September 27

Keith Miller, CEO and President at Strategic Factory


Keith oversees all company operations from the ground up, His hands-on approach and motivational leadership have been key elements that have contributed to the company’s success. Keith two main areas of focus are company strategy and maintaining and continually improving Strategic Factory's culture.

If there's one thing we've learned over the years, it's that no amount of technology can replace the human touch. That's why we hire only the most qualified individuals to serve on our team. We look for people that share our philosophy that your business is our business.

Our team of diversely skilled professionals continually push themselves to learn and evolve so that we may help you conquer each new challenge on the road to success. Every person on our staff is committed to providing you with the best possible customer service and the highest-quality products. This commitment is reflected in everything we do.

Podcast Highlights:

  • Always say YES! It's not rocket science we'll figure out how to make it happen
  • You and your employees must believe anything is possible
  • Every morning our employees highlight a story of another employee going above and beyond
  • Build strong relationships because this is the pathway to reach higher levels of success

Contact Keith:

[Podcast Transcript Using Artificial Intelligence]

Umar Hameed 0:06
Are you ready to become awesomer? Hello, everyone, this is Umar Hameed, your host and welcome to the No Limits Selling Podcast, where industry leaders share their tips, strategies and advice on how to make you better, stronger, faster, get ready for another episode.

Umar Hameed 0:33
Today, I'm privileged to have Keith Miller, the CEO of Strategic Factory. Keith, welcome to the program.

Keith Miller 0:39
Excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Umar Hameed 0:41
And you're one of the cornerstones and success stories in Baltimore, taking a small business and making it significant. So I wanted to chat about that journey, you know, how you went from where you were to where you are now. Let's talk about when you came to this country.

Keith Miller 0:56
Sure. It was right South African born and bred, spend my first 26 years there, had decided that I needed to truly leave South Africa and start a life for myself outside of South Africa, lots of crime corruption. On my journey, I stopped in Baltimore, I ended up meeting with a minimum pressure representative in Baltimore, that was the regional VP. The more we spoke, I decided that a printer business was something that I could do.

Umar Hameed 1:26

Keith Miller 1:27
It seemed pretty, it's pretty easy model in the fact that everyone you meet needs to buy your services, in some way, shape, or form. There's also the other side of it, that there's a lot of recurring revenue, people use the product

Umar Hameed 1:40

Keith Miller 1:41
And you could be very proactive in your approach. So you could go out and find customers, you didn't have to just open your doors and wait for them to walk in. So I decided I would try printing, it didn't seem like rocket science and give it a bash.

Umar Hameed 1:53
Nice. So how many people started, it was just you or?

Keith Miller 1:56
When I bought the original store, it was me. And there was the previous owner and one employee,

Umar Hameed 2:01

Keith Miller 2:02
He would come in, really give her a bit of a break for the day, do a little bit of overhead back office stuff. And she basically did the daily grind of running the customer base and producing the jobs that needed to be produced.

Umar Hameed 2:14
And what was your role?

Keith Miller 2:16
I really in the beginning probably spend nine months just learning all about the company and all about the industry. There was probably my first nine months, I think that the previous owner stayed on for maybe about a month or so. And the first employee was probably with me for about a year. Really, when I was just learning my way

Umar Hameed 2:35
Helped me get some clarity here. My hypothesis is from what you just said, that you probably took a deeper dive for nine months to really learn this business, that perhaps another franchisee would not have gone as deep. But did I kind of read that right?

Keith Miller 2:49
I don't I mean, I just truly think it takes not. For me, there was also the cultural change of moving from South Africa to America that I do understand and get through, really didn't have a network of people, customers, friends, I mean anything. So I had to develop that to

Umar Hameed 3:03
Yourself, yes.

Keith Miller 3:04
But I firmly believe it took me all of nine months to really understand what my daily grind needed to look like. For me to turn the business into a profitable successful business. It was much more than just the production of a printed good, who was understanding the whole culture behind it the the understanding of the customer's needs and how to fulfill those needs the customer experience. So I feel like that took a good nine months just to get to understand, does Evernote go through that? I'm sure everyone goes through their learning curve in any business when they...

Umar Hameed 3:05
Absolutely. What was the first kind of plateau milestone that you hit in your business where you realize, you know, "Hey, this is growing. This is the right place for me to be."

Keith Miller 3:45
Within the franchise, there was something that they called the President's club. Or if you go to a certain threshold, you became part of their presidents club. I think once I got to that threshold, it was Wow. You know, I really think I could do a lot more with this, that have achieved that milestone. I think at the time, there were maybe let's call it 800 franchises within the system.

Umar Hameed 4:03

Keith Miller 4:03
I'd probably say 40 of them were in this President's club. So we got into that club. And it was, you know, there wasn't really all that difficult. And we now understand what's happening. Pretty easy for us to continue that journey of growth. We've, you know, I could speak a little bit about the culture,

Umar Hameed 4:17
Yeah, please do.

Keith Miller 4:18
maybe go but very much had a culture of always saying yes, and figuring out afterwards how to how to achieve what needed to be done. So there was always this request to say yes to whatever the customers needless, which is something that we spent a lot of time on. Just drumming into everybody, you know, customer service. I mean, the answer is always Yes. And we'll figure it out. This is not rocket science. It's it's we don't have to reinvent the wheel. Everything that we're being asked to do. We've done somebody else's done before. And we can do that. So just say yes, and we'll figure it out.

Umar Hameed 4:50
Reason I'm smiling is is a sign right behind you and it says, "Can do, will do, happy to. Yes, yes, yes." You've held on to that all these years later.

Keith Miller 4:58
Very much. So I mean, it was very, very One of our original cultural pillars was just a yes. Which is developed into Yes, yes, yes. Which are the three yeses one for yourself, one for everyone else on the team, and then for the customer. So we're really trying to build a positive culture where anything's possible. And I look at what we've created over the last 1819 years, I truly believe that anything is possible. I mean, I'm sitting here living the American dream.

Umar Hameed 5:23
I was just watching this thing. It was about Christian Ronaldo, the soccer player is a documentary, and you have to read subtitles, because you know, he's Portuguese or something. They had his manager who's supposed to be the best manager in the world, the top guy, and they had a little clip of him saying, "Nothing's impossible. Nothing's impossible." I just really that's his mantra.

Keith Miller 5:41
And I firmly believe that, you know, I feel like the statement that was told to me when I first moved to America was there with enough time and enough money, anything in America is possible. And, you know, it kind of does hold truth.

Umar Hameed 5:55
It does. One of the things I find fascinating about America, because I'm a Canadian, and lived in the UK, is that if you fail in another country, that's a devastating blow to your reputation. And if you fail in the US, it's almost like a badge of courage as long as you get up and go at bat. And I think that's the gift of America has that ability to just see you for who you are now, not who you were in the past,

Keith Miller 6:17
[garbled] opportunity. And if you work hard, there are definitely benefits to be had, but you got to show up.

Umar Hameed 6:24
Brilliant. So that culture of Yes, yes. Yes. And I, the thing I like about it, is because when I just saw it, I thought it was kind of fancy, you put three yeses, but if it's that three layers of Yes, for yourself, yes, for your team, yes, for the customer, that kind of defines the culture of the place.

Keith Miller 6:40
Very much so and that kind of evolved into the can do will do happy to, which speaks to the fact that we're looking for people on the team that can do the job. And if they cannot, it's not the end of the world we're willing to train and invest in also they can get the true ability to do something. But the will do and the happy to a non negotiable we need people that are willing to do the job and at the end of the day are happy to do the job, which speaks to getting the right people in the right seats in the bus.

Umar Hameed 7:07

Keith Miller 7:07
To make sure that the company is really as operational as it possibly can be.

Umar Hameed 7:12
Can you give me an example of recent or past with one of your employees did that last yes. Where it was they had to do something extraordinary to really look after the customer.

Keith Miller 7:22
It happens all day long. I mean, we get customers that call us with what seemed like impossible tasks. And we always say yes. So I mean, to give an example, they go on all day long. Whether it's a simple thing of a delivery driver delivering a job and offloading the whole job and the customer looking and saying, Oh, I'd love that on the second floor of my building. Our staff are trained to say yes, no problem, I'm sure that was not a fun thing for them to deal with. But we hear those things, and we get amazing emails saying thank you, you know, your, your team went above and beyond.

Umar Hameed 7:53
So that's brilliant. It also speaks to something else in terms of I asked that same question to another company, they would say, "Well, I can't tell you the story." And I guess what you're saying is we got so many stories, it's commonplace. Now this is just our way of being.

Keith Miller 8:07
It is commonplace. I mean, we are constantly getting we do something called a culture, or an above and beyond where people within the organization get to write a very, very brief story about where somebody else helped them achieve something that was just out of the ordinary.

Umar Hameed 8:22
The second yes.

Keith Miller 8:23
The second Yes. And I mean, we get that all day long, where there are these above and beyond read out at 10am all hands meeting.

Umar Hameed 8:31
And that's the way to really make the cultural real is when you get those real examples.

Keith Miller 8:35
Yeah. And it's amazing to me, you know, somebody else's stuck on the side of the road, and they went into work and they called into the [garbled] and somebody else saw didn't know where they lived and call them and said, "Hey, I'm coming from that direction. What am I stop off and pick you up?"

Umar Hameed 8:47

Keith Miller 8:48
Other people having flat battery in the parking lot and somebody else, you know, going to their,

Umar Hameed 8:53

Keith Miller 8:53
their rescue and charging their battery for them or jumping the car.

Umar Hameed 8:57
Recently, I'm not sure how long ago you, I'll say the word absorbed the spokes agency or merged.

Keith Miller 9:03
We essentially acquired the spokes agency.

Umar Hameed 9:05
So acquired, what was that decision like? Because that's really going to the digital world. And then also how many employees came over from smokes as well as Jeff.

Keith Miller 9:15
So I mean, to speak to the strategy behind that we've always been in the business of solving our customers problems and listening to our customers and hearing what they need and what they want and really going to bear to deliver on that service. So we've done everything from the tangible product offering, whether it be the print related stuff, the signage, the apparel, the promotional items. And we really had done a fair amount of digital but not to the extent that we wanted to do digital and again, with the idea of being able to say yes, customers, it's like can you help me with my website? The answer needed to be yes. Can you help me with my SEO, my SEM? The answer needed to be yes. We're very big into making sure that we control the customer's requests internally.

Umar Hameed 9:56

Keith Miller 9:57
So we're not relying on a third party that can break their promises. And then leaves us having to hold the bag without customer ruin that reputation or that relationship. So it was a natural progression for us to acquire somebody that was

Umar Hameed 10:10
So strategically make sense.

Keith Miller 10:12

Umar Hameed 10:12
So how did you ensure that they had that mindset? If they didn't already have can do, will do, happy to. Yes, yes, yes, so how did you instill that there? Was it partially there? So talk to me about that?

Keith Miller 10:23
I think it was there, because there were a successful business running, I mean, very happy culture, good people. I believe that there were five or six people that came on board,

Umar Hameed 10:32

Keith Miller 10:32
So originally, not all of them are still with us. I think that the culture is indicative of one that if you truly don't live it, and breathe it every day, it's really hard to arrive at work. And

Umar Hameed 10:43

Keith Miller 10:43
pretend to do that for a period of time, where our culture is very much about, you know, saying yes, keeping the customer's needs Top of Mind and delivering on your promise. So we're always trying to over promise and over deliver, which is a tall order. So I think that there is some burnout with people that really aren't innately made to do that, where if you are a servant leader, and that's what you enjoy doing and a,

Umar Hameed 10:44
Manage your soul, yeah.

Keith Miller 10:48
you know, then it's a it's really a non issue. And I think that that's the separation, we can't really make people have the right culture,

Umar Hameed 11:20

Keith Miller 11:20
we can drive that agenda, we can push it, we can coach to it. But you either get it or you don't get it at the end of the day. And if you are in that capacity of wanting to always do right by the customer, this is the place for you if there's a shortfall, or you know, five o'clock comes around, and it's now your time to leave and you're not finished your job. Our culture dictates that you can't leave at five because you got to make sure you deliver for the customer.

Umar Hameed 11:21

Keith Miller 11:24
You don't really care. And that's, you know, I'm done for the day, then, in short order, it doesn't really work in our environment.

Umar Hameed 11:43
How do you groom your leadership team, because you know, that's the backbone that runs company allowing you to be, you know, more visionary and strategic, how do you make sure they're on the right path, and also that they're growing as individuals.

Keith Miller 12:07
Some of the growth is something that we speak to all the time. And I believe that growth is very essential within the company. And within any growing with any company that wants to be sustainable, there has to be growth, that growth brings a couple of things, it brings a lot of stability to the organization, a lot of opportunity to the organization. And I think that that's the key. And the fact that there is has been and always will be constant growth within the organization, everybody within the organization has an opportunity to step up and evolve and grow into a new position. We don't necessarily force it. But we do encourage that growth, because it's considerably easier for us to take people within the organization and grow them then rather hire people from outside the organization, and have them learn the culture and the way that we do business, and then help lead the organization.

Umar Hameed 12:52

Keith Miller 12:52
So I think that just that constant reminder that we all growing, and we're outgrowing the organization constantly. And we have to keep adding human capital, technology, something to help us bridge that gap between what our growth is, I think, just reminds everybody that those opportunities do exist. We run ops meetings, we do a lot of off site training on site training, just constant evolution of the need to deliver and how do we achieve that? It's just a lot of internal communication.

Umar Hameed 13:22
Why did the tour of this place maybe about six months ago, and you really got a sense that it was a well oiled machine with communications and workflow just seemed seamless? A, that a reality? And B, how do you make sure you maintain it? As you know, jobs come in as deadlines? So two part question, how do you maintain it, and how do you handle it when it's like a real stressful situation?

Keith Miller 13:47
You know, I think it depends on the day, there are definitely days where we have outgrown our systems. And on those days, it really hurts but we're constantly looking to say, how are we falling down? How do we improve that system and keep moving? Everything in that forward direction? So,

Umar Hameed 14:02

Keith Miller 14:02
you know, how do you eat an elephant one bite at a time? It's really how do you evolve the system? It's one step at a time. So I think on some days, where we're not stressing our internal system, Everything's under control, everything's working correctly. There are other days where we are constantly stressing that system beyond what it was made to do. And we're figuring out how do we get to that next step. So we're spending a lot of time and energy at the moment and resources on on technology. You know, I do believe in industry 4.0, which is very much about just embracing technology and having that help you make decisions and,

Umar Hameed 14:37

Keith Miller 14:37
do stuff. So we're we're on that journey at the moment where we're putting in an entirely new era p-system that will far exceed whatever we had before. And enable us to have hooks and leavers that could do a lot of the stuff behind the scenes autonomously,

Umar Hameed 14:52

Keith Miller 14:52
without any human interaction that I think will enable us I believe will enable us to scale exponentially And rely on that technology to help make that happen.

Umar Hameed 15:02
World according to Umar, I think the leaders job either you at the top spot or leaders throughout the organization is to the people that are leading help them to suspend their limitations and trust and go on that journey where you get the most out of that employee. A, do you concur? That's kind of what leadership is? And how would you change the definition, two, how do you grow leaders at the strategic factory?

Keith Miller 15:29
I mean, I think that leadership really is setting a vision and having people buy into that vision and coming along for the ride willingly. So I think that we've proven that we have a solid vision, and we've got a really good track record, we've done things that nobody in our industry has really done, we've created some pretty unique opportunities for growth within the organization that people have seen them. And we have people that have been here for, I don't know, almost the entire ride, and they've probably set in 27 different seats along the way. And every one of them has been more exciting or different. So the illustrations of the opportunities for growth exist and constantly exist, we run the employment Expo once a month, where we fill a room with 50 or 60 prospective employees that have been vetted in screen that come in and are trying to follow the 15 or 16 open positions that we perpetually seem to have open.

Umar Hameed 16:22

Keith Miller 16:23
So I think that the just the fact that we set that vision, and we honor a solid course and is constantly that ability for us to prove that we have the growth,

Umar Hameed 16:34

Keith Miller 16:34
we've managed to ensure that the market is not a constraint, we're not trying to sell a product or a service that nobody wants to buy. People need to buy it. People need to communicate need a brand need a market for their businesses. And I think we do it as well as anybody else in the industry. I think we probably do it better than most. So I think that we've set the strategy, I think that we live the vision. And I think that we constantly remind everyone of that all day long. So I think that that has a lot to do with what it takes to really grow leaders,

Umar Hameed 17:06

Keith Miller 17:06
in the organization.

Umar Hameed 17:07
And I think that's all also a hard thing to do to keep that continual for movement, education and messaging, it takes effort, but it's worth it.

Keith Miller 17:15
It definitely takes effort. And it's definitely worth it. You know, I feel like every day we're rolling this massive boulder up a hill. And eventually we're going to get to the top of this hill. I'm not sure where the top of that hill is, we originally was talking a little bit about complacency. And,

Umar Hameed 17:31

Keith Miller 17:31
most companies I think, start out and they driven in this dual die mode of like I have to succeed or I lose everything. And then I think they get to a plateau where there is complacency sets in. Everyone is just happy with their role in their daily job in their daily grind, or however much money the company's making is sufficient for the owners of the organization. And I think that that sets that complacency where we just never we've never got there, I guess I firmly believe in the Good to Great philosophy,

Umar Hameed 18:03

Keith Miller 18:03
where I think that we're constantly as good as good can be. But there is always that opportunity to be greater. And I strive for that greatness constantly. And I drive that through the organization to say I appreciate that we're doing a really ridiculously good job, maybe better than most. But we're still have that ability to be greater.

Umar Hameed 18:23

Keith Miller 18:23
Let's go find that missing...

Umar Hameed 18:25

Keith Miller 18:26
...few points that

Umar Hameed 18:27
I don't like the word best, but I love the word better.

Keith Miller 18:29

Umar Hameed 18:30
A couple questions along your journey, you probably had one of these points, we had an epiphany, or you learn some skills that really helped you get to the next level. Can you think of one of those times where you had an epiphany, or you took a course that really helped you think at a higher level to grow the company. So you as a leader grew.

Keith Miller 18:48
I truly don't think there's been one like Golden Nugget that just changed everything. I believe that it's been a lot of Kaizen steps or little steps that I've managed to achieve,

Umar Hameed 18:57
Constantly improving, yeah.

Keith Miller 18:59
Constantly improving. There is a few things I've done that is stepping outside of my comfort zone. Understanding that like relationships really get you to that next level.

Umar Hameed 19:10

Keith Miller 19:12
And then really just looking for opportunities and saying yes, it's never the yes that you regret. It's always been,

Umar Hameed 19:18

Keith Miller 19:18
No, that you wonder what would have happened if.

Umar Hameed 19:21
There's a couple of books come to mind. One is Shonda Rhimes, she's the producer of a bunch of TV shows. And she wrote this book my year of saying yes, and she was just talking, I just say yes to every opportunity. And I'm just finished a book guys called Molly's Game, they made a movie out of it. And one of the mantras for her staff was say yes to the customers no matter what, only two exceptions if it's illegal or is degrading, say no but outside of that is how you grow. Keith, before we part company, is there another plateau for you more as a leader that you're thinking I need to do X?

Keith Miller 19:55
Without a doubt. I mean, you know, the same evolution has to apply to myself that I applies to everyone else yes. So it is that constant growth to make sure that we do have that security.

Umar Hameed 20:04
So there's something we're looking at right now saying, and this is the thing I need to learn.

Keith Miller 20:07
I think just to become a better leader, you know, I'm running a company that is bigger than any company I've ever run before we have people that are working in the company that are working in the largest company they've ever worked in before. Our industry notoriously is really very much mom and pop ish. Yes. So it's like this mom and pop type store for five people that managed to just get it done. We're at 150 odd people and growing at 26% dictates that in the next three years, we'll have another hundred and 50 people on board. So a lot of that is just how do we make those right decisions? How do we make sure that we keep aligned with who we really are? I don't want to grow into an area that we're not. So making sure the strategies in line I think is really important. But just becoming a better leader. And I'm not sure that there is just one thing I could do that makes me a better leader. I think it is just a daily improvement every day, what can I do better than the day before? Nice, I think is, you know, is what I'm pushing.

Umar Hameed 21:04
Crazy us there was who we really are. And I think that authenticity of who you are, is what carries you on this journey that you don't lose sight as you grow bigger.

Keith Miller 21:14
Yeah. And I think, you know, we hired a consultant at some point that came in and said, you know, give us some ideas of where we are and where we going. And maybe we're too close to the trees, and we're not seeing the forest help us understand, you know, who we are. And they really came back and said, One thing's for certain the market should not be your constraints. So if there is a reason that you're not growing, it is 100% an internal issue. And that's been proven time and time again. So it's how do we get out of our own way to make sure that we are capitalizing on a untapped market? You know, I mean, the print industry, the sign industry, that promotional products, industry apparel, you know, we talk about hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue a year.

Umar Hameed 21:53
Oh, absolutely. One of the things I've been doing for clients of for a while now is because that question of what's our vision? What's our mission? who we are? And what's interesting is, if it's an owner led organization, it's fascinating. If you can figure out, what's the purpose for that person being here? Like, what's a lifelong mission purpose? And when you figure that out, then you say, why don't we map it over to be the mission of the company? And why don't we take their deepest values, and more importantly, the criteria they use to know that they're on track, and map them over to the company. So they become a living embodiment of what they're trying to build. And it's authentic too.

Keith Miller 22:30
Which I think is very much to the stage that we're at,

Umar Hameed 22:33

Keith Miller 22:33
we've run a very flat organization for many years where I could touch and talk to every person almost every day, you know, the last year and a half as we've gone from maybe 100 to 150 people, that's become impossible. There's some people I don't see here for a week or two. And they're like, wait, have you been I'm like, No, I've been in the building, I just haven't managed to get on the production flow roll out to say good morning to the drivers or whatever it may be. And I think that going from that flat owner run entrepreneurial type of spurted business to truly well run organization. Yes, is a massive undertaking. And I think it's one that you have to take too well, it's one that we have to take to get to that next level. And it's managing to drive my desires, my goals and everything through the entire organization, but through other people as opposed to just through me, so it's connecting all those dots and making sure that everybody else is as passionate,

Umar Hameed 23:27

Keith Miller 23:27
and as aligned and as excited about the future as I am and making sure that that message is heard as well as delivered as effectively.

Umar Hameed 23:37

Keith Miller 23:38

Umar Hameed 23:38
Keith, thanks so much sitting down with me.

Keith Miller 23:40
No problem. Appreciate it. Thank you.

Umar Hameed 23:42

Umar Hameed 23:48
If you enjoyed this episode, please go to iTunes and leave a five-star rating. And if you're looking for more tools, go to my website at nolimitsselling.com. I've got a free mind training course there, that's going to teach you some insights from the world of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and that is the fastest way to get better results.


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