EDITOR’S NOTE: Rather than profiling an individual, in this installment of Influencers we spotlight an entire company, letting them reveal the foundation for their success: the corporate culture and internal processes that set them apart.
“Which classic county fair activity would win you the Blue Ribbon?” With this as an interview question, we know we’re running a unique company. What does this question have to do with selling furniture” It doesn’t actually, and that’s exactly the point. We’re really not looking for someone to take this question as literally as it sounds – we want candidates to think fast on their feet, have a little fun and answer the question confidently even if they’ve never set foot on fairgrounds. We ultimately know that to succeed at HighTower Group, our team members need to be a critical thinkers able to anticipate our client’s needs, passionate about great service and overall nice people, so we get to the true heart of those skills by asking quirky, conversational questions that require confidence and a sense of humor.
We expect potential team members to infer what a reasonable answer could be based on information they have gathered in the past and then merge that with where their unique talents lie. One of our newest hires answered our question with “Butter Carving” after only a slight pause and light-hearted smirk — now, that’s someone I’d like to spend more time getting to know, and that’s important to us. We should enjoy the company of our dynamic team members and they should have fun working with us — that seems quite obvious to me for successfully running a great company.
Building Our Lemonade Stand
Our company, HighTower Group, really began as a hobby for my dad, myself and my sister: a side business focused on helping a few industry friends in the Seattle design community source high-design furniture for corporate projects. We’re running a multi-generational family start-up, which is pretty incredible. We always joke that HighTower began as an enthusiastic, curbside lemonade stand happily serving its neighbors on a hot summer day.
The dynamics of a family business are an adventure in and of itself and not unusual in our industry — but there is something wholly unique about running a start-up by leveraging the knowledge of an industry in the past and mixing that with the untainted idealism of the future — and its working extremely well. Although it’s a small lemonade stand no more, we still channel that entrepreneurial spirit and expect the same hard-working, enthusiasm from each of our team members every day.
Speaking Our Own Language
Since starting our dynamic family business from scratch, we have naturally created unique procedures and established our own norms in order to get everything done. I believe that this actually happens for most entrepreneurs for two reasons:
- There is an initial restraint on physical capital and the labor input possible – essentially you need to handle almost every role in the company yourself!
- There is the fundamental reason that you started your own business to begin with: you have a vision for how things should be and know wholeheartedly that it is achievable with hard work. This idealism is what propels HighTower optimistically forward into an industry of giants.
Over these past few years, while steadily doubling our sales each year, we have come to realize three important characteristics about the company we’re building:
- First, we embrace the fact that we do things differently than other furniture companies — and we encourage it!
- Second, we know that the type of people we add to our team will make or break our success, so finding the right people and treating them like family is essential.
- Third, since we’ve established unique norms, values and procedures, and we’ve realized we also speak a different language at HighTower. Teaching this language effectively to new team members is essential to the success of our company. It doesn’t matter where you come from, if you like us and can see our vision, we can teach you to speak our language! Just be ready to dive in 100%!
Avoiding Red Tape
Doing things differently is a core component of being a part of HighTower. We take a critical eye to the industry norms to determine what works best for our company, our sales team and our customers. We have an inside view of the contract furniture industry via my dad’s extensive management roles within Steelcase. This has enabled us to navigate the logistics of the industry and deliver on what we promise, but also see the inefficiencies.
We seek continual improvement in our process, evolution in our ideas and welcome input from our team at every turn. This constant awareness of our process enables us to stay nimble, avoid the “red tape” that larger companies deal with and respond to each customer’s needs with a fresh perspective – we believe that every client and every opportunity is unique!
Growing The HighTower Team
We have cautiously grown our company from a small team in the Pacific Northwest to a larger team of compatriots located in New York, NY; San Francisco, CA; Kansas City, MO, and High Point, NC, but we didn’t do it overnight. Each growth phase was strategic and we focused on keeping our unique culture in mind despite the growth.
With such a complex web of players involved in each order, we have intentionally sought out team members from a variety of backgrounds. This diversity of perspectives allows us to thoughtfully anticipate the specific needs of each client and share our past experiences.
To find these great team members, we rely heavily on referrals – other people who know our culture and understand our philosophies have a keener understanding of who we need on board to complement our processes. We have pulled team members from the Trucking Industry, Hotel / Hospitality, Restaurant business, Tile manufacturers, Textile Industry. We have a 100% retention rate of our team members so far, which makes me incredibly proud of the close-knit team spirit we have cultivated.
The addition of new team members enlightens us with each round. We learn where we can improve our processes, where we need clearer instructions, what works — and most importantly, what doesn’t. New eyes, new ideas, new voices.
We train everyone to think and correspond the way we do — but we are open to feedback and improvement. I don’t believe you can run a business blind to the areas for improvement. We want all team members to take ownership of the orders they process and the company we’re building.
Keeping Our Finger On The Pulse
We, as owners, have been intimately involved in almost all of the projects we work on – so we take the communication with our clients seriously. Some clients will still receive emails from me periodically with tracking information from a recent shipment – its how we operate as a company. All for one and one for all.
I actually don’t anticipate this changing even as we continue to grow — we’ll just need to find new, creative ways to stay involved in the order process. Its important to stay involved and in the field with your finger on the pulse.
Our unique language encompasses the communication with our clients, the way we communicate internally (nicely!), all the way to how we make notations within our awesome cloud-based ERP system for order processing.
When corresponding with a HighTower team member, you will always be greeted by name, our contact information will always be clear at the bottom of our most recent email and we share project information in a specific format — it may seem extreme — but it is the HighTower way and it shows that we take time communicating with each client.
Our goal is to save our clients time by be being clear in our communication, staying proactive, and always being friendly. It should be a pleasure working with HighTower — if its not, please email me so we can improve!
Living Our Brand
Our hope is that HighTower is not solely defined by our unique product portfolio in the marketplace — because anyone can offer up a cool chair. We hope to be known for our great people, our great service and our passion for results. It’s a common goal we’ve all heard before, but we are living it each day.
As business owners and leaders, we work hard to help our team members unleash their limitless potential, become as passionate about achieving our lofty company goals as we are, and to remain focused on incredible results. It’s a lot of work to learn this fast-paced way of working, but we think it’s a language worth learning. If you haven’t checked us out, I hope you will!