Thursday, 9 May 2013

What I learnt from Eagle paints

Critical Path
The most important thing in planning is to know your critical path, so often in planning, people focus on the big things and forget to sweat the small stuff. It is vital in your preparation to include a critical path and appoint responsibility for it. From making sure you have enough covers for your cans to enough labels for your season. These things are essential and often have long lead times that you can’t do anything about. They are just as important as the big stuff, I have seen multimillion pound production lines shut down because someone forgot to ensure there were spare ball bearings available
Percerption is everything.
You! are who people think you are. When I first started working at Eagle paints we were a small company amongst a host of small to mid-sized paint companies selling mainly to the local community and our sphere of influence. One of the first things we did was to place full page adverts in the most popular papers on strategic days before events that inspired people to paint, mainly religious holidays. We would put out nationwide adverts very professionally done with loads of contact info making us seem much larger than we really were.
Building Blocks
Let’s face it, you can’t run until you can walk, decide what blocks need to be put in place to enable you compete on the big stage and then  go about putting them in place and voila you will find yourself on stage. It may be building a top notch Laboratory for R & D , training staff for customer engagement , training staff to handle the increased work load , a website , a distribution network etc .Until you have you blocks you can’t have a building 
Stay Agile
When in growth mode it is important to keep on your toes you never know what is going to happen in the market. While we were building the brand we had to duck and dive to handle the change in conditions. The opening of  new land for development in the Lekki Ajah peninsular presented us with the problem of red algae due to the salt content, we came up with a market leader Eagle Xtra to combat this, we fought off adulterators and developed new products . Remaining Agile all the while, ready to switch direction at the drop of a paint brush
Know your customer
You need to know who your customers are. They may be in various groups ;  distributors, wholesalers retailers direct sales , being able to categorise them effectively and efficiently means you can always satisfy them,  giving out a service that is in keeping with their category. If possible appoint different staff to handle different groups so they specialize in solutions to common problems

Know your customers pain points.
You need to get out of the building and see your customers at work. Find out what is the pain they are experiencing. We found out that a lot of our distributors had landlord problem, this was a great blessing to us. We used the distributors as estate agents to roll out our distribution network.
 We found out deliveries during the day just didn’t make any sense with the traffic situation, so we endeavoured to plan all deliveries to happen against the flow of traffic. In collaboration with our drivers we could make more trips than would seem possible even during the busiest of times. We offered no quibble refunds, free estimates, pre painting treatment services , high end bespoke finishes, colours and high specification products.
We delivered 7 days a week and pioneered online and remote payment methods to make buying our product as easy as picking up the phone.

Love you customer
All customers were treated as family, relations that had to be cherished we knew their family’s health problems joys and pain we went out of our way to be sensitive to their needs and provide as much help as possible. Coming to the factory for most of our customers was a thing of joy they went out of their way to visit and would spend hours at times updating us on the minutiae of their lives we were very grateful for this privilege and encouraged it especially amongst older customers who let’s face it were more likely to be Landlord (s)
Brand Identity
What is your identity? Like most businesses in Nigeria brand identity doesn’t really matter you were probably established at a time when you had a captive audience, and since you rarely shop for your product it’s hard to have a sense of what others think of you.
I always took time out to talk to users of similar products and find out why they choose the other brand.  We had our first rebranding exercise due to the problem of fakes and adulterators in the market we choose to go with national green the Super Eagles where in ascendant  they had recently won the AFCON and done brilliantly in the Olympics some associations can’t go wrong.

 This was followed by democracy and the oil wind fall the banking boom and the era of expansion we needed something that was captivating clean and modern we were doing a lot with education at this time and were in love with all things Apple we came up with innovative packaging that was all about reduce recycle reuse and a logo that was automatically rechristened the Jesus Eagle cause it looked like a cross a fact that I am sure did not hurt our relationships with churches. The design was to help us stand out in the crowd.

Innovate Constantly
Our R & D lab became our favourite place in the factory we were constantly conducting experiments to make better products and would badger visiting sales men for samples and information.  We were always happy to test out products and share information with colleagues in the business we innovated everything from packaging , material (metal – Plastic) to universal packaging across all products saving us tons of cash tied up in inventory. We innovated product types, sales and marketing, delivery systems, and machines . We came up with better storage solutions  for chemicals, and waste management , we innovated the handling of chemicals, we created in house management software ,and tried visionary  staff welfare packages If we could make it better (and we could ) we did.

Seek for opportunities where no one is looking
Consider parallel businesses and the opportunities they present we were not in the distribution business but when distributors hounded by land lords came up to us with opportunities to buy property at give a way prices in their local areas we jumped at it , this old buildings were then renovated most times with little more than a smart paint job , when the government got round to improving the roads around them we found ourselves with a string of eye catching outlets on major roads around the metropolis 

Workers are people to.
Your workers are your most valuable resource you must make them happy and fulfilled to come to work , we gameified the whole pay structure and introduced a productivity scale that rewarded you not for your time at work but for how productive you had been while at work. This created an extremely positive, competitive and fair atmosphere.  This enabled us to produce volumes that would have been impossible any other way.
 Once workers are happy to come to work you would be surprised how little truancy absenteeism etc occur if a worker needed time off you knew it was genuine and expressed genuine concern for the problem or situation.
Know Your Numbers
Everything in the factory was whittled down to numbers excel was created for a reason, use it! You must know absolutely everything you need, what you produce, how much you sell, stock levels, when to restock, cost cost cost.
It’s essential to keep a tab on how much you paid last year on levies, and what the trend is, what your neighbour pays what your competitor pays and what are the tax codes applicable.  Your real operating costs must be determined, what are your margins on various products, what are your liabilities what are your fixed costs, what are your variable costs? What are your competitors’ margins? What is your break even? What are your objectives? And indeed what are your targets? Knowledge is king 
Crunch that Data
Learn to love data, it may seem like it’s not important but 3 years down the line when you have enough data to start seeing trends and to use for modelling you will realise that data is a beautiful thing and be glad for it.
Sort out a data management plan. Be as thorough as you can remember with data it’s always GARBAGE IN GARBAGE OUT so minimise the chances of data corruption by making to the best of your ability people responsible for the data they produce
Also ensure you have a fail-safe system, in place to prevent data corruption theft or loss
We were always willing to work with others apart from the break in monotony it gave you an insight into how others did things it increases your network,  knowledge and understanding of processes and things

Keep On top of the Paper work.
With all the data flying around, and all the due process that had to be followed, it was essential to keep on top of paper work. We outsourced most of our accounting and compliance functions which was a good way of staying ahead as all paper work had to be in order for their timely visits .Once again it pays to have a system in place and a check list and method I would often ensure one day of the week was reserved for checking up on paper work

Give yourselves time to plan
R & D can sometimes take as long as 6-8 years to test out products in the industry. We learnt to be patient, to build failing and learning into your cycles and time frames ,besides launching a new product  requires much more than the product itself.
Packaging, marketing, new partners, testing of supply chains, handling, educating the customers and building the market don’t happen overnight 

Stay in the market
The marketplace is where all things happen and you have to decide where your market is , HINT it is normally crowded with competitors , this is the best place to battle it out if you are looking for long term traction . The market never lies allowing you to keep an eye on your product offering , package , price , and selling point .
Selling Point
This is what makes you a compelling alternative to punters it is most important you hone this and stick to it. For us, our selling point was; the best price for the quality we offered . You could never beat us on this you may offer a better quality at a higher price or a lower quality at a lower price but you could never match our price and quality once again this was due to having an intimate knowledge of our numbers. We knew where our advantages lay, and by applying this in our ordering and timing, making use of data from our analysis, and hours spent in the Laboratory testing every sample that came our way we were able to deliver on our selling point constantly.

Work your social network
Be active and visible in your community; churches, mosques, schools, clubs and societies, associations old boy’s networks, PTA’s. The whole 9 yards should be brought to play. Be as charitable and supportive as you can, it is always the cheapest form of advertising .
Be fair in your dealings pricing etc have a policy you can defend nothing is worse for a customer than feeling he is been swindled or not appreciated. You don’t want unhappy customers, you want fans and evangelisers
Be of your time
By this I mean be modern, keep abreast of best practises and tools and machines. Always bring out products that your customers can relate to. Keep your eye on the edges of your customer demographics. Pay particular attention to what the youngest and oldest are asking for, surprisingly I found these sectors to always be the most cutting edge. The young you expect, but the old always came as a surprise! We forget the old also have as much time as the youths to investigate new things, and can normally back this with money. They are always also looking to cut out stress and have an army of grand kids advising.
Keep learning
This is perhaps the most important of all. There are journals and trade magazines for most industry, subscribe and read avidly and widely. We read everything from science to tech to business to design and politics we read and then circulated it freely, anyone could come into my office and pick up a magazine from the reception and we had them delivered every Friday.
 Courses were an integral part of our reward system and scholarships were dolled out like lollipops to kids
Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get you
A healthy dose of paranoia is best for avoiding troubles
Moral Courage in the c-suite
At the end of the day you have to be able to stand by your morals
Have the courage to proceed in a brave new direction, and face new opportunities brought about by technology.

I am no longer involved in the day to day running of Eagle paints , I am working on a couple of technology and lifestyle projects and can be found on twitter@akintundedisu

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