More women are starting their own businesses, but female business owners still remain a rare breed. Just ask Lacy Starling, president of Legion Logistics, who says she’s still often the only woman present when in business settings. Starling was featured in American Express’ “50 Fastest Growing Women-Owned/Led Companies Guide to Growth,” a guidebook that features growth ideas from 15 successful female entrepreneurs and owners. Starling’s Kentucky-based business helps companies streamline logistics and move cargo efficiently. Between 2012 and 2014, they added 19 workers and more than doubled revenue from $12 million to $25 million.
How? Starling attributes success in part to recognizing the customers that led to their success and sticking to a clear idea of their brand identity. Here’s what she had to say on that and more.
What is the state of women-owned businesses in the U.S.?
I talk to other women business owners, and their businesses are thriving, just like Legion. But finding a multitude of women who own businesses to network with, share ideas, commiserate, etc. is difficult. You get so used to being the only woman in the room whenever you go to an event or a roundtable or a discussion. So I guess I’d say that the state of women-owned businesses in the US is really good, but there aren’t nearly enough of them.
What was your personal journey and how did you come to launch Legion Logistics?
My personal journey is so long, and convoluted, that I doubt it would fit in an article. Basically, I started my first business when I was still an undergraduate journalism major at Kent State University. After that, I couldn’t imagine NOT being in the business world, so I got my MBA and bounced from marketing to PR to sales to management jobs until landing in Cincinnati and meeting my business partner, Tony. He and I were married, and he asked me if I’d like to go into business with him. I told him I’d be happy to, as long as I could control the marketing, finance and internal culture of the company. He agreed, and because he had to sit out a non-compete from his previous position, I launched Legion in the basement of our house in September, 2009. Seven years later, we’re a $26 million company with 40 employees. It’s been a wild ride, for sure.
In the report, you touch on the importance of staying ahead of what’s happening in your sector, rather than just reacting to it. Can you tell us about how you have implemented that advice?
For us, that means staying on top of the shifting sands of government regulations (both in transportation, and in employment law), and knowing and understanding what’s coming next in the industry. If we know what’s happening before our customers do, we can provide them with advice on how to deal with changes. That makes us an indispensable partner in their business, which helps us grow.
You also talk about how to use customer service as a differentiator in branding. What are some of the innovative ways you have provided customer service that helped distinguish you from the competition?
Every day, we think about how to improve our customer service and differentiate ourselves. We’ve implemented Customer Anniversary recognition programs, high-touch calls from our sales manager, recognition of major life events for our customers (babies, birthdays, weddings, etc.), celebrations of holidays that are important to us (Veteran’s Day, for example) that also recognize the part they’ve played in our success, etc. For us, it starts at the first transaction we have with them – once that first load is moved, we send them a swag pack with Legion goodies and a handwritten note. That starts the relationship off on the right foot, and sets the tone of appreciation we want to continue throughout the entire relationship.
What advice do you have for other business owners and leaders, and women in particular?
My standard advice is to always, always, always keep control of your finances. Never hand them over to someone else, because no one will safeguard your money the same way you do. Ever. But, over and above that, be true to yourself. When I started Legion, I had a vision for what would make us different. Our voice, our personality, our “brand.” And I’ve stayed true to that every day. I don’t waver from what I believe to be the best way to do business because that’s what makes us Legion, and it’s what has made us successful. Everyone who comes in the office, goes to our website or meets me gets the same sense of who we are. And for me, that’s the essence of “branding” – a consistent, cohesive message across all platforms, including the human platform.