News Column

Five Top CEOs Share Hot Tips for Thriving in the Cold Economy

June 18, 2008

Neil H. Simon

Wholesalers are rationing rice. Gas prices are higher than ever. Your family vacation is costing you twice what you planned. In this economic environment you and your business are still expected to turn a profit. It's time for some serious time at the drawing board. We talked with the nation's top Hispanic Business CEOs who have already had those meetings. They've seen local markets dry up, customer tastes change with the wind, and now they share what they're doing to stay strong in the tough times.

Go Abroad
Ed Sanchez, President And CEO
Lopez Foods Inc., Oklahoma City, OK
At Oklahoma City-based Lopez Foods Inc., president Ed Sanchez is in the business of keeping pork and beef patties frozen, but as the leader of one of the top ten Hispanic companies in the country Sanchez is always looking for the next hot market.
Now, amid a U.S. economic slump, Sanchez has looked abroad for new sales at the business that brought in approximately $500 million in 2007.
"If you can't get it here in the U.S., one thing we've done is take it overseas," he said. "With the dollar as weak as it is, you are competitive there."
Sanchez found new customer bases for his company's pork patties in Japan and Hong Kong. Now he is looking to expand in Eastern Europe.
But even as he prepares to expand international sales, he's keeping a closer eye on travel and related expenses.
"You have to go through the budget and tighten, there's no two ways about it," he said.
"Before you just went on trips," he said. Now he thinks twice about each expenditure, asking, "Is this trip relationship building, and if so, can we put it off to next quarter or next year?"

Change, Change, Change
Jorge Perez, Chairman And CEO
The Related Group, Miami, FL
Just like the people who occupy his high-rise condos, real estate mogul Jorge Perez is always one the move.
And in a challenging market, he says any good CEO should think about physically moving business sales too.
In his new book "Powerhouse Principles," Perez, chairman and CEO of the multibillion dollar Miami-based development company the Related Group, advises business leaders to "fear complacency" and to use slowing demand as a clear reminder it's time to look elsewhere for new sales.
"Rather than sitting there and watching your pond dry up, you can find another ocean to swim in," Perez says.
"You can do what we do and embrace change," he says. "You can see the market slowing down in a specific location, like Miami, or in a specific area of real estate like offices or apartments and you can move into something new."
It's a twist on the old citrus adage 'when life gives you lemons . . .' For Perez, if he sees lemons, he doesn't just make lemonade; he seeks a whole different fruit.
For example, when Florida's condo market began to soften, Perez expanded in Latin America and found particular success in Mexico.
"I tell my people all the time, 'The minute we stop changing as a company, we die,'" Perez says.

No 'Hunkering Down'
Lloyd G. Chavez Jr., President And CEO
The Burt Automotive Network, Centennial, Colorado

With gas prices hitting $3.50 per gallon and automakers juggling a slew of new energy efficient technologies, dealers like Lloyd Chavez, Jr., know they're in the middle of another sea change in vehicle buying habits.
As president of the Burt Automotive Network, Chavez says he's been preparing for this economic downturn for five years cutting expenses, reducing inventory, and developing a "bench" of personnel to work through new challenges.
"Your business does not have the luxury of standing still or 'hunkering down' until the storm is over, because you will come out of the bomb shelter and find everything moved without you," Chavez said about the need to remain optimistic in a sliding market.
With features like a "dream vehicle" search on, the Centennial, Colo.-based company increased online vehicle sales by 50-percent in one year.
Chavez also encourages companies to be more active in their communities during economic downturns to cement customer relationships and name recognition.

Back To Basics
Luis Arias, CEO
Blackstone Calling Card Inc., Doral, FL
As the leader of a multi-million dollar pre-paid mobile phone service company, Luis Arias takes a simple approach to the economic downturn.
"This is not the time to do unique things," said Arias, CEO of Blackstone Calling Card, Inc.
"Whatever it is, you are really in a fight for survival and you need to look at your company and see how many bullets you've got and use them sparingly," he said.
Blackstone is now spending less on advertising and moving some marketing efforts into less expensive formats, like online ads.
Arias now looks at ways to make sure he packs more meetings into any business travel and books return flights at night to save the cost of an extra hotel night.
"The mentality has changed," he said. "Before, you used to have meetings on how to grow. Now you have meetings on how to maintain."

Refocusing On Service
Napolean Barragan, CEO
1-800-MATTRESS, Long Island City, NY

Just because the economy is in a lull, doesn't mean one of the world's leading mattress companies is taking a rest.
Napolean Barragan, who founded 1-800-MATTRESS in 1976 as a direct marketing mattress store in Queens, New York, now has a simple strategy to keep his international business strong in the current economic climate refocus on customer service.
That means encouraging customers to take 30-minute naps in their retail stores, so potential buyers actually fall asleep and get a true feel for the mattress they are considering purchasing.
"We are constantly introducing new ways to more efficiently present the customer with all they need to make the proper buying decision," Barragan said in an e-mail.
In the often less personal world of online sales, 1-800-MATTRESS is adding a personal touch by connecting customers with live online customer service agents.
The company has shifted its delivery hours too, taking cues from their customers.
"Most people really dislike deliveries coming between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.," Barragan said, "so we deliver when the customer wants it."

Source: (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

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