President and CEO of World Emblem Randy Carr takes pride in leading one of the world’s top suppliers of high-quality decorations. The company has found success taking care of each of their clients and delivering solutions that satisfy and exceed demand. Likewise, the company also supports their employees as they pursue their own growth and success.
At World Emblem, Randy Carr leads a company that offers a “variety of custom embroidered, sublimated and digitally printed patches.” They also offer clients “high-visibility striping, transfers,” among others. Such is the quality of their products that several customers have reported being more than satisfied with their work. As an international company, World Emblem employs teams in the US and abroad. For their teams, the company “creates an inspiring and stimulating work environment,” which gives them the “space and resources to innovate within our industry.”
Randy Carr wants World Emblem to continue developing long-term relationships with clients. These relationships should be based on “solid know-how and a consistently reliable experience.” As their mission, the company aims to help businesses deliver unforgettable first impressions to their own clients, through service “with passion and excellence.” For over 25 years, the company has been providing the same high level of service and great quality.
We learned that defining your core values is more than going to Google to look some up and then adding them to your letterhead. Randy Carr, CEO of World Emblem
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Randy Carr: My father had his own company making embroidered emblems. I had started school at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. I had gone only for one semester when he called to tell me I had to come home and help run the business. So I went to work for him.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Randy Carr: One of the hardest tasks my company faced was developing the proper vision for the business. I read “Vivid Vision: A Remarkable Tool for Aligning Business Around a Shared Vision of the Future” by Camron Herold.
I remember a time when me and my team were thinking about this and trying to figure out the difference between a “vision” and a “mission.” We couldn’t figure it out. This was probably 2007.
It wasn’t until 2015 that we sat down and wrote a clearly articulated outline of where we were going to be by 2020. In a five-page document, we broke it down into pieces.
We did good job of sharing it with my staff, and that’s one thing we did we can clearly say was a solid driver to aligning 1,200 people. That’s a hard task with only 50 people.
Another hard challenge was measuring and tracking accountability within the company. We ended up using a cloud-based strategy execution software platform called “Rhythm.” https://www.rhythmsystems.com/patrick-thean
This system cascaded accountability from my desk all the way down to the lowest position in the company. We’ve been using them for about eight years now.
Rhythm is about creating alignment and accountability. So the first task was getting our goals aligned across the business. What I like about it is it’s very data driven and focused on KPI (key performance indicators).
It’s one thing to read about having accountability, but it’s another thing to implement it in your business and then push it all the way through. It took us three or four years to get to the point where we really understood the difference between a KPI, setting priorities, establishing themes, and similar tasks.
The third piece to the puzzle that was “hard” was defining the core values of the company. Not having core values defined resulted in hiring people, including senior executives for a quarter-million dollars a year, who did damage that it took years to fix.
When you’re clear on who you are, you hire to that. We’re a very intimate business. We’re easy going with our staff. With the right people, it’s easy to have open-ended conversations and discuss things with the team.
We have built a really good team. There are still elements that are missing, but by having the right set of values, everyone knows what needs to be done when they come to work.
I signed up with Rhythm on the advice of my first controller who informed me that the company was a mess. This was back in 2004. At the end of one of the first meetings, the rep pulled me aside and recommended firing some of the people in the meeting. It took me about six months to understand what he was saying.
But, we ended up doing everything he recommended. We learned that defining your core values is more than going to Google to look some up and then adding them to your letterhead.
One practice that was instituted about 30 years ago was asking employees from all levels of the company to write a story or highlights of how the year went for them.
I got the idea from the fact that when my Dad passed away, and I took over the company, there was so much I didn’t know about what happened in the past. For example, what had happened to parts of the business that were dropped or why a key employee left.
So if something ever happened to me, my sons would know what it took to build this business. I decided to create a book that would document all that went on in the company over the course of a year written by the people who were doing it.
I started reading the stories and picking out common themes. One example was the value of staying positive. I probably have 1,000 stories now of things employees have done throughout the year.
What I learned, along with my team, is there are events that exemplify and go beyond the day-to-day stuff of what makes a company excel. Our stories are what helped us identify our core values. It all goes back to hiring the right people. Once you have your core values, it makes it easier to identify people who have them, and you make the right hires.
The other benefit is it reminds me of where we came from. And I don’t want to get too far away from that. We are still doing a lot of the same things we did when we started, we’re just going them on a much greater scale.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Randy Carr: Honestly, I don’t find any of my past mistakes too funny.
Hiring the wrong people would be a big one. It’s usually the cause of most of the downstream issues. Not making the decision to hire the right person upfront and then allowing it to continue for two or three years unbridled. Examples include not making a decision to hire a chief technology officer and the right person to be in charge of a department.
This mistake was compounded with under-investing in technology and fragmenting our tech investment, rather than having a holistic strategy. We did not have a clear idea of where we wanted to go, as far as our technology was concerned, and how we were going to get there.
So what happened was there were nine people going in nine directions, and we ended up with nine standalone applications, except, it was more like 50 standalone applications. As the world becomes more dependent on the cloud, integration and data center models, it became unbelievably more complex.
There were all these different systems with none of them talking to each other, and it almost put the company out of business. Around 2014, as the business started to expand, we had software breakdowns throughout the company as well as hardware malfunctioning. It was a disaster.
The company is still dealing with it to this day, but now we’re in a much better place.
So the biggest lesson was not having a clear handle on what we needed out of our tech group and not understanding what we wanted from the business. Once we did understand that, we made sure we had the technology to support it.
In our attempt to resolve our issues, at first, we compounded it by making two more mis-hires.
Finally, the stars aligned and somebody gave me a referral for someone I knew from 20 years ago. We hired him and three people from his old company. And from the first day he walked in the door, our entire business turned around.
That was a lucky break for the company. I knew the guy, hired him on the spot, and paid him exactly what he wanted (we got a deal). He’s the benchmark for my next hire.
So, we know there’s people out there, we just need to find them. We also know we need to be clear on what we want from the business. If we don’t want to stay at $10 million a year, we need the infrastructure to grow and expand.
What we learned was it’s unfair to put somebody in a position working for a $10 million company who’s not capable of setting up an infrastructure for a $100 million dollar company, but expecting that from him.
In times of crisis, be honest with your situation. Have the tough discussions early on, and pivot to stay relevant.
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
Randy Carr: So the first thing I’ll say is to be humble. You don’t know anything, and there’s no one who knows everything.
Surround yourself with great people and a great supporting cast.
Know where you want to go, know what your core values are and make sure you know what your key numbers are.
In times of crisis, be honest with your situation. Have the tough discussions early on, and pivot to stay relevant.
Treat customers the same way you want to be treated.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Randy Carr: We have a Hands-On Deck group within our company, and the committee for that identifies charity causes and ways our employees can participate in giving back if they so choose.
When World Emblem converted its manufacturing capabilities to personal protection equipment, a commitment was made to donate a portion of the proceeds to The CDC Coronavirus Response Fund. This money was used for fast-emerging needs related to the virus.
With the donation period ending on Labor Day, we contributed $23,590 to the CDC in October 2020.
Hands On Deck has done all kinds of projects in addition to donating money. They’ve done work for gardens, painted houses and helped homeless shelters in Atlanta. We did a car washing fundraiser for stray dogs. So we do a whole bunch of different things.
Limit people’s options and respond quickly. How quickly do you reply to a lead and convert it into a sale? People’s attention spans are short. Randy Carr, World Emblem
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Randy Carr: Limit people’s options and respond quickly. How quickly do you reply to a lead and convert it into a sale? People’s attention spans are short.
The other strategy is to build relationships. We handle most of our transactions on the internet, but a lot of our sales process and development is done over the phone and face to face. We’ll develop a relationship with somebody that will take three or four years. Then, once trust is developed, and customers turn into clients, they’ll interact with us through our online platform.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Randy Carr: Do what you say you are going to do. And for us, it’s to be predictably consistent about it.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Randy Carr: Follow World Emblem here:
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!