In it for the Long Haul: How the Most Successful Businesses Innovate
Have you ever wondered how some businesses manage to keep growing and thriving through the last 10-20 years, or even over centuries?
Certainly, longevity and success require flexibility and of course, close attention to what customers want and need. To learn more about how time can significantly drive growth, we spoke in depth with two small business owners who have been doing all of these things, and so much more, for decades.
Local to Global Growth
“When we started in 1983, the only way to do business was local,” says Thomas G. Scheve, who with wife Niva Kittrell Scheve, runs EquiSport Horse Trailers of Southern Pines, North Carolina. And consequently, all of the company’s marketing was done on a local scale as well.
“All of our trailers were out on the lot,” Scheve says. “Customers came into the lot, you talked to them, you showed them the trailer, and then they decided whether to buy or not. That’s how you did business,” he explains.
However with the spread of the Internet, Scheve says, his emerging company in the relatively small market of horse trailers became one of the first of its kind to create a website.
“From there, our market changed from a 100-mile radius to the entire world. We now are able to sell our trailers, sight unseen, to people all over,” Scheve says.
Technology and the expectations of customers have always dictated the direction of so many businesses, with the most successful continuing to be those that flow with, rather than resist, change.
A New Focus: Products to People
“Twenty or 25 years ago we had 40 employees, and today in our busiest times, we have more like 100 to 125,” explains Jonathan Steinberg, who is Vice President and Industrial Relations Manager for Charleston Steel & Metal Co., a scrap metal processor based in Charleston, South Carolina.
Steinberg joined his family business in 2012, following in the footsteps of his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather who founded the company in 1893 as an immigrant from Eastern Europe.
“Back then,” Steinberg says, “many of the businesses were immigrant businesses, born and built out of necessity.” Over the years, his family’s business has continued to shift with market demand both in the local community and beyond, matching its customer service and offerings to the expectations of its peers and customers.
Steinberg attributes this growth, in part, to adding key jobs in departments such as customer relations and strategic marketing, areas of focus that didn’t even exist in this sector more than a decade or two ago. In the earlier days, he says, most of the duties were manual, with people operating cranes and buying and sorting metal while today so much of the corporate focus is on relationships and service.
“Ours has always been a competitive business,” Steinberg says. “We put a lot of focus on customer service and on forming real relationships, whether it is an individual bringing in cans from his church, a large mill in the region, or an international contact.”
Always Adapting, Diversifying and Listening
Over the years, Steinberg says, the scrap metal business has moved from one that was born out of necessity to one that reflects and caters to what the market both wants and needs in the future.
“Obviously, in the U.S., recycling and the environment are hot topics right now,” he explains. “In 1893, although the business was more about survival than other concerns, we were the original recyclers, doing it before it was about the environment.”
Scheve of EquiSport Horse Trailers also focuses on being nimble and looking ahead. “We are constantly adapting to what the market wants.” To that point, over the years, the theme of safety for horses and their owners has become a guiding principle—and a driver for growth— that informed every direction the business took.
Along the way, he and his wife authored books and are regarded as experts in the areas of horse and trailer safety. “When we started writing our books on horse trailers, the market really opened up for us,” he explains.
What’s Next For These Ever-Evolving Businesses?
Charleston Steel & Metal’s Steinberg says that his business will continue to grow in large part due to international business that wouldn’t have been available to them even a decade ago.
“With certain metals, there is a huge global market that has developed over the last 10 to 12 years,” he says, citing China, as well as India, Turkey and Brazil as countries with growing demands and additional infrastructure-related needs.
“Countries that are still building their infrastructure have really helped our growth,” he explains. EquiSport’s Scheve says that going forward, the economy will continue to drive and shape the horse industry, which is based on a relatively expensive lifestyle choice that most people don’t make.
“We will continue to lead the way in horse trailer safety,” he says, adding that they will likely write more articles and books to offer as resources for customers, and ultimately, as ways to increase traffic to the website.
And what else? Coming up with new innovations, new designs and new ideas for trailers. “That’s our real fun,” he adds.