Editor’s Note – Welcome to “Leaders Talk with Dave Hall” a series of interviews posted every third Wednesday of the month here on the DMG blog. The series features experienced business writer Dave Hall interviewing an incredible line-up of DMG clients, giving you an inside look on what makes them tick. The questions will surround their success, their experience in their sector and the type of characteristics that drive them to be leaders in our community.
Last month we spoke with President & CEO of Michigan’s The LEE Group – Mark Lee. This month we get in touch with Windsor’s own Shelly Fellows, Vice President of Operations at Radix Inc.
How have you managed to diversify your client base while retaining your core strengths?
SF: We looked at what we do well and what sets us apart from our competitors. We also participated in CBC television’s The Big Decision which forced us to look at ourselves under a deadline. We couldn’t put it off because we had that deadline and it forced us to evaluate our strengths and focus our energies in those areas.
What strategies have you used to attract and retain clients?
SF: We are already very established in the U.S. with a strong client base and we have developed strong relationships with those clients. We are now in the process of opening up an office in Trenton, Michigan which is close to many of our clients. Word of mouth is very important and our clients trust we can deliver what we promise and that gets passed along to other potential clients.
How have you been able to establish a corporate culture and strengthen your brand?
SF: While we sell to major corporations, our customers are also people which whom we have become very familiar over the years. A large part of our trust bargain with our customers is that we act consistently with every point of contact whether you’re a CEO or an engineer on the floor. We give them reasons to keep coming back to us for their manufacturing solutions. We are very passionate about what we do and we are very consistent in how we apply that passion.
What are the most important customer service tips you can share?
SF: For Radix, its consistency, trust and understanding what’s important to our customers. We are a small company so we don’t need an elaborate call-centre system because personal service is critical. When you call us, there’s an opportunity to dial an extension and after that, someone will pick up. We don’t want our customers wasting time working their way through a voice-mail system.
How has technology changed the way you communicate with clients?
SF: We exchange information electronically but we still believe the best relationships are built voice to voice and face to face. Technology speeds up our interaction with clients but the bottom line is that we still need to visit our customers and see for ourselves what their needs are and what solutions best fit those needs.
What has been your most successful collaboration with another company or organization?
SF: Our first customer was Ford Motor Co. and it has been a very successful relationship and one which remains in place to this day. We also have important collaborations with our suppliers. We developed an early relationship with Cognex, a supplier of camera and vision software. In many ways, we were both in the same position and we took a chance on them and they took a chance on us and it was been very beneficial to both of us.
How were you able to survive the recent recession which impacted so many companies in different sectors?
SF: Many of our customers scaled back and made significant cutbacks in their purchasing but despite that, we decided we were going to survive no matter what happened. We had to cut back on some staff because your largest operating costs are salaries. We were also able to institute some work-share arrangements so we could keep as many people working as possible. We continued to invest in sales and marketing and looked for efficiencies wherever we could find them. And fortunately, we were still producing products the market needed.
How important is social media to your company?
SF: We have a presence on Facebook, Linked In, Twitter and Instagram because we believe they are all very important. Most help us maintain and establish business relationships. But Facebook has become an important way for our staff, particularly a couple of employees who have been on maternity leave, to remain engaged and connected to our company.
What tips can you offer those seeking to establish an international client base?
SF: Many of our customers are already multi-nationals so transitioning from selling in North America to elsewhere around the world is fairly smooth. In addition, many of the people we deal with move around within their company and word of mouth is still the best sales tool available.
What is your ideal way of spending a day off?
SF: I love heading out into the county, having lunch along the way and visiting some of our great wineries. Otherwise, Ross (Rawlings, husband and business partner) and I love spending time with family and friends.
Do you have a favourite vacation spot and why?
SF: We have a cottage in the Algonquin Highlands and we love getting away for a couple of weeks or even long weekends. It’s very relaxing but we are always connected to the office.