What follows is a flagrantly biased, celebratory self-promotional write-up. I make no apologies for it!
What is more difficult than making the Inc. 5000 list of fastest private growing companies in America? Making it multiple times in a row! Last year was the first year we were recognized as one of the 5,000 fastest growing private companies in the U.S. and we received the recognition this year as well. We're aiming to hit it in '09, too! Having just watched the Olympics, there is no end to the comparisions between business and sports, but searching for an apt metaphor, I couldn't think of a single sport that reflects our business (any business) directly. Combine long distance running with occasional sprints, place obstacles in all paths and make the finish line somewhat elusive (more like a constant roll toward an ever changing finish line) and you've come close to a worthy comparison. Perhaps the decathlon is the closest comparison to business?
Around 2002-03 we made some strategic decisions. We decided we were going to stop trying to become all things to all people (easy to do in a $19 billion dollar industry that, literally, sells to everyone). We were going to focus on what our clients recognized as our core competencies, the services they valued above all others. Many businesses, including ours, were challenged by Jim Collin's book Good to Great, particularly the Hedgehog concept. We attempted to answer these questions:
- What could we be the best in the world at? (helping large companies and large organizations increase the impact of their branded products)
- What drives your economic engine? (fulfillment: making the creation, availability and delivery of branded products powerfully simple)
- What are you deeply passionate about? (we are passionate believers in the effectiveness of well-placed promotional marketing and the strategic significance of well-managed brand assets)
Answering these questions strengthened our resolve. We always were a fulfillment company. We knew our best clients valued this feature above all others. We ramped up our investment in future technologies that enabled us to better manage branded materials through private-label company stores. We made some core internal adjustments. We rebranded. Most importantly, we simply got busy proclaiming what we do to the market we serve.
It is interesting that Collins notes that "the good-to-great companies frequently produced spectacular returns in unspectacular industries". Our business covers all areas of branded products: promotional products, corporate apparel, printed materials, ads, corporate identity, etc. - we're not a web 2.0 business, we're not about social networking or anything that would turn heads. But when you look at the list of promotional product companies that have made the Inc 5000 list, you will notice that most of them are a different kind of promotional products company. The market is changing. On the Inc. 5000 list, the companies that manage branded products in any form are doing spectacular things in "unspectacular" industries. It's exciting to be a part of the tectonic shift that is occurring in these industries. This subtle, dramatic change answers the "so, what" to making the Inc. 5000 list. There is more going on in that list than meets the eye.
A BIG thank you to our clients who continue to entrust us to manage their print, promotional products and corporate apparel with such a unique concept; and a HUGE, HUGE thank you to my colleagues at ROBYN who make it all happen, every single day.