President Bush’s Economic Stimulus Plan

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The President has just presented his proposed economic stimulus plan.  He says he’s confident that the plan will get bipartisan support from both houses of Congress.  As the day goes on, I’m sure we’ll hear plenty of analysis and commentary, but in a nutshell, here’s what he said.

  • The stimulus package must be big enough to make a difference.
  • There has to be immediate, broad-based tax relief.
  • There should be no tax increases.

He’s calling for tax incentives for businesses to increase capital investment.  He particularly singled out small business.

He also wants direct, rapid income tax relief for the American people. "Let Americans keep more of their own money."

He also called on Congress to maintain the current "temporary" tax reductions which are set to expire in 2010.  He believes that uncertainty about the tax cuts is hindering investment.

Finally he said these are temporary stimuli to jump start our "fundamentally strong economy".

Now we’ll see how "bipartisan" our elected employees in Washington really are.

Update on the Economy

According to Fox News, President Bush will announce an economic stimulus package tomorrow (Friday).  As suggested here recently, both parties are anxious to keep things humming along in this election year. 

Tacony Manufacturing Expands Again

There’s a lot of speculation going on about the present and future state of the economy.  [See "Goodbye 2007", Their Glass Isn’t Even HALF Full", "Is the Sky Falling?"] It seems like the "glass half empty" guys (and gals) have the biggest megaphones and the tallest soap boxes.  But the "glass half full" folks are the ones who get the actual work done.  I suppose there are valid arguments on both sides, but it seems to me that the opinions of the people on the front lines mean a lot more than the opinions of the so-called experts.

Case in point:  Here are some pictures of the multi-million dollar expansion that’s going on at Tacony Manufacturing in St. James, MO.  The expansion is necessary to keep up with the demands of our growing business.  The new addition will house both manufacturing and distribution.  It’s part of our on-going commitment to our US manufacturing and to the economy of the Missouri Ozarks.  Call me biased, but I believe our team in St. James turns out the finest vacuum cleaners in the world.

The expansion in St. James is not a fluke.  In the last year or so, we’ve relocated our Jacksonville, FL distribution center to larger quarters, we’ve expanded our sourcing and engineering facility in Suzhou, China, and we’ve acquired two new companies.  We’re currently looking at our Fenton (St. Louis), MO headquarters, our Fullerton, CA distribution center, and our newly acquired Truvox division in Southampton, England for possible expansion. 

What’s it all mean?  It means that Tacony Corporation and our bankers have confidence that you, the independent retailer, are going to continue to grow your business and, in the process, grow ours.  We’re not just buying land, and concrete, and steel.  We’re filling up these new spaces with merchandise and people to help you grow.  Investing millions of dollars in new facilities, new people, new programs, and new products is tangible proof of our faith in you, our valued business partners.

PS.  While everything around here is getting bigger, Mine Your Own Business will continue to fit perfectly on your computer monitor.  And, if you click on the pictures, a larger version will open up in a new window.  (Click here to see all of our locations.)

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Doing Well By Doing Good

Yesterday we wrote about the Boy Scouts and concluded that volunteering to be a Merit Badge CounselorOptimists
might be a good use of your time.  Ralph Garcia of Ralph’s Sew and Vac (Palm Desert, CA)  commented that his membership in the Optimist Club, which raises money for youth programs, has been good for him.  This is what Steven Covey would call a win/win.  You help the organization while making contacts with potential customers. 

But, and this is critical, you can’t be seen as someone who’s exploiting an association with an organization for personal profit.  People will see through that in a heartbeat and you’ll create a negative, rather than a positive, impression. 

If you don’t have a sincere desire to help the cause, don’t get involved.  Ask yourself, "Would I do this even if there were no potential gain for me?"  If you can’t answer with a loud "yes!" find something else to do.

Even if your charity of choice doesn’t appear to have anything to do with your business, the value of the time you spend will come back to you, possibly in a very surprising way.  The important thing is to get behind something that you believe in. 

As mentioned here before (5/1/07–Your Chamber of Commerce), your local Chamber of Commerce is an excellent place to offer your services.  After all, you’re asking your neighbors to support your business, it’s not unreasonable for them to expect you to support them.

However you chose to give back to the community, don’t over-commit yourself.  Be sure you have the time to spend.   Just "showing up" won’t help you or the organization.  Get involved.  Share your expertise.  Have some fun.  You’ll be glad you did.

Modern Merit Badges

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Thanks to Neville Hobson for pointing out that Boy Scouts in Great Britain can now earn a merit badge in Public Relations.  It’s one of forty-two new subjects that  British Scouts can choose from along with the more traditional things like camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities.

According to a Scout spokesman, new badges reflect the changing interests of young people. 

As you may know, Scouting was first introduced in Great Britain in 1907, making this year their 100th anniversary.

So far, American Scouts don’t have a PR badge, but there are badges available for American Business","Entrepreneurship", and "Salesmanship".  As a former Scout Master,Scout_and_leader_2
I know they’re always looking for adult help. There are definitely worse ways to spend your time than volunteering to be a Merit Badge Counselor for one of these business-related subjects, or any other area where you have some knowledge to share.

If you’re interested, contact your local Scout Council.

Mining the Store?

In the middle of the nineteenth century, American prospectors went west to seek their fortunes in the gold fields of California. Their tools were picks and shovels and they were looking for gold. Some of them got rich. Most of them didn’t.

Today, entrepreneurs are still mining gold but we use different tools. Instead of picks and shovels, we use computers and telephones, databases and cash registers. Instead of digging in the ground, we find gold in retail stores and offices, and on the World Wide Web. But the goal is the same: To find as much gold as possible, handling the minimum number of stones.

Mining the Store is about getting all you can out of your independent business with an emphasis on social media. Why social media? Because I strongly believe that you WILL be using these new tools in your business sooner or later and you might as well get a jump on the competition.

Mistakes to Avoid When Interviewing

The best way to avoid problems with employees is to hire the right people in the first place.  Hopefully your turnover isn’t so high that you’ve become really good at interviewing.  If that’s the case, here’s a list of mistakes that interviewers often make from BNET Basics:

  1. You Talk Too Much.  The purpose of the interview is to find out about the applicant.
  2. You Gossip or Swap War Stories.  Don’t waste your and the candidates time.
  3. You’re Afraid to Ask Tough Questions.  Interviews aren’t easy for either party, but you’re in charge. 
  4. You Fall Prey to the Halo Effect (or the Horns Effect).  First impressions are important, but you can’t judge a book by its cover.
  5. You Ask Leading Questions.  Don’t give away the answer you’re looking for by the way you word the question.
  6. You Invade Their Privacy.  Know what you can and can’t legally ask.  Check out "Thirty Interview Questions You Can’t Ask" from HR World.
  7. You Stress the Candidate Out.  If you end up hiring the applicant, you don’t want to start the relationship on the wrong foot.
  8. You Cut It Short.  It’s tempting to get the interview over with so you can get back to your regular duties.  But choosing your staff is too important to rush the process.
  9. You Gravitate Toward the Center.  If you end up with a stack of "maybes", you probably aren’t getting enough information.
  10. You Rate Candidates Against Each Other.  Have a set of criteria and use it.  When you get to the end of the process you’re going to have to review your notes. "’A’ was better than ‘B’ but not as good as ‘C’ won’t tell you anything.

Don’t You Love It When They’re Wrong?

Starting with the usual disclaimer that this is a business blog, not a political blog, I find it fascinating when the political "experts" get it wrong

Personally, at this stage of the game, with the election still eleven months away, I couldn’t care less who won the New Hampshire primary.  But I have to admit I love the fact that the predictors were so far off the mark.

Just in case you’ve been at a monastery for the last week, or cut off from the world in some other way, here’s what happened.  In the Democratic primary, the polls predicted that Senator Obama would win, possibly by as many as ten percentage points over Senator Clinton.  But when real people cast real votes, it turned out that Clinton beat Obama by a slim margin.

The fun part is watching the pollsters trying to do damage control.  They have all kinds of excuses to explain what went wrong, but the simple answer is that you can’t always predict human behavior.  If you could, our lives as marketers would be so much simpler.

You would never be out of anything because you could predict exactly what your customers were going to buy.  You would also never be overstocked.  You would never be short-handed or over-staffed because you could predict exactly when your customers were going to come in. 

But we’re human creatures with brains of our own, and we don’t always act in a predictable way. 

Granted that the poll-takers are right more often than they’re wrong, it’s still good to see them miss once in a while.  Otherwise, there would be no reason to vote.  If Gallup and friends say that candidate "A" is going to win, and if Gallup and friends are always right, what’s the point of me going to the polls?  If I do, why waste my vote on someone who’s going to lose?  I might as well go ahead and vote for "A".  I know he or she’s going to win.  The polls said so.  In that case, the predictions actually influence the outcome of the election.  And that’s just wrong.

But, like I said, this is a business blog, so what’s my point?  Well, as business people we’re all students of human behavior.  Our livelihoods depend on predicting what people are going to do.  The better job we do, the more successful we’ll be.  But let’s not get overconfident.  If organizations like Gallup and the others, with huge budgets and squads of so-called experts, can be as wrong as they were in New Hampshire, it’s pretty clear that we’re not going to be right anywhere near 100% of the time.

That’s where the creativity and the agility of the independent retailer give him/her an advantage.  When that widget that we thought would sell like crazy is still sitting on the shelves, we adjust.  Lower the price.  Create a value-added package.  Change the display. 

When everybody suddenly wants the latest and greatest and we didn’t buy any because we didn’t think they would sell, then we have to sell them something else.  Unlike the pollsters, we’re not paid to make mistakes.

Credit Cards, Debit Cards and Interchange Rates

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Here’s an interesting post from Work.com that could save you some money.  Guide to Merchant Rates, by Ty Hardison, offers some tips on making sure that the bank isn’t charging you too much to handle your debit and credit card transactions.

According to Hardison, you need an understanding of Interchange fees if you want to get the lowest rates.    He points out that certain industries qualify for reduced incentive Interchange rates.  "Learning about Interchange will give you the knowledge you need to negotiate your best merchant rates."

The post includes links to a number of articles that go into more detail.   

Like most things in life, you can save some money if you prepare ahead of time.  In the case of merchant charges, it seems that a little time spent doing your homework could be a very good investment.

[Note:  Hardison works for Vontage Card Services, the source for much of the information.  Vontage is also listed as a "Recommended Solution Provider" in the article.]

An Excellent Resource for Small Business

From a press release from the Small Business Administration:

"WASHINGTON – Business.gov, the official business link to the U.S.
government, has launched new search features and expanded content that
make it easier for small business owners to find essential information they need
to run their operations, including forms, licenses, permits and regulatory
information from federal, state and local governments.

In addition to federal government resources, business owners now have
access to over 9,000 state, territory, county, and city government Web sites
providing information on starting and managing a business while complying with
regulations from all levels of government."

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This is more than hype.  In fact, the announcement is a little low-key.  This new site is an excellent resource for independent businesses.  As the release states, there are links to local agencies that you get to by clicking a map of the United States.  The links include local SBA offices, Small Business Development Centers, local SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) offices, and more.

Under "Licenses and Permits" (left hand column of the home page), click on your state to see a description of everything you need to start and run a business including links to the appropriate agencies.  As they say on the infomercials, "But wait!  There’s more1"  There are "Small Business Guides" (tab at the top of the page) providing information on dozens of topics including "Human Resources", "Advertising and Marketing", and many more.

Under "Government Forms" you’ll find links to just about every form you’ll ever need to run your business including instructions for filling them out.  There are also links to archived transcripts of "Online Business Chats" featuring experts on small business issues.

There are also a number of free on-line courses specifically for small business owners which are listed on the home page under "Free Online Training".

All-in-all, this is an excellent web site for anyone who owns or is thinking about owning a small business.  Here at MYOB, there’s nothing we like better than free stuff and there’s a lot of it here.  We’ve added a link to the home page on the left and suggest you bookmark it for future reference.