Success, on your terms

Kerry Knudsen

Kerry Knudsen

In our most recent Readers’ Survey, 56 percent of the respondents self-identified as “owners.” Words mean things, and this one is worth looking at. A president is not necessarily an owner. Neither is a c.e.o. or general manager necessarily an owner. An owner may be all the above, but only an owner can be an owner.

All the “how-to” books today remind agents and interests to approach the “c-level” executives. C-level means chief, like chief executive officer or chief financial officer. However, it goes without saying you can dump every C if you can get to the owner. The owner is a C-Plus.

A president is something else. For the sake of argument, let’s say it’s the president of a European exporter, and he’s in charge of Canada. Therefore, he is in charge of all of Canada, but he gets his paycheque from Europe. This is not as odd as it seems. I have been pointing out that European kitchen cabinet companies are advertising in Canada’s leading design magazines for years. Two of note are Poggenpohl (German) and Scavolini (Italian).

First, we need to recognize that these foreign entrees into Canada are your direct competitors and offer nothing of substance that Canadians can’t offer. A European cabinet versus a Canadian cabinet is basically a box with a door. Better yet, it’s a box with a door and a lot of union, government and association stamps on it.

Poggenpohl and Scavolini are getting market response, or they would quit marketing. Advertising works.

Well, sort of.

See, a president of Canada for a Euro corporation has a different view of marketing than does a Canadian owner. The Canadian is accountable for his results. The president is playing with a budget. The Canadian has to keep score with dollars, while the president can move his goals. Instead of approaching the market with a program, he can use marketing money to sponsor this, support that and get elected, nominated or awarded, all of which have currency back home, but no sales.

He can also hold the budget, show black on a quarterly report and pocket a bonus.

Let’s say a Canadian owner gets a “deal” from a low-end marketer that promises to cut rates, give free in-content promotion and provide a kick-back. He gets no sales because the market already knows those tricks, refuses to respond and the owner loses his money.

In the same situation, the president gets to tell Europe there are no sales because Canada stinks, he came in under budget and gets to send copies of the promotions with his picture and quotes back to Europe. Unfortunately, the president’s company loses, the market loses, and the sector loses, while the agents win.

I am not trying to pick on Europeans. It’s an example. I just got irked at seeing $15,000 more wood-industry marketing in one issue of Azure than most owners in our sector spend in a year. The same could be true of Americans, Asians or Africans. The point is that a president can have a fancy title, a fancy car, fancy shoes and make more than you do, but he is playing with somebody else’s money and a different set of rules. He does not speak your language.

Canadian wood-products manufacturers tend to be small companies with one director. Here, the disadvantage is multiplied, because competing c-levels can invoke rules and processes that put small companies at a disadvantage. Former U.S. Democrat Senator and former Presidential Candidate George McGovern famously tried to run a bed-and-breakfast in his retirement. It didn’t work, he said, because of government regulation.

Is all lost? Not a bit. However, marketing is not the same for everybody. Some people can take big risks with other people’s money and gamble on fads. Lots of recently employed salesmen are pushing them.

For business owners in Canada, it’s not that complicated. Identify your market. Choose a supplier that can get an actual response. Work with people that share your values and understand your goals. Make a suitable plan, and then stick with it.

Poggenpohl, Siematic and Scavolini are not here to help you. They are here to eat your lunch.

If you would like to respond to this or any item in Wood Industry, you can either contact me directly, or comment below.

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