Question: Economists point out that economic downturns force businesses to innovate and increase efficiency to survive. Now that you’ve gone through the crunch, what are the greatest lessons you’ve learned to better your business?
General Southwest Insurance Agency
We learned that we need to continually innovate and explore new ways of conducting our business. Our firm is over 40 years old. Prior to the downturn, many of our processes were done with the mindset of “this is the way we’ve always done things.” When the economy forced us to tighten up, our employees offered great ideas on how to increase efficiency and to attract new clients. These ideas turned into new initiatives and created a greater sense of team.
We also chose to align ourselves with a group of more than 70 other independent insurance agencies — something we would not have been open to before. This has given us a broader array of insurance companies to quote from and allows us to offer our clients additional products and services. All of these changes have resulted in greater profitability. As painful as it was, the Great Recession helped us become a better business.
Dave Binsfeld is a second-generation owner of General Southwest Insurance Agency along with his brothers John and Joe. He has been providing risk management advice and insurance solutions to clients for 28 years. Binsfeld works with a broad range of business owners and professionals with focuses in the social service/nonprofit, medical and technology sectors. He holds a degree in finance from Arizona State University.
Sector: Heating and Air Conditioning
Our greatest asset through the economic downturn is our ability as human beings to step back and analyze trends. In these recent years, we have learned that one-on-one conversation with consumers is valuable because consumers want companies to identify their needs and problems. Building your business one customer at a time and identifying with them builds loyalty.
Many businesses out there are doing elaborate marketing and may be penetrating the market, but the recurring consumer is not there. Why? Customers are relying more on companies that are willing to simply fill a need in a personal and timely manner. With us, it starts with customers reaching a real person when they call. We’re a family business, and we treat our customers like family. We always have; it’s who we are. And that consistency equates to stability. Holding onto your existing loyal customers is key to surviving an economic downturn.
Jerry Rodriguez, owner of R&R Refrigeration, had a successful high-performance shop in New Jersey specializing in rotary motors before moving to Arizona in 2002. His mechanical and troubleshooting ability proved a good fit with R&R, the business founded by his father-in-law, Arnold Moreno, a 40-year veteran in HVAC and sheet metal layout here in Phoenix. With Moreno’s coaching on the ins and outs of the business, Rodriguez took over the family business in 2008.
Sector: Clothing Manufacturing
Lesson number one: Manage my company with less. The recession forced me to take a close look at how the company was being run and where unnecessary money was being spent. Everything was subject to review, from insurance policies to credit card transaction fees. Contracts were examined and renegotiated, and both raw materials and finished goods inventories were reduced.
Lesson number two: Information is power. I paid attention to what my advisors, mentors and peers had to say, and they said “diversify.” I could not stay where I was, so in order to start some positive momentum, I needed to reach out, take a step and move forward knowing that by doing one thing differently, things will change. That’s when I started my baby line.
Lesson number three: Involve the company in social media. Starting with social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, I expanded with a WordPress blog and micro blogs such as Twitter and Pinterest. Additionally, I do multimedia with YouTube and Instagram. All of this involves time but has resulted in more awareness for my company and, ultimately, sales.
Cindy White is owner and designer of Cici Bianca, a Phoenix-based company specializing in the manufacture of hand-loomed ribbon jackets for women. A 30-year resident with a background in art, fashion and design, she purchased the former Estelle Gracer Inc. in 1999. The company branched out in 2010, adding Cici Bianca for Baby, which produces heirloom-quality, soft goods for infants.
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