Jimmy Beans Wool team even got to teach stars how to knit. After the event Laura capitalized on the opportunity sending press releases with titles such as “Hollywood Hunks Turn to Knitting” and calling magazines relentlessly to create a buzz. The approach worked and Redbook magazine ran a story on the company.

U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA): More recently Jimmy Beans Wool have teamed up with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association as their official and first ever yarn, knitting and crochet supplier. Beyond giving the brand great exposure, the partnership makes sense when you think of all the warm beanies, sweaters, scarves etc. the skiers and snowboarders need. The partnership doesn’t stop there either as Laura also recognizes that there is an opportunity to market their yarn products to family members of the ski and snowboard teams.

The Heart Truth: The heart truth is a non-profit campaign by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and sponsoring corporations to increase women’s awareness of heart disease. You’ve probably seen the campaign’s red dress symbol on diet coke cans. Laura chose to get involved in the campaign not only to give back but also to add credibility to Jimmy Beans Wool. The other sponsoring partners are huge corporations including Coca Cola, AOL, CVS and Johnson & Johnson among others. By being a part of a campaign supported by such large corporations, Jimmy Beans Wool can use this to their advantage to appear bigger than they actually are to win future business deals. Jimmy Beans Wool have set up a campaign site for the cause called Stitch Red to enlist the help of yarn retailers, manufacturers and their customers to increase heart disease awareness. The company has created products related to this cause and in June Laura is releasing her first book called “Knit Red.” Knit Red contains 30 red garments and accessories donated by celebrity designers who share their tips for staying healthy and preventing heart disease.

Laura’s future dream partnerships include the Today Show, and having knitting kits on Virgin Airlines. As the company’s tag line says there really are “Endless Possibilities” for where this company could take yarn.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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With gas prices continuing to increase, it’s hard to imagine being able to travel hundreds of miles on any form of transportation for just $1.50. Yet such a concept is the reality for customers of megabus.com in the east coast, southeast and mid west regions of the U.S.

I first came across Megabus about 8 years ago as a college student studying at the University of Edinburgh. Back then I would take Megabus to Glasgow for shopping trips for £1 each way. Typically with booking fees this worked out as the equivalent of just under $5 for what was approximately a 100 mile round trip. The company’s double-decker buses had plenty of space and while I found the train to be more efficient time-wise for long distance trips to London, the Megabus ticket price for advance travel was hard to beat.

In recent years Megabus owned by the British Stagecoach group has entered the U.S. and Canadian markets offering fares as low as $1 one way plus a $0.50 booking fee. The buses are clean and a lot more appealing in an attempt to readdress the seedy image many Americans have of bus travel. Each bus has wi-fi, power outlets at each seat, flat screen TVs showing movies, panoramic windows and it’s a green way to travel.

Megabus’ business model works by using a yield management model to incrementally increase ticket prices as the departure date nears. This business is reliant on numbers and like Southwest the people booking last-minute pay more, to offset the customers with discounted tickets. In addition Megabus has extremely low overhead. All bookings are made online eliminating ticket agent staffing. Furthermore, Megabus does not have its own terminals, picking up passengers on city streets.

Megabus rethought bus transportation in order to achieve success in a mature industry. Last year Bloomberg Businessweek did a feature on the company entitled “The Megabus Effect” stating that bus travel is now the fastest growing way to travel in the U.S. The article also stated that Megabus had 2010 revenues of approximately $100 million and is continuing to grow.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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My first blog post illustrated the importance of daring to change in order to avoid organizational inertia. In that first post I highlighted a retailer I had grown up with in the UK: Woolworth’s. Once a household name, Woolworth’s failed to reinvent itself until it was too late. In this blog post I wanted to share 5 ways high performance companies rethink and reinvent their strategies before revenues from their current strategies start to decline.

  1. They invest in new capabilities: High performance organizations start developing new capabilities, before they lose their competitive advantage from their current ones. Apple is a great example of this.
  2. They focus on talent acquisition and retention: In this economy many companies have become complacent and lazy assuming that their employees can’t go anywhere. While this may be true for your mediocre employees, talent always has options and sooner or later may be gone. High performance companies continually focus on retaining and developing surplus talent that can help drive the business forward in the long-term.
  3. They continually scan the market: High performers don’t rest on their laurels, continually scanning the environment for new ideas in order to identify untapped consumer needs and improve their economic outlook.  Like Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers says, (shameless plug for husband’s hometown team), you are either getting better or you are getting worse, you never stay the same.
  4. They Innovate: High performance companies are risk takers who are not afraid of change. Successful managers recognize that the real risk is in not innovating, becoming stagnant and collapsing.  These businesses have an internal environment that fosters creative thinking, and executives in these companies recognize that new progressive ideas can come from anywhere in the organization not just the C-suite.  As a result employees are empowered by knowing that they have a role to play in shaping the company’s future success.
  5. They are agile: Today’s high performing businesses have agile organizational structures in order to be able to adapt fast to the increasingly unpredictable ever-changing business environment and take advantage of sudden market opportunities.

What do you think? Feel free to add to my list of characteristics of high performance companies in the comments section below. 

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Earlier this week I had the opportunity to listen to John Farahi speak on business success. John Farahi is the CEO of Monarch Casino & Resort Inc. who own and operate the Atlantis Casino Resort in Reno, NV. In spite of the tough economy and declining casino industry, Monarch Casino & Resort Inc. is growing. Here are John’s tips for business success: 

Opportunity can be anywhere

When John Farahi’s father David first moved to the U.S. from Iran in 1970 he began looking for a business. When he was told of the Golden Door Motel (the original site of the Atlantis Casino Resort) in Reno, NV he initially dismissed it saying:

‘I did not come to the U.S. to go to Reno, NV, I’m not interested.’

Some how he was persuaded to take a look and realized that there was actually a lot of opportunity to be had in the hospitality industry in Reno, NV.

Surround yourself with honest & successful people

Distancing oneself from people with issues is another of Farahi’s recommendations. He encourages entrepreneurs starting out to approach people who have experienced success in your desired industry and to ask question after question to learn from them.

Don’t give up

John and his brothers took over the Golden Door Motel in 1976. The motel struggled in its early years and the brothers found themselves doing every job in the resort, to try to turn the business around.

Later when trying to build the Atlantis Casino Resort, the brothers had to fight the city of Reno in court to get casino-zoning laws changed. Financing was also extremely challenging and the brothers became accustomed to hearing ‘no’ a lot. John says that in business there are always obstacles to overcome and you can never hit every mark perfectly. Thus it is important to be tenacious, work hard and not give up when you encounter hurdles.

Do your homework

In Fall 2011, Monarch Casino & Resort, Inc. began the process of acquiring Black Hawk Casino in Colorado from Riviera Holdings Corporation. Prior to this acquisition the company had spent five years researching the area, looking at every property in their industry, evaluating restaurants, what the market was missing and what resources would be needed to get the property up to par. Once the acquisition is complete the company will evaluate every employee at the resort in order to build a good team.

What was good yesterday may not be tomorrow

John Farahi talked about the importance of being willing to continually change and take risks. In 1993 when Monarch Casino & Resort, Inc. looked to go public, many people thought they were making a crazy decision. However, after many rejections they succeeded in going public, raising enough funds to build the Atlantis’ second tower.

Today the company has starting making moves into the Internet gaming industry, which may offer the opportunity for future joint ventures. Farahi believes that being a brick and mortar company will enable them to offer better customer incentives (such as resort stays) relative to what Internet gaming companies can offer.

What tips would you give new entrepreneurs on how to be successful in business? Please share in the comments section below.

Photo Credit: Ken Lund

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