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.

Arthur’s Day

arthurs day header

OK, after three days of swine flu talk, here’s something more fun.  It may be a bit of a stretch to connect this with small business, but I’ll give it a shot.

250 years ago a Dublin small business man, Arthur Guinness, signed a 9,000 year lease on the St. James Gate brewery and began production of a dark stout.  You have to admit, 9,000 years is quite a commitment.  The cost of the lease?  45 pounds per year.

There’s a huge celebration planned today at St. James Gate and at pubs around the world to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Sir Arthur’s accomplishment.  All Irish and Irish wanna-bes are encouraged to lift a glass in a toast to Sir Arthur today.

As I write this it’s still before noon in the heartland, but here at MTS, we will be participating later in the day.


Sidebar:  Some studies have indicated that Guinness contains antioxidants that may actually keep your arteries free of plaque.  Hopefully any new health care legislation will include a daily pint for every citizen of legal drinking age.  I’m just sayin’…..

Here’s a six minute montage of Guinness commercials.  Enjoy.

h1n1-8 Tips to Help Your Staff Avoid the Flu

This is part 3 of our series on the h1n1 flu and how to keep it from disrupting your business (Small Business-Are You Ready for h1n1?h1n1-1o Tips for Small Business)  We turn again to the web site flu.gov for 8 tips for individual workers to avoid the flu.  You might want to print it out, go over it with your staff, and post it where everyone can see it.

  1. Stay home if you’re sick.
  2. Wash your hands frequently.
  3. Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes.
  4. Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, or cough and sneeze into your upper sleeve.  (This could be problematical for employees who wear sleeveless tops.)
  5. Wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
  6. Keep frequently touched common surfaces clean.  For example, telephones, computer equipment, etc.  (If you operate a business where customers visit, the same goes for surfaces that they touch.)
  7. Try not to use other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment.
  8. Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

As an employer you can encourage a healthy working environment by providing plenty of hand cleaner and disinfectant wipes for your employees use.  Your good example will also encourage them and show that you care about their health (and your own.)

h1n1-10 Tips for Small Business

Yesterday I pointed you to the Flu.gov, a web site with tips for businesses to deal with a possible flu pandemic.   (Small Business-Are You Ready for H1N1?)  As I was writing the post, my daughter walked through the room complaining of flu-like symptoms.   I told her she should probably stay home from school, both to help her to recuperate, and to keep from spreading from spreading whatever she has to other students.  Unfortunately she had a mid-term exam that she couldn’t miss.  Maybe her school should read Mining the Store.

In case you missed it, or haven’t had time to look it over, here are the sites ten tips for staying healthy.

  1. Develop policies that encourage workers (students?) to stay home.
  2. Develop other flexible policies to telework (if feasible)
  3. Provide resources and a work environment that promotes personal hygiene.
  4. Provide educational and training materials.  See www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/business.
  5. Instruct employees who are well but have an ill family at home with the flu that they can go to work as usual.
  6. Encourage workers to obtain a seasonal influenza vaccine.
  7. Encourage employees to get the 2009 H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available.
  8. Provide workers with up-to-date information on influenza risk factors.
  9. Plan to implement practices to minimize face-to-face contact between workers if advised by the local health department.
  10. If an employee becomes sick at work, separate them from other workers until they can be sent home.

Regarding 6 and 7, you might consider paying for the vaccinations and giving your staff time off to get them.

It may be impossible to keep everyone on your staff from getting sick, especially if the flu becomes the pandemic that some predict.  But, whatever you can do to minimize their risk (and that includes your risk, too) is cheap insurance from a potentially serious business interruption.

Tomorrow:  8 Tips for Individuals

Small Business-Are You Ready for H1N1?

Unless you’ve  been living in a cave for the last few months, you’ve surely heard of H1N1, or swine flu.  The disease is spreading rapidly in areas of the world which are already into “flu season” and there’s no reason to expect that the United States and Europe will be any different.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have put together an excellent web site with information on the disease which includes tips on how to stay healthy.  According to the CDC, the disease hits young people the hardest so old guys like me are less likely to get sick, but I wouldn’t count on that.

Here’s the thing.  As a small business owner, you’re business could be at risk if key employees get sick, especially for an extended period. Have you given any thought to what you’ll do if that happens?

The web site Flu.com offers a flu toolkit for business.  I’ve added a link to the site in the right column.  The site strongly suggests that every business should have a plan in place for dealing with H1N1 and other illnesses.  Some key points:

  • Examine your policies for sick leave and working from home.
  • Identify essential employees, essential business functions, and other critical inputs.
  • Share your plan with employees.  [I would suggest that it might be even better to get them involved in preparing the plan.]
  • Prepare a business contingency plan.
  • Establish an emergency communications plan.

Keep in mind that key suppliers and business partners may not be available in the event of a serious outbreak.

As a small business, especially in difficult economic times like these, having a plan to minimize the effects of a possible interruption of your operations could be the best investment you’ll make this year.

More tomorrow.

Small Business Planning in a Recession

Wayne Rivers is a small business consultant based in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina.  He recently appeared on CNN to discuss small business issues during a recession.  He discusses things you can do with the extra time you may have on your hands during the slowdown including taking a good, hard look at how you spend your time.

He also talks about having a contingency plan and my favorite,  what to do if you need to lay off a family member.  He calls it “pruning the family tree” and I imagine most of us know a business that could use some pruning.  Very intreresting.  Check it out.

Wayne has also appeared on MSNBC where he discussed tips to turn a business around.

A Small Business that Got Big

Lest anyone think that MTS is anti-big business, let me set the record straight.  What we’re about here is fair competition.  Big companies  aren’t inherantly evil (with a few notable exceptions).  Every large business is just a really sucessful small business and we should try to learn from their successes (and their failures).

rei_logoCase in point:  Recreational Equipment, Inc., better known as REI.  Lloyd and Mary Anderson started the mail order business in 1938.  Operating as a member-owned co-op, REI’s income before distributing member dividends in 2008 was $82 million dollars.  Member dividends totaled almost $73 million.  In fact income was down compared to 2007 while dividends were up.  [Full disclosure:  As an REI member I received a 2008 dividend of $14.10.  It would have been higher, but I usually shop the sales.  Also, having a son who works there, birthdays, Fathers’ Day, and Christmas are a steady source of outdoor gifts for the family. ]

Sally Jewell, the President and CEO had this to say in REI’s annual report:

“With adversity comes opportunity, and this recession will be no exception.  As people adjust to fundamental shifts in our economy, the outdoors can provide a welcome, affordable refuge.  Fresh air, excise, and experiencing nature with family and friends provide an ideal antidote to the stresses of everyday life, helping deepen our relationships with the people and places most important to us. “

Think about that for a minute!  What is it that you sell that can provide a “welcome, affordable refuge”?  How can you make life easier for your customers while they struggle through a tough economy?  Do your products take them away from their troubles?  Do they make life easier?  Do they provide a better environment?

Your business has a story to tell.  If I’m your customer, or potential customer, I want to know how spending my hard-earned money with you will make my life easier and less stressful.  You have to convey that message to everyone, especially your staff.

Keep in mind that REI sells bicycles costing thousands of dollars.  They sell top-of-the-line equipment for outdoor sports.  They feature quality brands at quality prices.  You might not think that they would see a recession as an opportunity, but with good marketing, excellent service, knowledgeable  associates, and a very effective marketing program, they’re a company to watch.

They’re not over-stored.  They use mail order sales data to determine which markets they should enter with brick and mortar stores.  When they do enter a market, the specialty nature of their merchandise makes the store a destination for outdoor enthusiasts.  And, they have a very liberal return policy.  They just do a lot of things right.

Like I said, they’re a very successful small company that got big.

Prepare for 2009

 Regular readers know that I keep three books on my desk:

I also have a Bible close by and I've lost my copy of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but I pretty much have it memorized.

I also subscribe to the matching blogs for these books.  A post earlier this week on the E-Myth blog caught mPlanningy attention called 10 Ways to Prepare for the New Year.  There are for ten positive things that you can do to jump start your business for 2009.  I'm not going to repeat them here because you can get them by clicking here.  But, I did want to comment on the whole idea of planning for next year.

Face it, we're being bombarded with bad news every day.  There's a banking crisis.  The stock market has gone completely crazy, down 500 points one day, up 500 points the next.  The big three automakers are all flying to Washing DC in their private jets to beg for loans.  Pirates are plying the seven seas and gas has gotten "cheap" at less than  $2.00 per gallon.  It's tempting to curl up under the desk in a fetal position and wait for things to settle down.

But even though the "pundits" are warning of Armageddon, our economy has gone through tough times before and it will again.  The point is that it always comes back.  During the election, and even now, some so-called "experts" are talking depression.  But the conditions today are much different than they were in the 1930s.  For one thing, bank deposits are guaranteed.  Unless you have all your money at the Bailey Building and Loan, your money is safe.  For another thing, the people who understand economics (and I'm not one of them) have tools today that didn't even exist when the last big one hit. 

Here's the thing when it comes to your business.  Big box stores are in a mess.  They placed orders for fall and Christmas merchandise months ago, not knowing that money would be tight in the fourth quarter (even though they should have seen the signs).  They're desperate to turn that inventory into cash.  The only way for them to do that is spend more money on advertising and lower prices, not a good combination.

That's where you have the advantage.  Hopefully your inventory is in line.  You're flexible.  You're fast.  You're like a speed boat racing a barge.  You can zip back and forth while they plod along.  You can adapt.  Take a look at the "10 Ways" article.  Take it to heart.  The constants are measure,plan, budget, and plan some more.

The end of the year is the perfect time to stop, take a deep breath, and begin anew.  As the article says, "Make a commitment to yourself to make 2009 your best yet." 

Christmas Has Not Been Cancelled!

It's always important, especially in tough times, to surround yourself with positive people.  One of the most positive people I know is Bob Negen of Whiz Bang Training.  He's put together a short video, just six and a half minutes long, called "They Haven't Canceled Christmas."  As you might guess from the title, the video is all about how you can make this a successful selling season.

Be aware that he's going to ask you a tough question:  "Are you a blamer, a hoper, or a doer?"  You'll have to watch the video to see what the question means, but I think you can probably guess.  Anyway, it's a good, positive video from a guy who's experienced retailing first hand, in the trenches, in good times and bad. He knows what he's talking about.

Oh, by the way, not to leave you hanging, Bob has also recorded a follow up video cleverly titled "They Haven't Canceled Christmas–Part 2".  Check it out by clicking the link.

Repost “Be Prepared”

Sba_disaster_brochure In the wake of the recent hurricanes that hit the gulf coast and caused widespread damage well into the heartland, it may be a good time to repeat this post from December 5, 2007.  The links still work including the FEMA link which opens a link to another emergency planning booklet. 

Disasters come in all sizes and shapes.  While a structure fire can be considered a major disaster, help is usually available.  Other disasters like floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, wildfires and hurricanes stretch police, fire departments, and other rescuers to the limit and help may be slow in coming, if it comes at all.

The U. S. Small Business Administration and Nationwide Insurance have recently published a pamphlet called "Expect the Unexpected-Prepare Your Business for Disaster."  The ten-page guide emphasizes planning as the key to successful disaster recovery.

Some of the things suggested are common sense, some are more innovative.  But it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of even the simplest steps once in a while.  One tip that I thought was particularly relevant for retailers was the issue of customers.  You may have a plan for taking care of your staff in an emergency, but what if the store is full of customers?  Where would you put them? 

The guide is broken down by the type of disaster, so if you’re on top of a mountain, you can probably skip the part about floods.  But, most of the ideas can be adapted for use in your particular case. 

There’s also a list of items to put in your disaster kit which should be easily accessible in an emergency.  Even if you don’t experience a major event, a flashlight, radio, and batteries and a blanket could come in handy if you have a simple power failure.  A separate set of basic tools and a first aid kit that are strictly for emergencies is also a good idea.   Even if you have all the items somewhere in the store, a centrally-located supply kit will make things a lot easier if you’re stumbling around in the dark.

The guide includes a number of links to good resources for your disaster and recovery planning.  Links include the American Red Cross, FEMA, The Department of Homeland Security, and others. A few minutes spent today could save money and even lives in the event that a disaster strikes.

This is one of those things that we may not think about because disasters only happen to other people.  But in this case, procrastination could turn out to be very expensive and potentially dangerous.