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Last Update: Sunday April 11, 2021

Key Idea: Win Big Customers

Just one high-profile customer can make a big difference in how others view your business.

Key Question:

A: 

Six years after they had bought the company and as they were pulling themselves out of a hole from paying attorney fees, Saturn asked Graber to be its roof rack source.

Q:  What is the impact of a big customer on a small business?

A:  It can be fabulous and terrible. Some small companies take on a big customer and over time lose their solid small customers. This is a perfect way to lose your business. No matter what, never let one customer have more than 20% or 30% of your business. We have seen it over and over and the most intoxicating customer is the Federal Government. The problem is, as soon as they change leadership or a new competitor gets in the door, you can lose the account.

Chris is smart and has not let one customer dominate and at the same time he has used the fact that Saturn is his customer as a sales and marketing tool. The very first sponsor we landed for the television show was IBM. Having IBM helped us to get every other sponsor. E-Poxy makes water-tight expansion joints. They landed the Capitol complex in Albany early on as well as the George Washington Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the Golden Gate Bridge. It is possible for very small companies to win business from the biggest customers in the world. You should go for it.

What is the impact of a big customer on a small business?

A:  It can be fabulous and terrible. Some small companies take on a big customer and over time lose their solid small customers. This is a perfect way to lose your business. No matter what, never let one customer have more than 20% or 30% of your business. We have seen it over and over and the most intoxicating customer is the Federal Government. The problem is, as soon as they change leadership or a new competitor gets in the door, you can lose the account.

Chris is smart and has not let one customer dominate and at the same time he has used the fact that Saturn is his customer as a sales and marketing tool. The very first sponsor we landed for the television show was IBM. Having IBM helped us to get every other sponsor. E-Poxy makes water-tight expansion joints. They landed the Capitol complex in Albany early on as well as the George Washington Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the Golden Gate Bridge. It is possible for very small companies to win business from the biggest customers in the world. You should go for it.

Think about it

What high visibility customer should go after?

Clip from: Saris Cycling Group aka Graber

Madison, Wisconsin: Sara and Chris Fortune bought Graber Products in 1989 when it had 24 employees and $3.3 million in sales. When we taped this story there were up to 60 employees and with revenues over $10 million. They continue to grow, changed the name of the company to Saris Cycling Group, and are very committed to keeping their manufacturing in the USA.

Actually, manufacturing is on its way back to the USA!

That is not prophetic verse but the reality of our advancing technologies where highly educated workers can do it better, often faster, and sometimes cheaper than anywhere in the world.

This episode is a case in point: And, this story comes from the heartlands of America. These are the kind of people who love this country and all those basic freedoms to do the right thing in the face of adversity. They have done it right and now they ship their products around the world.

When Chris and Sara bought Graber Products, they bought a solid business with a good reputation, but the sales were flat. The employees were dedicated, but the company needed fresh energy to start growing again. To dump the stodgy image of the company that he bought, Chris found an Italian fashion designer who came up with improved form and function for his bike racks. Chris believed that the market was ready, willing and waiting for new ideas and he was right. Customers have flocked to the new products and employees love to come to work.

They are their industry leaders. They have kept manufacturing in America. And, their industry recognizes them for their generosity of spirit, moral courage, and ethical leadership. These people are quiet heroes,  new pioneers making the world a better place.

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Saris Cycling Group (once known as Graber Products)

Chris Fortune, CEO

Visit our web site: http://saris.com

Business Classification:
Manufacturing, Sports (Biking), wholesale

Year Founded:

Win Big Customers

HATTIE: (Voiceover) In Sara and Chris, I see soft hearts and strong backs. What a combination. It's obviously working.

The turnaround came quickly. Something really exciting happened.

CHRIS: Saturn had approached us in August of '95 and they were very interested in the Saris roof rack system. We'd been working with them over the last two years, doing testing and validating the program. They've chosen us, over the largest competitor in the world, as a supplier for their roof rack. It was due to product innovation and their willingness to work with a smaller company.

Employee #1: I don't think I've seen a rack any easier than this to install on a vehicle.

Unidentified Woman: Now will I have to adjust it each time I put it on? Employee #1: No.

CHRIS: (Voiceover) We are the exclusive supplier of a detachable roof rack system for Saturn today.

Employee #1: The nice thing about the rack is that it is totally adjustable, so we can position these legs wherever we want them. If you are behind a car carrying bikes on real cheap racks, you will see the bikes and the rack are actually moving back and forth as the car travels. This one won't do that because you've got support in six different places.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Sara focuses on the people part.

SARA: I kind of make sure they're OK, more on the personal side. I love to talk, so I'm out there wondering what's going on with them, finding a lot of things out. There's some employees that will come up and spend a lot of time with me, you know, just talking, and I usually get a hint of the reason they're around.

HATTIE: Right. Well--and don't you think that is part of the reason this is all working?

SARA: Right. I do.

HATTIE: And that every employee here feels comfortable to come tell you anything they want.

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