Thursday, May 6, 2010

Listen to Your Customers to Find Innovation

This blog entry first appeared on, American Express OPEN's award-winning site providing insights, advice and connections for small business owners. You can find more articles and updates at

You can also follow me on Twitter at @jasonrudman and follow OPEN Forum at @openforum. This post was written in collaboration with Courtney Colwell at Federated Media.

I’ve heard from several business owners who have created new products or services or expanded into new markets to fuel growth during the recession. And what’s always interested me most is how they’ve identified those opportunities. A great example is provided by Anthony De Filippis, who recently told me: innovation comes from listening to your customers.

Anthony is President of DeFiliSolutions (DFS), a company he started in August of 2009 as a joint venture with CargoTrans, the company his father founded in 1989. Whereas CargoTrans facilitates international shipping and logistics for exporters/importers; DFS provides consulting, administration, virtual office capabilities, vendor management and other services that help make it easier for importers and exporters to operate locally.

DFS was borne from a commitment to customer service, an understanding of business needs and an ability to address these needs with quality in mind. “Over the years, we found ourselves being asked by clients to perform services that were outside the scope of our shipping business,” Anthony told me. “Instead of passing this business on to other companies, we decided to introduce DFS and capitalize on this market.”

DFS counts international fashion companies exporting to the U.S. as their core clientele, based mainly on great "word-of-mouth" referrals from CargoTrans. And the smaller, design companies have proven to be a source of business during the recession. “With the financial crisis, many of our clients needed to scale back operations here in the U.S., and DFS has been able to alleviate some of the stress and help them still maintain their presence. Our goal is to assist foreign companies in managing or creating a wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary while maintaining a lean cost structure. By taking care of the back-office responsibilities, DFS allows them to focus on product and sales.”

I asked Anthony what he thought were the advantages of being associated with a more established company. “Our partnership with CargoTrans means we can offer a one-stop shop for clients, which is a real differentiator. Others who claim to offer a similar range of services are outsourcing. With companies being in the same office, we know more about what’s going on with clients’ shipments.”

“On the other hand, it’s difficult in trying to get clients to understand that DFS is independent. We don’t want them to feel like they’re ceding too much control. There’s fear of becoming too dependent on a provider, as it’s not easy to switch. That’s another one of our challenges: convincing potential customers to switch.”

Anthony is continuing to grow within the fashion and apparel industry, including marketing at international trade shows. And, as DFS continues to learn from their customers, he plans to identify opportunities to expand into other industries.

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For more information on DFS and/or CargoTrans (Cardmember since 1990) visit CargoTrans and DeFiliSolutions.

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