Beyond the Build


Success: Finding the Right Customers and Keeping Them

A number of years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing an address by Charles Cawley. He started his business on a shoestring in an empty A&P food store. This startup would become MBNA Corporation, the largest independent credit card company in the world.

As the story goes, one of his first orders of business was hanging a sign that read, “Success is about finding the right customers and keeping them.” At that time, he only had 50 employees, and this was his foundation.

I’ve never forgotten his words. I think, at times, folks around here get tired of me repeating them, but it is solid advice. It’s what helped sustain us the last five years and has helped us grow the last couple. However, it’s easier said than done at times. Here is what has worked for us.

Seek the right customers:

  • First, understand the value your business offers, then look for customers who can truly benefit from your services.
  • You want customers whose character and culture is similar to your own, and who wish to be helped.
  • To us, long term relationships mean seeking customers who have a stream of opportunities.
  • Try to find a people who are willing to share success. In this process everyone becomes more successful.

Keeping the right customers:

  • Never forget who brought you to the party. Never.
  • Don’t spread yourself so thin that you forget the core of your business.
  • Remember that success is a point in time and not a destination.
  • Provide exceptional, customized service to your customers. Anticipate their needs and jump to accommodate them.

In the end, one of the measures of a healthy service business lies in the strength, depth and length of its relationship with its core customers.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.