It’s About People

ACE Hardware

ace1The local ACE Hardware has been a fixture in our area for the past 20+ years. Squeezed between the Food Lion and K-Mart, it was a helpful place solving mundane household problems. The reason it was so helpful was that they had folks that knew what part was needed….how to do it….and where to find it.  For the most part, these were fellows that had the experience and worked part time and/or had been at the local store for years. Sure while there were younger students that filled in….however there was always an experienced hand-on-deck.

So what happened?

In January, our ACE moved to a nicer, larger location.  And for me only a hop….skip…and jump from home.  At this point in the transition….so far-so good.

After a month being opened….while it’s new and spacious….the helpful hardware men are no longer there! The experienced guys have left….I don’t know the reason yet. It appears that students and new part-timers are now the “helpful” folks. Now, only 1 or 2 inexperienced folks man the store. After spending thousands of dollars to refit the new location….where are the most important people to make the place work?

Lesson Learned: What differentiated ACE from Lowes and Home Depot was the fact that there was helpful and knowledgeable assistance. People were willing to pay a little more for that help and convenience. If you lose that differentiation….you lose the very thing upon which you have built your market  position. In MBA terms it’s called “Unique Selling Proposition (USP).”

At my local ACE the USP use to be the “helpful hardware man.” It’s not now!

Wide Angle Vision


 “The interesting “stuff” usually is going on beyond the margins of ever-narrowing line of sight. ” -Tom Peters

It continues to amaze me that businesses and organizations isolate themselves from a new idea or a different approach to what they do. Even when they face challenging times…there seems to be a mindset of refusal to recognize something different and/or even better!

silo1The catchy phrase is Silo. Tall and narrow thinking rather than wide-angle thinking. I did an MBA project for a division of Ford Motor Co. in Saline, MI that characterized the silo mentality. The manufacturing group that I was working with didn’t want anything to do with anyone else in the plant….they lived and operated in their own silo. Of course the auto industry was different in the 60’s….yet there was a total lack of cooperation and understanding that working together created better products and profitable operation.

A non-profit organization that I occasionally write about continues to function in its own silo. With declining numbers both nationally and locally, it is unable to look outside it’s silo. The result- imposing debt….fewer members…. and deficit budgets.  

Businesses/organizations  can’t change what happened yesterday. What they can change is what happens tomorrow and the next day. That is why Wide Angle Vision is a critical tool in determining an organizations future. The only way to gain that perspective is to be receptive to what is going on outside the silo.

Often it is not necessary to be original….it is more necessary to be effective.


The Deluxe Butterburger

Restaurants are good learning tools for understanding business execution….at least I think so.

culversCulver’s started out in the Midwest. Its headquartwers are in Prarire du Sac, Wisconsin. Culver’s opened 23 new restaurants in 2008. It operates 395 location in 17 states. All but eight are owned by franchise owner-operators. In 2009, Culver’s plans to open another 20 restaurants.

I will visit a Culver’s this summer. None in North Carolina yet. So what makes Culver’s different and successful? They sell simple, good food reasonably and have built a solid reputation since 1984. Their identity is the Deluxe Butterburger, the double Butterburger,  frozen custard with over 120 different flavors and warm and friendly service.

When I read stories about Culver’s, Primanti Brothers, In ‘n Out ( a California chain) the central theme seems to be:

Execution Excellence

What they do….They do well. That is what every business and organization must do….all the time.  I am on a restaurant kick. Our local restaurant writer reviewed a new English Pub type restaurant with  fairly high prices. A hamburger for $13!. What amazes me is that restaurants require a lot of money to open-in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. This particular restaurant received 2.5 stars out of 5. What got my attention was the service comment:

Pacing and attentiveness needs improvement.

After all the money spent on furnishings, chefs, etc….the hands-on part of the business….the interaction with the guest needs improvement. Where is the execution excellence? I woud rather go to Culver’s for the $5.99 Deluxe Butterburger.


Survival is a Skill….Not a Right!

survivor2Last night at tribal council another person got voted off the Timbira tribe.  Candance’s response at the end of the program was that they made a mistake and were going to miss her skills later on. We don’t really know what goes on in each tribe. It seems that Candance thought she had a right to stay  in the game. The other members thought she would be detrimental to the team.  The other tribe members considered her too outspoken and critical of others….so she was gone.

If I were to be on Survivor, I would take the time to study the game and learn basic survival skills such as lighting a fire….finding edible food in the wilderness….getting along with others.

In other words-Be Prepared!

While the current economic disruption has developed fairly rapidly….it sure doesn’t appear that many businesses and organizations were prepared.  One  of the most important management skills is preparation.  In our businesses we were always conservative in business decision-making….not that we did not take risks.  The past few years have shown a disregard for fiscal conservatism….and thus no right to be in the great game of business.

An example: Buy now-no payments until 2012. I always wonder how anyone could stay in business with terms like that.

Whether one is on the The Survivor, The Amazing Race or in business….develop good survival skills to play the game.

Those that mange and lead prudently will be prepared to survive and more than likely will do so.

“What’s dangerous is not to evolve.”

I don’t read Fast Company magazine like I use to. Fast Co. has evolved also over the years. When it first came out….it was revolutionary in its approach to business. It had extraordinary writers and material that was on the edge. Monthly issues had almost 400 pages. Now the issues are around a 100 pages or so.

amazonIn the March 2009 issue, the feature article is on The Worlds 50 Most Innovative Companies. In today’s business environment….it is important for us in the business/organizational world to discover new possibilities. Amazon is a $4 B company the changed forever on how books and other consumer products are sold. Its current new product is the Kindle, which allows you to download and store hundreds  of books to a handheld electronic display.

What caught my attention was CEO Jeff Bezos statement about taking risks:

“What’s dangerous is not to evolve.”

I read today of a prominent business (I knew of) that has been in existence since 1964. In 2008, it was recognized as national retailer of the  year with sales under $10 million. Apparently its bank called a loan. Unfortunately the business was not even able to reorganize. It is being liquidated! Recent changes probably have caught many businesses by surprise. The lesson from Fast Company is to be willing to recognize new ideas and quickly put them to work.

Those business/organizations that are willing to evolve and reinvent themselves will have a viable future. Those that don’t will fade away.


First Mac

macApple Computers have always been the Cadillac of computers. Yet their market share is fairly small. Years ago when I worked with a small manufacturing company I bought Macs for our business.  Now these were the Mac Plus computers….with a 9″ screen….all in one unit. Pretty compact for the time. And also very good. We put all our accounting systems on these little guys. Plus MacWrite and MacDraw….really good stuff. I still have a Mac Color Plus….it doesn’t work….but it must have some historical value!

The Mac was more intuitive….easier to use….and very innovative.

Apple makes great computers (the iMac). Now the ipod, itunes and iphone seem to be their most visible products. What did Apple do to make itself so prominent in the computer/tech world.

Guy Kawasaki was responsible for marketing the Mac and getting it introduced to potential customers. The way the Mac division and Apple functioned and how Apple saw itself and the culture of the company has had a great deal to do with Apple’s success. Read the Jan. 26, 2009 post on Kawasaki’s web site and I believe you will get the idea of what makes Apple a different kind of  company.


US Air 1549

us-air-320CBS 60 Minutes had the first interview with the crew of US Air Flight 1549. This morning the crew, passengers and rescue personnel were on the CBS Early Morning Show. The Captain of Flight 1549 (Sully) demonstrated outstanding airmanship in landing the Airbus 320 on the Hudson river. A textbook for a forced landing. A fundamental element in pilot training is always being able to land if an emergency dictates that.

Sully being the captain was in command and has been the primary spokesperson for this event. In  the interviews….he made one extraordinary statement that should apply to any business or organization. The total success was not entirely Sullys. The aircraft landing on the river, the evacuation of the plane and the rescue of the passengers was a “team” effort. While Sully was the team leader….everyone contributed to the success of this landing. If the co-pilot had not been fully engaged….if the crew not reacted to their training….if the rescue folks had not been prepared….the outcome may have not been the same.

team-circleMy experience has been that business/organizations have greater success when they understand the value of a high-performance team approach. Often in my presentations I use Duke (it could be UNC or NCSU….we do live in basketball land!) basketball as a real life example of a team. The Duke team has many superstars….their success is because the leader (Coach “K”) teaches them to play as a team….not as out-of-control individuals.

That’s why the best business/organizations operate as teams that get the job done….rather than committees that continually explore further options.


Car Care

happy-japRex and Zack take great care of my Toyota. I trust them. I have known Rex for the past 20 years since we moved to North Carolina. No one else touches my Toyota! I have had 3 Toyotas and one Honda, all cared for by Rex and Zack. My former 1982 Toyota Corona with almost 400,000 miles belongs to Rex. Who else should have it!

With  misdeeds taking place in the business world….trust becomes even more vital as a business value. However, trust must be earned as well as given. Rex and my relationship is one of earned and one of given and that’s the way to conduct business. The failure of many businesses seems to me; that the trust….earned and given was missing in a inflated/excessive business world. That world no longer exists.

The business/organization that values trust will prepare itself for a sustainable future.

Primanti Brothers

All-in-one meal!

In the last post,  I wrote about new being the focus for a business/organization. Now, I’m writing about a sandwich (and restaurant) that has been around for years. Do I even have a clue about any business and how they can be successful?

I think I do!

A business that offers a product or experience consistently can also be a long term success. Restaurants, which in some cases, have a short term life can also be in existence for years…..Primanti Brothers being one of those.

First,  Primanti Brothers:

Founded in 1933, Primanti Brothers is a restaurant icon in Pittsburgh, PA. There are 14 locations in Pittsburgh, 2 in Florida. While the famous Primanti sandwich is what identifies the restaurants, they also have developed a more extensive menu to broaden their customer base.

primanti-sandwich-21Second, The Sandwich:

Kielbasa sausage, Provolone cheese, tomato, coleslaw, baked French Fries….all piled together on 1″ thick slices of Italian bread. The myth behind the sandwich was that steelworkers could eat a full meal without the hassle of eating coleslaw and fries separately.

Business/organizations that adapt to changing times while also offering a consistent and good product and know their customer will be around. Those that do none of these won’t survive.