This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of Smart Business Philadelphia magazine.
It’s common for businesses to attain some measure of success and reach a point where they need to take strategic action in order to continue to grow.
“Basically, you’ve run the business to a certain point. What do you do next with a successful company? You could sell it, just keep the status quo — which I don’t think is a good idea — or you could grow it,” says Mario O. Vicari, director at Kreischer Miller.
Vicari says there are four options owners can consider to keep growing: Acquire a similar company; diversify by acquiring a company in a different industry; leverage what you have by figuring out how to cut costs or increase efficiency; or leverage your position by expanding into new markets.
“There could be a lot of different strategies under these four areas, but that covers the basics,” says Vicari. “Another option is selling the business. Maybe there is a point where the market is right to sell, but that has a lot to do with the personal goals of the owners.”
Smart Business spoke with Vicari about the different growth strategies and how they are implemented to build companies.
How do you leverage assets or market position to grow?
You can figure out how to do things better or more efficiently; that’s leveraging intangible capital. Every business also has tangible assets such as machines and buildings, and you can look at whether you can use those assets in different ways. Those might be line extensions or new products that you make with your existing technologies and hard assets.
Instead of focusing on assets, you can look at market position and ways to take share from competitors, assuming, for example, that it’s a billion-dollar market and you have a 10 percent share of a pie that isn’t getting bigger. You could take market share by expanding the sales force or distribution channels. For instance, if you’re only distributing in the northeast, you could open a distribution site in Indianapolis.
Another way to leverage your position is to look at existing customers and see if there are products they buy that you’re not presently selling but are close enough to your product line that you could. For instance, if you distribute HVAC equipment, you might want to expand your line and start selling water heaters.
What are the different acquisition strategies?
When you grow by acquiring a similar firm, it’s because they have different characteristics, such as geography or products, which complement the position you have. Maybe they give you a footprint in another three states. Or maybe they do commercial HVAC rather than residential.
You can also diversify through acquisition — for example, an HVAC company gets involved in home alarm systems, which is an entirely different business. Some businesses like diversification as a risk management strategy because you’re not concentrated in one industry. But the reality is it’s often very risky because it takes you outside of your core competency and it’s not easy to operate a business without experience in the industry.
Is it ever OK to stop growing your business?
It’s OK to maintain your position as long as you maintain your margins. The problem is that a lot of companies fall into doing nothing, not because they intentionally decided to do so, but because they become complacent.
Ninety percent of the time, companies in the status quo category tend to be there because they’re comfortable and not putting pressure on themselves to grow. That’s a dangerous place to be because when you have no goals or plans to improve your business you could wind up diminishing its value. ●