Customer Focus as the Most Important Element for Growth

By Gail Schaper-Gordon, Ph.D.

The three panelists from the Bloomberg cocktail event mentioned in the introduction were Tom Gage, CEO/President, AC Propulsion; John Padian, COO, Pelican Products, Inc.; and Hanko Kiessner, CEO, Packsize. A theme that ran through each of their stories was the importance of:

  • Identifying and understanding their core customers.
  • Finding out what these customers want.
  • Finding out how to get it to them.

Packsize is an eight-year old, Salt Lake City–based company that has introduced a “lean packaging” system in the United States, called “Right Sized Packaging on Demand®.” Their customers are able to make their own corrugated packaging at the right moment in the right quantity and in the right design, thereby significantly reducing supply-chain waste.

With the cost of shipping being converted to volume vs. weight and the focus on the environment and sustainability increasing, one would have thought that this would be an easy sell. Not so, until CEO Kiessner realized that purchasing the equipment was the major obstacle for potential customers. As he put it, making boxes was not their primary business. So now, Packsize provides and maintains the equipment on site, while selling their customers a steady supply of corrugated cardboard, packing materials, and printing supplies needed for the packaging. This shift in their model resulted in the business growing so well that it was named “Entrepreneur of the Year 2008” by E&Y.

Pelican Products is the global leader in the design and manufacture of virtually indestructible cases for a wide variety of uses, from containers for small portable electronics to custom cases designed to protect high-tech military equipment. You may know them for the submersible PeliLite™ flashlight or for their products found in nearly every fire station in the United States. Originally, they had no serious competition. All they had to do was maintain relationships with the distributors who sold their products. But once competitors started to appear in the same distributor catalogues, Pelican Products needed to develop a different strategy to maintain and grow their market share.

Realizing that the end-users, not the distributors, were their real customers, Pelican took their marketing messages directly to them, differentiating themselves from the competition. Additionally, Pelican holds regular focus groups with their top customers to get feedback for new product development. The groups have created a sense of partnership and increased loyalty with these customers.

Do you know your core customers’ “3 a.m. nightmare,” what keeps them up at night? If you do, can you create a solution for this problem? How well do you know your customers and what they really need? If you can’t answer these questions, I suggest that you and key members from your organization begin spending more time with your customers and listening to their concerns.



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