When Corey Lieblein started Innovative Technology in 2002 he sat in a room by himself, not entirely sure he knew what he was doing. He was making those relics, people born before 1990 remember as stereo CD players. Last year Innovative Technology, which now includes 16 full-time employees in the Port Washington office and another 22 in the Hong Kong office, posted growth of 30 percent. And that was only the beginning.
By the end of 2015, Innovative Technology expects growth of more than 60 percent including a new ecommerce business expected to generate $5 million in sales by the end of this year. The brand’s products appear in nationwide retailers that include Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, HSN, QVC and many more. Not bad for guy who grew up just a mile and half from his current office.
Lieblein shared thoughts on his career, the secrets to retaining good people and what we should expect next from Innovative Technology for our Notes from the Boardroom series.
Long Island Pulse: Tell me a little about Innovative Technology for those not familiar.
Cory Liebelin: We have three major categories of electronic products. Nostalgic old-fashioned, such as turntables with new technology, portable power for smartphones and tablets branded the Justin Portable Power collection, and the third is Bluetooth accessories such as speakers.
As a company the overall focus is the same across the categories: high design, high style, trend right, feature rich electronics at great retail price points with great packaging. That’s been part of our recent success.
Pulse: Let’s talk about that success. You’ve had incredible growth in the past year, what do you account for it?
CL: Around three years ago I realized we were flat. Business was good, it was strong, but we were flattening out. I decided I needed to build out our sales network so we went after targeted accounts, including QVC that’s been key to our growth.
Pulse: What traits do you look for when hiring?
CL: When we’re looking for sales people, it’s a matter of looking at our sales connections, meeting with the individual, talking to them about relationships, finding out what they currently sell and then for me it’s a matter of figuring out the kind of person they are. Are they of high integrity and high intelligence? I spend two to three hours in the decision-making process understanding the kind of person they are.
Pulse: How do you retain good employees once you have them?
CL: We try to treat everybody with a level of respect. I like to share. I provide free medical for everyone in the building. I like to have lunch with everyone here in the office when I’m not traveling, so I pay for lunch for everyone. And of course they’re compensated in their financial package both with competitive salaries and extensive bonuses.
What I always say is we’re a family here in the office and that’s the overall attitude we try to harbor. I think people who work here realize this is a special place.
Pulse: How do you define success?
CL: In terms of business a successful year is a year that we make money. We define success based on retaining our customers, how well our product sells, how we’ve supported our retail partners and what did we do in sales and did we post a profit.
Personally, I’ve been married for 19 years and I have 16-year-old and 13-year-old, so personal success is very different. It’s how much time I can spend with my boys outside of work and how I balance work. It’s not an easy balance to keep.
I live a very hectic business life. I’m on two to four planes per week from October to May. I live one and a half miles from the office so I have a very short drive to work, if I’m not traveling and the kids need something I can go and that for me was very intentional.
Pulse: Was there a moment when you knew you had made it?
CL: I’m a serial entrepreneur and I‘ve never sat back and said I’ve made it. I’ve been happy with certain years and been pleased but I feel the moment I step back and say I’ve made it is the minute I take the foot off the gas pedal. I’m always looking to see what can we do next, how we can continue our growth.
Pulse: How do you create new growth?
CL: Both through sales and product development. We are continuing to grow our sales force. There are brick and mortar stores we don’t service, mobile stores such as AT&T and Verizon, sporting goods like Bass Pro Shops and REI. That’s a key to growth. We’re moving into ecommerce. For better or worse I’ve been scope locked on brick and mortar, never really did ecommerce. We did a beta test last Christmas and did more than $400,000 in sales, so we’re building it out with Amazon and other online retailers and we’ll hit $5 million this year and $20 to $25 million in 2016.
Product development is also key. We have to come out with new products. Right now, we have around 60 brand new items on the drawing board and we’ll be filing for a patent on a brand new product that will be out in October.