This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an
exclusive interview with Michael Worth.
Michael is the founder of Crew Tags Int’l,
LLC, (www.crewtags.com), the world’s
largest manufacturer of luggage tags for airline flight crews and travelers,
currently serving customers in more than 50 countries. He also provides the RSS
news feed, Travel Tips & Tricks.
Q: Michael, you have a reputation for
quality and service and a tenacity of spirit. Thank you for doing this
interview and sharing your insights.
A: Thank you, Stephen. It certainly is a pleasure to be able to
share both my spirit and my insight with you and your readers.
Q: What are the trials and tribulations of
starting an Internet business? What lessons can you share?
A: I think a lot of people are under the
misguided impression that if you build it (a web site); they will come (the
customers). But that simply isn’t the
case. In fact, the trials and
tribulations of starting an Internet business really aren’t that different from
starting a brick and mortar business. You have to have a solid business plan and a successful marketing plan
in order to actually be successful in business. If you can’t make it in the real world, chances are you aren’t going to
make it on the ‘net either.
Unlike a brick
and mortar store, it takes significantly more time to earn your customers’
trust on the Internet. And it’s more
difficult to showcase and sell your products in an environment that doesn’t
permit the customer to touch and feel the product.
Of course, the
‘net also offers exceptions to these rules. And I believe Crew Tags is one of those exceptions. If we were limited to brick and mortar sales,
we’d never survive. We just don’t sell
enough to any one local region to pay the bills that are associated with a brick
and mortar establishment. It’s the
global marketplace and affordable marketing via the Internet that make Crew
Tags possible. If it weren’t for the
Internet, there would be no Crew Tags.
Q: You have a newsfeed offering
Travel Tips using RSS technology. How did you come about using RSS and what are
the pros and cons of using this technology? Do you see it growing in use and
A: Like a lot of
people, I didn’t “get” RSS right away. It took an exceptionally energetic presentation on the subject from
Chris Pirillo (lockergnome.com) to open my eyes to RSS. And even then I have to admit that I didn’t
“get it” right away. I had to come home
and reflect upon it for a couple of weeks before the light really came on for
me. But when that light finally did come
After I finally
got my brain wrapped around RSS, this is how I described it to some of my
peers: A blog is as different from a
newsletter as a dog is from a cat. Sure,
they both have four legs. But that's
where the similarity stops. A dog can be
trained to save your life and to spend a lifetime serving you. A cat is pre-trained right out of the box in
that it expects you to save its life, and that you will dedicate your life to
serving it. A blog is a dog. A newsletter is a cat.
RSS is the tool
that allows us to receive the information we want in our inbox, and only that
information. We can receive it without
giving out our email address, and we are in complete control in terms of being
able to stop it at any time. RSS will
only deliver the information that we want. And RSS will always be spam free.
If there are any
cons to using RSS it would have to be that very few people actually know what
it is; and very few people actually have software installed on their computers
to take advantage of it. But that will
change as RSS continues to grow and achieve widespread acceptance; particularly
if Microsoft includes support for RSS in a future version of Windows® and/or
Q: 9/11 had a major impact on your business
and yet you managed to meet and surpass the challenges. How did you do it? What
techniques are applicable to other Internet businesses?
A: I built a strong savings account when times
were good that helped us survive those difficult months that followed
I adapted to a
changing marketplace. Prior to 9/11 we
were very strongly vested in a market that consisted mostly of airline
employees. Having 250,000 potential
customers lose their jobs in the days that followed 9/11 was bad for business
in the very narrow niche that we had carved for ourselves, and I knew that if
we were to survive we had to expand the scope of who we were - and who our
target customers were to be.
Like the business
and marketing plans, these techniques are also relevant to both Internet
businesses and brick and mortar businesses.
Q: What are the 5 keys to Internet success
in the future?
A: 1) Security. Businesses need to protect the data they have about consumers as if
their life depended on it. And indeed,
it does. And there’s always room for
improvement when it comes to data security.
2) Eliminate SPAM
and return email to the reliable communications protocol that it once was.
3) Putting a stop
to viruses that slow and even stop the flow of data on the internet. ISPs need to take more responsibility for
stopping viruses at the source, before they are transmitted to the end
user. We have the technology to stop
viruses at the point of initial transmission, yet the ISPs continue to turn a
blind eye towards that technology.
4) ISPs must also
improve reliability. We’ve come a long
way in terms of reliability, but I think there is still room for
improvement. We need access to an
internet that is never “down”. Redundancy is the answer.
5) Broadband must
be available to everyone. End users will
need broadband to access the features that will be available on the web sites
of the future. And that future is being
delayed by the fact that not everyone has access to broadband. Wireless is the answer.
Q: Where do you see yourself and your
business in three years?
A: Crew Tags will
continue to grow and prosper with the products that we are already famous
for. Sales for those products in 2008
will, in all likelihood, be at least double what they were last year.
expanding in a very unexpected direction to help provide additional security
for ourselves should another event occur that effects Crew Tags the way that
9/11 did. That direction is air and
water purification products (http://michaelworth.org).
Air and water
purification is in the forefront of people’s minds right now. People now are more aware of the problems of indoor
air pollution and water quality then they ever have been. And they are looking for solutions to both of
those problems. We have that
Air and water
purification products, while an unlikely addition to the Crew Tags family, will
be very prosperous for us – and they will provide us with some much needed diversity
within our product line to ensure that we remain a viable and prosperous
business for many years to come.
Sales of the air
and water purification products are starting very strong out of the gate. I expect them to exceed our other efforts
very quickly, and the numbers I have projected in three years for those air and
water products is a very lofty number indeed.
Q: Describe your history with Randy
Cassingham of www.thisistrue.com fame.
A: Randy and I
go back a lot of years. I’ve honestly
lost track of how many. But we’ve spent
many an hour locked in a room together and exchanging emails about how to best
conduct business on the Internet, exploring new technologies such as RSS, and
generally just sharing our opinions about the growth of the Internet in
general. The ideas that we’ve shared
have certainly helped both of our businesses to grow and prosper.
Q: It’s one of your areas of expertise, so
can you share your most useful travel tips?
A: In a word, it’s
planning. Plan everything that’s
important right down to the tiniest detail. Plan your flights, your rental cars, your lodging and everything that
involves the travel itself.
Before you pack,
visualize yourself getting dressed each and every morning of your trip – walk
through every step and every piece of clothing in your mind. You’ll also want to mentally undress yourself
at the end of every day and redress yourself in those comfortable items that
you’ll only wear around the hotel room – or the pool. Image yourself getting out of bed in the
morning and walking through each step you’ll take to get dressed and add every
toiletry item that you use during your mental walk-through. As you imagine each item, add it to a
checklist that you will use to pack for your trip.
Then stop planning
and go have fun. Plan to do certain
things on your trip, but leave plenty of room in your schedule to have fun and
explore. If you plan every last minute
of your trip it will feel more like work and less like play – and that’s not
any fun at all! The last thing you want
to worry about on your trip is what time it is. There is ample opportunity for that when you get back home. In fact, you might even consider leaving your
watch at home!
Q: Can you make 5 forecasts about the
future? You can choose any area.
A: 1) Air and water purification will be standard
equipment in every new home built.
replaces wires for all communication needs for both voice and data.
3) VOIP and
Cellular will replace all landline telephones. We’ll use our existing phone wiring to route access to the VOIP terminal
throughout the entire house.
Internet available EVERYWHERE you go.
5) Every device in
your house can be accessed and operated via the Internet.
Q: What are your favorite information
A: I have Firefox
set to open the following tabs as my homepage:
1) Google News
3) USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/)
I do that because
it gives me a quick glance at all that’s happening in the world. I don’t particularly like any one of the
sites any more or less than any of the others; I’ve just found this combination
to be the balance that I’m looking for.
Q: Imagine you are the interviewer; what
three questions would you ask and what would be your answers?
A:Q1: What inspired you to start Crew Tags?
starting Crew Tags I was working for a small regional airline here in the Pacific Northwest. They paid me so poorly for doing that job that I couldn’t even afford a
luggage tag. So I made my own. And that tag was so popular with my
co-workers that they all wanted one. So
I gave them all one for Christmas that year. Once those tags started flying around the Northwest and getting the
attention of other employees within the company, they too wanted tags of their
own. So a business was born.
Almost a year
later I decided to try my hand at building a web site and marketing my product
on the Internet. Contrary to most
success stories, and a lot like that old UPS commercial where everyone is
standing around the monitor when they “turn on” their web site for the first
time, Crew Tags was very nearly an instant success as well. We very quickly received orders from Australia and Japan, and they’ve just never really stopped.
Q2: Is there some kind of “recipe for
success” that Crew Tags follows?
A2: Our recipe for
success is surprisingly simple. And yet
so few businesses (both on the web and in the real world) take the time to
really understand it.
We provide the
highest possible level of customer service before, during and after the
sale. We try to make every customer feel
special, like they are the only customer that we have to serve today, and that
we have nothing better to do than serve them personally. And we do it with a sense of urgency. We are constantly complimented on how quickly
we ship our products, and how quickly we respond to our email.
We also make it
a point to exceed our customers’ expectations with the quality of both our
product and our service.
Q3: What book would you recommend for
someone looking to start a new business on the Internet?
A3: The Nordstrom Way. It was one of the first books I read when I started
Crew Tags. And I’ve been patterning our
customer service policies after Nordstrom’s ever since.
In fact, that book
is the closest thing we have to training manual of any kind. I ask my new employees to read that book and
to adopt the Nordstrom’s philosophy of customer service whenever they are
serving our customers.
All of my
employees are empowered to make decisions that are in the best interest of the
customer. There is never a need to speak
to anyone’s boss because everyone is empowered to give the customer anything
and everything they need without consulting me.
Q: Michael, thank you for sharing your
valued insights and remarkable journey with our audience.
you. It’s truly been a pleasure taking
this stroll down memory lane with you and your readers.