John Kahl, CEO of ShurTech Brands
Originally published: 09.01.14 by Terry Tanker
1. What are your interests outside of work?
I'm committed to my family. I'm raising two teenagers. For fun, and when I have time, I like to hone my skills at golf, which is my summer passion, and skiing, which is my winter passion.
2. What's your golf handicap?
My handicap is 10. But, I'm very competitive so that's not good enough.
3. Can you beat your dad?
Most days, yes. But that tooka long time to do because golf is such a mental game. One time I had him down 3 with three to play and ended up tying. I was so excited I didn't lose for the first time, but he said, "You had me and you let me off the hook. Don't do that again."
4. Where do you like to go skiing?
I try to go two or three weeks a year to different resorts. I actually have a place in Deer Valley, Utah I bought about six years ago.
5. How are duct tape and WD-40 similar?
Every household has at least one roll and one can. We actually did a promotion with them a few years ago. A customer approached us and said our two products were a Redneck Toolkit, so we packaged them together and sold them as a Father's Day gift.
6. Duck brand has a huge social media presence ... how did you get there?
When we launched our Facebook page, we had 30,000 fans. We now have 6 million, and we're beginning to convert them to our Duck Tape Club. When they convert, they're giving us permission to have a conversation with them. We're careful with our social media, and realize that just because you "liked" us doesn't mean we can force you full of content.
7. How did you come up with the Duck Tape Festival?
The city of Avon, where we're headquartered, was running out of money for its annual Heritage Festival and needed a primary sponsor. We're always looking to engage with our community, so 11 years ago we started the Avon Heritage Duck Tape Festival. That first year, we begged people to be in the parade. Now, people are begging us to be involved.
8. What is your management style?
I'm not a command and control guy, but we do have enough data points to allow for oversight of the business. I try to run a decentralized, you're-in-charge-of-your-area type of organization. We've implemented Ronald Reagan's Trust, But Verify system, where we put enough trust into the organization that I don't have to sit in every meeting or have a conversation with every person in the company.
9. What happens when things don't go right?
I had an executive on our advisory board for years who told me my job was to cruise along at 40,000 feet when things are going well and find the areas that aren't working, get down to ground zero, spend time on them, then get back to 40,000 feet and let those folks do their job.
10. Are you a marketing, numbers or strategy guy?
I'd say more numbers, with a bent toward sales and marketing. My degree is in economics with a management concentration.
11. What area do you like the best?
I like the sales aspect. I like being out with the customer. Even if we're having a difficult conversation with a customer, it's engaging.
12. Who's your biggest reseller?
It's who you'd expect — Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe's, Staples, Ace Hardware, Michael's — anyone who has 1,000 or more stores is a big reseller of our products.
13. How does the economy affect your product lines?
Some of our product categories track along pretty similar to the economy, and some of them have no correlation between them whatsoever. FrogTape is a great example. It was a great new way to get a perfectly sharp paint line. Even though the housing market was at a low when we introduced it, we saw a pretty meteoric sales growth, simply because it was a better product.
14. Are there specific economic drivers?
The housing market affects our business, either new construction or repair/remodel. Another thing that's helped our business the last few years is the advent of all the creativity with paint.
15. What decision do you wish you could revisit?
We lost some business at a customer and when we dissected the reason why, we found a couple of mistakes that I'd love to be able to go back and change. They were in transition, and we didn't assess the situation as good as we could have. We were swinging at a fastball and they were throwing us a curve. I would love to go back, knowing that a curve was coming, so I could wait on it.
16. How can you correct that?
We've spent some quality time understanding why we didn't win with the customer and now when we go back we'll have a better chance because we'll be swinging at the right pitch.
17. What's one of today's biggest challenges?
We've entered what I call the "And World" as opposed to the "Or World." It used to be print advertising OR TV advertising OR social media. Now, in order to reach enough of the market, we have to be print AND television AND social media … and, and, and. If you want to hit your target audience, you have to get there in so many different ways than the old days.
18. What are your successful habits?
I like to be punctual. People's time is valuable, and I try to teach my kids this. It's important to respect other people's time. I'm also a bit of a perfectionist. If you're going to do something,
do it right.
19. What leader has taught you the most?
I've learned a lot from my father. I've also had the pleasure of being in and around some of the best business icons in recent history, like Sam Walton of Walmart and Jim Sinegal of Costco.
20. What's one lesson your father taught you?
My father always talked about the ballgame being nine innings. Back in 1978, during the last 10 minutes of a home show, a Walmart buyer walked by and told my father he had one more booth to talk to before the show closed, and asked if he'd wait for him. My father agreed. The show ended and people started breaking down booths, and my father sat there waiting for him to return. Finally, an hour later, he returned and couldn't believe my father was in his booth while everyone around him was breaking down. He gave my father a huge order — 88,000 rolls of our weatherstripping, the biggest order the company had ever had to date. That's now a company philosophy, to always stay to the end.