Over 30 years experience owning my own successful businesses, in good times and bad, have given me insight into why some businesses grow year after year, and others just meander along, barely making it.
When I was a partner in my father’s business, early in my career, and coached and consulted our retail franchisees, I started out believing that success was a matter of luck. Some of our retailers were so successful it made sense that they must have instinctively known what to do. I believed they were the lucky ones, mysteriously endowed with an innate ability that directed their actions and kept them on the right path. After all, how else could you explain why some were crazy successful and others were barely making it? Especially when they all had access to the same name, Foremost Liquor Stores – Pay Less, Get More at your Foremost Liquor Store™ and the identical merchandising, advertising, marketing, buying and operational programs. It was amazing to me. I admit I was fascinated even back then with what seemed to be an unexplainable phenomenon.
We see this all the time, actually. Some Subway franchises, for example, change ownership continuously, while others flourish. McDonald’s franchises are not all equally successful. And, entire franchise programs that initially make a huge splash can disappear as quickly as they started. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 75% of small business fails in the first 5 years and 50% of the remainder fail by the 10th year. (Franchise operations fare better – only 25% fail in the first 5 years.)
As a student of leadership, I look back now and wonder how I could be so naive that I did not see the differences in the owners: in their operating styles, their approach to customer service, their ability to supervise employees or manage systems and process.
In subsequent years, when I became a full time coach and expanded my executive coaching practice, it became evident that I had been walking the wrong path, that consistent growth did not come because the owner enjoyed pure luck or had an innate ability that lived in their DNA. Surprise!
Rather, I learned, it came from a deliberate approach to gain competence. I also now know that we go through 4 stages of learning and we must experience each one of these stages fully for each new area in which we strive to become competent. Those store owners who were crazy successful fought hard to get to the top of their game. They accepted they knew nothing and that they started at Stage One: Unconscious Incompetence. Their desire, however, to overrun the competition pushed them on through the remaining stages:
- Conscious incompetence
- Unconscious competence
- Conscious competence
As the years went by and the franchisees matured, those Foremost Liquor Stores™ became the biggest hitters in the marketplace. They provided me a terrific laboratory in which to study leadership. These are a few of the questions they constantly asked themselves, along with a myriad of others:
- Do we operate from a “Customer-first” orientation?
- Is there consistency in what we think we do and what we actually do?
- Are we constantly considering what all the ways are that we might develop and grow our business to the next level?
- Are we open to new ideas?
- Do we know who our customers are and how we can effectively communicate with them?
- In what ways do we show our customers we value them?
- Do we understand every line on our financials and can we explain every variance?
- What is it about our store that makes it a destination shopping experience?
The other most glaring exception between the crazy successful stores and the ‘barely-making-it’ stores was that the successful ones had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. They never stopped learning. They sought out suppliers, vendors, and other successful store owners to find out what new systems, sales tools and marketing programs were available to them. They implemented every idea we gave them and carried those to new levels. They never missed a meeting. They always fought for the best employees. When fine wines first came into the market, they insisted on wine education for themselves and their customers, wine-pairing dinners and in-store wine tastings. They were determined to be the ‘go-to store’ for fine wines. They were active in their communities and became role models and mentors. Oh, yes. They exemplified leadership and I took it in like a sponge.
Knowledge spurs success. Strive to be a life-long learner, seek help and get GEARSHIFT™. You will be rewarded with more power, more precision, more profits.
Gail Zelitzky [You’re in Business…I’m Your Coach] 773-957-8582 firstname.lastname@example.org