Good Small Biz News

Here’s a great story about a local small business that is prospering in this tough economy.

http://www.kmov.com/v/?i=112357514
 

Merry Christmas to all our readers and friends.

Small Business Social Media Guide

American Express is offering a free guide called Implement Smart Growth Strategies. It doesn’t go into great detail, but it does give some good examples of small business social media success.

It’s amazing to me that in 2010, almost 2011, so many medium to large businesses just don’t get social media.  It’s one area where smaller is definitely better.  I think what they’re missing is the “social” part.  Folks who use facebook, twitter, and other social media tools aren’t looking for slick presentations.  They want content.  They want information.  They want to be entertained.  They want to believe that the companies they choose to follow actually care about them.  Some big companies understand this.  Most don’t.

As a small business, you’re online approach should mirror your personal approach.  “Well, good morning, Mr. Buckley.  Gee I’m glad you came into my business.  How can I help you today?”  Not, “Go find the stuff you want, put it in a cart, then stand in a long line to give me your money.”

Check out this AmEx guide and think about what you can do to serve your customers better.

Small Business Saturday

You may know that I also write a religious blog called DeaconCast. The following is an item I posted there today.  I’m sharing it here because it deals with small business.  Hopefully the readers of DeaconCast will take it to heart.

OK, this isn’t a business blog.  It’s a Catholic blog.  But what could be more Catholic than helping your neighbor?  That’s what Jesus called us to do.  Tomorrow is your opportunity to do just that.

It’s Small Business Saturday!

You’ve gotten up early today to stand in line to get the “Super Bargains” at the big box stores.  Hopefully you have a little money left to spend.  Why not spend some of it to support your neighbors who own small businesses right there in your town?

I was an early supporter of something called the 3/50 Project.  The idea is to spend $50 per month at three locally-owned businesses.  That’s not $50 each;  just $50 total among the three businesses that you would hate to have to do without.  Why is this important?  Because if you don’t support these businesses with your discretionary cash, they may not be there when you really need them.

Case in point is my local True Value Store.  Whenever I lose my mind and decide to do some kind of project around the house, or when something (usually a toilet) stops working, Handyman Hardware always comes to the rescue.  Unfortunately, they’re never going to survive on my toilet parts business.  So, when I need things that I could buy at the big box, I always give that business to Handyman.  This year I bought a snow blower, a patio set, and any number of other things from them.  I want them to be around for a good, long time.

That’s what Small Business Saturday is all about.  Take advantage of the convenience, the short lines, and the surprisingly low prices at your local merchant.

Also, don’t forget your neighborhood dining spots.  Frankie G’s Grill, just a block from my house, has the best burgers around, reasonable prices, and an excellent staff.  (Full disclosure-my daughter works there.)  A meal at Frankie’s is no more expensive than one at a fast food joint and the experience is much better.  Besides beautiful waitresses, they have more TV’s than you can shake a stick at.

So, on this day after Thanksgiving, think about showing your thanks to that guy who sits in the pew in front of you who owns a mom and pop widgetorium.  Give him some of your Christmas business.  It’s just one more way to show that love that Jesus asks from all of us.

Miracle on 34th Street

I was just watching the classic movie, Miracle on 34th Street.  You know, the real one with Maureen O’Hara and Edmund Gwenn.  You may remember Santa’s innovative approach of sending Macy’s customers to other stores, putting the children first.  In 1947, the year the movie was made, that was quite a new concept.  Who could believe that a greedy business like Macy’s would send someone to a competitor?

Of course, as Mr. Macy pointed out, the positive publicity from this strategy would drive more customers their way, increasing their profits.

Today we would call a similar philosophy TQM or Total Quality Management.  Put the customer first, regardless of short-term profit, and your business will come out ahead in the long run.  Santa was ahead of his time.  But that’s not so surprising, is it?

Today, as all of my retail friends take a last breather before the sprint from “Black Friday” to Christmas Eve, I hope that you all enjoy your Thanksgiving Day meal with family and friends, then sit back and relax.  Enjoy this last peaceful day before the big rush begins.  Whatever time you’ve chosen to begin your “Black Friday” promotions, whether it’s 3:00 AM (ridiculous) or your normal opening hour, keep in mind the reason for the season.  Amidst the madness of the next four weeks, please take time out for the three R’s.  Rest, Recreation, and Reflection.

Rest. You can’t be at your best unless you’re physically strong.  No matter how hectic the next few weeks may be, nourishment, exercise, and sleep are the fuel that will keep you going.

Recreation. Break the word down.  Re-creation.  Again, you have to feed the inner man or woman.  Take the time to read a good book, even if it’s only 10 minutes a day.  When you work, work hard.  But then allow yourself to play, even if it’s just for a little while.  Nobody can be “on” twenty-four hours a day.

Reflection. At the end of this hectic selling season comes a day we call Christmas.  Don’t forget what that day is really all about.  We all sell something and for most of us this is the time of year we sell the most, but if not for that Child born in that manger more than 2,000 years ago, would it all be worth it?  I don’t think so.

So, enjoy your Thanksgiving and I hope that the next month of so are all that you hope they will be, both personally, spiritually and profitably.

PS.  They call the holiday “Christmas“.  I hope your signage and advertising reflect that.  If I come into your store and someone wishes me “Happy Holidays” or any similar politically correct nonsense, I will shake the dust off my sandals and move on.  I’m just sayin’……..

 

Ain’t Technology Grand?

My friend Steve, visiting Taiwan on business, posted this picture on facebook of a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been over there, but even back in the ’90s, American businesses were all over the island.  Even so, traveling to Taiwan and China was about as lonely an experience as you could imagine.

It’s not that the people weren’t friendly, not at all.  The Chinese are very friendly, hospitable people.  But it’s their home, not mine, and it’s normal to crave contact with your loved ones.  But in those days, phone calls were very expensive and we were allowed to expense only one call home per week.  Besides, there’s a twelve hour time difference between there and here.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m away from home I’m always wondering what Jan and the kids are doing.  When you’re in the Far East the answer is almost always the same.  They’re in bed.

The time change is still the same.  As I write this it’s 10:30 in the morning in Saint Louis and it’s 11:30 at night in Taipei.

But, thanks to the Internet, the communications gap is gone.  Facebook, Twitter, even video chat make instant communications possible.  A person in Taiwan can actually see live images of family and friends for just the cost of an Internet connection.  No time limits.  No bad connections.  Just instant communications.

There are a lot of things wrong with the Internet, but when it comes to staying in contact with family, friends, and business associates, there’s nothing like it.

 

Missions and Mission Statements

OK, I admit I’m the Prince of Procrastination.  I know I’ve been very lax in posting to Mining the Store, but I had no idea it had been FIVE MONTHS since I posted last.  Mea culpa!  Mea Culpa!  I guess I’d better start with a short explanation before I get into what I really want to tell you today.  Here goes.

I’ve been busy.  Several personal setbacks this summer and some other projects have used up a lot of my time.  But the big thing is that I’ve been focusing on my ministry.  In fact, I wasn’t sure if I was even going to continue MTS.  But two weeks ago I was on retreat at the Trappist Abbey in Kentucky and it occurred to me that the two aren’t mutually exclusive at all.  I had this insight while I was listening to an audio program by Matthew Kelly, a well-known Catholic speaker.  His words actually led me to what I’m going to say today.

To quote Matthew (Kelly, not the Apostle) every successful relationship must be built around a common purpose.  That’s why so many marriages fail around the twentieth year or so.  The couple’s common purpose was raising children.  The children are all grown up and they suddenly realize that they have nothing in common.  They don’t really even know one another.

To put this into a business perspective, every successful business must also have a common purpose, a mission.  Your business has a mission.  The question to ask yourself is what is your mission and is it something your employees, and even your customers can rally around?

Let’s say your mission is to sell more widgets than anyone else in town at the highest price possible.  Don’t laugh.  It’s not that uncommon a mission.  Is this something that your employees and your customers can embrace?  Will your staff come to work each day excited to sell the most widgets possible at the highest price the market will bear?  What about your customers?  Will they be excited by your plan to enrich yourself by squeezing every last dollar out of them?  I think you know the answer.

Let’s try a little more benevolent approach.  Let’s say you’re your a vacuum cleaner dealer, something I know a little bit about.  Your mission is to provide your customers with the cleanest possible living environment by offering them the finest cleaning products on the planet at affordable prices.  Much better, don’t you think?

But how do you let your stake holders (staff, vendors, customers, family) know that’s your mission.  Easy!  It’s called a “mission statement”.  But hold on.  What we said above is a little too long.  A mission statement has to be short enough that your people know it by heart.  It has to be something that they think about every time they do something.  They, and you, should constantly be asking “what’s the one thing I can do right now to advance the mission?”

In spite of their recent problems, Ford has a great mission statement.  “Quality is Job 1″.  Even better, it can be represented by a simple :Q1″.  Awesome.  Here in Saint Louis, a local company called Fabick has their mission statement posted prominently on their headquarters building:  “To ever serve our customers better.”  Brilliant!

So let’s get back to your mission.  You might go with “clean homes for more customers” or even “healthier homes for more customers.”  You get the idea.  Short and sweet so everybody can remember it.  Positive in nature so you can share it with your customers.

One company I know has a very long mission statement, much too long for anyone to commit to memory, but it begins “To profitably grow our business…..”  Can you see where your customers might not appreciate such a statement, especially on their invoices.  But, I digress.

The point of all this is very simple.  Your successful relationship with your stakeholders is built on a common purpose, or a mission.  Everyone has to know it, get behind it, and use it as a yardstick to measure everything they do every day.  Your GOAL may be to profitably grow your business.  But that’s not a mission.  Not yours or anyone else’.  It’s a rare situation where other people’s goal is to make YOU more money.

Next time:  Customer Care or Customer Service?

Practicing What You Preach

Apologies for the long gap between posts. I’m afraid it’s been a very busy few weeks.

One of the basic premises of Saint Benedict’s Rule for living the monastic life is consistency. It’s also a good rule for running our businesses. Obviously what we believe is important, but it’s even more important to be consistent in our beliefs.

There’s a running battle (Maybe battle’s too strong a word, disagreement may be more appropriate.) between the lovely and talented Mrs. B and your favorite blogger over the topic of Wal Mart. As a small business czar, I find her shopping for groceries at Wally World to be problematic. We’ve compromised on her alternating between the local grocer one week and Wal Mart the next.

It’s not a perfect solution, but for now it’s the best the Irishman and the German can do. It’s an uneasy truce. Sometimes spouses can influence everyone except each other. (She’s a weight-loss counselor. I’ve obviously remained immune to her arguments. Another standoff.)

I thought about this recently while I was trying to catch up on my podcast listening and watching. Andrew Lock does an excellent weekly video blog called “Help, My Business Sucks!” Recently he praised Hertz Rent a Car for their marketing strategy involving built-in GPS units in their vehicles. Hertz has long been at or near the top of the rental car industry stressing quality over price.

Then, just two episodes later Andrew tells us that he rented a car from Thrifty and that he had a number of problems with both the car and the company’s service. Andrew, buddy, you’re not being consistent.

This blogging stuff isn’t as easy as it looks. Oh, yes, it’s easy to sit at the keyboard or the microphone and offer good advice to others. But when the rubber meets the road, sometimes we have to make hard choices. “Buy American” I type on my Thailand-made keyboard. I pontificate “Buy local” while I munch on my White Castle burger. Andrew tells us to emulate Hertz but rents from Thrifty.

Sometimes we have no choice. As far as I know, there are no American-made keyboards and White Castle doesn’t play fair. Their burgers are addictive. If there were a local restaurant with an equally-delicious sandwich, I’d eat there in a heartbeat. (At least until their burgers clog my arteries to the point where I have no heartbeat.)

Here’s the thing. Mike Buckley, and Andrew Lock, and you must be as consistent as possible. I’ll keep trying to get my better half to buy her groceries from the local chain. I pointed out Andrew’s inconsistency in a blog comment. And you, my independent business owner friend, must patronize local business as often as you can.

If you’re a retailer, please don’t let your customers see you coming out of the warehouse club with a cart full to overflowing. Sometimes we have no choice, but when we do, the long-term success of the business is more important that saving a few cents on a box of soap powder.

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