No Matter How You Slice It – Giving Value Builds Business

John Ruhlin

Growing up on a farm can teach invaluable lessons. John learned this was true while living on his 50-acre family farm outside of Canton, Ohio. One of five children, his step-father worked treating waste water while his mother worked full-time as a stay-at-home mom. John’s grandfather had been a turkey farmer – a challenging endeavor by any standard. So challenging, in fact, that he opened an auction business to earn his living.

It was in that setting that John discovered many of life’s truisms. He learned that in a lower-middle class family, wearing garage sale clothing was standard. He learned that work began before school and continued afterwards. John milked goats often enough that he developed muscles in his hands and thumbs that most people don’t realize they even have – and he learned that he could hit a target with goat’s milk from six feet away. Importantly, he learned that earning a living on a farm was not the future he wanted.

He developed an entrepreneurial spirit early in life, buying candy for ten cents at the store and selling it for a quarter at school. Through high school, John was a decent athlete, but his interests were directed elsewhere. He had his sights set on becoming a professional – a doctor or a lawyer. He realized that path required a great deal of money and was determined to graduate debt-free. With those goals, he enrolled at Malone University to begin his studies, while also seeking a way to earn money.

One of John’s friends had become successful at selling Cutco knives. John determined that if his buddy Steve could do it, that he could also. Determined and relentless, John contacted every person anyone in his family knew. His efforts allowed him to successfully achieve a particular level – it was called desperation. Desperation can be a keen motivator. In John’s case, it led him to reach out to the father of his girlfriend.

Paul Miller was a local attorney – a man known for his caring and generosity. John suggested to Paul that he buy pocket knives to give his clients as gifts. Instead, Paul ordered $2,000 worth of paring knives. Since most of Paul’s clients were men, John was confused. It was then that he learned another invaluable lesson when Paul explained – “Most of my clients are married. I learned a long time ago that if you take care of the family, everything else seems to take care of itself.” A key lesson learned – make a gift about the other person – not about you or your business.

John’s situation shifted from desperate to flourishing. So much so that his career plans changed – he left college to pursue his sales business.  It didn’t take long to learn another key lesson. It’s good to delegate – but be sure not to abdicate. John had left the operations of his business to others who not only embezzled money before leaving – they also left a major issue for John with the IRS. John worked through that with determination and discipline. He found another partner, one who knew the ‘inside’ part of business and was totally trustworthy.

John met Cameron Herald, the force behind 1-800-Got-Junk?, at a conference for the Entrepreneur Organization (EO). He was able to arrange an evening of sports and steaks when Herald was scheduled to visit Cleveland. When the day arrived, John made a last-minute shift when informed of how tired the man was from travelling. Instead, John went to Brooks Brothers, Herald’s favorite store, bought one of every new Fall item and had it merchandised in the man’s Ritz-Carlton room. Mr. Herald was more than blown away, and gave John all the time he wanted, answered every question and to this day makes referrals to John.

John went on to become the largest seller of Cutco knives globally. His company expanded its product line to offer a full array of high-impact, unique gifts. His client list includes major corporations, an array of professional sports teams, along with a long list of private companies and successful entrepreneurs. His book, Giftology, explains the art and science behind effectively using gifts to grow business. All of this is the result of John Ruhlin being a fearless brand.

A Fearless Brand gives greater than expected

John Ruhlin doesn’t focus on sales per se. Rather, his purpose is to create and build meaningful relationships – his own and on behalf of his clients. What John and the Ruhlin Group refer to as the art and science of gifting is a straightforward and simple philosophy – strategically use thoughtful, high-impact gifts to cut through the noise, increase referrals and strengthen retention. 

You’ll hear phrases like ‘radical generosity’, ‘surprise and delight’, ‘strategic appreciation’, and ‘relational gifting’ when John Ruhlin speaks. You’ll hear him say “Create a first-class experience” and “It’s not the thought that counts — it’s the thoughtful thought!” Simple, right? Yes, but it’s not always easy. The same holds true for building your fearless brand – simple concept, not always easy execution.

The Ruhlin Group is stratospherically successful because John is a fearless brand. What makes him so? He has the conviction that his purpose (building business by creating exceptional relationships) combines with his skills (strategically and creatively sourcing and delivering high-impact gifts) to deliver value in a relevant way (giving unique and thoughtful gifts to the most appropriate people).

John’s philosophy – Giftology – is directly applicable to building effective and fearless brands.

Be authentic and genuine – Effective giving (and branding) begins with the premise of giving value without expecting a direct return. The gift is a way to get noticed – to stand out – in order to demonstrate your value proposition. Giving with the expectation of receiving is bartering.

Deliver ‘wow’ – Create an experience for the recipient. Having thoughtful thoughts mean that you are placing your emphasis on what is important to the person you choose to serve. Make it about them, not you. The impact of giving a truly meaningful gift at an unexpected time is immense. Ask yourself “What’s the most I can do?” If budgets are tight, that may be a single hand-written note, but make it a good one. 

Stand out – Stand out in a positive way which differentiates you and reinforces your value. John’s business cards are as much a collector’s item as they are a means of contact. His cards feature his name and his phone number – engraved on a metal square. The letterhead he uses for his handwritten notes is also metal. They deliver ‘who is this guy?’ impact. 

Appreciate the ‘inner-circle’ – Gifts that are directed to your prospects’ inner-circle can have more impact than one given directly to her or him. When you give a gift to a spouse or one that includes their children, you help to make that person a hero. Use a gift to acknowledge the role of the executive assistant or key personnel assisting your efforts – they’ll appreciate it more than you can imagine.

Remember your employees – The single most overlooked element of a company’s brand is their employees. Be certain that your ‘gifting philosophy’ extends to your internal team. The Ruhlin Group provides house cleaning service for their employees twice a month – that stands out! Because their employees are expected to deliver a ‘Ritz-Carlton like’ experience, each employee was given a night’s stay at that hotel to appreciate first-hand what it means.

John Ruhlin lives his philosophy of give more than required, stand out, be thoughtful and create memories. You don’t have to buy Brooks Brother’s entire Fall line or end up in ICU to add great value and be a fearless brand. You do, however, have to know your purpose, use your talents, and deliver value relevant to those you hope to serve. 

Friday's Fearless Brand Personal Branding

Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

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