If you own or work for a company, which sells a product-physical or intellectual-success, it is generally measured by sales. It is the easiest way to measure success, but of course it can be much more complex that that. I wanted to write an article on what success meant to me with a physical product-based company, because measuring success is not always cut and dry and quantifiable.
Learning About Success At Trade Shows
When we started our handbag company, we did the trade show circuit to sell our handbags. We were completely new to the industry and did not have the industry contacts like now. Doing the trade show introduced us to our fashion peers in a trade show setting.
We found a trade show to launch our line at in New York, shipped our samples to the trade show site, booked our travel and jumped on a plane. We set up a booth and sold our product for three days. Our sales were mediocre – we covered costs but they were not going to make us rich. However, I feel the connections I made and the lessons I learned while at the show were extremely valuable.
Case in point, I literally latched myself on to a seasoned fashion professional who owned a hair accessory company. Underneath her sweet veneer was a toughness earned by working years in the fashion industry.
During those three days, every free second she had, I would pick her brain. I asked her about stores she felt we should approach and how we could get a better booth location. I asked her about other trade shows to do and how we could expand our business. She imparted such nuggets of wisdom to me that I would always remember where she suggested we have our booth (on the aisles, by the bathroom or food service as everybody HAS to go there at some point) and how we should systematically grow our business.
After our first trade show I still did not have showrooms in the regional markets of the United States as I wanted to. I knew that I needed to have a sales force to scale up my business to reach customers I couldn’t travel to. My master plan was to have local showrooms in Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and New York. As I was still on the hunt for showrooms, we continued doing trade shows ourselves – New York, Paris and Las Vegas.
I did trade shows for several seasons before I met some showroom owners that I wanted to do business with. I really considered these showrooms my selling team, or strategic partners, as they also had a vested interest in my company. I thought once these showrooms were in place, I might be able to take a rest from my hectic travel schedule.
Observing Trends Out In The Field And Making Connections
And then it occurred to me that I couldn’t just sit in my office in Los Angeles and run things remotely. I really needed to be out in the field, observing and seeing what the trends were. In an industry like fashion, if you miss a trend you could lose out on sales and maybe even risk your ‘loyal’ customers not writing with you for a season.
(Besides, try as I may, I am not cut out for being in an office with a computer 100% of the time. As long as I have my iPhone with me, I can work from anywhere.)
And then as season after season passed, I started making connections with influencers and major decision makers. Similar as it is when one goes to a conference and meets industry leaders, over time I started to meet people who I really admired. I started interfacing with leaders who could and would have a major impact on my business. Doors just started opening for us.
Luckily, our sales were strong, which is how I would normally measure our success.
But we had some major deals in the works and those deals I was much more excited about than our ‘sales.’ These impending deals could bring us more sales absolutely, but they also brought us recognition as we were nominated for design awards and we also were approached to do joint venture designs with important customers.
Internally, we were growing a strong team and were able to hire some key personnel who only made our company stronger. We did not have to hire recent fashion grads for a small wage, we could actually hire real professionals with real world experience and skills earned from years of working in the industry.
Furthermore, because of my Nordstrom background and their famous customer service training, I trained my staff to above all focus on customer service. If we had a damaged product get returned by a customer, I would hand write a note myself and include a little gift to them as an apology. I urged our staff to really listen to customers and remember they were integral to our continued growth and success.
Tips For How Your Business Can Succeed
Success is rooted in sales, but below are some more tips on how your business can succeed:
- Keep an eye open for opportunities to meet with people who might be game changers for your business. Whether they will assist your company as a salesperson or a consultant or perhaps help by providing a recommendation, these relationships should be highly valued and cultivated.
- Hire the right people to bring your business to the next level. When I stopped focusing on shipping products myself, hired a warehouse manager and took myself out of the warehouse, our business grew exponentially.
- Value your customers. Period.
- Maintain the quality of your product.
In these days of fluctuating world economies, companies have a renewed focus on maintaining strong sales. However, if one takes a look at some of the ideas put forth in my article, success cannot just be measured by sales. Value for one’s customers, integrity in one’s product and pride in one’s staff is equally important in my mind in measuring success.