Differentiate or Die

That was the theme for the seminar I attended this week in Des Moines with some of my colleagues. We had the opportunity to listen to Jack Trout, president of Trout & Partners Ltd. (one of the most prestigious marketing firms in the USA), and author of the book “Differentiate or Die”.   The general synopsis of what he talks about is that your brand and/or your product has to have a key feature that stands out and makes it different enough to get the customer to buy yours over the competition – and it has to be beyond price and quality. Consumers expect quality, and your competitors can slash prices just as fast as you. So what then, makes you different? How about being first to the marketplace with something.

Well that made my light bulb flicker a bit, as we have used that differentiation before with several of our product lines. Did you know that we were the FIRST North American manufacturer to design and build a hooklift system? That’s where Stellar got its start, back in 1990. We were also first to bring the concept of a hexagonal boom design into the mechanic’s crane market. And most recently, we were the first mechanic’s crane manufacturer to offer real time load information right at the fingertips of the operator on an LED screen on the remote control.

So as far as differentiating, I think we’re doing okay. But is it enough? For today, maybe – but we must remember that we can’t sit back on our laurels and just ride the wave. We must keep in mind that business is different these days. The Internet has brought a whole new level to this game allowing consumers to do a ton of research at all hours of the day. And we must keep in mind that things change at a rapid pace. So, we must continue to keep at the forefront of our current differentiations that set us apart and above the competition, continue to improve them so we can stay ahead of the game, AND get our products out in front of the markets as quickly as possible to retain and gain new customers. We have to continue to keep our light bulbs burning bright with ideas and innovation, and embrace the changes that come with new products, new marketing methods, new technologies and new ways to do business. Change is inevitable, uncomfortable and awkward, but it’s a journey that we must embrace and manage and THIS is what will allow us to continue to differentiate and be the first choice.

So let us all go forth and be willing to change, so we can continue to differentiate… or we will die. And I don’t know about you, but I’m still too young for that.

Working Remotely

Working remotely at Stellar while attending college at Iowa State University definitely comes with challenges, but I feel very fortunate to be given the opportunity to do so. One of the challenges that comes with my situation is time management, especially when I have a heavy workload of homework or studying for several exams. Of course schoolwork takes priority, but I still hold myself responsible to finish projects for Stellar. I have a large break in between classes that is very nice to use to work on Stellar projects, if there is one for me to work on. It is a nice break from my normal schoolwork, not because I don’t work just as hard at it, but because it is usually much more enjoyable than calculus, chemistry or anything similar. Another obvious challenge is communication, but so far that has been overcome through clear and concise directions through the use of email, and over the phone.

A main reason why I have enjoyed my time with Stellar is that I have gained real life experience and now have a good idea of what I need to be working on and becoming better at while at Iowa State. Recently in class we have been going over various functions of Microsoft Excel and some basic coding, and I feel well ahead of the game just from the time I have spent at Stellar from my internship and working remotely. I look forward to gaining even more experience from future projects and whatever comes my way. Go Cyclones!

Reflecting, Reveling, and Rewarding

As I sit here contemplating what to Blog about this week, various things run through my head as I reflect on the week that has gone by.

Remembering: First and foremost, is the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attack. That day will be emblazoned forever on the hearts and minds of so many people directly and indirectly effected by it. It seemed like just yesterday that we were sitting in our offices with the radio on trying to wrap our heads around what was happening. Each of us moving about the office building trying to gather information from each other and figure out what was going on.

So I want to take this moment to reflect on all that has happened since that tragic day, to remember those who lost their life, or lost someone important to them. To honor all those that responded to help with the tragedy – and to all who have sacrificed in any way because of that terrible day. May we all continue to use that day to remember the people and the things that are important to us, to breathe a little deeper, smile a little more, and not sweat the small stuff – because really, when it’s put in perspective, it’s all small stuff.

Reveling: Also this week I had the opportunity to travel to Canada to visit one of our loyal tire service customers during their managers meeting, and present to them our recently completed tire service truck training video. The video was well received and praised for its professionalism, which makes me proud of the team I have in place that has a hand in helping Stellar create such great materials to support our products. I also got to mingle first hand with the people that use our products – and that was a real treat. To hear how the customer not only uses our tire service trucks, but to experience first hand the interaction they have with us, from sales, support, customer service, delivery and beyond really was a heart-warming experience. They had nothing but good things to say about us, and it was fun to revel in all the good things they had to say. Stellar has a great group of people working under its roof (or should I say roofs), and each of us, as employee owners, should be very proud of the work we do and the products we produce and support. Our quality workmanship, and our outstanding personality as an organization is recognized and praised.

Rewarding: And my final thought for the week is to publicly celebrate a recent company achievement. Over the last several years, Stellar and all its companies have put great efforts into being safety mindful in all we do. From proper ergonomics sitting at your desk, to stretching several times a day, wearing proper PPE, and being mindful of the jobs we do and our surroundings at all times, no matter what our position is within the company. This week we all were rewarded financially for our efforts. Our worker compensation claims were less than what we budgeted, and therefore, were returned to us as a safety bonus. What a nice little incentive to remind us all to stay at the top of our game. Be watching the local media for news coverage about this bonus so you can learn more about one of the awesome benefits to working here.

Reading back over the three different topics I touched on today makes me wonder if there is something within each paragraph that can tie them all together. One thing that seems to jump out at me is just the simple fact that I work at a pretty cool place. I have amazing and talented co-workers who not only do amazing work and work well together – but who are also like a second family to me. Amazing people making amazing products – this week I was reminded of that.

Maximizing Our Web Presence

We pride ourselves in our efforts in maximizing our web presence. We do this in various ways: keeping our website up to date with a professional look and products, posting weekly to our company blog, sending out a monthly newsletter and social Media. I will go into more detail on each aspect below.

Keeping our website up to date with a professional look – It’s an industry standard to keep your website looking as “fresh” as possible. We strive on updating it whenever we get new, creative content to add, whether it’s new videos or new interactive guides. We also keep a professional look on our site by having up-to date products on our site.

Posting weekly to our company blog – We post weekly to our company blog for a few reasons, 1. To help with our search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. This is important to us because it helps our search engine rankings for the biggest browsers out there, Google, Yahoo and Bing. 2. We like to keep people up to date with our company. We’ve got a unique community that we help support in Garner, so we feel it’s good to give people insights about the company.

Sending out a monthly newsletter – We send out a monthly newsletter to our distributors to keep them in the loop for products, announcements, etc. We feel it’s a good way to connect with them.

We also send out various posts via our social media outlets; Facebook and Twitter.

These are just a few main areas that we focus on when we are building our web presence stronger.

Do You Have a Plan?

Do you have a plan?

These past couple of days our management team has been on a strategic planning retreat. They are discussing goals and plans for Stellar Industries, Inc. for the next 5, 10, 20 years and probably beyond. I would guess some of the top priorities are to define where we want to be at each of these milestones. How are we going to proceed to adjust to the current growth we are experiencing and the growth we are expecting to see over the next several years? What do we add, what do we eliminate? How do we get better? And I’m sure many other topics are on their list as well.
This got me thinking. What are my individual long-term goals? Have I really sat down and put together my own personal strategic plan? Where do I want to be with my life in 5, 10 and 20 years and how to I successfully get there? Have I ever taken the time to clarify my values? Or what about creating my own personal Mission Statement? These are such great questions. But they are HARD questions! In a person’s personal life there are many aspects to consider, just as in a business. Financial, health, family, marriage, friends, social, career, spiritual, mental, educational, emotional, recreational. So where do I start?

I think a good place to start would be making some lists. A list of things I need and want in my life – sort of a bucket list, but even more detailed with needs, not just wants. Then make a list of my strengths and talents. I need a list of my hopes, dreams and aspirations. From these lists I can start to form a list of specific goals and priorities, and then from there, form an outline as to how I can achieve these goals.

Getting that plan in place is just the first step though. Now comes the hard part. Follow-through. Execution. Living the plan.   I need to schedule time on my calendar to frequently review the plan, which will help keep me focused and on track. However, lest I forget, life also doesn’t always go according to plan, so I must keep in mind that this is a working document, and it may need to be adjusted as life happens to me.  Adjust, modify, and refocus. I must remember to remain realistic, and to let the plan reflect who I am and who I want to be. This is MY plan. This is my path to success and happiness. Now how about you…. Do you have a Plan?