Going the extra mile to ensure quality and service, or just taking a few extra steps, can reap dividends in customer confidence and satisfaction.
A case in point is Sun Graphics. Jack Gribben, the firm's retired founder, recalls doing just that in an effort to build his very successful printing company in Parsons, Kan.
In one instance, he says, "I kept part of the order off the shipment because the quality wasn't quite right."
"However, I wanted to meet my promised delivery date, so I chartered a plane, for $64 in those early days, to deliver the material from Parsons to Kansas City the next day. The price of this part of the job was $3.50."
Sun Graphics, formerly Sun Engraving, has grown from four to 100 employees because of its forward-looking management practices. Among them:
* Customer service. When the typical delivery time in New York for a four-color printing order was often five to six weeks -- and these deadlines were sometimes missed -- Gribben promised a delivery within seven working days. Further, the work was of the highest quality.
Gribben accomplished this quick response by making innovations in the printing process and putting in long hours. His attitude and that of his staff was, "Let's get the work out!"
* Employee treatment. Sun Graphics pays the highest wages in the region and offered the area's first company-paid health-care plan. Employee vacations extend to six weeks, and the company pays bonuses of "whatever we can afford," Gribben said. "You don't make money by skimping on the payroll or retirement plans."
Early in the company's history, there was one attempt to unionize. The vote was 17-2 against the union.
* No foremen. Because well-trained employees see the order tickets and know what needs to be done, there are no foremen in the plant. Everyone sees the delivery schedules and the jobs move through the shop with everyone aware of the delivery date. The staff is not limited to the directions a foreman might give.
Every few days, management communicates to employees the sales volume and customer commitments. People are motivated because they understand what needs to be done.
* Employee selection. In addition to necessary skills, the company selects carefully for character and values when hiring.
* Technology. For many years, Sun Graphics has been able to adapt quickly to the newest technology. When he first went to color technology, Gribben was often questioned, "Why are you spending so much money on going to color?" But he knew that this was the way of the future, and it paid off.
Although researchers have written widely about these practices, Gribben, operating in a rural community, discovered these principles more than 40 years ago. The result is a customer base that extends from New York City to Chicago, Dallas, Houston and the West Coast.
Bettering the odds
Respond "agree" or "disagree" to the following:
Using these practices increases the odds of success:
1. Pay the highest wages in the community.
2. Offer bonuses.
3. Value skills higher than character when hiring.
4. Have a strong supervisor for every 20 employees.
5. Be among the first to adopt new technology.
6. Communicate sales volume to all employees.
7. Make charts and graphs of company growth available to employees.
8. Keep customer commitments even when it costs you profits.
9. Discourage the owner from being a marketer.
10. Rely heavily on government support.
According to Gribben's philosophy, the correct responses are: agree with 1, 2, 5, 6, 7 and 8; disagree with 3, 4, 9 and 10.