E-Commerce secrets to scale

002 - How Culture In The Workplace Can Help A Business Create A Competitive Advantage

002 – How Culture In The Workplace Can Help A Business Create A Competitive Advantage

E-Commerce Secrets To Scale is a marketing and entrepreneurship podcast that revolves around hearing the stories and strategies of successful entrepreneurs and e-commerce professionals to uncover scaling secrets that will impact your online store.

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This week on the show, I have Michael Stolarczyk. He is the senior vice president of sales over at Cakeboxx Technologies. And we talk all about culture in the workplace and why it’s so important for us to get culture right if we want to use it as a competitive advantage. I think you guys are really going to love this week’s interview. Let’s get right into it.

Tanner:

Welcome to the show, Michael, I’m super excited to have you. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this interview. Just go ahead and introduce yourself to the audience. Tell us who you are and what you do.

Michael:

Cool. Well, listen Tanner, I appreciate the opportunity to spend a little time with you today. You know, it’s kind of great you out in Utah, me here, in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s always nice to collaborate with somebody new.

Moving things from point A to point B has always been kind of my forte.

Michael:

My name’s Michael Stolarczyk and I’m the senior vice president of North American sales with Cakeboxx Technologies. I’ve been in the supply chain logistics and transport world pretty much my whole career. Since about 1988  when I started with the AP Molar and Burst Group, the big Danish shipping company, I started in New York city. Spent 17 years with them working in various cities in the United States was over in Hong Kong, China for a couple of years. And then I ran Mr. Morris, all of his business activities over in central Europe for five years from 1999, until 2004 and lived in Prague in the Czech Republic. You know, I spent some time with DHL and then ran a couple of different companies. I ran a 3PL in Charleston, South Carolina was a CEO of port authority. And then I also run a river barge company, a STC transport out of Memphis, Tennessee.

So, you know, kind of moving things from point A to point B has always been kind of my forte. Maybe not by horseback or rickshaw now, but pretty much anything else that can haul cargo I’ve been involved in it. So, it’s nice to be working with such a great company like a cake box they’re out of McLean, Virginia, right outside of DC. The organization will be in operation next year, that’ll be our 10th year. It’s led Dane Isol, who is the CEO. Dane is a former Naval commander. His last vessel was the USS Devastator. He’s also the gentleman that has created some of the technology that, that we sell in these containers and patented it and also works on other new engineered solutions for our clients.

Tanner:

Yeah, cool. It sounds like you’ve been all over the place. I’m sure logistics does that to people.

Michael:

Yeah, I mean, I think I’ve been very fortunate. I have a great partner in my wife, Pamela, and she’s Dutch and moved around to a lot when she was a kid from Brussels and Paris and in Amsterdam. I don’t know if she was ready to move around as much as we did, but she’s been a great support. And then my first son was born in Hong Kong. My second son was born in Danbury, Connecticut and my daughter was born in Prague. So we’ve got a kind of a vagabond group of people in our family.

Tanner:

Cool. Yeah, I’m sure it’s, it was an amazing experience to embrace all of those different cultures and just experience what other parts of the world are like, right?

Michael:

Loved it.

We have a very interesting account base, but it could fit on one page versus in a book.

Tanner:

So can you explain to the audience how Cakeboxx is changing the industry? Because you guys have patented a new version of the traditional shipping container, right?

Michael:

That’s correct. So we have created a version of the shipping container, which is a two-piece container in its traditional sizes of twenties and forties and forty-fives and fifty-threes. And it basically is a deck that’s reinforced. It can be a flat deck like, you know – the traditional plywood or steel flat decks. Or it could be recessed, which would actually create essentially, anywhere between five to six inches of depth in the deck. That could increase some load ability in a traditional 8’ 6” or 9’ 4” container. Then the lid comes down on top of it and then it is a sealed with corner twist locks. These containers can be built with doors on the lid or without doors. The containers without the doors are highly secure, very difficult to get in. And, you know, not able to break a seal and wedge open the door to get into the, to the cargo or the payload. This is patented.

We use this solution for quite a few of our customers and our customer base is not thousands of customers. You know, we have a limited group of customers, but they start with companies like Boeing General Dynamics, , Lockheed Martin. We’ve done some business with Google and we’re now doing some business with some of the Wind Power Generation Organization as well, shipping their engines, their equipment, their blades, and the like. So we have a very interesting account base, but it could fit on one page versus in a book.

I wish I could give you a great story of how something that we put on the web got a million hits, but that’s not how we work.

Tanner:

Very cool. Very cool. So can you give us an idea of how Cakeboxx has grown over the years and how they do that? Like, how do you guys handle marketing and sales?

Michael:

Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question Tanner. I would say we’re not in the traditional sense, you know, we’re still kind of a startup. We build relationships through word of mouth, through some guerrilla marketing.  Also through use cases where we will partner with certain organizations that are going to make the investment in the equipment and be able to do demos or actually live labs where we’ll lend out or give a piece of equipment, a particular piece of equipment, for that company to use and test. In hopes of then developing a larger presence with them and a larger buy from that client. So, we’re on LinkedIn, we’re on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We do a lot of that.

We pick and choose some trade shows, but really the way that we build our business and scale our business is developing client aligned, client attuned technical solutions for the equipment. Sometimes it’s standard sized equipment, like you see going over the road. And other times it’s a very large equipment that, you know, could be 14 to 16 feet high, 20 feet wide and actually it is a container. Either a liftoff lid or maybe gold wings or opening up through hydraulic panels. You start to develop good relationships with people and you get referred. You know, it’s kind of classic blocking and tackling.

I wish I could give you a great story of how something that we put on the web got a million hits, but that’s not how we work.

We’re always wishing for that. You know, we’d always like that to happen. But a lot of times, the payloads and in the type of product that moves within the type of clients that we work with – sometimes the Department of Defense or the Defense Logistics Agency, you’re not going to be filming that and putting it up on the web to show everyone. Because it’s not supposed to be seen by everyone. We’re just kind of the classic, build a product, create a really good relationship, deliver that product, make sure that it works, and then make sure that you can, take the design and build it again. Modify it, make it better and build relationships the old-fashioned way. And that is just being in collaborating with people and sharing and learning, and delivering what they need.

Develop your personal network and your personal sphere of influence.

Tanner:

Yeah. You know, I think it obviously depends on the industry what your marketing approach is going to be. I think when you’re working with top players like that or if you’re working with really custom products, like you’re building everything custom for your customers, right? I think that requires more of a direct sales approach. And going back to what you said about building relationships, I think that’s definitely the right path for you guys.

Michael:

And I’ll tell you, I spend a lot of time trying to develop those relationships now. I mean, essentially, my career spanned over 30 years. I’m doing a lot of the very simple grinding tactics that guys and women just starting out, in a sales position or a marketing position do, and that’s cold calling. Trying to find the right person that’s working through, gatekeepers, trying to create a little bit of moment, to get an introduction to somebody or use your network. I think that’s where I’ve been fortunate. I’ve preached, develop your personal network, your personal sphere of influence, all the time because you never know when those folks are going to be able to help you out and come in handy in a situation. When you develop a network, it’s a give and take, you just can’t take, take, take. You have to be able to add value to that and help people obtain their goals and help share.

That’s what I’m doing now. And it’s kind of interesting in these times, with the pandemic. It’s all these high tech tools, zoom and teams and some social media platforms, that you really got to use instead of just an old fashioned phone or gripping and grinning at a conference.

Tanner:

Right. And LinkedIn is obviously a really good tool for networking as well.

Michael:

That’s how we met. I mean, I was really, very honored that you reached out and that we connected and then had this quick collaboration. I’m very much appreciative of that. Thank you.

Tanner:

No problem. I like to think of networking as like a bank. When you’re trying to build a relationship with someone, you want to find every way that you can provide value. There’s this analogy where you make more deposits than withdrawals. So, if you’re always looking to help people, you have to help them furnace you can’t just send them a message and ask for something. Because that never works.

Michael:

That’s a great way of putting it in. It’s an excellent analogy.

Create a culture, empower the believers, and then share the success.

Tanner:

Every business seems to claim that they have a really big focus on culture, but I believe that most of those companies don’t really have a culture that gives them a competitive advantage. How would you define your culture?

Michael:

I think, personally and professionally, probably since, I don’t know, 1998, 1997, I’ve kind of been a huge proponent of the adage of “create a culture, empower the believers, and then share the success.” That really is about developing people to be the next set of leaders, making yourself redundant, giving them the chance to go out, make decisions, build things, take some risks and allow them to fail. That’s not an easy thing to do in any business. I published a book, back in 2012, Logical Logistics: A Common Sense Primer for your Supply Chain and talked a lot about those philosophies in that book. It wasn’t just about moving things from point A to point B, but it was about creating idea practitioners creating “Trojan mice”, is what I called them.

The Trojan horse was rolled in the middle of the city, in the middle of the night. And then people jumped down and attacked the guards, in the middle of the night. I’m more of a believer of Trojan mice. That you teach them, develop them, let them build some confidence themselves, and let them go out and promulgate that culture. And then, when you grow an organization, and I’ve been fortunate to do that a couple of times, from 12, 14 people to 350, 360 people. When you get in, you start meeting some folks in your organization that are three levels removed from you or a different division or something like that. Then all of a sudden, they’re kind of talking the way that you have set this culture up in the belief systems back to me. That’s when, you know, you’ve really been successful is when that education and that culture permeates through the whole organization. Because you allow people to go out there and develop their skill set, develop their business. And I say, “make mistakes.” Esther Dyson always said, “make new mistakes.” You don’t want to make the same mistake twice, but if you’re making new mistakes and learning from them and continue to evolve, I mean, that’s a good thing for your business.

Tanner:

Yeah, of course. In fact, one of, one of our values is we embrace failure. Because if employees don’t fail, then how do they learn? And like what you said, if they’re failing in the same way, multiple times, that means they’re not learning and maybe they’re not a good fit.

Michael:

Right, right. It’s not one size fits all. And I work in a great organization with a very defined leadership structure and a guy that, this is his business and these are his ideas. Dane does an excellent job of giving people the opportunity to go out there and promulgate our intellectual property, our patents, and getting new business. It’s very detailed and it’s very specific. When your name’s on the top of the door and the buck stops there, you know, he’s got to be the guy that is leading us. He doesn’t want a full job but obviously, with his experience in the Navy, you know, that’s what he did well for many, many years.

Tanner:

Yeah. And, you know, I think it all goes back to who we hire. Because if we’re not hiring candidates that align with our values and our culture, then the chances of keeping that culture alive are pretty slim to none.

Michael:

I think trying to try to find and distill who does fit is a challenge. I come from the AP more immersed world, which used a predictive index for testing and kind of what motivates you and what drives you as a human being. They use the Wonderlic test just like the NFL. I think some of those things when embraced are very good, because it helped. They’re self -actualization tools, so you understand what motivates you. And then when you see – I’m a broad-brush stroke person, so if you see somebody that’s coming into your organization, who’s very smart, very driven, but is very detailed and very linear. You can’t just give them a goal and say, “go get it”. You need to set some breadcrumbs out. You need to set some direction out, because that’s how they feel more comfortable, digesting that goal or that objective. It’s tough. It’s always tough to do that.

Tanner:

I mean, there’s a lot of different approaches to this, right? Some people use personality tests, some people, I would say some people put their process of hiring is so stringent and so strict – and there’s so many steps because they don’t want the wrong people in their organization.

Michael:

Yeah, clearly. And in this day and age with everybody, I always talk about, you know, with all these social media outlets, there’s all this intimate knowledge out there on everybody. But it kind of feels like we’re moving into a situation where our society lacks intimacy. Where they love sharing but they don’t have the empathy and the emotional intelligence then to take what is shared and promulgate it into something positive, build it into something positive. So it’s kind of a dichotomy. That is, and it might be generational as well. I mean, I may be just the old guy, the 56 year old guy that’s looking at something that the twenty somethings are doing, and it’s second nature to them. I just don’t understand it.

It’s important to really invest, not just tick the box because you had to do a biannual review.

Tanner:

Yeah. I mean, I’m sure there’s some of that going on, but I mean, you can’t argue that social media isn’t changing who we are as a population. So, going back to the employee discussion, how do you keep your employees happy and motivated?

Michael:

Well, I think it’s real important to have a dialogue. I think, you know, the biggest issue is not necessarily an annual review or bi-annual review. It’s really, actively listening and learning when you talk to your your coworkers and your subordinates and your superiors. Then leaning in and learning what you can do to help develop their sphere of influence, their sphere of responsibility. And it’s an active role. It is very difficult, especially now,  to have that emotional intelligence and that intimacy to where you feel good about sharing and where you feel good about this 360 degree evaluation. So I think it’s really important to, you know, really invest, have bested collaboration, vested interaction with the people that you work with. Not just cursory or not just ticking the box because you had to do a biannual review.

Tanner:

I totally agree with that. I think that’s an amazing approach. I think it’s so important that we keep the dialogue open. We need to be able to accept feedback from our employees. Because if we’re not accepting feedback and they don’t feel heard, it’s hard for them to be happy in a situation where they’re just being told what to do and they don’t have an input. They need to feel like they’re part of the team. They need to feel like they’re an asset to the company.

Michael:

Totally agree. And you know, that’s not something that you can just kind of breeze through, it’s an investment and it’s a large investment, but good leaders do that. People that you want to believe in do that. I think that’s the most important thing is building that character interaction where people want to believe in you, you want to book, you want to believe in them. Then usually you go through that vested collaboration and achieve those goals.

Tanner:

Yeah. And I think a lot of that is also tied to management style. If your management style is more like on the micromanagement side and you want everything done a certain way, and you don’t really give them the freedom to do things on their own or make mistakes, I think that’s going to hinder your ability to establish a good culture as well.

Michael:

Yep. Yep, I totally agree with that as well.

It’s doing the small things. And that’s how you scale.

Tanner:

So what do you think your secrets to scale are, and this question would apply to any business that you’ve been involved with?

Michael:

Yeah, I think with cake box first is, the partnerships that we have. In the industry aligning yourself, you know. Our production partner is CIMC, out of China, they’re the largest container manufacturer in the world. We have an excellent relationship with them through the top, through Dane our CEO and our salespeople, and then our engineering team as well. To be able to create these client aligned client attuned containers. You’ve got to have a good communication style. You have to be able to feed them the right information and you have to have excellent business acumen. And that’s kind of simple things like, when you say you’re going to pay within 30 days or 45 days, you pay within 30 or 45 days. When you commit to delivering technical drawings for evaluation, in the production side of the business, you get it to them. And then they need to stick to the production schedule and make sure that they roll off those pieces of equipment at the appropriate times.

So they’re positioned to be shipped or picked up by the client. It’s not, you know, I don’t think it’s really, kind of crazier or something different. I think it’s the exact opposite. It’s doing the small things. It is doing the consistent things the same way every time. To build that confidence, to build that trust, to have that sense of urgency. And that’s how you scale. And then obviously you’ve got to be able to find clients that believe in you. And the only way that happens is to build something that they want, make sure that it works, and make sure that when you deploy it it’s the same experience every time. Again, not an easy thing to do, but that’s the way you scale. I mean, you’re not going to scale with a lousy product. You’re not going to scale with an inconsistent product. You’re not going to scale with a ghost leadership team or not being able to be in the thick of it during the evaluation, the creation, the technical give and take that you have to have with the client versus the production partner. Those are simple things to say, but very difficult things to do.

Tanner:

A lot of what you said kind of aligns with the notion of building a brand, because that expectation would be the same all the time. You want to build up that reputation and building that is such an incredibly hard thing to do.

Michael:

Yep, sure. It sure is. And I think we learn every day some of the things that we do, right? Some of the things that we probably don’t want to repeat and it’s very interesting. You know, I find the big challenging aspect of it is when you’re working with highly technical people, you know, industrial engineers and, and structural engineers, that really need that detail, they need those specifics down to the 10th degree. And being able to keep moving forward towards a goal, moving forward to a sale, moving forward to growth is sometimes challenging. You just have to be consistent, be willing to stay with it and stick to it. And we’re having success with that. I think Cakeboxx does an excellent job in developing very trustworthy, very solid relationships with our clients because they know that we’re going to respond appropriately in a short amount of time with the right information in. When something needs to be changed or evaluated in switched we’re going to be there to do that.

And that’s how we scale.

Tanner:

Yeah. A wise man named Jeff Bezos once said, “If you focus on the customer, everything else will fall into place.”

Michael:

Yeah. I mean, I think Jeff’s proven he kind of knows a thing or two about that. Just a little bit

What benefits everybody the most is having people that are out there kicking around ideas.

Tanner:

Well, this has all been amazing, Michael, I really appreciate you taking the time. Is there anything that I did not ask you that you think might benefit the audience?

Michael:

No Tanner. I think for me, what I think benefits everybody the most is having people like yourself that are out there kicking around ideas, kicking around different angles on how to attack things. You know, you reaching out to me here working for Cakeboxx Technologies and having the desire to have this type of conversation. I’m very appreciative of that because it’s not, I wouldn’t say it’s glamorous by any stretch of the imagination, but it is unique. And, you know, and I think what we bring, to kind of close out our discussion, we bring a high level of security, a high level of trust. Our equipment, the department of Homeland security has it, certified as QATT technology Q-A-T-T, which is qualified antiterrorism, anti-theft technology. Us being able to get that message out to where you can safely ship your product and the government knows that when it’s inside of a Cakeboxx, the materials, that the high value payloads are going to be safe and secure is important. I don’t have a lot of avenues to share that information. So I really do want to say thank you to you for giving the organization and Dane and the cake box team some time to talk with you and to share with your audience. And I appreciate that.

Tanner:

Yeah, no problem at all. Michael, it’s been awesome to get to know you and take some time to have a discussion about Cakeboxx and the awesome things that they’re doing. Speaking of which, what would be a good way for the audience or anyone listening to get in contact with you?

Michael:

Yeah. So you can go to cakeboxxtechnologies.com, it’s a C A K E B O X X-technologies.com. My email address is easy, definitely based on my last name, we don’t want to deal with that. It’s [email protected]

You know, we’re on LinkedIn, we’re on Twitter, we’re on Instagram. You can, you can check us out there. There are direct links to communicating with me, you know, via LinkedIn as well or Twitter. @mjstolarczyk is my Twitter handle. So we’d love to have a discussion. We’d love to talk with folks to see if they’re interested in partnering with us or purchasing a couple of pieces of this very unique deck and lid solution that we provide.

Tanner:

Cool. We’ll definitely include some links to your website, your email address, your social profiles for the audience to get in touch with you. We’ll also include a link to go purchase your book on Amazon. I know how much value that can add to people.

Michael:

Well, wow. I would love that. You know, it’s always good to get a couple of books out there. I need to get my second edition going, but I’ve been kind of busy as of late, so that might have to wait. But thank you, I would love that.

Tanner:

No problem. Well, I really appreciate it, Michael. Until we meet again.

Michael:

You got it. Thanks Tanner.

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