Corporate America Employees Management ONE

Why Street Cleaning Is The Most Important Job In Your Business

Imagine that your attention to quality is so weak that you could make enough bad product today (or next week) to actually kill your company.

Who was monitoring their sanitation processes, other than the understaffed, seemingly incoherent USDA, who actually thought about it for a few days before asking for the recall, for reasons that none of us will ever really know (ie: politics).

The thing is, this sort of stuff seems NORMAL to some meat plants. Our domestic beef industry routinely gets banned, unbanned and banned again in other countries because we stick stuff in a box that says “no bones” and someone will open a crate overseas and find bone marrow, bone pieces, BSE lab samples, or Jimmy Hoffa.

Ok, you got me, I made that last one up:)

Did you know that the plant that produces more hamburger patties than any other plant in the US has just one USDA inspector on the site? Yep, the same Topps Meat plant that is now closed.

How do you make 331 thousand pounds of bad hamburgers? By not managing “the little things”.

By now, you are undoubtedly wondering what this has to do with your software company, car wash, restaurant (sort of), retail store, or outdoor power equipment store.

It all comes down to your management. Your understanding that the “little guy’s job” is more important than the CEO’s job.

You have to impress upon the street cleaner that their job is important, even if they don’t think it is and your city appears to prove it by paying the street guy $12.50 an hour.

No, cleaner streets aren’t going to bring the troops home, make Britney a good parent, bring back the glaciers, balance the budget, or eliminate obesity. On the other hand, the street cleaner’s job might keep a car from hitting a piece of metal, blowing a tire, veering off the road and running over your neighbor’s seven year old while they ride their new Wal-Mart bike down the sidewalk.

That’s pretty important, don’t you think?

Look around and you’ll see plenty of “unimportant jobs” that are critical to the success of their organization, yet the people doing them are barely managed, their performance often unmonitored and definitely unmeasured. And those folks quite often care deeply about what they do, despite being treated like crap.

A friend of mine is a cook at the local high school (reality: she’s a master). Most folks have no idea how hard it is to cook 2 meals a day for 1200 people in a space smaller than the size of your garage – much less serve, clean it up for tomorrow, plan for next week, order the supplies and maintain the equipment. Is that job important? Think so.

The next time you hire someone to do what you feel is an unimportant job, or you take what you think is an unimportant job, think a little harder about the impact that job has.

How important was the job of the Topps Meat quality control team who missed whatever tainted 331 thousand pounds of their burger?

Apparently it was important enough to kill a 67 year old company and instantly put 77 people out of work (87 before it’s all over).

The little things, like sand in a wheel bearing, will tear your company apart and send your customers running to your competition. Customers notice the little stuff and they’ll wonder – if the little stuff is messed up, how good are you at the big stuff?

Do the “little things” right and take good care of the people who do them. They hold your company – and your customers – in the palm of their hand.

Competition Customer service Entrepreneurs Management Marketing Sales Strategy

Figuring out what your customers REALLY want.

Last week, on Independent Street (a Wall Street Journal column about independent businesses), there was a story about businesses that don’t accept reservations. The story questioned whether it was good business to not accept reservations, or if not doing so was an inconvenient insult.

My view is that every business – not just restaurants – that CAN take reservations, SHOULD take reservations (aka appointments). It’s about your clients’ time, much less yours. No one seems to have enough these days.

Part of this might be a pet peeve:)  It’s annoying to walk into a restaurant or other business (like a barber shop) and be unable to get in because they are busy (time after time after time…), AND despite the busy nature of the business, they don’t accept reservations.

Accepting reservations and *requiring* them are two very different beasts. I prefer accepting, until requiring becomes mandatory. Your marketing is in charge of making it mandatory.

Thinking from the business side of the house, life can sometimes be feast or famine. When I was in the studio software business, two of the goals that most studios had were to (1) fill the appointment calendar, and (2) reduce no shows.

Why? Because they can look at their historical financial performance and tell, within reason, how much money they are going to make NEXT MONTH. If they have 300 appointments next month and they know the average value of those appointments is $271.32, then they have a strong idea how much is on their plate revenue-wise, as well as how their staffing needs to be setup. And they know this a month in advance. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Likewise, if they have 300 appointments next month and their calendar allows for a total of 420 (or 302) appointments, then they know how hard they need to be marketing next month’s time (much less the month after that).

What photographers figured out in a hurry is that once those slots are gone, they’re worthless – so it’s critical to get them booked and get them to show up.

Customers detest showing up and coming back time and time again because you’re too busy.

They don’t have time to stop in to your barber stop, butcher shop, steak house, auto repair shop. flower shop, clothing store (etc) 4-5 times to get what they need. If you don’t have time for them, they will find it elsewhere. How many restaurants are good enough (and have sufficient waiting areas) for a 10 minute wait? 30? 45? 60? How many of their clients have that kind of patience?

And THERE is another big reason for making reservations / appointments. If you drive people somewhere else, they aren’t likely coming back. If they know that reservations are how you get things done with your business, then they will make one. If you accommodate walk-ins on slow days (which your marketing should focus on), that’s fine.

For this reason, I even make appointments for clients at trade shows. I want them to know that I am dedicating time to them, and that I will not divert my attention from them to someone who is looking for another pen or stress ball to add to their collection. For the same reason, I *strongly* encourage phone appointments. They eliminate phone tag. They dedicate time to that person so both can be prepared, as opposed to getting a call in the john (yes, I have seen guys do business on the phone at the urinal – idiots), or in the line at Wal-Mart.  But I digress:)

Appointments allow your customers to get your products and services in a low-stress, less-hectic environment at an agreed upon time, with few (if any) delays or interruptions. Better for you, better for them. Makes their experience with your business more pleasant and less annoying/frustrating. Hugely less stressful for you.

They work for restaurants, auto repair, barber shops, car salespeople, Realtors, clothing salespeople, and they will work for most of you if you look at your situation hard enough. Does regular retail need them? Depends – particularly on the time it takes to complete a transaction. If you have a high end audio shop, do you want undivided attention from your expert salesperson, or do you want them distracted by someone who just wants a set of headphones?

What your customers really want? They want what they want, right when they want it. Appointments and reservations help you give it to them. If you look hard, you can even find additional revenue opportunities in them.

Competition Customer service Employees Management Marketing Montana Retail Starbucks

Business owners can’t get a hit unless they swing the bat.

A few weeks ago, I decided to celebrate winning a Glazer-Kennedy (GKIC) contest by having a contest of my own.

To enter, you needed to send me the best testimonial you have. It could be about you, about me, or anyone else.

The best testimonial would do what we talk about here when discussing what makes a great testimonial. It might address a sales objection, such as price, unfamiliarity with the vendor/product, common reasons not to buy, etc. It would mention a specific vendor, or product. It would be specific about results.

Joel’s testimonial did all those things.

Automation Competition Corporate America Entrepreneurs Management Strategy Trump

Exposing the meaning of Trump’s Commandments

In a September 2006 Trump University article, Richard Parker writes about “The Ten Critical Commandments for Entrepreneurial Success“, but doesn’t elaborate much on where he’s coming from. He makes some important points, and several of the items need to be explained and expanded upon, so we’ll address those rather than rehashing the entire list.

In Commandment #1, Richard says “Pay for the past, consider the present, but buy for the future.”

What he’s talking about is not paying for the future performance of the business. No one, not even Trump, can 100% accurately predict that. Paying a reasonable and fair price for the performance of the business in prior years is your goal – and in fact, the only thing that makes good sense unless there is some hidden gold that you’ve already detected (see #7). That aside, what’s going on today could change in a moment. You sure don’t want to pay for what the current owner thinks might happen in the future. Presumably, you are better at strategic planning and execution, management and marketing BUT that is YOU. You aren’t paying for you, you’re paying for the assets. One note about that: the customer list and its recurring revenue, while generally looked upon as worthless by many banks, is the real gold.

In Commandment #2, Richard says “Buy a good business that you can make great.”

In other words, buy potential, that so-called diamond in the rough. Buy something that your skills and the skills of your team can make substantially better. You dont want to spend 100% of your time in survival mode, because that’s all you’ll ever do. It’s worth it to spend a more to get a business that you can spend time expanding and fine tuning, rather than just trying to keep it alive. I hold #2 pretty close, as most of the businesses I’ve owned got that way by virtue of Commandment #2.

In Commandment #4, Richard says “Fall in love with the profit, not the product.”

Richard takes a lot of heat for this in the comments area on that page, but I believe thats because some didnt fully understand what he meant. Of course, he might have intentionally been vague to provoke some reactions from those who just didnt get his point. Hard to say. What he really is trying to get across is that your desire to buy a business has to be based on the numbers. You just cant allow yourself to be blinded into buying a bad business because of your love for the products and services it offers. You must be objective and matter-of-fact about your choices. You can ALWAYS use your love for that favorite product or service from that unprofitable business in some other way.

In Commandment #6, Richard says “Look for a company that offers ‘autopilot’ and ‘cruise control.’ “

What he means here is that the company has systems in place to accomplish tasks. If you are required to repeatedly perform tasks that can be automated, or can be systemized, you’ll get tied down doing that work. If the systems arent in place, but can be built in short order, that’s ideal. When I say “systemized”, think about McDonald’s (not the food). Most of them are run day to day largely by a bunch of young teenagers on their first job. How can a billion dollar, global business do that?? Simple. Systems are in place for everything. Manuals and procedures and automation define and/or control every process. Constant measurement. In other words, autopilot.

In Commandment #7, Richard says “Find the hidden gold.”

As long time readers know, I owned a software company a few years back. One of the frustrations that we faced early on was a struggle to convince our clients that they needed to backup their databases on a regular basis. After all, hard drives fail, power goes off, and computers die or get stolen.

To solve this problem, we created a small, easy to use backup program for our users. It worked great and helped both ourselves and our clients. It helped us because it saved us weeks of time over a year’s worth of dead hard drives, trying to recover critical data for our clients. Instead, we now had a tool that made the job easy and clients benefited from that. So now we have clients with properly backed up databases (most of them anyhow) and we have occasional need to look at their databases.

This was before gmail and other email services allowed for big emails, so we once again faced a challenge. We took our little backup program and gave it the ability to upload the backup to our web site so we could get a client’s data. One thing led to another and we decided to offer the ability for our clients to backup their data on our web site, so they could sleep easier at night, knowing they had an off-site backup.

This “afterthought” of a service, that started mostly as a convenience for something that challenged us…ended up being a upper 4 figure monthly increase to our bottom line. That’s hidden gold. EVERY business has hidden gold, and most have more than one mine. Look carefully for them when examining a business for possible purchase, you may find that you choose differently based on the opportunities you discover.

In Commandment #9, Richard says “Identify what is not perfect yet.”

Everything is an opportunity. Look back at #7. Having clients who didnt realize the value of backing up turned into substantial revenue. That business still isnt perfect. None are. Every flaw might be an opportunity for a product or service that your clients simply cant do without. Systemize processes. Make the business more efficient, and your employees not only get better jobs, but the net result is a staff that generates more revenue.

What commandments would you add? I’d like to hear them.

Competition Customer service Management Marketing Montana

Is your bank paying attention? This one is.

Long-time readers of my blog and Beacon column know that I’ve given my fair share of grief to a few banks in my area, and I’ve handed out a kudo or 2 for the one that stands out.

Last week during a mastermind meeting, a local financial institution exec asked me why I have my business account at Wells Fargo. He knew the answer for most people who have personal accounts there is “they’re all over Montana”.

For me, the answer is different. They aren’t in Columbia Falls, so why am I willing to annoy myself by driving 20 minutes each way to Kalispell on those occasions when I have a check to deposit?

Simple: Wells Fargo is one of two banks that fully supports QuickBooks’ online banking integration. Not partially supports, not “I have to import a text file”, but FULLY supports. 1 click and type in my pin and all my transactions are matched up with my QuickBooks and those that don’t match are in front of me to settle, quickly and easily.

Yes, I drive 40 miles round trip past 2 banks (used to be 3) and 2 credit unions, all the way into Kalispell because of that one issue.

It’s about time. I’m not willing to waste my time on banks that don’t recognize that time is money. Full support for QuickBooks, Microsoft Money and Quicken is expensive if you are in the banking business, but they are MORE expensive if you don’t offer them because you’ll likely never know about the customers you never had the opportunity to serve because you don’t offer that level of service.

I was glad to hear this bank guy asking the question, because too few businesses ask that question of their customers (and I’m not a customer of this guy’s bank as yet).

Given all the choices you have, why do you do business with me instead of anyone else?  Try asking it. You might learn something from the answers.

Things like this tend to come in groups, and sure enough, today was no exception. A reader of my Beacon column who works at a local bank emailed me about my column (also posted here) that mentioned a friend who has had an account with a new-to-Kalispell bank for 40 years that never contacted him when they moved to town. He explicitly asked for my friend’s business and for mine.

That column aired 2 weeks ago. No one else bothered to ask. The bank who is new to town will know I am talking about them if they read the column. Yet they didn’t ask.

The guy who emailed me took the time to ask, so I will indeed pass his name on to my friend. More importantly, he also asked for my business, knowing full well that if his bank doesn’t pass muster, he’s likely going to read about it in the Beacon and in this blog.

What does that tell you? Can you say the same about your business?

Here’s his note to me:

Mr. Riffey:

I just read your excellent article in the September 12 edition of the Flathead Beacon about your friend who had not heard from his bank. I passed it out to our entire staff as a reminder that we all can do a better job of providing customer service that we can be proud of.

If your friend has not yet been contacted by his bank from Minneapolis, we would be happy to give him a call and sit down for a cup of coffee to see if there is any way we can be of service. I would also like to extend the same invitation to you considering that you do not currently have an account with First Interstate Bank and indicated that you have not been recently contacted by your bank either.

Thanks again for the great article.

Scott Mizner
Vice President
Commercial Loan Manager
First Interstate Bank
2 Main Street
P.O. Box 7130
Kalispell, MT 59904-0130
(406) 756-5295
(406) 756-5260 FAX

Be more like Scott and the other bank exec. Ask questions. Act on the answers. Pay attention.

Competition Corporate America Entrepreneurs Management Marketing

Mini-skirt marketing

A few weeks ago, Southwest Airlines apologized to a passenger who had been told by Southwest staffers that she was dressed “too provocatively to fly”.

Of course, they apologized to the passenger shortly thereafter.

Most companies would have stopped there, dropped their eyes to the floor and slunk back into their cave.

Not Southwest.

Employees Management

3 minute warning: Big reasons employers have to pay attention to the little things

In football, the 2 minute warning seems to work fairly well to wake up teams from Denver/Dallas and kick them in to high gear. How many times did Staubach, Aikman and Elway cause more scoreboard damage in 2 minutes than in perhaps the rest of the game? Plenty.

One thing you couldn’t do in that 2 minute period was make mistakes. Former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry was quoted in last month’s GKIC newsletter as saying something along the lines of “the Cowboys always knew we could always come back from one mistake, but two mistakes tended to beat us”. 2 minutes isn’t very long if you use that time to make mistakes.

At my favorite coffee shop, the 3 minute warning is what gets you.

Management Mark Riffey Motivation Scouting

Dropped the ball? Pick it up.

A few weekends ago, I stood at the front of a young man’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor (ECOH).

An ECOH is the celebration of a young man’s effort (and his family’s booting him in the keester) and persistence (ditto the boot) in completing the requirements for the Eagle rank in Boy Scouts.

It takes 21 merit badge (9 of those have to be certain ones), a bunch of community service hours, time, and work. Plus a big community service project that the boy must come up with, plan in minute detail, organize, get approved, manage and execute with the help of other Scouts, community members, etc.

In some ways, it is an exercise is “how to deal with adults”, but the goal is a first, substantial taste of leadership and the demonstration thereof.

Quite often, it is also a taste of “Plan B”…

Competition Corporate America Customer service Entrepreneurs Management

How Smart Businesses Use Little Green Army Men

armyguys.gifThe hardest thing that some businesses do (or don’t do) are the easy things. Sometimes that even plagues me (part of that need-an-assistant thing that I’m still struggling with).

The easy things are those things that don’t require much money, much effort, or much time – but make a substantial difference to your clientèle because they show you care, and they indicate that you are actually paying attention.

It reminds me of the classic book Broken Windows, Broken Business: How the Smallest Remedies Reap the Biggest Rewards and its story of doing the easy things (like cleaning up graffiti and fixing broken window panes) that showed that a community cared, eventually impacting crime of all kinds in that community.

For you and I, it’s often even easier, simpler and cheaper than that.

Sit down and make a list of the little things you could do that would make a difference in the experience your clients have when they do business with you. Think about every interaction between you/your staff and your clients. Create reasons to let them know that they are important to you. Easy stuff.

Thank you cards. Birthday cards (knowing the month is enough). Anniversary cards. Empty a trash can. Dust off your shoes before entering a client’s home (or better, use those little shoe covers like hospitals do). Pickup up the parking lot. Put salt down in the winter so people who struggle with ice or have balance problems can come into your store safely.

Simple stuff that often goes forgotten. Sometimes it is as easy as driving a mile down the road for 2 minutes.

As an example, I recently slid by the local, poorly managed fast food place and noticed this sign on the order microphone box:


Running out of toys is not a Federal offense (at least not yet), but feeling the need to put up a sign like this is kind of dumb.

It’s also a waste of money, given that school is out (it was at the time) and all that franchise marketing money you send to Big Burger Corp is going to waste – because they are using it to drive kids and moms to your store.

What’s more wasteful is not doing the easy thing to fix this: Less than one mile from this restaurant there is a Dollar Store. Inside that Dollar Store is a $3.99 bag of 40 zillion little green army men. Somewhere else in that store is a similar very inexpensive bag of toys appropriate for a girl. Easy.

If you’re really creative, maybe you offer the kiddie a coupon (ever hear of a rain check?) to come back for the “real” toy at another time along with the 3 army guys you give them (ie: to get them back into your store). Who knows, but the solution to this is EASY if you put just a little thought into the solution.

So maybe you spend $10 to avoid losing $100 worth of Kids Meal sales, not to mention annoying the moms (DONT ANNOY THEM MOMS!), disappointing the kids, etc. Maybe you send the bill to corporate if it was their fault you don’t have toys – if nothing else, just to bring it to their attention that you solved the problem (something they might advise other stores about). Maybe you could get on the phone with Oriental Trading and order a $25 box of stuff to hand out so that the next time it happens, you are better prepared.

Yes, I know the attorneys reading this are sharpening their pencils regarding consumer product safety commissions, lead testing of little green army men made in China, corporate compliance and who knows what else. A little common sense at the Dollar Store (and at the window) goes a long way. Ask permission to substitute if you feel especially paranoid.

Don’t forget to do the easy things.

PS: If you are going to take a job in restaurant management, wouldn’t it be good to know how to spell the word “management”? Maybe it’s just me.

Competition Corporate America Customer service Management Marketing Software Strategy Technology

Could your business handle an 18 day shutdown?

Zip's cabinNext month, I have a US Forest Service wilderness cabin reserved for a weekend. Good place to hang out for a birthday.

Because of this reservation (and others), yesterday I received an email from, the service that powers provides information about and handles reservations for campsites, cabins and other Federally managed recreation sites.

It was a notice about an 18 day long event that will begin later this month.

The notification arrived 26 days in advance to warn me about this 18 day long event. I really appreciate that notice, particularly since it could affect my reservation in October.

The event? They are upgrading their online reservation systems. That’s the good news.

The lesson – and the bad news?