One thing seems clear in today's economy: Growth seems more random and more unexpected than ever. So perhaps the fitting response to that reality is that companies must find a way to plan for that random growth. That, in essence, is what vaulted Keystone RV Co. to the #2 spot on 2000's Inc. 500 roster.
You might think Keystone is another one of those software "solutions" companies that does inexplicable things with technology. It's not. Keystone is in the business of making recreational vehicles, an industry that even in these flush times is growing no faster than 7% a year. Keystone's five-year growth rate, on the other hand, is 17,117%. How did that happen?
To begin with, founder Cole Davis came from another company in the industry that had experienced high growth, and all along he planned for Keystone to follow a similar path. He designed a business model that would use manufacturing capacity more efficiently and target more niche markets than his past employer did. He was confident the model would foster growth.
"From my experience I was aware that a company could grow fast. A lot of people never had that opportunity," says Davis. "Our model from the get-go has been rapid growth."
He also tempers the effects of that growth by planning for it. "I start selling an idea to our entire staff up to a year before we want to implement it," he says. That has resulted in Keystone's actually exceeding its ambitious targets. In 1997, Davis projected 1999 sales of $120 million, and revenues came in at $134 million. This year Keystone is on course to exceed its $190 million target by $60 million. And Davis expects the company to surpass $550 million in 2001.
Keystone, based in Goshen, Ind., seems to be a curiosity, an old-line company in an economy that celebrates the new and wondrous. And, when Davis talks about the business, he sounds similarly old-fashioned. Keystone, he says, is "a relationship business. We have attracted people who have been in the industry for years, and their relationships give us entré e into the marketplace." It sounds like a throwback to the quaint idea that success in business is about who you know, not what you know.