A Chat With Harvey Dean, president/CEO, Pitsco
So I gave them the money to do this profile, and they learned all these things. Mostly it was done on the phone, although they did mail a survey to an industrial arts teachers’ group. After they found out a lot of things about our customers, they laid out my catalog. The first catalog they did for us was really great. It was about four years after they had been doing our catalog that we saw a tremendous uptick in our sales nationally. I’d say this was 1981 or 1982.
CS: In the first few years of running the business by yourself, what was your biggest challenge?
Dean: Finances. I was young, living in a small town in middle America, taking some huge risks. I didn’t understand banking or business. I just had this passion for education. My personality was such that I got along well with the bankers. But early on, the first bank really saw me as a huge risk. I had a difficult time. I was able to get the money to finance my inventory, which was important, because our entire reputation was built on the idea of fast, friendly service. And if you’re going to have fast, friendly service, I had the good sense to know that you needed inventory to ship. I worked at a hardware store in college, and I learned a few things there about service. My boss really stressed that it’s vital to keep each and every customer. But financing that way of treating the customer was difficult.
CS: You mentioned in an earlier e-mail that maintaining a focus on your central business goal was especially difficult in the early years. Could you expound on that?
Dean: I fell in love with business in the late 1970s. I started or acquired several small business ventures. One example is this guy who visited me with a patent for a retractable vehicle step for tall, four-wheel-drive vehicles. This was before running-boards were popular. And so I started a small company and hired three or four people to manufacture these retractable vehicle steps in the back of the Pitsco building. Of course, we still did our Pitsco stuff. And there were three or four other business ventures that I entered into. Of course, the popularization of running boards sunk that little business. But I just loved the concept of making something and selling it.