Best Managed Companies

OSL: Canada’s Best Managed Companies 2018

When it makes sense to outsource sales

Canada’s Best Managed Companies
Man holding an upward-sloping trend line

(Illustration by Sam Island)

While North American retailers and manufacturers are wary of the continued volatility and accelerated pace of change in their business, OSL Retail Services CEO Brett Farren sees them as the key to continued success.

Established in 2012, OSL (the acronym is short for outsourced sales leadership), based in Mississauga, Ont., provides clients with a range of customized performance-related services including retail and direct sales, merchandising and customer acquisition. In other words, it acts like a hired gun for sales expertise.

The backbone of OSL’s business is providing highly trained and technically proficient sales associates on a part-time, seasonal or, increasingly, full-time basis. Its thousands of employees help Fortune 500 companies deliver what Farren calls an “elevated” customer experience.

OSL deploys staff to companies including Bell and Samsung, where they represent these clients in multiple environments, from retail and trade events to online. Farren says that OSL specializes in reaching customers “wherever they live, work, shop or play.”

The company boasts a diversified client roster that includes home, health and financial services. Farren says the focus is on “complex” categories that prioritize repeat customer business.

“We are able to go in and very quickly affect key parts of their business, injecting productivity and profitability,” he says. “We can get in and out and pick off key strategic parts of the business and have them perform at a much higher level.”

Farren claims that OSL’s services have enabled clients to record double-digit percentage increases in both customer retention and sales. OSL was created to address the increased pace of change in the retail and manufacturing environments, says Farren, who founded the activation and engagement agency Match Marketing Group in 1998 before stepping away from the company last year.

“[Companies] used to be able to do the same thing for years on end, but today if you do the same thing, you’re going to be faced with significant business challenges,” he says. “We wake up with a mandate to question what we did yesterday and what we need to change today.”

The past year has seen a major push into the U.S. market as one of the company’s key strategic priorities. OSL began operating in 10 northeastern states in 2017 and expects to have a presence in 30 states by the end of June, and to go nationwide by the end of 2018.

“We had a ‘walk before we run’ philosophy,” says Farren of the slow-but-steady rollout of OSL’s U.S. capabilities, noting that revenue from U.S. operations will surpass that from Canada within 36 months.

“I believe that’s a conservative estimate,” says Farren, noting that the retail consolidation that has transformed the Canadian market and helped make it more efficient isn’t as mature in the U.S., providing the company with considerable growth opportunities south of the border.

OSL expects to employ 4,000 people across North America by the end of the year, up from 1,500 in 2016.

Farren credits OSL managing partner Gary MacAskill with driving the employee culture that has contributed to the company’s growth over the past five years. The company benefits from what Farren calls a “laser focus” on its strategic priorities by the management team.

“We have full alignment across our entire organization in terms of where we’re going, what we need to contribute to achieve that goal and what that accomplishment does in terms of building the foundation for the next stage of growth,” he says.

“We’ve been able to map out where we’d like to be in the next five years, and the building blocks that need to be laid. We’re all marching down the field toward one common goal.”

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