Early in his working career, Woody worked for a variety of financial institutions, including Virginia National Bank (now Nations Bank) and Manufacturers Hanover (now Chase). Eventually, he left the corporate rat race to go into sales and, ultimately, to start his own company.
"I had always wanted to try and do my own thing, but I wasn´t sure what that was going to be."
His initial venture was a retail hotdog concept called 5th Avenue Franks, but in the throes of a national recession, it didn´t generate enough income to become a self-sufficient business. An avid golfer and golf enthusiast, Woody moved on to become an independent sales rep for the golf industry, and was eventually able to generate enough revenue form Corporate Values in 1998.
"Initially in my career, I had taken a `This is what you should do´ approach. I was hearing other peoples´ voices, not my own, and following them. But in the 90´s, I had heard so many people say `Do what you love and the money will follow,´ and I decided to see if I could parlay my interest in golf and other sports into a business."
We asked Woody why, since he had found a way to make money in the golf industry, an industry that he enjoyed and had a personal stake in, why he decided to change directions and create Corporate Values.
"The margins are considerably higher in the incentives industry than they are for an independent sales rep for a bunch of golf accounts where you´re making a flat 10% on what you write. And the potential orders are much higher and less limited than what I saw selling to golf courses."
"One of the most attractive things about this business to me is that, because we´re dealing with so many different types of companies in different industries, the profiles of management are quite different. Which means I meet a host of different types of individuals. Even though, to the naked eye, these industries are radically different, there are many underlying similarities."
"I´ve found that the most successful avenue is through networking. When I´m making a call to a company that doesn´t know me and doesn´t know Corporate Values, I have someone´s name I can drop that will ease the transition from cold caller to someone familiar. I´ve also outsourced some of the cold calling to a telemarketer to try and target particular industries, knowing that, in this climate, financial services is suffering but insurance, for example, is still doing reasonably well. We try and segment the industries, then we buy a list and attack it."
"What I´m trying to do here is to build a business with some brand identification for Corporate Values. I want to build on this name."
That name represents Woody´s fundamental belief: that a company should provide strong customer service, strive for total customer satisfaction, and should perform with honesty and integrity. "It´s a double entendre," Woody agrees. "Corporate Values refers to more than just the value of a dozen golf balls or a pen with a corporate logo on it. It´s more about my beliefs, and the beliefs we´re trying to instill in our employees here."
Corporate Values has begun to take advantage of developing technology to help streamline their business. In addition to their website (www.corporatevalues.com), they have integrated off-the-shelf software packages to continue building their company´s reputation for reliability, fast turnaround, and customer service.
"We do have a database that we use heavily, and I´ve spent quite a bit of time developing an automated process for our ordering. Before now, we used ACT software for our contact database, but now we´re trying to take it to a different level with MS Access. Once an order is entered into the system, a lot of things happen automatically. It will fax or mail a purchase order to the supplier, it requests tracking numbers automatically, and it generates `reminders´ when things don´t happen in a particular timetable. So, rather than to have to remember a lot of steps, hopefully, this will begin to happen on an automated basis."
The delivery of the finished goods to the client isn´t the last step for Woody: "I tell people `this is not about the products, it´s really about two things: the people—our clients—and the details." He follows up with all his clients, and stays in touch regularly. Looking forward, he hopes to include programs with advanced, customizable email capabilities to help serve this end.
Corporate Values is also partnering with a web development company called The Buttonwood Group to create and sell a product called a Company Store. Company Stores will offer a customized web product for a company´s employees that show all the pre-approved products they´ve selected, and all the logo variations. Company Stores have sophisticated e-commerce functionality and will be integrated with a fulfillment house in Georgia, so companies can order and re-order their items directly.
"We´re targeting larger companies that have done a lot of business with us, as a value-added service. The typical buyer for a product like this would be someone like Chase Bank, an extremely large company that does a lot of buying of this nature, and wants to be able to centralize their buying."
But the development of Company Stores will also reduce the cost of doing business for Woody, and will help improve efficiency.
"The hope is that it will free up employees inside the company to spend more time developing their relationships with existing clients, and to maybe go into more of a soliciting mode and bringing in more business, although that may be unrealistic."
Yet despite the opportunities for new product development that technology provides, Woody concedes that his industry is still Internet-resistant. His peers have paid very little attention to e-commerce or in-depth websites: "A lot of companies have informational sites like ours, but there is very little e-commerce. People really like to touch and feel these items; there´s really no substitute for face-to-face interaction and sending samples."
And, particularly in today´s insecure economy, the challenges of managing a small business can´t always be conquered through technology.
"We´re a small operation, so I need to spend some of my time on working on the existing business, taking care of orders that have already come in. We spend a lot of time talking about how to pump up sales, given our limited resources. It´s difficult, because the industry, from a sales standpoint, is a straight commission job, so it´s hard to hire someone who´s green and train them. They need something to live on, and out business really isn´t big enough to take a shot on someone who´s still learning. It´s risky."
"This is really a people business. It´s not really about the products. Eventually, there´s a chance it will become more of a commodity business and people will simply be looking for the lowest price. But it has generally been my experience that people do care, they want to see you eye to eye. They want to know who they´re dealing with."
We asked Woody where he saw himself, and where he saw Corporate Values, in the years to come. He admits that he is currently focused on the present.
"My short-term objective is to grow our sales and to become a self-sustaining entity. Technology development has been eye-popping in its rate of speed in the last 5 or 7 years. I´m sure the marketplace I know today isn´t going to look this way in five years, but I really don´t know how it´s going to change, just that it is going to change. So I´m trying to focus more on the short-term goals."
Business profile courtesy of Family Business Strategies.
Woody Kaye can be reached at http://www.corporatevalues.com.