How to Create a Point of Difference
in a Commodity Market

Central Packaging Delivers an ‘Experience’

When is a widget not a widget? If you’re in a commodity business, you’re constantly striving to achieve and maintain a competitive point of difference. By their very definition, widgets are the same from provider to provider. To differentiate yourself, you must add value that matters to your customers.
Mike Pasley for SSCentral Packaging sells widgets of sorts. More than 10,000 of them, in fact. Their actual product offering includes bags, boxes, tags, tape, tubes and more. You can purchase these products from dozens of suppliers. However, Central Packaging’s customers don’t really buy products—they buy the experience, the relationship, the support and the confidence they get with each and every purchase.

The company was successful from the start. With success comes growth– from $400,000 to more than $7 million in less than 15 years, now with a team of 15 employees. And they’ve got lofty objectives:  Central Packaging is on track to grow to $15 million by 2019.

With growth comes a cadre of challenges—many of them systems and people related.

A Shift from Management to Leadership

Mike Pasley, president, recognized that what got him here wouldn’t get him there. Mike’s personality style is very direct. He’s an executor; he gets things done. The softer side of leading his employees was not necessarily on his radar. He knew he could do better—he had to learn to lead his people, not just manage the work. He had to learn to vary his leadership style to meet various people’s needs.

It was time to bring in someone with expertise in those areas. Mike relied on his relationship with a keynote speaker and business growth consultant he had met through a Kauffman Foundation event, sponsored by the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Foundation, and made the call to Joe Calhoon. Hesitant to work with a “consultant” at first, Mike was soon a fan. “Joe Calhoon brought a bundle of value—he facilitated our business growth and leadership development processes. We learned to talk in terms of Vision, Mission, Values, Strategies and Objectives. Joe forced us to communicate! It was eye-opening.”

As a result of the work they’ve done with Joe, the “team has morphed and changed,” said Mike. “The process gave people a hand in authoring our business plan. Involving the team has changed the way we worked together—it’s better, more comfortable.”

With all the planning steps complete, the Cental Packaging team meets every month to celebrate their achievements and reinforce the new business growth habits they’re creating. Mike notes that “the best way to learn is to teach,” which he does in his monthly meetings with employees.

CPChange isn’t always comfortable, and Mike was the first to admit it. “At first, I was extremely uncomfortable when I tried to compliment others for their achievements,” said Mike. But with some training and practice, it became an integral part of how the team works together. Mike said, “I learned how to compliment and celebrate accomplishments and I’ve seen the positive effects. We’re in a constant cycle of renewal. Our culture is strong, our processes are improving.”

Mike says it’s easy to identify the top four “take-aways” from his work with Joe and the PriorityAdvantage™ system. He has learned to:

  1. Celebrate success. This practice has raised the level of engagement and commitment of his entire team.
  2. Involve employees in the creation of the business plan—it’s powerful and gives employees ownership.
  3. Use a professional, outside facilitator to manage and guide the process—there’s more buy-in from the participants, and they’re more committed.
  4. Designate and maintain a formal time to celebrate the team’s achievements, learn from the experiences, evaluate the plan and commit to new priorities for each member of the team

Creating and Refining the ‘Experience’

“After three years, our employee engagement, customer satisfaction, revenue and profits had hit all-time highs,” Mike said.

“No matter the size of your company, you must always be on the same page,” said Mike Pasley. Joe Calhoon got us on the same page. Continuing to apply the Priority Advantage™ practices of Planning, Achieving and Renewing has given us a distinct competitive advantage, said Mike. “Our people have a strong sense of engagement; we’re better able to concentrate on customer satisfaction.” And that’s what makes a widget something altogether more valuable.