I write a lot on this blog about how to keep your doors open -- how to survive the downturn and make it through these tough times. Today, though, let's take a longer view and talk about how to build your company for the long haul.
Specifically, how can you design your business to last a century? A recent Seattle Times article by Erik Lacitis profiled three local businesses that are 100 years old, and identified the traits these enterprises have in common. These three success stories map out a playbook for how to build your company to withstand -- well, just about anything.
First, a bit about the there companies:
Mutual Materials in Bellevue, Wash., began making bricks to rebuild a downtown Seattle neighborhood after a 1900 fire. Of course, they didn't stand still making red bricks -- take a look at the beautiful array of bricks they create today.
Seattle's Nelson Trucking started in 1900 using horse-drawn carts to move merchandise off trains. Now, they operate monster-sized trucks designed to haul heavy equipment to job sites.
Manson Construction began in 1905 working on waterfront construction in Seattle, building piers. Today, they continue to work on waterfront projects.
These are all pretty old-line industries, and in niches where many companies have been hurting in the downturn. These companies have made some cutbacks, but continue to thrive and each employ hundreds of workers. What's kept this trio alive?
- They stuck to their core business. None of these businesses went nuts trying to figure out how to be all things to all people.
- They evolved. Within their niche, they moved with the times. Mutual Materials produced skinny "Roman" bricks in the '40s and '50s when they were popular for facing homes. These days, they make manufactured stone products, because that's what's used today.
- A core of managers and longtime employees. There was continuity in the ownership, which is into the third generation, and each company has a core group of "lifer" employees who are the brain trust of the organization.
- They own their facilities. Being property owners gave the businesses an asset that protected them from too-high rents in the downturn, and gave them an option for obtaining capital if banks wouldn't lend.
- People-focused culture. While all the businesses are about earning a profit, they care about their people, paying union wages in some cases and offering benefits.
- They looked for opportunities to grow. Manson has 700 employees now and operates offices in California, Florida and Louisiana, that latter so it can assist with hurricane Katrina rebuilding. The company makes sure it's where big rebuilding projects are happening.