By Doug Pick, an EO Orange County member and President and CEO of Dap World, Inc.
For two decades, my company rode a wave of success as national leaders in retail ear plugs. We were rewarded by leading chains for being innovators. After the 2008 financial collapse, we went temporarily unscathed. It wasn’t until April 2010, however, when the first dagger struck and I was faced with a daunting choice— double down or die.
This ominous decision was prompted by a reoccurring theme echoed by key accounts: store brands were now the focus and established brands were in danger of extinction. Historically, store brand winners were manufacturers, since source suppliers can afford to offer the lowest costs. We were a glorified distributor that made nothing. To compound matters, the barriers to entry when it came to ear plug manufacturing were sky high.
Seeing the writing on the wall, I decided to double down and go after extreme growth. Now, after three years of writing checks, I’ve emerged from the process having created a vertically integrated family of ear plug companies. My journey has been rewarding on countless fronts, and also very challenging. I’ve been pushed, prodded and stretched in ways I didn’t think possible. Below are four lessons I wish to share with my EO brothers and sisters.
- Eliminating “failure” from my vocabulary. Aside from the extraordinary investments required, manufacturing high-quality ear plugs is insanely difficult. As the sole financier with no scientific background, there were many disappointing and dark moments when I had to force myself to recall Thomas Edison’s 1,000 attempts before he succeeded at developing the light bulb. Now that we’re producing millions of ear plugs, I can reflect on how mission critical it was to view each unsuccessful try as a private education in learning how not to manufacture ear plugs. Furthermore, as a leader, I learned the importance of maintaining the position as the beacon of positivity and patience in order to overcome adversities.
- Instilling urgency. Every day, I’m in a battle against time because resources are tight and manufacturing is slow and costly. As a distributor, turn-around times are predictable. Now that we’re the source, I’ve learned that my team and I can never take our foot off the pedal. A perfect example occurred when we needed a replacement part that was shipped snail mail and took over a week to arrive. Considering our machines produce US$20,000 to US$30,000 in sellable inventory daily, had we requested overnight delivery, we could’ve profited tens of thousands more than the cost of the freight.
- Buying the best … always. My wise uncle once said, “The poor man cannot afford cheap shoes.” As one whom had had great success buying pre-owned, I believed I could apply this philosophy to the new company. I was dead wrong! Case in point was our first pre-owned air compressor that we bought for US$4,000. The compressor worked fine for months doing short, pre-production sample runs, yet when pushed in real production, it failed miserably, costing us our credibility, weeks of lost production, labor and raw materials. Ultimately, I bit the bullet and purchased the “best shoes” in a new US$30,000 compressor. Problem solved!
- Discovering your team’s dreams. In November 2011, I attended an EO New York event which featured Matt Kelly, author of “The Dream Manager.” The golden nugget I extracted was to dive deep with staff to not only uncover their life’s dreams, but help them attain them. I decided to give Matt’s idea a shot, so I conducted one-on-ones with each team member. Matt’s idea helped me hit a rich vein of passion, and the results have been tremendous. My staff now displays a heightened level of focus, excitement and empowerment for their work because they know their employer cares about what’s important to them. We reinforce individual goals and build team camaraderie by taping each team member’s goals on company walls. Intimate bonds are established as everyone learns what excites their co-worker.
In the end, I’ve realized the cliché—”no risk, no reward”—is accurate. More importantly, I’ve experienced firsthand that when one goes “all in” on his dreams, others will rally, and a powerful force propels the mission to its deserved success.
Doug Pick (pictured) is an EO Orange County and EO Los Angeles member, as well as the president and CEO of DAP World, Inc., a leader in ear plug manufacturing and marketing. Contact Doug at firstname.lastname@example.org.