Lessons Learned with Pat Borg

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Pat Borg has applied principles taken from the C-suite to brand his business.

“If you don’t get up every morning excited about your business, get out of it – fast,” advises Pat Borg, owner and president of NEFF of Chicago – a designer of luxury kitchens, bathrooms, closets, wine rooms and more. The entrepreneur’s résumé reads like a ‘who’s who’ of consumer brands, citing past high-level positions at Maybelline, Tambrands (formerly Tampax Inc.) and Procter & Gamble, to name a few.

And why leave the land of suits to become an entrepreneur? “It was a point in time in my life,” explains Mr. Borg, “where I didn’t want to work for anyone else anymore.” However, he soon learned that “as an entrepreneur, you work for everyone.”

The savvy business owner is using every bit of training and experience gained during his time spent as a corporate executive to run NEFF of Chicago. “Both the role and skill set transitioning from hired gun to entrepreneur has been interesting, to say the least,” says Mr. Borg. His position at Procter & Gamble was sales-focused. At Maybelline he concentrated on marketing. Today, Mr. Borg is fully immersed in every aspect of his company, wearing a myriad of hats. “Gone are the safety nets of layers of corporate managers, a staff to plan, a department to sell, an agency to promote and advertise, and an HR department to keep everything buttoned down on near hires and infrequent fires. It comes down to you enveloping the roles as the business owner, salesman, recruiter, coach, bill collector and designer,” he explains. Here, Mr. Borg shares some of the keys to his entrepreneurial success.

Be accountable. A successful entrepreneur will acknowledge that everything that happens in the business, for better or worse, is a direct result of the business owner’s actions. “It’s about the sweat equity you’re personally prepared to put into your business,” insists Mr. Borg. “You soon realize that nothing happens until you personally get it started and hand-hold it to completion.”

Embrace risk. “Be prepared to take a calculated, thought-out risk,” instructs Mr. Borg, adding “If you don’t, why would anyone risk investing time and money with you?” One calculated risk is planning, then implementing, ever-evolving branding objectives. “Buying NEFF of Chicago was about the brand and building it. When I took it over, it was like, ‘How much advertising do you do?’ ‘None.’ ‘Well, how much promotion do you do?’ ‘None.’ That all quickly changed,” he says. Today the NEFF of Chicago brand strategy centers around the ability to highlight the ‘NEFF difference,’ or the standards that set NEFF apart from its competitors. “Outside the door (on the main floor of the Merchandise Mart) I have 11 competitors,” shares Mr. Borg. “So when people come in, the thought in their mind is probably ‘Well, you guys are all the same, aren’t you?’ No! Absolutely not.”

Be an expert. Understanding marketing strategies in your company’s business means being abreast of the competition’s marketing efforts, along with overall industry news. “Read more trade journals and less sports news and leisure novels,” suggests Mr. Borg, who also firmly believes that it’s also about knowing your consumer. “What do consumers want? Well, we ask them.” Consumer-requested NEFF of Chicago brand differentiators include such conveniences as standard self-close doors, rollout shelving, touch lighting and 16-inch deep upper cabinets. “Everybody else here has 12-inch cabinets,” says Mr. Borg. “You might think, ‘so what?’ But women tell us that they have large charger plates that don’t fit into 12-inch cabinets. So we’re listening to them.”

Working relationships are key. “Business is about the people you hire, the ones you surround yourself with, and the ones you can bounce ideas off of. Hire them, train them, and then retain them,” says Mr. Borg. In his business, the intimate team of six – designers, architects and himself – are constantly interfacing. In fact, every project is backed by a team of three, which includes a designer, an architect and Mr. Borg. The result of such teamwork is communication and collaboration which leads to the production of maximum client satisfaction.

Go the extra mile. Pat Borg and his team travel to client homes to see the space firsthand. In fact, he estimates that approximately 40 percent of his business is out of state. “Many of these dwellings are second homes,” says Mr. Borg. While the Merchandise Mart has normal business hours of 9AM to 5PM, NEFF of Chicago will accommodate client schedules, including opening the showroom early or staying late, and opening on a Saturday or Sunday to meet a client.

Remember business relationships. “If you want a friend, get a dog. I have a great Yorkie named Mickey,” says Mr. Borg. “Don’t treat people how you’d like to be treated. Treat people how they like to be treated. This is a skill well learned.”

Frugality counts. “Count the paper clips and use both sides of paper for notes,” Mr. Borg says. “Spend your business money as if it’s your own. Because it is!”

Kasia Jarosz Photograph

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About Michelle Phelan

A graduate of Columbia College, Michelle Phelan spent a year as an intern at TCW. She's contributed to a variety of articles in dining, fashion, health and more.