21st Century

“The rural Midwest is still using a twentieth century playbook to compete in a twenty-first-century economy. For more than half a century, the rural Midwest has followed one basic strategy to develop its economy: Recruit a factory to the edge of town, and give away the farm to get it.” (Past Silos and Smokestacks)

I recently read the article about the Midwest having to change. What the statement said is absolutely correct. Every small town did have a factory….that for the most part supported automobiles, appliances or farm equipment.

Now every business must compete in the 21st Century.

A perfect example: Video stores.

When we moved to North Carolina….almost every shopping center had a video store to rent VCR movies. Most stores were locally owned….and some created small mini-chains. Than the giants moved in….Blockbuster….and the small stores no longer existed….change!

DVD’s soon replaced the VCR’s….more change. Than suddenly a new model came on the scene….Netflix. A new….different….better way to deliver movies….and Blockbuster stumbles. The movie business is still changing….movies can be directly delivered from Netflix to a home receiver….instant movie.

An acquaintance wrote:

“Some of today is good, some of it is bad, but it’s all new and it’s all real.”

Any business/organization can not ignore today. It’s fairly easy to go from remarkable to irrelevant in a short period of time.


Do The Right Thing


I just received the 2009 Annual Report from USAA. United Services Auto Association (USAA)  was formed in 1922 by 25 Army officers to insure their automobiles. In 1963, when I joined…. membership was about 490,000….2009  membership is  7.4 miillon.

USAA is a top-rated financial services company. In 2009, USAA had the best year in the company’s history. A key statement in the report:

“Simply put, our investment philosophy is that we don’t invest in anything we don’t understand.”

What got my attention was the title of the annual report: “Doing the right thing.”

USAA is led by former military officers and certainly has a selective customer base….yet the reason for USAA’s consistent performance and recognition….I believe, is an inherent philosophy of doing the right thing.

In reviews of companies….brands….products….services….I often wonder if the leadership of the companies at the bottom of the rankings even care about doing the right thing.

The value of a free enterprise….market economy is that we do have the choice of who we do business with.

The true test of any business/organization and the basis for ongoing success will always be:

Do The Right Thing



Undercover Boss 9


Chris McCann, the President and COO of 1-800-Flowers was UB 9. Jim McCann is the CEO and older brother. So in effect Chris works for Jim….although Chris believed it was more of a partnership. The real relationship between the brothers is questionable.

I am not surprised of the chocolate factory segment. In a billion dollar business, the COO might not know the in and outs of the chocolate operation. However, he should be hiring people who do. Perhaps that is what is missing in all of the UB stories….there are other management people who should mange and lead these operations

It is not just the headquarters folks….it’s about all the levels of the organization.

From a brand perspective, the corner store in Waban, MA was interesting. 1-800-Flowers is both an online and retail store enterprise. This particular store was not busy even though it was in a good area. The local marketing effort was non-existent.

The question:

Do you brand a retail location with an on-line brand, 1-800-Flowers? Especially when the business is trying to identify with the local community.

The lesson learned from UB 9 and the UB series:

The success of any business starts with good people.


Postscript: UB has become predictable. Will the companies and UB’s change? Of course this is edited entertainment. While it may give a snapshot of a business….it is not the real story by any means.

A word of caution: read the on-line reviews of the products and services.


Coffee Again

Intelligentsia-Chicago, IL













Again on my coffee quest. Intelligentsia is a prominent name in Chicago coffeeland. Doug Zell has created a niche in the Chicago marketplace based on his coffee and coffee drinking  philosophies. And he also got his start at Peets Coffee in California.

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune highlighted why Intelligentsia stands out among coffee roasters. Several key points:

  • Coffee is more than fast food….is’s a culinary experience.
  • Coffee once a commodity product….now something of meaningful value.
  • Coffee bean origins are now important for roaster and suppliers.

The article didn’t state Intelligentsias sales….only that they have 159 employees and roast about 10,000 pounds daily.

I did get the sense that do coffee(and tea) very well.

And a quote from Doug Zell:

 ” If the coffee is great, there is no need to add anything.”


It’s About Experience

A Nice Exchange

In our daily activities we encounter people. In the business/organizational environment we always encounter people. Encountering people is easy for most folks….though it can difficult for some. Relating is a great skill and makes a transaction/presentation/sale a good experience.

Here’s three examples from the past week that created a good experience.

+ A FoodQuest venture to a country hamburger joint (in Bunn Level!). A brief exchange with the folks who flipped the burgers. It wasn’t just the food….it was the total experience that made our FoodQuest fun.

+ Stopped in the local Hallmark store. Selected the card. Rang the little counter bell. Bantered with the sales associate for 30 seconds. A simple purchase became a pleasant experience.

+ Another restaurant experience at Tommy’s Deli. A nice Chicken Bar-B-Q sandwich made even better when Tommy comes over and asks how we liked it and goes on to say that he Bar-B-Q’s the chicken and makes everything that goes on it. A very nice sandwich….even better with Tommy’s banter.

My FoodQuest buddy and I were talking on the way back from Bunn Level. The gist is that when we were consulting….the best startegy was to adapt to the folks we were working with. It wasn’t one size fits all.

The first thing was always to relate to the client….the people who we were to spend time with. That made the project a much better experience.



Lost Business

Over the past year, we began several home remodeling projects. Some we completed….others yet to be started.

I would think follow-up is as important as making the initial sales call….yet few of these folks have done it….and by not following up they lose business.

Certainly most of these sales people want to close a sale and move on. They believe they don’t have the time to waste on phone calls or note writing.

All they have to do on the inital follow-up is to ask the potential customer if they do want a follow-up call….if so make them…if not move on.

In our family business, we made follow-ups after the sale….we should have made follow-ups after each sales encounter (asking permission to do so).  By following up diligently….I bet we could have converted many presentations to completed sales.


Stage 2 Companies

SciQuest + Peter Millar

These two companies are headquartered in Cary, NC. One reinventing itself after dot-com and the other focusing on a very selective market.

Both are led by CEO’s who seem to know that each company has a clear prurpose….and both are fairly substantial in sales.

SciQuest is a software and services company that helps science type companies buy products and services on-line. 2009 Sales were $36 million with 160 employees.



Peter Millar is quite different. It sells high-end clothing in over a thousand stores. 2010 sales are expected to be more than $30 million with 30 employees.

I don’t know if these two companies will reach $60 million sales. Yet, each knows its market and customers and sells products that are needed and/or wanted. Businesses like these are where economic growth develops….both good stories on market positioning.



Postscript: While Peter Millar has performed well….it does not have a guarantee of customer satisfaction. For the perceived quality there should also be a strong guarantee….often an intangible that some businesses neglect.