How have companies fared since appearing as subjects of our weekly The Challenge series? From time to time, we will follow up to see what's happened since the experts weighed in with advice.
For most of the past six years, Dennis Pitselis's business has been in overdrive for half of the year, but barely moving for the rest.
Now, however, he's on his way to turning the company into an operation that is productive all year round.
Mr. Pitselis is the founder, president and chief executive officer of Aurora, Ont.-based Zone Marketing Group, which conducts and analyzes contest data for big car companies at auto shows.
Its busy season has fallen between December and April, when most of the events take place, as well as the month leading up; after that, though, work was virtually grinding to a halt.
"We need to keep everyone [having] billable hours throughout the year. That's tough to do in our business," Mr. Pitselis said when Zone Marketing was the subject of a Challenge in October, 2011.
Since then, however, things have been changing, thanks at least in part to the advice Zone received from the pros. Its busy season has turned even busier, and it's also geared up its traditionally down season.
In fact, in 2012, Zone doubled its revenue to about $5-million from $2.5-million in 2011, and Mr. Pitselis is confident that he can double it again in 2013. The 2012 results included a 300-per-cent pickup in revenues between June and September. "One of our managers said this past August was the busiest month he ever had," Mr. Pitselis says now.
So what worked so well for Zone? For starters, it paid heed to Accenture managing director Michael Denham's suggestion that it try to expand beyond car companies and auto events.
Mr. Pitselis though that was a good idea. He approached existing clients to see if their other divisions – some are also into motorcycles, ATVs and boating – would be interested in having Zone collect data at their industry trade shows. One said yes; Zone is now working its motorcycle and boat shows.
Zone also signed on two new auto clients, one of which hired it to work on its ATV, boating and motorcycle shows as well as its auto events.
The firm also landed deals with three non-auto-related customers – a real estate developer, a medical equipment company and a packaged goods business – to collect data at their events.
All of the prep work needed for this additional business has boosted the off-season months. Another suggestion from the pros also to helped generate a new way to bring in revenue during the off season.
Consultant Harold Taylor suggested the company use down time for brainstorming retreats; Mr. Pitselis had already been taking staff on an annual offsite summer retreat but this year's proved particularly creative. The company came up with what it calls a "dealer extension kit," offering clients an opportunity to conduct contests at community events, such as barbecues, rib fests or mall shows during what happens to be Zone's slow time. It was hired to do about 20 of these shows last August and September and Mr. Pitselis expects to do up to 60 next summer.
One more piece of advice that Mr. Pitselis took to heart: Mr. Denham's suggestion for how to keep the trained and experienced staff he needs by offering some employees full-time status but reduced salaries and working hours.
Mr. Pitselis made one such hire, a senior account manager, to be paid a nine-month salary over 12 months. With two children, the employee was happy to have the summer off – although, ironically, things got so busy in August that she was called into work, Mr. Pitselis says.
With the new business generated, the company's head count has risen too. At the time of the Challenge, Zone had six full-time and four part-time staff; it's added two full-time and two contract employees over the past year.
Mr. Pitselis says the company still has a way to go on getting the work more evenly distributed throughout the year, but, as new clients come on board, he believes Zone will soon be moving at full speed all year round.
"Our 'slow' time did get pretty busy, but next year is going to be an even bigger year," he says.
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