Help With Strategic Planning

The U.S. Small Business Administration offers some good on-line courses to help you run your business.  They’re free (Well, not really.  You pay for them with your tax dollars so you might as well use them.) but they offer some good information. 

One course you might find useful is called "Creating a Strategic Plan."  If you’ve never done strategic planning, it’s a good place to start.  It uses a Power-Point style presentation that you can follow at your own pace and review as many times as you want.  If you just read and listen to the material, you can do the whole thing in about 15 minutes.  If you do the exercises they suggest, it will take longer.

The course describes a five-step process to creating a strategic plan:

1.  Create a mission statement.  (Hint, the examples given are too long.  You may want to try for something a little shorter.  For example, the Ritz Carlton Hotel chain’s mission is "Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.")

2.  Take an "inventory".  Answer the question "Where are we now?"

3.  Outline your goals and objectives.

4.  Scenario planning-Where do you want to be?

5.  Design an action plan for reaching your goals and objectives.

Generally speaking, the larger the organization, the more complicated the strategic plan can be.  For smaller operations, the plan doesn’t have to be complicated at all.  Remember that any plan is better than no plan at all. You’d better believe that your big box competitors have a strategic plan and competing with you is part of it.  Can you afford to do any less?

Take the course by clicking on this link.  "Creating a Strategic Plan" is number 3 under the Business Planning category.  There is a short no-charge registration that you must fill in to proceed.

Wal*Mart’s Midlife Crisis

SadfaceThere’s an interesting article on called "Wal-Mart’s Midlife Crisis".  I’m pointing it out not so much because it criticizes Wally World (I’d never do that!), but because there’s a good lesson to be learned from their current difficulties.  It’s also a lesson that mass merchants never seem to learn.

Wal*Mart has a niche.  It’s been very successful for them.  Simply put, their stuff is cheap and they’re almost never out of stock.  They have an amazing distribution system.  They have huge buying power and the clout that goes with it.  They control their expenses.  They have a simple, easy-to-understand mission that rings true with their target (small t target) customer:  Always the Low Price.

So, what are they doing?  They’re trying to go upscale.  They’re trying to reach a customer that they just don’t have.  As the article points out, they’re having trouble keeping things in stock.  They’re the best at what they do so they’re trying to do something else.  Sadly for the folks from Bentonville, this isn’t the first time it’s been tried, and it’s never worked.  Ask Sears.  Ask J.C. Penney.  Ask Montgomery Ward (remember them?).  It doesn’t work.

When a value-priced retailer tries to go up-scale two things happen.  First, the core customer, the price shopper, won’t spend the extra money.  Plus, they get the feeling that their favorite store is abandoning them.  So they’re unhappy.  Second, the customer who might buy the better item won’t buy it because they don’t shop at Wal*Mart. 

Sears tried it and failed.  Penney’s tried it and failed.  Montgomery Ward tried it and really failed. 

So, what’s the lesson here?  Find a niche and stick to it.  You’re never going to beat the chains on price so don’t try.  Service the heck out of them.  Offer merchandise that no one else has.  Offer free coffee and babysitting while they shop.  Whatever you find that works, do it every day, with every customer and stick to it.  Don’t try to be something you’re not.  Your customers will notice and they won’t like it.

More on Trader Joe’s

Nearly a year ago (5/24/06) we wrote about Trader Joe’s, a food retailer who has found a very successful niche in a highly competitive business.  This week, Business Week Online caught up with MYOB publishing its own take on TJ’s called "Trader Joe’s:  The Trendy American Cousin".  The only thing that’s changed about the retailer since last year is that they’ve gotten even bigger.  For example, last May they had two stores in St. Louis.  Today they have four.

The secret to their success?  As the article says, they have no competition.  They have a huge base of loyal customers for their private-label merchandise.  In the grocery business private label means high margin and TJ’s merchandise is almost all private label.

The Buiness Week article concludes, "For most people, shopping is a chore. Trader Joe’s makes it recreation."

The question of the day is, how can you turn shopping in your store into a recreational activity?


Thanks to ExperienceCurve for pointing out the following error message:


You can’t make up stuff this good!

Happy Birthday

Early in 2006, we were discussing things that we could do to celebrate Tacony Corporation’s 60th anniversary.  We wanted to do something that would benefit our dealers, to help you make your business more profitable, your life a little easier.  "How about a blog?" we said.  There was a lot of activity in the "blogosphere" but there didn’t seem to be anything directed at our customer, the independent retailer.

Southwest Airlines had a blog.  Most computer companies had a blog. Robert  Scoble, an employee of Microsoft, had made a name for himself by writing a blog that was often critical of the company.  But blogs by non-computer related businesses were few and far between.  So we decided to give it a try.

On April 24, 2006, Mine Your Own Business was born with a post creatively titled "Welcome".  There’s a permanent link to it in the left column.  That was followed the next day by a post called "Mine Your Own Business?"  There’s a link to that one on the left too, right under the link to "Welcome".  So far, so good.  This blogging stuff was pretty easy.  Of course, we hadn’t told anyone about our "test" so the blog was only being read by a few people inside the company.  As the days have turned into weeks and months and now a full year, it turns out that some days it’s still easy.  Some days it’s not.  There are even occasional days when it’s just impossible.  Fortunately that hasn’t happened very often.

The first "real" post also appeared on April 25.  It was called "Most Business Owners Unprepared for Natural Disasters."  (It’s always good to get started on a positive note.)

Today, after 247 posts, we celebrate our first anniversary.  There have been 77 posts on "General Business", 41 posts on  "Advertising, Marketing, & Positioning" and 35 on  "Customer Service".  There was an 18 part series on  "Challenges of the Future" and a shorter series on "Pricing". 

These stats are surprising. If you had asked me I would have said that at least 200 posts have been about "Customer Service" and only a few on "General Business."  Of course, the categories are slightly arbitrary and most entries could have been put in other categories.  The stats do point out that some categories are being neglected.  That will change in the future.

After our first year I hope that you find MYOB to be interesting and useful.  The increasing number of daily readers and subscribers tells me that it is.  As far as we know, we’re still the only company in any of our industries that’s doing a blog on topics of interest to our customers. 

Quoting from our very first post,

"The bottom line is that this blog is about you; your problems, your concerns, the things that keep you up at night and the things that make you get up in the morning."

Thank you for reading MYOB and for letting Tacony Corporation be a part of your business.

National Small Business Week

    April 23-28, 2007

A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

During Small Business Week, we honor small business owners and workers for their important role in ensuring that America remains the economic leader of the world. Every day, our Nation’s small businesses help enhance the lives of our citizens and lead the way in an economy distinguished by low unemployment, sustained job creation, and one of the fastest growth rates of any major industrialized nation.

To help extend our Nation’s prosperity, my Administration is committed to continuing the pro-growth economic policies that encourage enterprise and make America the best place in the world to do business. Our economy has created more than 7 million new jobs since major tax relief was enacted in 2003, and we are working to keep taxes low to help small businesses continue to expand. We are taking steps to make health care more affordable and available for small business owners and employees by encouraging Health Savings Accounts, supporting Association Health Plans legislation, and proposing a standard tax deduction for health insurance. My Administration is also committed to ensuring that small businesses can compete in the global economy. By continuing to expand trade, we can open new markets for American products, lower prices for consumers, and create better American jobs.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of cities and towns across the country, and we salute small business owners, entrepreneurs, and employees for enhancing our communities and expanding opportunities for all. The hard work and ingenuity of our Nation’s small business men and women are helping to sustain America’s economic strength.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 22 through April 28, 2007, as Small Business Week. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this week with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs that celebrate the accomplishments of small business owners and their employees and encourage the development of new small businesses.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this nineteenth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand seven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-first.


Here We Grow Again

Yesterday morning, April 20, 2007, Tacony Manufacturing broke ground on yet another expansion of our St. James, MO facility.  The new 100,000+ square foot addition will more than double the plant’s space and create an estimated $3.7 million in private investment and 20 new, full-time jobs within two years while just down the road, Briggs & Stratton, the lawn mower engine company, was announcing the closing of it’s St. James plant.  The new addition will be used both for manufacturing and distribution.

Ken Tacony, speaking at the ground breaking ceremony, said, "This is a big day. We’re moving onward and upward, and just down the road the news is not so good. It’s ironic. 

Speaking to the Tacony Manufacturing team, Ken said "Every single product that comes through this company has an impact on
whether we will be a success in the future.  It’s a challenge to each and every one of
you. As we continue to grow, this will be fun.”

At an employee meeting this morning at the company’s Fenton headquarters Ken pointed out that ten years ago we weren’t even in the manufacturing business.  Today we have four plants, three of them in the United States with the fourth in Southampton, England.  Total company-wide employment has reached 650.

Some information is taken from the Rolla Daily News.

Small Business Resource

Just in time for National Small Business WeeK (April 22-28) the Small Business Administration (SBA) has launched a new and improved web site.  Money Magazine has called the SBA site "the best stop for one-stop shopping."

According to an SBA press release, "The site offers more than 20,000 pages of information on starting, financing, developing, and managing a successful business.  Topics include information on SBA-backed financial assistance, contracting opportunities, training and counseling, disaster recovery, and international trade, to name just a few."

The site also includes podcasts, a library, a newsletter and more.  It’s definitely worth a look and a bookmark.


I like spam!  Slice it and throw it on the grill for a few minutes, baste it with barbecue sauce and it’s delicious!  Serve it on a bun with a slice of pineapple that you also heat on the grill and you’ve got yourself a tasty lunch.

Then there’s the other kind of spam.  The kind that the "spam filter" is supposed to stop but doesn’t. It’s the electronic equivalent of junk mail.  Webster defines it as "unsolicited usually commercial e-mail sent to a large number of addresses."  Unless you’ve never sent an email, your name and email address are on the lists that spammers use.  The more you use email, the more spam you’re going to receive.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have no objection to someone trying to make an honest living.  If there’s a new product or service that I can use, I want to know about it.  Over the years I’ve sent a lot of "commercial email to a large number of addresses."  The problem is the stuff you get that holds no interest for you whatsoever.

Prior to the Internet, the United States Postal Service was the only way to send direct advertising messages, and it was relatively expensive.  You had production costs, paper costs, and postage costs.   Mailers were more particular about where they sent their message because  it was wasteful and expensive to send  messages about the latest garden tractor to people who live in high-rise apartments.

With the advent of email, the cost per contact is nearly zero.  As long as there’s a possibility that a breathing human being will receive the message, there’s no good reason to cull the list.  That’s why it’s not unusual to get the same spam message several times.  Your name is on more than one list.

In a never-ending quest to bring you the latest information for this blog, I’m subscribed to literally dozens of blogs and email alerts.  Every time I give someone my email address, it’s another chance for my name to get on another list.  Even this blog gets an occasional spam comment.  Of course every spam email is supposed to contain an "unsubscribe" link.  Unfortunately unscrupulous spammers not only ignore the request, but use it as an indication that they have a good address, which they promptly put up for sale. 

I’m thinking about spam today because of one particular email I got this morning.  "Congratulations!" it said.  "You’ve been chosen to receive a FREE subscription to Reinforced Plastics magazine.  Wow!  Free!  It must be my lucky day! 

Isn’t it ironic that a dead-tree magazine uses spam email to build up its subscriber list?  I’m not particularly dissing "Reinforced Plastics".  I’m sure it’s a fine magazine and if I had any interest in plastics, reinforced or otherwise, I’d be happy to get it. I get similar messages almost every day from some magazine or other.  My biggest concern, and it happened today when I deleted this particular email, is that I may accidentally delete something important.  When the spam messages outnumber the legitimate ones by about ten to one, it’s very easy to hit the delete key one two many times.

What’s the solution?  I wish I knew.  The lesson for today is to be careful about who you give your email address to and be careful what you delete.

Think and Grow Rich

Anyone who writes about business likes to think that they can come up with earth-shaking, life-changing ideas.  You can count your humble blogmaster in that group.  But the fact is, there really isn’t anything new under the sun.  "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" was first said more than 2,000 years ago and people have been trying to improve on the idea ever since.  No one has.

Consider the following quotations:

"Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve."
"Your big opportunity may be right where you are now."
"If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way. "
"A goal is a dream with a deadline. "

All four of them are from the same source, Napoleon Hill.  Hill’s famous book, "Think and Grow Rich" was first published in 1937.  It’s still in print, having sold more than 30 million copies.  Chances are you own a copy.  Generations of self-help authors have written thousands of books in the past seventy years, but it’s very rare to find anything worth saying about success that Hill didn’t come up with first.  The best anyone can do is re-package Hill’s thoughts in more contemporary language.

If you’re a Napoleon Hill fan, or if you aren’t, there’s a way to learn from him right at your computer.  "Napoleon Hill, Yesterday and Today" is an email newsletter put out by the Napoleon Hill Foundation.  It’s an easy read and an excellent motivational tool.  And it’s FREE!  You can subscribe by clicking here.