Doing the Best!

excellenceI recently took on a small task for a non-profit group. It was to determine the amount of funds that would be available for 2009. This group has been in decline for several years….so the task became more of how much money would there be to pay the bills next year. I really wasn’t enthused about the idea because if this group wants to move forward there needs to be a very clear picture of where the future lies rather than is there enough money to survive. In addition, there has been no “real” leader for the past year.

I don’t know the results yet. The satisfaction however, is that the task was done as best as possible. Excellence is often used in the business world and at times can have many varied meanings. Yet, there is no other word to describe doing the best. I would like to think that in what I have done, I have done it with excellence. Not 100% of the time, but always trying to do the best.

As we begin a new year….it will take Excellence to move businesses and organizations forward:

Excellence….Now….More than ever! (Tom Peters)


Good or Bad?

amway-logo1I think almost everyone has an Amway story. And they will either be good or bad! They do sell products believe or not. 2007 fiscal global sales were $7.1 billion. That’s a lot of soap and vitamins. I do know something about Amway. One of their main products in the early years was Nutrilite food supplements (vitamins). I remember folks coming to our home and selling these products to my parents. Amway started in Western Michigan so we were fertile ground.

 My next encounter was with the attorney we used in our family business. Bob was a Harvard law school graduate with a good gift of persuasion.  After we left the business, Bob invited me to talk about a new business venture (I was doing consulting at the time). Of course the new venture was Amway. Well Bob was pretty successful at it. He went full time into Amway….and the last I heard, many years ago, he was living in Maui.

My third encounter was when I was doing consulting/research for Greenwich Research Associates. In this instance, I spoke with the CFO at the headquarters in Ada, MI. When I drove up to the rather nice building, one of Amway’s  helicopters was parked right in front of the entrance. Aircraft were a big part of the Amway story at that time.

Recent news from Amway is that the next generation of the founders is resurrecting the Amway name. It was changed to Quixtar in 2000. They believe it is time to restore the Amway brand. I just saw one of the new TV commercials.

80% of Amways business is now outside the U.S.  U.S. sales have been flat for years. Can the Amway brand be rejuvanated and are the products better than what are now on the market?

The Business Lesson:

  • Is the Amway model a viable busines model?
  • Does the brand have credibility?
  • What is Amway? A network of dealors or products of value?



Always room for more pizza

pizza-2Pizza is probably at the top of the food chain for many folks. Ann Arbor, MI in the early 60’s witnessed the start up of two of the Big 3 pizza chains….Domino’s and Little Ceasars. I had (in 1954) my first “real” italian pizza in the Bronx, NY. Pizza is a $29 Billion business…..so there is always room for differentiation in the pizza business. Two newer pizza chains in our area are Papa Murphy’s and zpizza.

What caught my attention, was that while both emphasize a quality product….they are directed to entirely different market segments. There is always room for someone  to do  it better and differently and continually change the business.

papa-murphysPapa Murphy’s, based in Vancouver , Washington with 1000+ stores in 30 states is a take-and -bake pizza business. They make the pizza in their stores….you take it home and bake it. The business section in our paper wrote that  a new store is opening in our town….and the first in North Carolina. In this case, the location is very important as well as product quality and service. The franchisees need  hands on management and good people in the store.


zpizza1zpizza is another west coast chain. Everything starts in California  it seems! zpizza is a casual dining chain started in Laguna Beach in 1987. zpizza postions its brand in the fresh/fast/health conscious market segment. Their stores are from 1100-1500 sq.ft. with about 30 seats. As of the end of 2008, they will have close to 100 locations. Our local food critic wrote: “the food is above the norm for a fast casual chain restaurant.


In the quest for a great pizza….I have to visit both of these pizza joints!

The Business Lesson:

  • Develop a market niche
  • Create a value product/service
  • Serve the customer

Towards 2010


There are some folks that over the years….I have recognized as pretty wise and that I better pay close attention to. Oren Harari is one of those….as you may note he is one of the few sites on my reference list.  Here is what he wrote recently:

20101“That’s the moral for all of you in the non-newspaper world: Don’t confuse your current product with your future business. People want news, information, entertainment, music, photos, milk, ice, what have you. That doesn’t mean they will want your current products or services, even if those products and services have been successful in the past. Stay wedded to your business, stay tuned to where your business is heading tomorrow, innovate accordingly, and don’t cling to what made you great yesterday.” 

I have seen this happen often in my experience both in businesses and organizations. There is such a strong pull to keep hold of the past. Certainly businesses want to do what they know best. When we moved to North Carolina, I managed a company that manufactured a specialized product. The product required very skillful application. Our company needed to find the best people possible to apply our product. We had to do two things well:

  • Develop the best customers
  • Continually evaluate our business

With the economic restructure taking place….the primary focus of any business is looking Towards 2010. Those that do will be stronger and growing businesses. Those that don’t will no longer exist. Our family business in Michigan would be totally different than what it was in the 60’s and 70’s. The business in NC would have had to completely change.

Markets Charge….Customers Change….Business Must Change. 


Love It or ?

fruitcakeFor many years, we sent fruitcakes as Christmas gifts. They were made in Corsicana, TX and were not too bad. However, I’m not sure everyone enjoyed or actually eat them.  The local newspaper food writer wrote recently about about a nearby company, Southern Supreme, that puts a better twist on using fruitcake as a doorstop. He writes this about their fruitcakes:

“The result is a dense, moist cake with a flavor that has as much in common with pecan pie as it does with fruitcake.”

We are going to rethink our fruitcake strategy after we try a Southern Supreme cake!

The business lesson:  

Small businesses are  fundamental to our economy. In particular, small business that:

  • Make quality products
  • Know their customers 
  • Provide superior service
  • Offer a solid guarantee
  • Have a photo of the owners on their web site




wawa1I really like coffee. So when I come across another coffee I follow it up. One site spoke about WAWA coffee. I never heard of WAWA coffee. Doing a search, I found WAWA is a convenience chain on the East Coast. The main products are fresh food and coffee and beverages. At some stores it also sells fuel. And for many folks, WAWA coffee is the best. WAWA has locations in New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.

The company takes it name from its headquarters, Wawa, PA, southwest of Philadelphia. I don’t know much about the company. The website says it has 16,000 associates . However, with a name like WAWA it has a lot going for it.

 In addition these core values  are listed on the wawa website:

  • Value People
  • Delight Customers
  • Embrace Change
  • Do the Right Thing
  • Do Things Right
  • Passion for Winning

With values like these, it seems WAWA is a coolgem of a company that has been very succesful.

However….I still like my Peets Coffee!



What’s Next?

news-2Listening to the news this morning was almost depressing. It seems that newscasters/writers can’t wait to read another dire warning about the state of the economy.  The stock market is down. Jobs lost. Sales decline.  Bailouts. They relish the bad news. Yet, I have to be realistic in knowing that there are disruptions in business. There have been and will be failures. Fortunately or unfortunately….we operated our business in a similar situation some 25 years ago. Of course at that time there was not the proliferation of reporting that exists now. Our news information is now almost instantaneous.

How do we respond?

Tom Peters wrote  recently:

“Learn to thrive in unstable times–our lot  (and our opportunity) for the foreseeable future.”

It will be a serious challenge  for the next year or so. However, every day is a new opportunity. We live in a time that that has almost instant connection to other parts of the world. Those that use that connection and seek every new….idea….concept….will be prepared for the future. We can’t listen only to the negative news. We have to be always be moving forward as difficult as it may be at times.

Soft is Hard


I believe the hardest part of being in business or leading an organization is the thinking part….SOFT. The day to day stuff is manageable if you have good business skills and good people. In all of the businesses I have been part of….I knew the tasks would get done. We were a team. Certainly there were disruptions….a breakdown on the road….late delivery….or poor communication. Yet, there was nothing that we could not handle.

softballThinking (SOFT) about what to do next is where the real test of business acumen lies.

What direction do we need to move in? Who are our future customers? How….when do we expand/grow? If we are not growing in one form or another we are simply maintaining the status quo. If maintaining the status quo is all that we do than it’s time to rethink our purpose.

This is what is happening with the Big 3 automobile manufacturers as they ask for their bailout….now  $34B!. The auto folks can make cars….no problem….whether they are the right ones is the big question.

The real test: Can we (and The Big 3) think clearly enough about the future to function in a competitive and changing environment?