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Why strategic thinking was a $10m game changer for this client

Even when your business is going well, spending time to take a step back and address the current market climate, and your company’s strategic priorities and direction is a must do for any senior manager. But when turnover is growing and profit margins are good, it can be very easy as a manager or business owner to fall into the trap of becoming too hands on. You end up spending your time focused on the day-to-day business operations without giving much thought or time to the company’s future strategy.

Without a strategy for the future of your business, the company and its management will be ill prepared to address issues as they may arise. A lack of direction and clarity in the company’s focus and objectives can result in poor decision making and inappropriate business systems and processes.

A lack of strategic direction is very common and will undermine the real potential of any business. Without a plan and a deliberate focus on where your company is going and how it will get there, it’s unlikely ever to be achieved.

Gibsons was engaged to support a heavy earthmoving equipment company with exactly this challenge. Involved in the repair, overhaul, field service and spare parts for heavy earthmoving equipment, the company’s National General Manager had become too involved in the business’ daily operations. He had no time to work on high priority strategic concepts for the business. He saw the benefit of having an experienced person to act as a sounding board to challenge and discuss his ideas in helping the business prepare for the future.

The company had built a reputation for high quality services and parts across a diverse portfolio of sectors with another division planned. Turnover was at $8m but the company was keen to grow. The need for an external expert with extensive experience in business improvements was sought. Gibsons was able to bring confident insights, ideas and techniques from decades of experience in supporting clients develop the most appropriate business strategies. Stimulating and challenging management team thinking, and ensuring the best approach was actioned.

Gibsons developed an aggressive growth strategy underpinned and supported by significant organisational changes. A management review process was implemented; and mentoring and coaching for Senior Executives commenced. A new Human Resources structure was embedded into the organisation accompanied by a change in company culture. Several process improvements were initiated to streamline operations and provide staff accountability. The resulting impact of strategic change to this company – a growth from $8m to $18m in only 4 years.

During a period of change management, it is essential to get the structure right – management, Human Resources and processes. This is even more significant during a period of growth.

During Gibsons’ work with this company, a significant risk was identified. The company had a large customer who was contributing a third of the organisation’s turnover. The impact on the company of losing this client was significant, and at the time of Gibsons’ engagement no strategy was in place to mitigate this risk, or what to do if it was realised. With Gibsons’ help, the dependency on this one client was reduced over time and measures were put into place should the client be lost. As a result, when the client did leave years later, the company was able to compensate for the loss due to this extensive planning and preparation work.

Gibsons Senior Consultants bring with them decades of experience and are valued for their extensive knowledge and insight into business improvement initiatives. Providing ideas, tools and techniques to challenge the status quo and enact considered change as needed, Gibsons continues to be an indispensable business advisor to this company.

How a robust business review can support sales growth and profitability

It seems obvious enough. If you fully understanding what’s happening in your business, then you are well placed to exploit your company’s strengths and tackle any key issues appropriately. Yet despite this pretty simplistic notion, many business owners do not have clarity on the financial health and operating complexities within their companies. When sales and profitability levels fall, it can be all too easy to focus on the wrong things particularly if you are a very hands-on owner.

All too often we see business owners taking a cut to their salary and operating their business more from a survival standpoint rather than taking a step back to see where the gaps and issues are. This was the case for a small manufacturing business whose Earnings Before Interest and Tax had dropped to -12%, with a turnover of $1m per annum.

Gibsons helped this manufacturing company to access government funding which enabled a rigorous review of the business.

Through Gibsons’ strategic review the key strengths of the business were clear to see – a small and highly skilled team headed up by an owner with a high level of technical understanding, and a satisfied and very loyal customer base who were not sensitive to changes in price. Customers valued the products and service provided by the company and the owner was very passionate about the business.

The strategic review brought to light some fundamental issues to the company’s operations. No financial performance reviews, coupled with little or no understanding of costs in estimating, were central to the profitability issues the company was experiencing. The owner was only taking a very modest salary and was unable to fund any growth to the business as a result. The company had experienced a poor financial performance for the previous 3 years. However, with no financial review being conducted, the specifics and an understanding of why this had taken place was not immediately clear.

Gibsons set into place some key actions to overturn this downward profitability trend and address the issues identified. An effective system for costing and estimating was developed and implemented, with staff trained in its use. Administration support was clearly defined and set up to better support the owner. Freeing up the owner’s time, he was better placed to focus on sales, estimating and overseeing production. Regular accounting and financial review processes were established so the company was better positioned to respond promptly as issues were identified.

Within a short timeframe, these actions moved the company from -12% to 15% EBIT and increased their turnover by $0.8m p.a. The owner was able to take a market-based salary. Gibsons continued to support the business as necessary to enable this level of performance to continue.

Without clarity on your business’ operations and financial health, it is hard for any business owner to take the appropriate actions needed to overturn a drop in profitability. An independent third-party advisor can bring an objective insight to identify and support the changes needed to enable sales and profitability goals to be met.

Culture has a BIG influence on profits…

…and good culture starts with good management.

No matter how skilled and experienced your staff, without a sound management and accountability structure in place, you’re setting your business up for failure. It is commonly assumed that if a business is made up of a group of highly skilled, degree qualified professionals, that the operation and people should be able to self-manage. This is rarely the case.

Management is a skill and discipline in its own right that is essential for every high performing business.

Without good management practices in place, staff are unlikely to contribute equally, enthusiastically and consistently over a period of time. This can slowly chip away at a positive business culture creating dissatisfaction and disillusionment amongst your team and undermining even the best-laid plans.

As a business consultancy with years of experience and extensive expertise in strategic management, Gibsons is well placed to provide invaluable, objective insight into an appropriate management structure for your business. We provide the support needed to meet your business goals and align with your company values as well as setting up meaningful accountability processes and systems.

An effective management structure with appropriate decision-making mechanisms in place, will support the business structure needed to generate profit, accountability and a healthy company culture.

In demonstration of this, Gibsons was approached by a large and well-known firm in the Professional Services sector to help them deliver a Strategic and Business Plan. With no decision-making mechanisms in place, and little understanding of management as a separate area of expertise and skill, the business had started to develop an unhealthy culture.

It became clear during our engagement that a number of staff were underperforming in their roles, lowering the organisation’s efficiency. With the absence of performance measures and little management of expected standards, there was limited accountability throughout the company.

To overcome these challenges, Gibsons implemented its Employer of Choice program to engage staff, align them to business goals, and to build a culture of accountability based on core values. Personal leadership mentoring for the company’s CEO as well as the mentoring of supervisor staff took place. Select staff were provided with soft skills training around people management, personal performance and project management to upskill. An effective board structure and practice along with sales management practices, Key Performance Measures and a management reporting regime were all initiated.

Changes to management structure and processes can take place quite quickly whereas cultural change within an organisation is something that takes time to have positive influence in decision-making processes. The turnaround in this Professional Services company took 4 years and resulted in an EBIT improvement from 10% to 15%. For a Professional Services firm in its particularly sector, this was a significant increase. The improvements made in the company’s staff engagement, culture, human performance and morale which increased customer satisfaction were able to become entrenched in the business and sustainable.

Never underestimate the importance of having all your people working towards the same goals to shared and agreed standards. People and their synchronised alignment with business goals is at the core of business success.

How to ‘win’ in a market that isn’t growing

How Gibsons helped Pro Powder grow its profit by 600% in 10 months. 

Profit is the one metric that matters most, for nearly all businesses. There are a number of measures that each business should be keeping an eye on, but deciding which ones are more critical for YOUR business requires getting under the bonnet to find out what really makes it tick.

A thorough examination of a business’s operational processes, human resource function, sales and marketing activities, core value proposition and key business drivers is required. While many tried and true theories of business management can guide you on this, the reality is often more fluid, unexpected, and industry specific.

When you are completely immersed within the operations of a business, it can be difficult to see what is actually going on. You are in effect too close to the issues to see them clearly; especially if you, like many business owners, have fallen into the trap of doing too much yourself.

Our work with Pro Powder is a stark example of the great improvements that can be made when a business invites an objective and experienced third party in to help.

A powder coating business, Pro Powder was achieving a $1.4M turnover at the time they engaged with us, but profits were barely reaching the $20K mark. The company’s owner was stretched and feeling that so much hard work just wasn’t paying off.

Despite the company operating at full capacity, its profit margin was still too low to be sustainable without burning out the owner. 

Pro Powder provided our Senior Consultant, Graham Pridham, with full access to the business: its staff, operations and procedures. We assessed financial information alongside insights from discovery sessions, staff engagement and a review of business processes. Because of our extensive experience in supporting manufacturing companies, we could identify how best to support the company very quickly, saving discovery time.

Armed with practical solutions to ensure the team was fully utilised and with insights into more appropriate marketing and sales tactics, Pro Powder were able to invest more time in sourcing and targeting more profitable work. They were able to determine their “ideal” client profile to successfully reposition themselves; as well as focus on sales efforts and accountability.

It can be difficult for businesses like this to choose to invest in getting help when profit margins are so limiting, but the decision to do so can be empowering. The business is now positioned to do well, the owner feels on top of things, and the financial return on investment from third party assistance is very clear.

These are the results Gibsons strives to achieve for its clients, every time, no matter what their size at that time in their journey when they connect with us. We have helped countless businesses to grow and become more profitable, well beyond their own expectations.

Improving businesses is in our DNA.

Improving Profitability

One of the major concerns that shows up in surveys of business owners is how to improve and maintain profitability levels. Competition levels always seem to be on the increase and margins are continually being squeezed. The end result is that we work harder for less profit.

Here are a few thoughts on how to protect your profit margins:

  1. Know your numbers. Regularly measure how your business is travelling financially. Too often we find business owners who think that they are not capable of reading and understanding financial reports and use this as an excuse not to regularly review their financial position. Sorry, if you are responsible for a business, then knowing how it is performing is in your job description and it is not difficult to learn how.
  2. Use your financial reports. There is a goldmine of information in a Profit and Loss (P&L) report if it is structured to provide management reports rather than just as a means of providing input for a BAS or an income tax return. Your balance sheet can also help you manage your cash.
  3. Manage your gross margin. Your gross margin is the difference between what you sell something for and what it costs you to buy it or get it out of the factory ready for despatch. It will mean that you are managing your selling prices and input costs.
  4. Manage your selling expenses. Summarise your expenses into meaningful groups such as communications, vehicles, property, employment costs etc., so that you are looking at a manageable P&L statement. Set targets for each group relative to your revenue.
  5. Eliminate waste. The average amount of time spent value adding to a piece of raw material from the time it enters a factory until it is a finished item ready for sale is less than 10%. The rest of the time is one of the seven categories of waste identified in Lean Manufacturing theory. They all add to your cost and reduce profit margins, but none of them show up on your P&L. The concepts are equally valid for office environments. Understand what they are and work to reduce them.
  6. Hold your staff accountable. Develop a culture where people care about what they do so that they provide great customer service but are conscious of costs. Provide them with targets/budgets and outcome reports. Have a performance management system and a recognition and reward process that is linked to your values.
  7. Aim for continuous improvement. Implement formal systems to continually be looking to improve how you do things. The first time that you analyse a process for improvement you may be able to halve its cost, which may significantly improve profitability. The tenth time you may only be able to reduce it by a few cents per unit. Even though the slope of the improvement curve diminishes, we can always look to improve with a view to maintaining and increasing profit margins.

Improving profitability is one of the key tasks of the business owner or manager and will require time spent working on the business, not just in it.