10 Growth Strategies from Inc. 500 CEOs
Have fun!Make realistic promisesStay competitive, always Reward your fansKnow your audienceKeep your competitors closePerform outside researchAddress your weaknessesBe honest Keep your employees happy
"Companies have to worry about if employees are on Facebook, if they're on Twitter, if they're going to be texting, going on Youtube. That constant instant gratification of entertainment is what you're up against," says Armando Montelongo, the former Flip This House star who now mentors others on how to flip properties of their own. Montelongo wins over his staff by simply being more fun, surprising employees with parties and outings, incentivizing them with contests, and showering them with attention. "Even though they have a great time, our employees tend to be much more focused, which is why we continue to more than double the size of our company," Montelongo says.
"Some companies will go out and promise the consumer certain advantages," says Josef Gorowitz, CEO of Prodege, an online customer loyalty rewards program. "What we give to our users is part of the revenue that we receive. We make sure we don't overpromise; we pay out what we can." Gorowitz, who is also trained as a rabbi, attributes his business know-how to his grandfather, a post-war Russian immigrant who started his textile business from the ground up. However, Gorowitz believes that the fundamentals of Jewish law—honesty, underpromising, and overdelivering—are the same drivers of his company's growth. "We promise what we feel we can give back to the community, and we keep building on that steadily," he says.
Nearly twenty years since the company first opened its doors, Complete Landscaping Systems is still growing thanks in part to its fiery CEO Laura McMurray, who joined the staff six years ago and reignited the company's competitive spirit. "I strive for excellence no matter what I'm doing," she says. "I have a hobby of riding horses, and I can't just simply go ride a trail horse; I have to get on a performance horse that I can do something crazy on." McMurray gets her competitiveness from her father, who single-handedly ran his chiropractor business throughout her whole life. "He instills in me an amazing amount of drive and ambition," she says. "I want to win."
By 2001, Andy Levine, then the manager for the band Sister Hazel, had built an army of passionate fans that did everything asked of them: They put up posters, called radio stations, and even let the band sleep on their couches. Eventually, the fans approached Levine asking for a vacation, just "a weekend to grill out hot dogs and hamburgers and drink beer with the band." Levine realized that by super-serving the fans he already had, they would be so thrilled with the experience that they would recruit more people to come join. "That's the strategy I've had the most success with, and it's the core of what we're doing today," he says. Levine's company Sixthman brings entire communities of fans together with their favorite bands, like 311 and KISS, on theme cruises and vacations.
Everything is customizable these days, so David Prokupek wondered, why not hamburgers? Prokupek, who treats his company Smashburger like a tech start-up, is constantly innovating and upgrading, from the overall aesthetics of the restaurant to the food itself. In just four years of operation, Smashburger has grown nationally by acting locally: Each one of its 111 locations offers a menu customized to the marketplace, which is antithetical to most other burger joints. "We go into new markets, we custom design different burgers, different side items, different shakes, different local craft beers to really become every city's favorite place," Prokupek says.
Before he started Century Payments, Robert Wechsler ran global sales and service for Chase Payment Tech, now a fully owned division of JP Morgan, for almost six years. "I knew a lot of really talented people that I met in competitive environments—we'd both be trying to get the same customer or same partner—and I took notice of them and created a relationship with them," he says. When Wechsler launched Century Payments, he reached out to his old competitors, offering them a chance to innovate and retire early—an opportunity they couldn't refuse. "The people we have are winners," he says.
"We started the company to reset the mentality of how people think about videogaming," says Brett Lovelady, CEO of Astro Gaming, which sells stylish videogame accessories for game enthusiasts. Lovelady, who founded the company, wanted to separate his brand from the other big gaming accessory companies, which only delivered minimalist solutions, by creating chic and authentic accessories that enhance the overall gaming experience. "We really looked outside to understand consumers and consumer markets," he says. "We looked at anything that didn't have to do with technology: sporting goods, toys, housewares—anything that was more pure design, and then we layered back in technology over the years. That change in perspective allowed us to see what people want and help us understand who we're developing, designing, and defining products for."
Soon after Cadillac Stone Works moved to Las Vegas, demand for fabrication-only construction businesses on the strip plummeted, and the company was in jeopardy of falling apart. That is, until president Jeff Grail came across an installation company ready to go out of business, and made a game-changing decision. "I acquired the company," Grail says. "You stick with what you know, and I did not know the installation side of this business, especially in a market like Las Vegas." By purchasing the company, Cadillac Stone Works now covers all of the bases required to thrive in the current market, whether it's construction, installation, or renovation, and is enjoying newfound success. "I knew I had a weakness, I found my weakness in my company, and I was able to turn that into a tremendous strength."
Many people are unaware or uninformed about alternative forms of energy, so it makes sense that honesty and integrity are the cornerstones of Sundurance Energy, a company that designs, builds, operates, and maintains large-scale solar electric projects. "Being straight shooters with our customers and being very honest right from the upfront discussions is really a key part of our success," says Allen Bucknam, CEO of Sundurance Energy. "When you're in a competitive situation, it can be very tempting to overpromise, and we really resist that. We spend a lot of time rigorously estimating what we're going to do, both from a cost and schedule perspective, so when we put that in front of the customer, we stick to it. No hassles."
"When I started the company, I really did it because I wanted the freedom," says Sean Lonergan, president and CEO of PruGen Pharmaceuticals, a company that creates generic versions of prescription drugs. "I wanted to be able to go away when I pleased, so as I started adding employees on, it was really a lifestyle that I sold to the company too." While Lonergan is primarily responsible for choosing which drugs to make generic versions of, all of the manufacturing and designing falls on his employees, so he makes an extra effort to keep them all happy. "I give my employees a lot of freedom where they don't have to be in the office every day during summertime," he says. "I have the business set up so everything can be done via the computer from wherever they are. I base the company on a lot of freedom."