By Jennifer Lilley
Five years ago Denise Cairo realized that her business needed to change.
TechniCare had been a successful laser-, printer- and ink jet service company, but as the world was evolving, technology was right at its heels. Printers and copiers were merging to become one new and improved machine, and TechniCare was in jeopardy.
Cairocould sell TechniCare, sell hardware, or completely leave the industry. In the midst of difficult economic times,Cairo took a chance and decided to fight back.
She and a long-time business acquaintance Frank Montisano decided to merge their two businesses to produce an entirely better service. Montisano owned Excel Business Systems, which had been Delaware’s premier copier sales and service company for almost thirty years. By combining TechniCare’s printer services with Excel’s copier services, they were able to evolve with technology and override the struggling economy, a maneuver they coined, “Surviving to Thriving.”
Cairo recently illustrated her tactics in a workshop with the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, and plans to continue sharing her story in hopes of helping others achieve the same.
Tell me about the merger between your two businesses:
D: People are better together than they are separate, and when we were really looking at his business model and our business model, there were a lot of things that were really similar in our philosophies about business, and our commitment to our customer service and to the community. So when we started seeing that we had a lot of these synergies together, we thought this is really the blending and the making of a better business model. We physically merged our business in July of 2009. For the last two years, we’ve been working together on not only blending our business, but also ways that we can bring together our philosophies and our core strengths together so we can better serve the community. When you think about the idea “surviving to thriving,” that’s really been the theme running through here. It has been, how do we take these two businesses that are over twenty years old each, and we’re a little bit set in our ways, but looking at new ways of doing business, new ways of embracing technology, investing in our business, our tools, our staff, what are some of the things we can do to just get better, to raise the bar, to excel. After all that’s our name, and so with that in mind we just continue to create different goals and different benchmarks and continue to reach them.
What made the merger successful?
D: We were able to create the vision, to see it, because of what we had gone through the last twenty-some years and where we knew technology was going, we just kept creating pictures of what can we do together. We could see that because of some of our relationships, whether it was associations or affiliations, the more we collaborated the more we saw that there was a synergistic approach. We looked at personalities of the staff, our personal belief systems, our commitment to our personal relationships and our professional relationships, and the more we started lining all that stuff up as far as what we believed in, which I think is critical in the bringing together any two entities, when you can collaborate and really be open and honest with what your vision is and making it okay to say what your vision is. Even if we had two different visions but identifying where those synergies were and were they clear enough to both of us to build upon.
F: I think what made it successful, regardless of all the challenges that there may have been, the common goal was to give our end-user, our clients, a better service, a better company to deal with. So many of our clients were shared, we had the same commonality. Now we’re able to go back to them as one, and the one definitely is a stronger business than either company was prior to it. But the goal of providing superior service is the one thread that tied everything together.
How did you turn the corner to thriving? Was there a specific point you realized you were no longer simply surviving?
F: In 2010 we had a 20% increase over the year, and just because typically focus. We’re ultimately a service company regardless of the product, whether it’s copiers or printers or network computers, at the end of the day we’re a service organization. So by staying laser-beamed on that one word, service, we’re finding the success. The thriving is a goal, and in many ways we are thriving today, but we’re never going to be satisfied or settle either. It’s never going to be “Okay we’re done! We got to where we need to go.” We are a thriving community here today. We’re looking to add personnel, we’ve never laid a person off during the last three years, in terms of economical downturn, we stayed engaged, and that’s the best way to put it. Now that we’re seeing bigger, better opportunities, we’re excited about the new year.
D: Also it’s a mindset or an environment that as leaders you’re called to create the thriving mindset versus surviving. When you lead a group of people, I believe when you put yourself in that role as an entrepreneur or business owner, you are called to create a mindset or energy or a culture. I believe the word ‘thriving’ is really the culture that you can create, or the people you give them opportunities to buy in to the fact of “we’re not just getting by, we’re thriving.” And when something is thriving that means it’s in a constant state of growth, that’s what thriving really means. I believe that when your staff or your co-workers see that you’re constantly moving, you’re not just going to sit there and get stagnant, shrivel up and go away, or we’re not just getting by. If you look at the difference between the two words, surviving to me is “I’m just getting by,” and that to me is nothing is going to grow in that soil. We want to herald the message that we are growing, we are moving, and those who want to come, get on the bus! Because we want to keep going out there and bringing more customers into our family, and I think the thriving is going to be ongoing.
We haven’t arrived at the area that we call thriving but we’re always working towards that. The message that not only do we want to deliver internally to our staff, but also externally for our customers that we aren’t going to sit and wait this storm out, we’re going to ride it and see where it takes us.
Do you think the mindset creates thriving, or thriving helps create the mindset?
D: I think it’s both, I think sharing our successes with our customers so that they have an opportunity to look at Excel and go “Wow, what they are doing that’s really great they’re out here supporting the community” or “look at that they’re advertising on the radio, they’re investing in some print advertising.” I think it gets the attention of other businesses and they realize it’s not all doom and gloom, it’s going to be doom and gloom if we buy into that! The reality is that we’re all having financial concerns, but at the same time we have to speak that we’re growing in order for that to occur. We can’t talk doom and gloom and expect success to show up, it doesn’t work that way. We have to believe with all our hearts, and then I think that’s infectious. Other people believe in you and there’s a great source of energy, and by doing that we engage and encourage our customers. We see them suffering, we see them reducing their staff, we see that happening, and if we’re not mindful of that and don’t understand that that’s what’s happening out there in the world, then we’re not really paying attention, we’re not serving them in that way. It’s a ripple affect, and our culture is going to affect the cultures that we serve. And if that rubs off on them, that’s the part of it I really love is being able to affect change in a positive way, so we can do that. I don’t ever think business is about the widgets, it can’t be, it’s really has to be about serving the people.
How do you plan to continue thriving in the future? What goals or changes would you like to make?
F: Our goal is to continue both as a company and individuals to become ‘a whole lot more’ to our clients. We tagged the phrase “We’re your copier company and a whole lot more.” Our radio advertising is full of different client testimonials, and within those commercials they’re asked “what is the whole lot more to you?” And that whole lot more is different to each and every one of them. To some it’s the fact that we are standing next to them in a community event or Relay for Life walk, to others it’s the technology or the fact that we are available to them for support on a 24/7 basis. Everyone has their own perception on what our ‘more’ is for them, so we strive to focus on being a whole lot more.
D: For me personally I want to continue to engage our staff and glean ideas from them. People come to Frank all day long, wanting his opinion, his advice or help, and he’ll say, “What do you think you should do? Come back with three ideas.” I love that because it causes people to think a little more outside of themselves, and it also puts them in a role of the leadership mindset. But I’d like to continue to engage them and engage them more. (By continuing to foster a team environment and also increasing knowledge, whether it be how we communicate or if it’s, for me personally, it’s technical knowledge, I need to continue to study and learn our products. But it’s identifying what they are and then investing. Our service staff, service technicians, has just gone through another series of evaluations of technical training to increase their certification in different lines and different brands that we carry.) So moving forward it’s a continual reinvesting in our business, reinvesting in our people, and reinvesting in our technology to continue to evolve right along with the technology out there.
What is your message to the surviving/struggling businesses out there?
D: Never give up. Never give up and keep believing. Frank and I will talk amongst the staff, and we go back to the beginning when we started. A lot of times it’s going back to those basics, and saying “why did we do this in the first place?” Very often when you go back to the beginning, that stokes the fire, that gets the flame going again, or you’re saying “Yeah we saw this, we had this dream. And people started showing up and started believing in our dream, and they came along side of us. Then we had employees and they believed in us.” It’s when you start seeing and start creating that momentum again and that excitement again, it’s almost as if the opportunity to fall back in love with your idea or what your vision was. I know we’ve gone round and round and round different times in here, and it is fun because let’s fall in love with our business again! We’re here, so by going back and saying “why did I do this in the first place? What were some of the things we did in the very beginning when we were hungry, and we were broke, and we didn’t take salaries, and we really believed so much that that’s what fed us, our beliefs that we can make it happen,” and that’s what we go back to sometimes
F: My advice would be to embrace change. No one likes change, and we certainly have been through our share of it, but if we’ve learned any lesson over the last five years it’s we must change, we must grow, and we must keep evolving every single day. So change has been good around here.
What is your favorite part about working at Excel?
F: Since 1984 when Excel started, we very much built our business on developing relationships with our clients, and that was the protocol. Since we merged we also focus on the relationship between employees as well. That’s one of the nicer parts, that we treat each other more like clients and concentrate our focus more on relationships within the company in additional to the external.
What would you say is your key to success?
D: My key to success is my faith, without belief for me I would have never had the confidence to start a business, let alone ride the challenges of the ups and downs of being a business owner, an employer, a wife, a mom, a daughter, a volunteer. I think for me personally, that it’s a key ingredient. I don’t think there is any one thing that is the key, but if success were divided in a pie, faith would have a big piece, because without it, absolutely not.
We’re very grateful to the customers that have continued to be our customers. That’s a message that is very important, we didn’t get here, we didn’t stay here because of anything either one of us did individually. It’s always a collection of people we serve and the people that help us. I’m very grateful for our staff and the customers who believed enough in what we do to ride it with us. It’s been almost 30 years and these people have stuck around and that’s a good thing, I’m very grateful.
What are some little things businesses can do to get them through a rough patch?
D: I believe anything that can increase an organization’s efficiency affects the bottom line. If you can take your current processes and really have someone from the outside come in and help you assess your processes, we’re talking print, and get a birds-eye view of how you create, share, scan, store, destroy. We can start finding areas where you’re wasting time and money. It can be in downtime, it can be that machines are breaking because the end-users are doing a process that’s overtaxing the machine, and you could have the wrong machine in that department. We come from a consultative approach and really look at their overall processes and see where they may be wasting time and money. Also what that is doing is frustrating their employees, and they’re not operating at full potential because they’re standing around waiting for a machine that is having jams or malfunctioning. And again the ripple effect, everything affects everything, so that’s definitely a way we can help companies and that’s an immediate fix. We can get in and see things, and see things very clearly because we understand printers. If you need something different, we can help make those recommendations. In the long run if their efficiency increases, their productivity increases, and their downtime is reduced, their bottom line is changing for the better for them.
You gave a presentation about the Paperless Movement, what does that entail:
D: The idea of becoming paperless or paper-less is really what the message is, we will always use paper we are tactile people, there are certain industries that will always have a need for paper, but then there is also this other movement there’s a lot of waste being created, with things that don’t have to be printed, so again it’s learning what those processes are and how a specific company operates and what needs to be printed should be in the most affordable way possible with the best quality or color or whatever their applications are, but then things that don’t need to be, create a strategy for keeping them digitally so that when that client needs they can retrieve them quickly and efficiently. And that’s really what the paperless campaign is all about, is educating people and teaching them about this technology that has been in the makes for many years but thankfully they continue to increase the way that we can print, share, store, scan, and the cool thing about that is some of the devices in the lines that we carry make it more efficient for documents to be stored right on the piece of equipment rather than the end user having to go back and forth from their office to their device. There are things that they can walk right up to the device and punch it in and it comes right out printed. These multi-functioned printers are now computers and they have hard drives in them so they can store hundreds of thousands of documents of information that increase efficiency, reduces the need to print needless things or it’s print ready so when you need it you got it, you don’t have to print it all out and store it and wait some day I’m going to have to have it. Someday can wait right there in that device. And that’s really what the Paperless Movement is all about. It’s great, it’s green. Also the manufacturers are all on board with green technology, with creating and developing new ways of manufacturing, creating better processes throughout the equipment that allows people to have shortcuts and better time-saving efficiencies and multitasking. These printers can now be doing a couple different things, it’s good stuff.
I think as new devices continue to come out, people love that technology they love to learn about it and what they can do to increase their time and become more productive. People I think want to be more productive at work so they can be more productive out there and have fun. With the green movement as popular as it is, I think people want to waste less. We certainly want people to still print! But what they need to print.
You are very involved with the Chamber, has it helped you reach a lot of people and businesses?
D: We participate in chamber activities, events, conferences, different workshops that the Chamber puts together, because we’re looking at learning and growing. And we share with our staff if there’s a workshop you’re providing that we think has value here or value through us to someone else, we’ll participate. We participate in committee work through the Chamber, and then a variety of other organizations, junior achievement ofDelawarewe participated with in many different levels, for 8 or 10 years now on the TechniCare side, and Excel is getting involved with them now. Also a variety of non-profits, the Breast Cancer Coalition, Frank for years has been doing a variety of non-profit work, and raising money for a variety of different charities. Together we have quite a bit of outreach that we participate in, not just ourselves personally but we encourage our staff to get involved, and we also encourage our customers to get involved because we love to engage, whether it’s people here or outside, to become involved in the community and outreach. There are so many opportunities for businesses to give back. With the Chamber, there some things that are really near and dear to my heart, the Superstars in Education program, Principals for a Day, and I’ve done that for a number of years. They always say when you volunteer that you as the giver get more than whatever you’re giving, and it’s so true. Volunteering has always been a big part of our lives personally and also in our business, we always walk away feeling we were the ones that got something out of it. There’s a big benefit to that so we love participating.
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