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Steve Ardagh, CEO of Eagle Protect: “Tell the Truth”

Founder and CEO of Eagle Protect Steve Ardagh started the company in 2006. Based in Christchurch, New Zealand and California, USA, the company distributes single-use consumable items to both the food and medical sectors. Among their products are “latex and nitrile gloves, disposable non-woven clothing and PE protective wear.”

Steve Ardagh and Eagle Protect offer products that “not only provide protection to people in a range of different fields, particularly the food processing/preparation, medical, automotive, cleaning and beauty industries.” At the same time, the company also safeguards their clients’ reputation, by making sure their products are “ethically sourced and carefully manufactured in factories we personally visit and inspect.”

Since they offer single-use products, Eagle Protect and Steve Ardagh know that they are leaving an impact on the environment. So, they “continuously look for ways to reduce waste by changing the packing process,” by taking advantage of emerging technologies and “improving processes.”

In 2012, Steve Ardagh saw Eagle Protect become New Zealand’s first B Corp. He has also become an active member of the B Corp community. As a B Corp, the company enjoys a structure that allows it to build itself as a profitable and environmentally friendly organization.

In 2014, Eagle Protect was re-accredited. They were also incorporated as a Benefit Corporation in the US in 2015, with offices based in South Lake Tahoe.

Check out more interviews with green executives here.

We learned early on the best client service was to be invisible to our clients. We perfected that, and also created a fun work environment and rewarded our people well. Steve Ardagh, Eagle Protect

Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Steve Ardagh: I suppose it’s a good thing for me that not everyone wants to grow up to be the “Glove Guy.” I can’t even say that I had that dream growing up, or even into my early career. I was trained as an agronomist and moved into marketing roles and eventually ran my own marketing company in New Zealand. While owning that company, I had the opportunity to visit a glove factory in southeast Asia while working on a client project. The glove packing area was a large room with a concrete floor, a roof and no walls to speak of, which reeked of chlorine and acid. There were several women working around multiple tables packing 100 gloves into boxes, and one person’s sole job was to keep cockroaches and other pests from getting on the gloves before they got packed. It was jaw-dropping stuff, and I recognized there was an opportunity to improve conditions for workers in such factories, as well as the quality and safety of the product and process. After starting Eagle Protect, I would take my own gloves to the dentist, because I knew they came from our own manufacturer and that they were clean!

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Steve Ardagh: When we started Eagle Protect in 2006, one of the first challenges we found was how hard it was to establish credit and get money to start the business. That’s not uniquely hard, as most companies experience it. But we had to buy the product in order to sell it, and we were also trying to create a company where people came to work engaged and excited about what they were doing, while offering them a good wage. Getting that initial cash was hard, but we didn’t give up because we had no choice — I had moved on from previous business roles, and my wife, Lynda, had sold her physical therapy practices. We were all in on Eagle Protect, so we had to be successful. What helped drive the success was that we established a solid set of core values which we still live by. One of them is that we need to make it easy to do business with us. No one wakes up on a Monday morning excited that it’s glove ordering day! We learned early on the best client service was to be invisible to our clients. We perfected that, and also created a fun work environment and rewarded our people well. If you take care of your employees, they take care of the customer. We started to grow, and getting credit and capital became easier.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Steve Ardagh: At one point, we sourced a PPE clothing item we call a “smock” that looked very much like a rubbish bag with holes in it for the arms and head, intended for use in meatpacking plants to protect the wearer’s clothing from water and other fluids. We cut the final hole for slipping the garment over the head in an oval shape. We were in a rush to get the product out the door, so we didn’t test it. We quickly learned that an oval shape, when pulled over the head, tears incredibly easily. We had half a million of these pieces that we’d manufactured in China and shipped to New Zealand, so we had to work quickly to educate our customers how to pull the clothing on very gently to prevent the tearing. Luckily, our customers were prepared to work with us! From then on, we made the holes circular with no tearing, and we always make sure to test new products first!

Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

Steve Ardagh:

  1. Focus on how much more I can do versus the least I can do. Our salespeople are customer advocates and they are encouraged to work for the customer and put them first, but without breaking our company. Sometimes, that means they work against me in favor of the customer, and that’s fine. This approach changes their focus to, “How much can I do for the customer?” as opposed to, “What is the least I can do for a customer?”
  2. Look out for your team, and they in turn will look after your customer. We give our people more time off than others may because we want them to have a life. We aren’t a grinding machine — we want employees to perform for their reasons as much as ours.
  3. Being curious about the supply chain and working out ways to make it better. Our supply chain is long and fragile, and we want to know the companies and workers well and get to know their challenges to make them better.
  4. Focus on product quality. Even with something as simple as supplying a glove, we are critical to the function of a large food retailer or a medical organization. They can’t do what they do if we don’t deliver.
  5. Be a good community member. It is important to be actively involved in all of the communities where you work and to be a good citizen.

It is important to be actively involved in all of the communities where you work and to be a good citizen.

Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

Steve Ardagh: The reason we became a Certified B Corporation is that it validated what we were already mostly doing, and quantified it as well. The main benefit is that the people who want to work for those businesses tend to put more into it, compared to the average person who goes to work for a box-mover glove company.

Tell the truth. Underpromise and overdeliver. Steve Ardagh

Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

Steve Ardagh: It’s really simple. Tell the truth. Underpromise and overdeliver. We try to get things to people before the deadline. If we promise it next Monday, we deliver on Friday. It’s going back to being great, not just good. We try to do that little bit extra.

Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Steve Ardagh: This is basically the same answer — just tell the truth and be true to your promises. We deliver the product we promise. Even in a pandemic, we do it. Our product isn’t rocket science, but it has to work. Lives actually do depend on it. From our research, we know that about 500 people die each year in the U.S. due to food-borne illness related to glove use. This could be prevented with the use of quality gloves.

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Steve Ardagh: Check out Eagle Protect on these channels:

Website

Medium

LinkedIn

Instagram

YouTube

Facebook

Twitter

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

 

 

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