Valdosta Daily Times

January 12, 2014

Managing Change

Local businesses plan for growth by adapting to an evolving market

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Change is the great constant in life.

The ubiquity of that fact can be seen with a quick Google search. Everyone from rock stars and rappers to teenage bloggers and Greek philosophers named Heraclitus ascertain that change is the only thing that never changes.

It’s a cliché to be sure, but to use another, it’s only a cliché because it’s true.

And nowhere is it truer than in business.

Look at Research in Motion. The famed Blackberry maker held a dominant share of the U.S. smartphone market only a few years ago, only to see it gobbled up in the competition between Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android operating system.

Conversely, look at Marvel Comics, which went from filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1996 to being bought for four billion by Disney in 2009.

RIM, at the top of its game, couldn’t see the need for change. Marvel, struggling to keep its head above water, saw change as the only thing that could save it.

After starting i2o Technologies in 2013, local businessman Donnee Upson realized that he was going to have to change his initial business plan to stay relevant to the market.

“We had a list of services we were going to offer: cloud-based desktops, hosted server solutions, really a whole hosted infrastructure for small businesses so that the business itself would only need terminals and a router,” said Upson. “All the hardware and software would be hosted on site (at i2o Technologies).”

But for businesses to take advantage of Upson’s services, they’d need business-grade communications infrastructure which would allow for high-speed communication from the business’ terminals to the hosted technology.

“That would be an additional $5,000 or more per year to get them to that communication level. In the long run, they’d actually save money, but you wouldn’t see those cost savings for two to three years.”

Instead of tossing in the towel or stubbornly sticking to his original plan, Upson looked at how he could diversify his business.

Interest started to boom in Voiceover IPs, something that Upson had been offering on the side, so he shifted his focus towards that, while also offering more traditional IT services on a subscription plan, as opposed to offering an hourly rate.

While Upson still hopes to see local technology increase to the point where he could offer his original plan of off-site hosting services, he acknowledges that without making the changes he did, i2o Technologies wouldn’t have survived.

“Any business should be always looking at their positioning in the market they’re in,” said Bill Slaughter, Waller Heating and Air president. “How can they improve themselves, what are they doing good, what are they doing wrong and how can they improve their position in the market based on the economy?”

When the housing market started to cool in the mid-2000s before completely falling off in 2008, Slaughter and the rest of Waller looked at how to weather the coming storm.

“We began to turn our focus inwards and look at ourselves, (at) how we can do things better.”

They opted to expand and open an additional store in Thomasville in 2007, a move that seemed to fly in the face of the economy.

“We looked at it from the standpoint of another market ... having the time to develop it and work it rather than just diving into deep water. It allowed us to be in the market as the economy begins to improve, as being an established company in the Thomasville market.”

Waller Heating and Air also started expanding more into the commercial market, aggressively bidding on projects.

If Waller hadn’t made these changes, Slaughter feels the economic downturn would have hit them harder. More importantly, they would have had to shed some of their experienced employees, forcing them to play catch up with rebuilding their infrastructure when the economy turned around.

“You can’t just turn those resources back on. It takes years to rebuild.”

Keeping the long view in mind with an eye towards growth, Waller expanded its operations as the market went into a prolonged downturn, a move that stands to pay off greatly when the economy turns around.

“This is just my philosophy. If you have a business and you’re not always thinking about growth and moving towards growth, everyone else surpasses you and you lose customer base and the momentum that you may have generated.”

Lidell Greenway agrees with this philosophy.

As vice president for economic development for Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, Greenway works with companies looking to change, rather that’s expanding their operations, incorporating new technology into their operations, or training employees.

“We try to offer things that help people be adaptive and be able to embrace change,” said Greenway. “We’ve got the training resources here to do it. The world is changing at such a rapid pace. If you get left behind, you’re no longer competitive.”

This is as true for Wiregrass as anyone else. As such, it works to stay on top of new industry regulations and procedures and work with companies to provide specialized training to their workforce, either in the classroom or by bringing the training on-site, whether it’s something as common as customer-service skills or as specialized as industry-specific math.

And while keeping an eye out for new and emerging industries that may be moving to the area, it also works with established businesses looking to expand.

“Most of the job growth that you’re seeing in this area is from expansions. It may be small, 50 jobs here, 10 jobs there, but it adds up. Oftentimes that’s an overlooked segment for growth. We don’t ever want to take them for granted.”

Like all changes, choosing to expand can be a nerve-racking decision for businesses to make, especially in the middle of a recession, but sometimes change is the best way to survive in an ever-changing world.