This last semester I had the privilege of taking a class with Chris Howard, the current CEO at Northstar Investors amongst his involvement in many other successful business ventures. In Chris’s class we were given his view on value creation and management, it was a brilliant class. But that’s not what I want to talk about in this piece. Chris had three guest speakers all of whom gave their view on the same topic. I want to emphasize “view” here because in each instance, including Chris’s, they never gave us budding business students absolutes on how it is or was, but only their view if it. There’s a difference. One of those guest speakers was Harvey Miller.
Harvey is the VP and GM at Glacier Glove, a sporting goods company headquartered in Reno, NV. Harvey is also is involved in or has been involved in many other successful business ventures and when he came to our class he did a presentation on value creation and management from a marketing perspective. Afterwards, I reached out to Harvey about a possible interview and he graciously accepted. Here are a few of the great things we talked about.
Elton: “One of the things you talked about in your presentation was ‘the purpose of an organization is to enable ordinary people to do extraordinary things’ which had a big impact on me. One of your strengths is your ability to develop a strategy or tactical mode of operation for a startup business. If you were taking over the marketing portion of a startup, how would you develop a process for ordinary people to do extraordinary things?”
Harvey: “To begin with, I think for an individual organization to follow that type of strategic path requires an understanding of who that organization is. I truly believe in any organization you have unique features, and it’s whether those unique features are important or significant enough to your target audience. If you can differentiate yourself to your employees and in turn your employees can share that with the potential customer you can create a unique organization. At that point you start to empower your employees when they understand what your unique position is, and what that value difference is when it comes to the competition.”
Expert’s Input: I know we’re just getting started but recently I was reading a piece by Dave Stein titled: “What’s Your Difference? Achieving Competitive Advantage with your Customer by Establishing a Value Edge.” There’s a lot of good content about that value difference Harvey is referencing but to briefly share Dave says: “When you demonstrate that you understand your customer’s value expectations, it’s likely you are having conversations with your customer that no one else can have. You have gained the value edge.” That directly supports what Harvey is talking about so now back to it.
Elton: “That was also something you hit on in your presentation, that ‘management of differences.’ Is that along those same lines?”
Harvey: “Once the differences are understood, then the employee can make decisions with a level of confidence and that is what you want them to be able to do. To make the decision and not feel like they need to necessarily get things approved all the time. It gives them the ability to proceed with confidence either to resolve an issue or to move forward.”
Elton: “That’s a high level of empowerment going on with the employees. By enabling them to actively make decisions and ultimately that’s why they were hired in the first place. Enabling you to step in as needed otherwise your focus can be on that vision.”
Harvey: “I like to see recaps in what has occurred, whether it’s daily or weekly so I know what is going on. It also gives me the ability to follow up if I am concerned about something, to gain additional information for clarification if you will. It can also become a teaching moment depending on if they made the right decision or not. Now if they made the right decision then you want to give them positive reinforcement. If they didn’t make the right decision, well then what can they learn from it and as an organization how can we have others learn form that also?”
Elton: “So you are seeing not only moments for correction but opportunity?”
Harvey: “Constructive guidance is the best way to describe it. Most organizations take a negative approach when there is a problem, they see it as a situation where they need to reprimand someone. That should only be considered after a continual repeat of the same problem, then you need to take corrective measures. There has to be a learning curve, that’s how organizations grow.
Elton: “That is something that I have been keying on in my own business interactions, these moments as being real opportunities for growth. That is where a lot of us in management and those we work with make some of our biggest strides, but only if we see it as opportunity?”
Elton: “Another thing you discussed in your presentation was a brand development strategy. That it’s not what you say it is, but what they say it is. Building enough trust for them make the purchase which ties into service marketing. How are you giving the customer that perspective or enabling them to glean that perspective on their own?
Harvey: “Some organizations look at the product independent of service, but if you stand behind your product and service that product, then that service leads to more product and that again comes back to service. So you are connecting the two rather than treating them independently i.e. once the product is out you feel removed from it and don’t allow for that service to take place.”
Elton: “So, it is a constant service review from service of the product to the customer and back to service again? Kind of a service feedback loop?”
Harvey: “We do it on a regular basis by looking at what our top performers are, and then kind of taking the Jack Welsh approach like he did at GE. By looking at the bottom performers and cutting 10%, we can then introduce new products and have room to grow without the clutter.”
Elton: “That ties into another thing that I wanted to touch on and that is: ‘keep raising the level of the conversation with the customer.’ Is that part of that relationship? That cutting from the bottom portion while improving the top portion?”
Harvey: “We see it in when we take a look at sales and we break it down by product. We know what of our product mix is being accepted through the number of purchases. At the same time we take a look at the stuff that’s not moving and ask why. Is it bad product? Is it a bad price point? Is it a combination of lack of value because it isn’t a good product or it’s priced to high? Then we have to seek out additional feedback and we may do very informal focus groups to drill down on some of those points so we can get to the root of the issue.”
Elton: “Do you feel that conversation with the customer is taking place and you’re not just sweeping away the non-performers? But rather asking why they didn’t they perform and then determining how can you improve in those areas?”
Harvey: “There’s an overlay to that and that’s when we introduce a product, sometimes there is a ramp up period. We work on the product and we think we understand the market very well but why isn’t the market jumping in? The reason might be we may have reps that don’t know the subtleties enough to empower the customer. For us, it’s about finding reps that understand and can be empowered, at least to a certain degree since their independent, what is it we are trying to achieve and what makes our product unique, understanding those differences. How are we differentiating and is there enough difference that if it’s a high price point people will still see value?”
Elton: “What I would like to wrap up with is in regards to data base marketing. As you said in your presentation to us: ‘marketers know more about us than ever before and some of them know how to use that information.’ As a leader in your field and given what you see going on around you, how do feel we should be responsibly managing this information while using it effectively? Again, with the customer’s needs and there safety being at the forefront.”
Harvey: “I am going to give you an example of different sales metrics becoming valuable in making a decision. Most of our business is business to business vs. business to customer. But a trend we have been seeing is our target market has been predominately male. As a result, a sizing of the gloves are skewed towards medium to xx-large. As these males are crossing over into fishing and hunting, spouses are getting involved and they’re bringing in their children at various ages. Now we’re finding our mix has been skewed towards the smaller size so we are changing to include small and even x-small in some situations. So its understanding how our target market is shifting a little along those lines of different product mixes. People are also becoming more aware of sun damage and when you are out fishing, you don’t want a lot of lotion on your hands so we’ve found that sun gloves are well received. That market is growing at a phenomenal rate both because people are active and because people are looking for that sun protection. So as we become more educated to the dangers of the sun, so does the customer allowing us to provide a product that is functional and helpful. That is a significant change in our market place.”
Elton: “Do you feel that there are some out there that are misusing this type of information they’re getting from the customer in this data based market? And if so can you think of an example?”
Harvey: “I will share an interesting story about a company that we don’t compete with directly but is also in the outdoor industry. This company is called Outdoor Research or OR. When Outdoor Research started into the outdoor industry, they had very high-tech product that was very well researched based upon the needs of the target audience. They provided apparel that really had unique features and that provided that extra dynamic whether it was the way they sealed seams or the way the product was cut. Then they started to get into hats for sun protection and now they have gone so far into the hat line that they’ve become fashion. Meaning they have lost the focus of where the company started from. Now I don’t know why they went that direction, whether it was because of a test market from their bae or because it’s a larger market? But to me the competition is so much greater in the fashion world that they may be able to move more product but that may come at a lower price point and smaller margins which affects the bottom line. Just not sure if strategically it was well thought out.”
Elton: “To conclude, you made the statement in our presentation that: ‘whatever it was that got you here today, is not going to be enough to keep you here tomorrow.’ So, you have to keep raising the bar or cut away from the bottom. Which is what it sounds like you’re doing here at Glacier Glove and unless you have anything else to add, I would like to thank you for your time.”
Again, I want to thank Harvey for his time and his marketing view on value creation and management. So, when looking at your own business, any business, look for that value difference. If it’s not there, how can you create by empowering your employees and in turn your customer? If it is there, how can you sustain it?
Image Credits: Picture, and Sketch by Author