Indianapolis — Scott Hill has always loved strategy games. His passion for strategic moves to improve a player’s position prompted him to join with Andy Medley in 2001 to establish CIK Enterprises, a measured marketing software and consulting company that specializes in increasing clients’ in-store and online customer traffic by generating giveaways, contests, and media promotions.
CIK’s philosophy is “business as a game,” which is coupled with an open books policy that keeps all employees regularly informed about the private company’s finances, sales, and customer activities. When participants don’t know the score, they don’t know whether they’re winning and can’t plan their strategy of play, Hill says, so every month, “CIK gives everyone the chance to see the financial pieces that are occurring in our business and are causing us to either make money or lose money — or here’s where we’re investing or here’s how the margins have changed.”
These twin pillars help CIK’s 65 employees to understand the business as a whole, “and we’re all moving in the same direction,” Hill says, which adds up to employees making insightful strategic decisions on their own.
CIK (Customer Is King) was growing rapidly, but when the Great Recession hit in 2008, “it totally tore us down as a company and we were lucky to survive,” Hill admits. In the course of 18 months between 2008 and 2009, CIK lost about 60 percent of its revenue. “We were tied heavily to the automotive market, and this caused us to collapse along with the rest of the industry. We were fortunate to get through it.”
When the recession abated, CIK took stock of what had survived. “We had operated the company for a while — we knew some things that we didn’t like about it and we knew some things that we did like. We knew where some of our weaknesses were, and we knew some of the things that we needed to improve,” Hill explains.
Hill, Medley, and company rebuilt CIK with the aim of attacking the market again — but this time with a carefully focused, long-term business plan. “It was not just to be building quick revenue, but building the foundation from which we needed to continue to launch,” he says.
Hill says that CIK’s open-book management also helped the rebuild because everyone knew the score and what the financial stakes were: “We had every single person in the company looking for ways to save money, not just the five- or six-person executive team trying to create order from the top.” In fact, several employees came up with shipping and printing suggestions that have saved the company thousands of dollars a month.
“When we first grew the business, we were flying quite a bit blind,” he admits. “The revenue was just coming in so easily that we really didn’t learn how to fly by the instruments.” Thus CIK also began focusing on measurements, metrics, and accountability, and this led to more efficient business execution.
“Instead of just growing revenue, we wanted to see all of the metrics all the way down through the company,” he says. “To get past that $20 million hump, it was really, truly focusing on the foundation of the company operationally, making sure that we had the different departments set up structurally.”
During the recession, the company had limited funds to invest in technology, but when the recession wound down, CIK ramped up its tech funding again and developed an improved software product called FATWIN. CIK’s proprietary prize promotion software monitors responses to the contests, games, giveaways, and prizes offered by CIK’s clients, which include retailers such as h.h. gregg, auto dealerships, and publishing companies. Thanks to FATWIN software, client advertising also increases when the promotion information is shared among friends and social media followers.
“Those three ingredients — measurement, accountability, and improved products — are the key to the continued growth we’ve been experiencing,” says Hill. By refining the game plan and improving its software offerings, Hill has taken CIK across the $20 million revenue mark to hit $30 million.