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.

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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.

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.

When You Lose a Key Employee-Gerry Ryan Has Passed Away

This is one of those posts which may not seem relevant at first, but bear with me.

Gerry Ryan died on Friday morning.  If you live outside of Ireland, you may not know who he was.  He was an icon of Irish broadcasting.  He worked for RTE, the national radio and television outlet for more than 20 years.  I’ve tried to come up with an American broadcaster for comparison, but I really can’t think of one.  Let’s just say that most loved him, some despised him, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in Ireland who wasn’t aware of him.

I got hooked on the Ryan show when I was in Ireland in 2008.  Unfortunately his morning program (programme) was on in the middle of the night my time, so I wasn’t able to enjoy 2fm’s audio stream, but I was able to listen to podcast highlights and rarely missed an episode.

Ryan reminded me a lot of the late Jack Carney, an American radio personality who broadcast on KMOX here in Saint Louis.  His style of talk, celebrity interviews, listener calls, and an occasional song was similar to Ryan’s.  Like Ryan, he died of a heart attack at a young age.  (Carney was 52.  Ryan was 53.)

At the peak of Carney’s popularity, KMOX was number one in a thirty-five station market.  Often more people were listening to Carney’s show than the other thirty-four stations combined!

Now comes the relevant part for your business.  After Carney’s death, even though KMOX remains a powerful force in the market, the station never returned to it’s former glory.  A number of personalities have filled his nine-to-noon time slot, but it’s never been quite the same.  I suspect that 2fm will find the same to be true.  Carney and Ryan are irreplaceable.  The Ryan Show generated 5.4 million euro (more than $7 million)  in ad revenue per year.

What about your business?  Do you have someone who can’t be replaced?  If so, chances are it’s you.  But not necessarily.  Maybe you have a top salesman or a top chef, or a top designer who’s contributions are essential and who would be difficult if not impossible to replace.  Remember that both Ryan and Carney were in their early fifties.  Ryan signed off on Thursday promising listeners he would be back tomorrow.  He wasn’t.

Do you have a succession plan?  Do you have a “plan B” just in case you, or anyone whose presence is essential to the running of the business would suddenly be out of the picture for an extended time, maybe forever?  This is something that can easily be ignored, or at least put off, especially if it involves facing our own mortality.    But, I guarantee you that it’s much easier to do before-the-fact, especially if the irreplaceable key employee is you.  This isn’t a task you want to leave to grieving family members.

While Ireland mourns the death of their favorite broadcaster, the “men upstairs” at RTE are scrambling to fill an important time slot, occupied until just a few days ago.  Today’s a holiday in Ireland and Ryan was already scheduled to be off  which buys management a little bit of time.  But come tomorrow morning at 9:00, someone is going to be sitting in Ryan’s chair, and it’s a big chair to fill.

Small Business-Where Can You Put Your Name?

Here’s an interesting story from Irish Central about how one entrepreneur is getting a lot of publicity from a charitable donation.  Paddy Power, Ireland’s legal bookmaking organization, has donated more than $15,000 to sponsor the confessional in a local church.  When a church fundraiser contacted Paddy Power for a donation, the man himself answered the phone.

“Paddy Power was captivated by the thought of a new confessional box,” said Father Michael Griffin, a priest at the church.  The location of the church, in the heart of horse racing country seemed like a perfect fit.  The first person to visit the new confessional, which features a small plaque reading “The Paddy Power Sin Bin” was  jockey, Frankie Dettori.  Paddy himself attended midday mass at the church.

This story has obviously gotten world-wide attention.  What can you do to promote your business in a unique, creative way?  How can you give back to the community in a highly visible way that puts you in a favorable light with your target market and that could generate free publicity, just because it’s unusual enough to be of interest to your local (or even national or international) media?

Mr. Power certainly got his $15,000 worth, and then some.  Not to mention earning himself more than a few prayers from the grateful parishioners.