Sharon Newman (CEO) and Seth Newman (President) are the dynamic mother-and-son team behind Action Envelope, a fast-growing envelope printing e-commerce business based in Long Island, NY. Since taking over the company from her suddenly-deceased husband in 1993, Sharon spent several years shoring up the firm's bleeding assets because she knew her son, Seth, had always dreamed of working in his father's company.

The Newmans shared all this and more during a live conversation with myself and other business owners from the Inc. community this past Tuesday and Wednesday in New Jersey, New York and Greenwich, Connecticut.

When Sharon took over the firm, it had just 200 clients. Today, the firm has more than 250,000 clients--that's not a typo--and continue to add 200 new clients each day! What's even more amazing, they've experienced this meteoric growth by selling a product that hasn't changed much in the past few decades--the envelope. Not only is the envelope a relatively mature product, the Newmans realize that their core product--the famous number 10 envelope (white) with black letter printing may be obsolete in a few years as more businesses switch to paperless tools.

How have they done so well under such challenging circumstances? By listening to their customers. It all begins with cost-per-click advertising. Action Envelope has mastered the art of cost-per-click advertising. Their huge volume of leads creates call center traffic. The call center actively tracks how often they say "No" to a customer, ("no, we don't sell paper, just envelopes," "no, we don't sell square envelopes, only rectangular envelopes"). Management regularly reviews the results and how often they say "no" to customers. Internally, they discuss what it would mean to the business if they said "yes." This practice has led to new services (they do sell paper now) and new capabilities (orders can be purchased in much smaller lots than other envelope printers).

By practicing the art of listening to their customers Action Envelope has evolved its product line to the point where they're not only growing rapidly but confident that they will still have a thriving business by the time the white number 10 business envelope goes the way of the DoDo bird.

Thank you Sharon and Seth for enlightening us and for sharing your story.

Thanks to our event partners for joining this Inc. Business Owners Council session:

* Herald National Bank
* Inc. Magazine's event team at 7 World Trade Center
* Lamborghini of Bergen County
* Mercedes-Benz of Greenwich