Monday, August 4th, 2008

Nickels & Dimes:

Have you ever been told by your boss that you’re not allowed to wait on customers because, “You don’t have enough sense!”?

Many careers begin slowly. “Why should I pay you to learn the business?” was the mantra at one man’s first job. Being a young 21 year-old and the son of a farmer, the salesman worked for the first three months for free.

After six years of failing to satisfy his simpleton boss in Watertown, New York, he desperately wanted to be his “own man.” He had closely watched the merchandising techniques of his boss. He felt he had a breakthrough model idea. After bumming $300, on February 22, 1879 this budding retailer opened his first store in Utica.

Two weeks later it closed. Failure!

This wanna-be businessman would have none of it. In April 1879 he attempted to open a second store. This time he picked Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He tweaked his merchandising strategy and decided to bring on his brother to help. The brothers decided to double their price point assortment. They decided to merchandise at five cents as well as ten cents.

The Woolworth brothers incorporated and united the 586 stores they had opened under this format, then they built the world’s tallest building. It stood an amazing 792 feet and they paid for all $13,500,000 of it in cash.

Would you believe they hired the original employer and made him a partner?

117 years later, on August 4, 1997, the company announced it would close its 400 remaining locations. This marked the end of an American icon and wiped out $1,000,000,000 (yeah, billion) in variety store sales in one day.

Interestingly, this company continues to operate today under a new corporate name and a new stable of brands. You know them as Foot Locker and Champs Sports.

Sometimes a trip down memory lane brings important historical failures to light, and sometimes it’s just nostalgic.

It is our hope your independent family business still stands for something real. Today’s customer demands it.

We are here to help. Would you like to try?

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Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

Furniture Fairy can’t protect your family

The Las Vegas furniture market is filled with great product introductions and a record number of retailers looking to fend off the summer blues. I was nicely surprised to NOT hear people complaining about how difficult business is. While it is clear things are tough, solutions come from engaging in each opportunity.

Two different stories from market will work nicely to differentiate you from everyone else in your market. One is exciting and positive and the other should scare the crap out of each of us.

First is the opportunity to partner with HGTV to become the preferred home furnishing retailer in your market. In case you are not aware, HGTV is far and away the most respected brand for women looking to decorate their homes. You can learn more by visiting HGTV/NHFA Preferred Retailer Program Details or by contacting me for the details.

The second story catching my eyes and ears deals with the safety of your Ms. Joneses. Amazingly, 33% of the leather product coming from Guangzhou Has Unsafe Formaldehyde Levels resulting in an 11 year old girl being hospitalized.

I quickly connected the dots between these two stories, have you? Being a preferred HGTV retailer gives you creditability with Ms. Jones. Being a preferred retailer provides you a platform to let your local market know the dangers of buying leather from this Provence in China. You can be an authority and a family watch dog in one fell-swoop.

We will gladly help you write persuasive copy. Your story will stand head and shoulders above the product and price nincompoops in your market. If you win the hearts of your customer their pocketbook will follow.

Want some help?

PS- I don’t know about you, but this China story reminds me of a great exchange from Tommy Boy.

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Monday, July 21st, 2008

Rite of Passage

For the first half of our life, passages are fairly easily marked. We go to school, get a job, find a mate, raise a family and contribute to our community.

But a strange thing happens on the way to the finish line. The built in “life detector” begins to ask why are we here, and what is this all for. Questions begin to form. We wonder about retirement-from what, to what? How will we cope with maintaining health in an aging body? We question our ability to mentor younger people, begin to experience the loss of loved ones, and face the eventual certainty of our own mortality.

Big questions, huh?

Passageways, not aging, are on my mind.

Retailers are presented with rites of passage daily. How do I get the sales staff to move? How do I get more cash in the bank account? How do I get rid of excess inventory? These are all questions that require movement from where you are to where you want to be (or at least a step in the right direction).

Your rites of passage will take you over thresholds and through gates. A threshold is something we cross, a place we tread, turn, twist, and flail. Thresholds often mentally move us to the brink of something. A gate, on the other hand, is a passageway into sacred ground, or holy land, or a place of protection, testing, and/or spiritual depth.

Fear neither. Go through both. Move From Success to Significance.

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Saturday, June 14th, 2008

Cultural Code

What is culture? How does it play out in family business?

A culture can be defined by four foundational stones. They are artifacts, perspectives, values, and assumptions (Schein 1985, Dyer 1986) and on these, researchers agree.

I’m wondering how you may view your family’s and your bisiness’s cultural code? Family units are built upon these same principles and the family business is often an extension of the family themselves.

Artifacts are the physical, tangible part of culture including layout of your store, staff dress, company logo, jargon, stories, myths, and ceremonies- might I know you by your uniform, or your lunch parties? Perspectives are the rules that govern decision making. They might be defined as how your employees act when your back is turned. Without question these perspectives are driven by the family manager in charge; however, perspectives are best explained as “group think,” the normal way specific problems will be handled. Examples of perspective are training for new hires, new product launches, performance appraisals, raises, and how they are implemented. The third cultural component is values. Values are different than perspectives because they are not situational. Values are broader, for example, we provide good customer service, or don’t cheat people, or we never question authority. The final level of culture that was uncovered by this research is assumptions. Assumptions lay the foundation upon which the other areas are built. To me, assumption makes me think of the lens of a microscope which is used to improve the focus on an object as you’re trying to get closer to discover its makeup.

Think closely about your company’s four stones. I’m pretty confident if you’ll take the time you’ll begin to see clearly this research is right. Artifacts, perspectives, values, and assumptions play a huge role in how your family business gets things done on a daily basis.

If ordered differently these four cultural stones will produce different types of family leadership. You should also consider a belief of mine, that the strength and focus of the family will also shape these foundational stones. Gibb Dyer’s research team found there are four basic types of family business cultures resulting from the “cultural code” produced by interaction of these four stones. The types of culture are laissez-faire, paternal, professional, and participative. (In a future post I’ll clarify each of these types.)

“Why does this matter?” you might be thinking. Culture and leadership types will be very big keys to your successful transition as you consider the future of your family firm and begin to look toward the time of generational transfer. Thinking about more than this week’s promotion, inventory levels, electric bills, and cash flow will result in a transition where more assets are kept among the family. If you believe business transfer is simply you deciding which one of your family members you’ll allow to buy a controlling amount the company stock, I’m afraid you’ll be very disappointed in the results.

If you decide you would like to have personal conversations about this subject don’t hesitate to contact me.

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Thursday, June 12th, 2008

The grip and all its trappings

In a previous post I wrote about the archetypes of personality. These archetypes seem to have been imprinted within each of us. To me the key to understanding is to realize at any giving time we may be acting in the father, or hero, or faithful family dog role.

Our archetype can quickly change when we enter the grip. In fact everything changes when the grip has a hold on us.

The grip is a name given to stress by Dr Naomi Quenk, the leading national expert on the inferior forth function ; the area of ourselves we are least likely to enjoy visiting. It has been described as an undesired eruption into consciousness of our deepest secrets. The grip shows up in the way we act when we are ill, fearful, lonely, tired, or hungry. She describes the grip as overreaction, single focus, and highly emotional. You’ll know you’ve been in the grip and returned when someone says to you; “That’s was unlike you.” This is often a person we are not proud of.

This forth function, unfortunately, is the area where many business decisions are made. We have all heard that change isn’t likely without pressure. In business, pressure comes from lower sales or higher expenses. During this current difficult climate both lower retail sales and higher expenses need to be dealt with daily. It is no fun.

But the decisions you make today will affect the course of you company for years to come. Remember, the grip is emotional and out of character decision making.

How can you get quickly out of the grip and back to your normal decision making style?

Try these:

  1. Get up fifteen minutes earlier in the morning. The inevitable morning mishaps will be less stressful.
  2. Prepare for the morning the evening before. Set the breakfast table, make lunches, put out the clothes you plan to wear, etc.
  3. Don’t rely on your memory. Write down appointment times.
  4. Do nothing which, after being done, leads you to tell a lie.
  5. Practice preventive maintenance. Your car, appliances, home, and relationships will be less likely to break down/fall apart “at the worst possible moment.”
  6. Be prepared to wait.
  7. Procrastination is stressful. Whatever you want to do tomorrow, do today; whatever you want to do today, do it now.
  8. Plan ahead. Don’t let the gas tank get below one-quarter full; keep a well-stocked “emergency shelf” of home staples; don’t wait until you’re down to your last bus token or postage stamp to buy more; etc.
  9. Don’t put up with something that doesn’t work right. If your alarm clock, wallet, shoe laces, windshield wipers – whatever- are a constant aggravation, get them fixed or get new ones.
  10. Allow 15 minutes of extra time to get to appointments.
  11. Eliminate (or restrict) the amount of caffeine in your diet.
  12. Always set up contingency plans, “just in case.”
  13. Relax your standards. The world will not end if the grass doesn’t get mowed this weekend.
  14. For every one thing that goes wrong, there are probably 10 or 50 or 100 blessings. Count ‘em!
  15. Unplug your phone. Want to take a long bath, meditate, sleep, or read without interruption? Drum up the courage to temporarily disconnect.

And here is my bonus offering…realize the world doesn’t have to be so hard.

Simplify, simplify, simplify. . .

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