Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Learning from the Hottest

The other day I wrote about the new PROFIT magazine list of the "Hot 50" companies - Canada's fastest-growing early-stage companies. (Scroll down for the full list.)

I also wrote a story for PROFIT on three of these Hot 50 companies: what do they do, where do they come from, and what do they know that lesser mortals don't? Click here for the story.

Too busy to click? Here are some highlights.

Move fast, bid low: At Voda Computer Systems Ltd. in Kamloops, B.C., president Andrew Watson reveals his techniques for making two strategic acquisitions while the company was less than two years old. His philosophy: do your homework, bid low, take two years to pay.

Today, lots of companies are approaching Watson to buy them out, but he prefers to wait. "What I would rather do is hit hard, decimate them and then buy them out for less."

Innovation opportunities are everywhere: Poptech Ltd. of Toronto creates near-life-sized cardboard point-of-purchase displays such as you see dispensing gum, chocolate bars and DVDs at your local supermarket or video store. The key, though, is that they used innovative design to come up with displays that are easy to assemble (most just pop into place), saving retailers valuable time. "Our competition has been asleep at the wheel for 50 years," declares president Geoff Moss. "We were the first company to take the blinkers off."

Why was the point-of-purchase industry sleeping so long? "They never thought anything was broken," says Moss. Buyers weren't demanding better products, so it took motivated newcomers to devise them. As his partner David Minister admits, "They weren't buying our stuff, so we had to change it."

Make service measurable: At Carlu Corp. in Toronto, Jeffry Roick and Mark Robert have turned an abandoned department-store floor (the Seventh Floor of the old Eaton's College Street) into the city's premier location for society weddings, formal dinners and other posh events. To succeed, they had to create a service ethic as special as the art moderne landmark itself.

The pair developed a 100-page policy manual that covers every aspect of operations, from the look of sales proposals to the right way to answer the phone. "It's the most comprehensive in the industry," says Robert. "And we continuously fine-tune it so we have the best practices nailed down."

"We wanted to put ourselves in an international league, and have trained our staff accordingly," adds Roick. "We give our people a lot of freedom, but they also have to accept accountability."

As I said, the rest is here.

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