Scale Down:Scale Up

Much of what I think, talk and write about revolves around how businesses/organizations can be better. How they can be smarter and develop a dedicated and loyal customer.


 By becoming better, a business:

  • Grows internally and externally
  • Develops a competitive advantage
  • Establishes an unique brand proposition
  • Adds to a stronger economy

So I want to look at every business small and large to see what can be learned from that business or organization. Every enterprise does things right and things wrong. All we have to do is learn from what they do and apply it to our organizations. Whether it’s Paradise Pup or IBM….find the next extraordinary idea and make it work in your organization.

Lesson Learned: Take….Use….Borrow any idea to make you better!

Getting Better

Back from Michigan

We just returned from a visit to my hometown in Michigan. This is a photo of the Lake Michigan shoreline.  Pretty nice in the summer.  Michigan again is in a transition economy. The area where I grew up has not changed dramatically, population nor business wise. So how do businesses compete, survive and grow in this environment.

My theory is that businesses continually have to learn to be better. By learning, a business/organization grows not just numerically but increases its knowledge of creating new products/services, new ways to develop loyal customers, and new pathways to growth.  The same holds true for my hometown….Muskegon. I wrote before that Muskegon was an industrial-manufacturing town trying to transition to something different. Manufacturing still exists….even some foundries remain.  

As I drove around some familiar areas….it seemed that while some places have changed. A new mall, new office buildings….a redeveloped downtown, other parts had not gotten better and were still the same as they were 20 years ago.

Lesson Learned: Get better all the time….marginal increments won’t work.

Business Update:

We traveled to  Michigan on Midwest Airlines. I wrote about Midwest before. I believe they can survive and grow if they continue to enhance their original business model of service….. Best Care in the Air.  Even if it costs more….I believe most travelers want better service not less. Midwest Airlines doesn’t have to recreate the old airline model of the 60’s….what  most travelers  want is safety, reliable flights and pleasant/efficient service.

This past week Midwest announced it will eliminate service to RDU, MKG and other cities….I wonder how this strategy will play out.

Take Action

Do Something!

 Some time ago I was reading about  planning. The gist of the article was about strategic planning. I think every business/organization needs some type of strategy. However, the conclusion was that while plans are nice, the key element of strategic planning is to:

  Do Something. Take Action.

In my experience it’s not just creating a process….it’s actually doing something right now. Take some action to inspire folks and accomplish a mission to attain desired goals. Doing nothing doesn’t even result in maintaining the status quo. Doing nothing is the formula for failure.

I am familiar with an organization that has been on the decline for the past five years. The potential for growth continues to increase. However this group believes in doing nothing. It has relinquished control of its own destiny to others. It has failed to inspire people. It does not understand its market or the needs of its future customers.

There are outstanding opportunities for new technologies, new partnerships, new niches,  in new employee relationships, new customer experiences, and even new business models. So whats new in your business/organization?  What action are you taking?

Lesson Learned:

Casual Dinning


A week ago we had spent a long day at Chapel Hill. It was close to dinner time….so we decided to visit Chilis, a popular casual dinning restaurant. Chilis is part of the Brinker Group which has several restaurant brands. For the most part they appear to be very popular in our town.

In Wake County, the Department of Health does restaurant inspections. Once a week, WRAL-TV does a segment on the best and the worst ratings for the local restaurants. And some ratings are fairly gross! So I have developed my own standard. Anything below a 95, forget it. Well, we entered Chilis and I noted the rating of 92. The ratings are posted to be easily seen. A 92 did not meet my standard, but it was a long day and we were hungry. However the meal was fine, service good, reasonable price….overall a pleasant experience. The receipt included a survey web address. I completed the survey with a comment about the 92 rating.

The next day I received an email form the local manager, thanking me for the comments and offering me complementary coupons for another visit. The following day a letter arrived from the restauarnt manager with the coupons again thanking me and detailing the steps Chilis has taken to improve their next rating.

Here is summary of Chilis reply:

  • We are sorry for the below expectation on our health score.
  • We appreciate that you wrote to us.
  • We use your response as a coaching and teaching tool.
  • We always look for ways to be better.

Lesson Learned: Respond prompty to your customer. Use your customers as a partner to be better.

Sears + K-Mart =?

The Wish Book

Few people today probably remember the Sears Wish Book. The Sears catalog that defined the Sears Roebuck Co. Sears was The Place to find all of the stuff we needed to enhance our standard of living.

It was Craftsman Tools, Kenmore Appliances, Sears Furniture, and wonderful toys. If it had a Sears name on it….the products were pretty good. Sears set the standard. The Wish Book was our of the 30’s to 60’s.

So it’s 2008, Sears (and K-Mart) seem to be doing poorly. The investor who bought K-Mart and eventually Sears is a finance person, not a retailer. Sears and K-Mart are in the retail business. Several key executives have departed Sears. A causal observation in our local mall….5 major retailers, my guess Sears is at the bottom in quality/value. Hudson-Belk being at the top. If I need a good tool, a Craftsmen is nice….yet I can probably find as good as quality at Lowe’s or Home Depot. The same for appliances. Clothing also probably not….although they do have a Land’s End section….nothing great here either. I think you get a better selection from the Land’s End catalog or on-line. Why did Land’s End ever sell out to Sears, anyway?  Land’s End, a great brand,  was quite comparable to LL Bean and has strong brand identity.

So what’s the bottom line?

 Sears obviously has to change its image. It has to regain its retail legacy. It’s pretty difficult to re-invent a large business or organizations culture. It can be done. It takes the right people and talent to do it. It requires people with retail acumen not financial manipulation ability. K-Mart can still survive. It doesn’t have to be Wal*Mart or Target. If it can provide the products and value to its market niche….it can be around for many years. Unfortunately….there has been minimal investment in K-Mart to make them a strong niche player.

What’s Wrong Here?

Pay More Get Less!

A recent article in The Chicago Tribune with the headline, Pay More Get Less addressed the plight of the airline industry. Essentially because of high fuel costs, it has become very difficult for airlines to be profitable and in some cases survive. Even my favorite, Midwest Airlines is having difficulty. From a business customer perspective paying more getting less doesn’t seem like a great business model. Airlines in the past have been sensitive to business cycles and operating with questionable leadership. Several years ago a book entitled Nuts came out about Herb Kelleher and Southwest Airlines. Nuts was really good and provided great insights into a successful business/customer model. As a result Southwest Airlines has remained profitable, though it also is coping with the challenges in today’s transition economy.

I don’t have the magic bullet for solving the problems at these airlines. Although it seems to me the Pay More Get Less strategy is not a long term solution. There are several good airlines that operate throughout the world that are profitable, provide a good customer experience and get passengers safely to their destination.

I for one am willing to pay a higher fare for good service, safe travel and a well managed airline. For what it’s worth. Factor in the fuel costs to a reasonable fare. Provide great service to the customer. Forget charging $3 for a bag of pretzels.

Ball Bearings


Kaydon Bearings make it to Mars

A recent article in my Michigan hometown paper reminded me again of the the industrial nature of our world and its importance in our economic growth. The Kaydon Bearings Division of Kaydon Corp. provided  the bearings for the robotic arm on the NASA Phoenix Mars Lander.

Bearings are pretty much hidden in manufactured products….yet necessary for equipment to move and turn effortlessly and reliably.

Kaydon was established in 1941 to provide gun mount bearings for the Navy during WW ll. What makes this interesting to me is that the plant has been in Muskegon for years and only a short distance from where we use to live. The newspaper article indicated the Kaydon Bearing Division annual sales were $450 million. Not too shabby for the plant that has been there for decades through many economic cycles.

The story here is that manufacturing is still a vital part of our economy. That quality products that provide substantial value will always be needed. And that successful long term business don’t have to be billion dollar businesses as long as they can be prominent in their market. In Kaydon’s case….thin section bearings.

Lesson Learned: Bigger is not always better. Be really good at what you do.