Chris Legler is a growth-oriented leader with over 30 years of experience executing strategic plans for businesses throughout North America. Chris has worked with businesses from a broad range of industries to achieve sustainable growth and transformation while maximizing efficiencies.
In addition to holding several senior executive offices at large corporations, Chris formerly owned and operated a wholesale coffee roasting company and has worked with small to medium enterprises as a management consultant for the last decade. This experience has lent a wealth of knowledge to Axios’ services and has provided Chris with the insight required to help all businesses, small and large. Chris has also held executive positions at Espresso Supply, Starbucks Coffee, Sony, BP, Eddie Bauer, Barnie’s Coffee, and Tea, Blockbuster Entertainment, Cranium, Hasbro, and Restaurants Unlimited.
During Chris’s four-year tenure as CEO of Espresso Supply, the company’s annual revenue increased exponentially. Chris also led the company in globalizing the Bonavita brand within the specialty coffee and consumer homewares markets, and in acquiring Eko Brands in North America. In the first year post-acquisition, Chris led and oversaw the establishment of efficiencies that significantly improved profitability, resulting in revenue growth for the business.
Can you take us through your journey from Espresso Supply to Axios Growth Consultants? What principles have you based your career on to have achieved this?
In my career, I have developed four principles that are the foundation of the work that I do with my clients today: Strategy, Cash, People, and Execution.
Let’s go back a bit further because the foundation of my growth principles began at the first stage of my career with Starbucks. At the time, Starbucks was a small company with only 50 locations worldwide. Among the many things that stood out in my Starbucks experience, the importance of people and creating a sense of ownership for all employees (we called them partners) was so essential to growth and success. The other principle that Starbucks implemented was using their cash to drive profit. They weren’t afraid to spend money if it created value and long-term profit.
I gained further insight regarding growth almost twenty years ago when my wife and I purchased a small coffee roasting company. Before the purchase, we laid out an in-depth strategic plan as to how we would grow the business. At this point in my career, I had worked for three very high-growth companies, so I had a good idea of what it would take to grow. We grew the company by over 35% in the first year of operation. After operating it for a year, we were approached by an investor to buy the company. We sold it for a profit. Later, we realized that we never implemented our original strategic plan. We were so bogged down in the day-to-day operations that we didn’t implement the things that would have grown our company exponentially. Had we reviewed our plan on a regular basis, I’m certain that we would have tripled or even quadrupled our business in that first year. Regular reviews and execution of strategy need to be implemented to succeed.
Four years after taking the helm as CEO, we had grown to $30M in sales and had developed Bonavita into a brand recognized throughout the world.
We saw an opportunity with Bonavita because it was the most affordable coffee brewer on the market that was also certified by the Specialty Coffee Association. At the time, this certification was the gold standard in coffee brewing, and very few had ever met this mark. I helped Espresso Supply acquire the worldwide rights to Bonavita. Once we acquired the brand, we completely re-positioned it from being an unknown brewer used by coffee geeks to becoming the most highly sought-after brand within its category. Most of our true competitors were selling their brewers for 50% to 75% more than ours. This allowed us quick entry into retailers such as Williams-Sonoma, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Amazon.
Simultaneously, we kept a relentless eye on the cash. I knew from experience, that cash is the biggest reason growth companies fail. We developed multiple scenarios of what would happen to cash at various growth rates. We then activated various avenues to get there. Many of these avenues weren’t traditional. For instance, we pushed our supplier to front $1.0M of initial inventory. We negotiated with Amazon to get 15-day terms when they were giving everyone else 45-days. Most importantly, we updated our cash forecast and inventory forecast monthly to optimize profit and cash.
After cash flow, talented people were vital to our success. Once we had the cash, we hired two pivotal roles: a high-powered salesperson who knew our targeted retailers and an inventory management specialist that could help us to optimize our inventory. The combination of these two people allowed us to sell as much as possible but also ensured that we always had reserved for our customers, but never too much stock. Then, we hired strong marketing, operations, and support staff.
Finally, execution will make sure you are on the right path. We held monthly reviews where we looked at our performance and analyzed what was working and what was hindering our success. These monthly reviews were honest and always tied back to the strategy to make sure we were still on course.
These four principles are the foundation of the work that I do with my clients today.
What is your CEO network saying about the future of globalization and global trade? Is this a setback for globalization?
Although the pandemic has certainly created some setbacks, it has also created opportunities. The sudden acceptance of video conferencing has been a game-changer and will likely increase globalization. Today we are sharing ideas and having conversations remotely with ease compared to only 18 months ago. People have realized that they don’t need to jump on a plane to get achieve their company’s objectives.
There are some aspects of globalization that have strengthened businesses particularly around online sales and the ability to get products delivered from anywhere in the world. However, I am also hearing many stories about how localization has also increased their company’s growth.
Small to medium-sized businesses are seeing many new customers from their own region. Businesses that have quickly adapted to the new ways of communicating and purchasing are certainly seeing the most success.
Where does empathy in connection with your employees fit into decision-making and that of the leadership team?
The last two years have proven that people are the most important part of a company’s success. We don’t always know the stresses that our employees may be under. Being empathetic to the needs of your employees helps make them more productive. With a rapidly growing company, having the right people in place is critical during times of growth and especially important during a time of crisis.
I am a big fan of Simon Sinek. Simon writes, “We say WHAT we do, we sometimes say HOW we do it, but we rarely say WHY we do WHAT we do.” His message about understanding “why we do things” is so vital to branding but it’s also important when we talk about connecting with employees. Empathy means treating your employees with dignity and respect. Getting them to understand “the why” behind your vision, mission, and daily activities is crucial to their success and the future of your business.
Creating a sense of ownership in your vision among all your employees is the surest way for them to feel valued. If you can get your employees to buy into the mission and vision, they will be able to make better decisions.
You bring a wealth of knowledge from your experience to Axios Growth Consultants, how is your consulting services helping organizations innovate, transform, and lead?
My clients have one commonality. They all want to grow their company at a rapid rate. Many of my clients have a great product, idea, or service but don’t know how to get to the next level. These can be companies that have been in business for 10 months or 10 years. At Axios, we help them understand what the next steps are, what resources are necessary and guide them through the process of achieving their goals.
By helping them distill these ideas into priorities and actions, the plan gets implemented, which allows them to spend more time innovating the next product while leading their organization.
What Is your key advice to small business owners during this challenging time?
Stay focused on the four pillars of growth. Strategy, Cash, People, and Execution. These four pillars are not linear but circular. Every month each of these four pillars needs to be examined.
Having formal monthly discussions around how last month performed is critical. This time should be spent evaluating new opportunities, staying ahead of the competition, and evaluating how your business is affected by the economy, and adjusting your forecast so that you understand how these changes will affect your goals.
I don’t think any of us will ever experience such a dramatic shift in business as we have seen since COVID-19. For every company that is hurting right now, there is another one that is thriving. The disciplined approach I use can allow a business to succeed when others fail.
I have five clients that were with Axios prior to the pandemic. All have more cash available now than they did prior. For example, one operates a retail and wholesale operation. They had to close every location for 3 months, yet they still saw growth of 11% in revenue in the past 15 months over the prior 15 months. This includes the 3 months of no sales! Their profits have increased 39% over the same timeframe. Another is a food manufacturer. Their revenue increased 75.1% in the past 15 months over the prior 15 months. Prior to the pandemic, they were growing at 15.4% per year. They have earned enough cash that they will be able to reinvest in their production facility giving them a further competitive advantage.
Why did their profit increase so much more than their revenue? They were able to understand how to shift their business to more profitable channels during the pandemic. They have a strong strategy, a close eye on cash, the right people in place, and they constantly reevaluate what is working, while circling back to the other three pillars.