Check it out! Strategic Factory CEO, Keith Miller, is featured in the iHeartRadio “CEOs You Should Know” podcast! Click the link below to listen to the full interview by John Dinkel.
An American Dream 24 Years in the Making
Keith’s journey began back in 1999 when he moved to Baltimore, MD from South Africa and purchased an 800-square-foot, two-person, quick-print franchise in Pikesville, Maryland. Now, 24 years and a whole lot of hard work later, he leads Strategic Factory with over 150 talented and passionate team members out of three facilities spanning 100,000-square-feet in Owings Mills, MD.
“As an innovative entrepreneur, I’m continually focused on growth and always looking for the next big idea that will move the company forward.”
Optimism, innovation, and perseverance have been Keith’s constant tools for success in helping to build Strategic Factory from a small business to a full-service enterprise, helping businesses nationwide build their brands through print, signage, branding, and marketing services.
Sitting Down With Keith Miller, ‘CEO You Should Know’
iHeartMedia presents “CEOs You Should Know”.
John Dinkel: Hi, I’m John Dinkle, former President and Publisher of the Baltimore Business Journal and now Founder & CEO of Dinkle Business Development. This is iHeart Radio’s “CEOs You Should Know” and I’m here today with Keith Miller, CEO at Strategic Factory. Welcome Keith and thanks for being here!
Keith Miller: Appreciate it, thanks so much for having me.
John Dinkel: Let’s begin by talking a little bit about the organization and learn a little bit more about you as well. For those who are not as familiar, could you tell us more about Strategic Factory?
Keith Miller: Sure! Strategic Factory is a single point provider for all things printing, signage, promotional products, branded apparel, and then all things marketing and branding. We work out of approximately 100,000 square feet which is divided across three facilities in Owings Mills, Maryland and we employ about 150 rock star team members.
John Dinkel: Awesome and what’s your mission?
Keith Miller: Our mission is truly to create raving fans and build lasting relationships . We firmly believe it’s all about the people and we try to hire the best, retain the best, so that we can give our customers the best experience.
John Dinkel: Awesome and let’s go a little more in about your services. I know you’ve been continuing to grow the organization for many years now and doing a lot of different things. So talk about some of the different, I guess, divisions and specifically some of the services you’re providing for your clients.
Keith Miller: Sure! I mean, originally I moved here from South Africa and bought a franchise. We just did prints, quick prints, to be specific. Very early on we made the decision to diversify our product offering to make sure that we could cater to do more than just print. Today we do obviously the printed products we did in the past, a lot of commercial printing, & direct mail. We do a lot of signage, architectural signage, wide format, large format signage, different promotional products, branded apparel, creative design, brand strategy, marketing campaigns… pretty much anything you could think of that a customer may be trying to broadcast the message or get their brand out into the public.
John Dinkel: What are the most popular services?
Keith Miller: I mean we get requests for everything. It feels like at the moment our biggest request is signage. It just seems to be a major need; lots of development, lots of new businesses opening, lots of people branding their spaces, bringing employees back into the office and not wanting just plain painted walls. So I’ll probably go with that; structural signage, the indoor signage, and a lot of directional signage on campuses.
John Dinkel: Are you planning on launching any new services in the next few months or next year?
Keith Miller: Yes, I definitely think so. We actually just built out our signage division and moved to consolidate all of our signage under one roof here in Owings Mills; lots of new product offerings with that. And then packaging has become a pretty big sector for us. So I see us doing more of both of those.
John Dinkel: What would you say is your differentiator out there.? Why do clients choose Strategic Factory over a competitor, let’s say?
Keith Miller: Definitely our breadth of offerings. We are a single point provider. We have a lot of expertise in each of those offerings and then we offer an exceptional customer service experience.
John Dinkel: Talk about your green initiatives.
Keith Miller: We’ve always been a pretty green company. When I first started it was like, “You’re a printer, you kill trees, you’re not good for the environment.” But the reality is, all the paper that we use comes from sustainable forests; they’re replanted all the time. So we take our commitment to sustainability very seriously. We are constantly looking for new ways to improve the environment and our environmental footprint as well. We use way less waste than we ever did before, we recycle more, we use products that can be recycled and are recycled products, we use soy based inks, we use solar energy, and we give back to the planet by planting a tree for every job we produce.
John Dinkel: Strategic Factory has always been known as a philanthropic company. Could you kind of talk about your strategy behind that? I mean, I see your name at a lot of nonprofits and nonprofit outings and things like that. You seem to be very in tune with the philanthropic community. Could you talk about that a little bit?
Keith Miller: Sure! Lots of our clients are in the nonprofit sector, all types of nonprofits as well. So wherever we can, we want to support their programs, their fundraisers, their galas, their events and do our part to give back to the community that we serve.
John Dinkel: Did the pandemic have any effect on the way people were using you guys. I know obviously a lot of people went to a hybrid environment or even just totally worked from home. Did that have an impact on certain sectors of the business either positively or negatively?
Keith Miller: Initially it had a very negative impact. A lot of our products and services were servicing education and nobody was on campuses; servicing events and nobody was having events. Lots of our customers, staff, and clients were all working from home. So we did a lot of packaged promotional product bundles. So if you think about a new hire kit or a customer or employee appreciation kit, we did lots of those types of kitting of branded products that got shipped to somebody’s home welcoming them to the team or welcoming them as a new customer of a company. What we have seen since then, is the world’s re-opened.
John Dinkel: Are there any particular industries that you see are on the rise as events open back up again? Are there any segments or industries that you see particular growth in?
Keith Miller: I don’t think there is any one industry per say that is really taking off for us. We’re seeing them all open up. We have a very diverse customer base. I’ve watched a couple of recessions that have hit very definitive segments. And I’ve had friends that have been in those segments and really got beat. So we’ve done our fair share of making sure that we have a very diverse customer base and product offering to protect ourselves from any downturn.
John Dinkel: How would you describe your leadership style?
Keith Miller: I would definitely describe myself as what they call a servant leader. I think it’s all about the people. One of the major parts of my role is to ensure that the people we have are the right fit for the role, but more importantly they’re the right people for the team.
John Dinkel: Taking a look back at the pandemic, what would you say you learned about managing your team through that time?
Keith Miller: You know, from my history, change has always been inevitable. I moved from South Africa to America. I changed Industries. So change has always been something I’ve been comfortable with. However, with the pandemic, I feel like it really affected everybody, so ALL of our lives changed almost overnight. And it just constantly reminded me that change is going to happen no matter what and we need to embrace that change and have to find a way to navigate through it. I’m a firm believer that there’s always a way if you have the will to figure it out, you can figure it out.
John Dinkel: Did that time change your culture and how do you kind of maintain that positive culture?
Keith Miller: Since the pandemic, we’ve really focused on rebuilding and finding the right fit. No a**holes allowed. We’re looking for honest people that are going to put in a concerted effort to advance the company forward and in turn advance everyone else in the company forward because without growth, nothing else happens.
We’ve embraced something called EOS which is the “Entrepreneurial Operating System” where we are starting to document more and drive more processes so it’s not as difficult for us to onboard new people. We’ve made a concerted effort to make sure that the people that we’re onboarding truly fit our culture before we bring them in and before we hire them. But in the middle of COVID, it was tough. I mean you know we’re a manufacturer, we meet people on site, we need people doing stuff. They can’t take their presses home or their welders home and build a sign and then bring it back and get it painted. It just didn’t happen like that. So it’s been a struggle to find the quality of people that we’re demanding that can also do the job. We have a very diligent way of vetting out our candidates. They either fit our core values or they don’t. Our core values are really broken into three pillars which are ‘Can Do’, ‘Will Do’, and ‘Happy To’. ‘Can Do’ is a competence or an effectiveness to execute flawlessly. That is something that’s negotiable because most people can do most of the job but it’s on us to train them to do a little bit more or do it the way we want it done. ‘Will Do’ is an ownership or a willingness or a want to be dependable, reliable, and consistent. That’s not negotiable. I can’t drive that into somebody. They’re either going to take ownership or they’re not. And the final pillar is, ‘Happy To.’ We want people that are team players, lead by example, and have positive attitudes. You know, we’re really driving pretty hard to make sure that the people that we onboard fit those three cultural values before we really say ‘yes’ to onboarding them.
John Dinkel: So what gets you excited about the future of Strategic Factory?
Keith Miller: I think it’s the people that get me excited . I mean, we all really enjoy the people we work with. I do these new hire lunches. Every new hire is in the room once a month for the first 90 days so I get to meet them three times over this lunch. Watching the new faces, and the people, and the smiles, everyone comments about how happy they are to be here and how welcoming everyone in the company has been. I think that speaks to the fact that we’ve driven this cultural value through the organization.
And then understanding that all our constraints are truly internal constraints. There is enough business out of our internal constraints. We just have to figure out how to capture that business; how to execute on it. So I think there’s still a lot of opportunity for us to continue to grow. And it’s on us to figure out how to navigate that growth.