He Was Mad as Hell 34 Years Ago

Here’s an interesting video.  Keep in mind that the words are from the movie “Network” which was released in 1976.  Sadly, the only thing that’s changed is that the threat from the Russians has been replaced by the threat from the Middle East.

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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.

Fighting the Big Boxes

Some one pointed me to this video today and I thought I’d share it with you along with a few thoughts. The film isn’t new. It’s been around for a few years. But it’s worth watching if you haven’t seen it before.

Independent America

Independent America

One thing that concerns me a bit is the lumping of big-box stores and franchised fast-food places together. The 3/50 Project which MTS has supported almost since the very beginning does this too. If my neighbor owns the local McDonald’s franchise, I don’t see why I should boycott Big Macs. Granted, some of the restaurant’s revenue goes to McDonald’s corporate, but the bulk of it stays right here. That’s a far cry from he huge share of revenue from the local Wally World that ends up in Bentonville, AR.

The other thing that disturbs me a little is the tendency to bash the big boxes rather than pumping up the local merchants. It reminds me of walking through the woods. If you don’t watch where you’re going and you step on a snake, there’s a good chance the snake will bite you. If it happens, don’t blame the snake. He’s just doing what snakes do. Same for the boxes stores. They’re the most predictable of competitors. They’re going to do what they always do. Don’t play into their hands.

I’ve covered this before, but it bears repeating. Don’t try to compete with the chain stores on price. You can’t win! With their deep pockets they can lose money for a while, just long enough to put you out of business. Avoid going head-to-head. Find your niche and stick to it.

Most important of all, rather than fighting to keep a national chain out of your market, fight to keep your local government from subsidizing the big box with your tax money. There are enough small-town and even big city governments desperate for tax revenue that they’ll do whatever it takes to get the chain to locate within their boundaries. They do this by direct tax breaks and by indirect tax breaks. (We’ll widen the street and put in traffic lights at city expense.) As a taxpayer, scream bloody murder about this nonsense. Using your tax money as an incentive to bring a competitor into your marketplace should be cause to terminate the local government at the next election.

To me, there’s nothing quite as ridiculous as a local government who whines about the deteriorating downtown area while they pump your tax dollars into an infrastructure that encourages people and businesses to move to the outskirts of town.

Finally, adopt the “serenity prayer.”

“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The Marts and the Depots aren’t going away anytime soon.  Remember that every one of them started out with one store, just like you did.  What can you learn from them?  Study their operations.  Read anything you can find about their operations.  Then, do it better than they do.

They have greeters.  At your store make sure they’re greeted by the owner.

They have a liberal return policy.  If you have a sign that says “no refunds” or something like that, get rid of it!   Offer loaner programs.  Make sure your vendors back you up as well as they do the chains.

They have convenient hours.  Most likely you can’t afford to be open 24/7, but you do have to be there when they need you.

You have a number of advantages over the national chains.  Find out what they are and use them to your advantage.

April 15-The Real April Fool’s Day?

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Here in the heartland of America it’s a beautiful day.  As I sit here in my palatial office (actually a spare bedroom) I can hear the birds singing and almost hear the buds popping open on the trees.  All is well!

OK, maybe all isn’t well.  It’s April 15, sort of like April Fool’s Day on steroids.  As I prepare to send off a five figure check to the IRS, the beauty of the day seems to dim a little.  Maybe the birds aren’t singing.  Maybe they’re laughing at me.  It’s hard to say.

I don’t mind paying my fair share, I really don’t.  But my fair share was withheld from my IRA distributions throughout the year.  Yet, I still owe almost twenty grand because someone at my former employer didn’t feel the need to inform me that there would be a huge tax liability at the end of the year.  “Oops.  Sorry.”

It’s quite a hit for someone who didn’t actually earn a dime in 2009.

Then there’s my second son.  He owes $1,000.00.  That may not seem like a lot to you and me, but this young man made less in 2009, working two jobs, than I paid in taxes.  Like his old man, his tax liability is the result of someone at one of his employers dropping the ball.  In spite of his several requests, they failed to withhold taxes from his salary.  “Oops”, again.

I know many of you have similar nightmares and I guess having a blog gives me the opportunity to rant once in a while.  Here’s the thing, $1 billion of the “stimulus” money is going to hire thousands of new IRS agents.  Why?  Because a lot of us have had it up to here with a government that thinks our hard-earned money is somehow their money.  Because all of us, especially small business owners, feel like we contribute more than enough to Washington, our state capitals, counties, and municipalities.  Face it, most of us don’t trust the government.  By hiring thousands of additional IRS agents, the feds are making it painfully obvious that they don’t trust us either.

We’re shocked that the word “million” seems to have almost vanished from the national vocabulary to be replace by the word “billion” (1,000,000,000).  [Note:  “Millions” of Americans are out of work.  That seems to be the only place the “M word is still in wide usage.] Trillion (1,000,000,000,000), a number so big that most Americans can’t even comprehend it, is thrown around ever so casually by a government that acts like there is no limit to what you and I can be forced to pay.

I don’t mean to get all political on a business blog, but whatever we contribute to the government is money that we can’t use to build up our businesses.  And if we can’t build up our businesses, where are we going to find jobs for the millions of our friends and neighbors who are out of work?  Besides, this isn’t a liberal or conservative issue.  Both sides treat our paychecks like Monopoly money.

But, take heart, Tax Freedom Day occurs at about the same time as Tax Filing Day.  That means that everything you’ve made so far this year will go to pay the various taxes but what you make from now until the end of the year is yours.

Is it a coincidence that our tax day falls on the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic?  I don’t think so.

More “Undercover Boss”

After yesterday’s post I watched another episode of “Undercover Boss”, this one featuring Coby Brooks, President and CEO of Hooters.  As you might imagine, Brooks finds both good and bad in his company and gets a hard time from some folks on the street who don’t appreciate the Hooters concept.

I’m no prude and I’ve enjoyed wings and beer at a couple of the Hooters locations (including one that’s featured on the program) but it is a little difficult to reconcile the company’s public profile with some of Brooks’ comments during the show.  He says he’d have no problem with his daughters joining the family business and that everything about the chain is wholesome and family-friendly, but early in the show one of the company’s ads flashes by on the screen:  “Hooters-More than a Mouthful”.

Be that as it may,the most telling episode in the show is probably when Brooks visits the company’s manufacturing plant (They make their own wing sauces and dressings.) in Atlanta.  The corporate office is also located in the Georgia city.

First, he says that morale in the factory was high when Dad was still alive (he died in 2006).  The elder Brooks would often visit the plant and talk to the people.  The current CEO admits that he hasn’t been in the plant since he was a teenager.  Don’t forget that the plant and the corporate office are in the same city and that Robert Brooks has been gone for four years!  Patti, the Business Manager at the plant tells Brooks that she has some concerns about morale.

The real enlightenment comes when Brooks asks one of the employees about the owner.  To make a long story short he says that the elder Brooks was a great guy and everybody loved working for him.  When our hero asks “What about the son?” what he hears is far from complimentary.

Of course, there is a happy ending with the newly enlightened CEO promising to do better.

Here’s the thing, this isn’t that unusual a story.  Almost without exception second-generation ownership is never like the first and third-generation owners are even less effective.  The founder had a dream and it was the focus of everything he did.  Charter employees shared in the dream and gave 110% to help achieve it.  It was usually a win-win for everyone.

Generation II comes along.  They knew about Dad’s (or Mom’s) dream but chances are that the business was already successful by the time they were old enough to really understand what was going on.  They’ve always enjoyed the fruits of the successful company but never experienced the struggles it took to get there.  Generation III has grown up around a successful business and have little or no idea of what it took to get there.

Coby Brooks didn’t aspire to join the family business so maybe we can give him a bit of a pass, but it took him four years to find his way to the factory.  No wonder the workers have no loyalty to him!

But he seems like a sincere enough guy, at least as sincere as you can be running a chain of restaurants named after a female body part.  Hopefully for his sake, he learned some valuable lessons.

Postscript:  According to several sources, the chain is for sale.   One reason given is “sagging sales”.

Silver Dollar City Grand Opening AdAnother Postscript:  This weekend’s episode of Undercover Boss will feature Herschend Family Entertainment, one of my favorite companies.  The Herschend family literally started with  nothing but a hole in the ground 50 years ago this year and now owns and operates theme parks and other entertainment properties all over the Midwest and Southeast.  If you watch you’ll see an organization that’s about as much opposite of Hooters as a company could possibly be.  It airs on CBS Sunday evening.  Don’t miss it if you can.

Undercover Boss; “must see TV”

I just finished watching an episode of Undercover Boss, a new series on CBS.  The premise is simple.  CEO’s go undercover to do the front line work of the companies they run.  The episode I just watched featured Dave Rife, the owner and CEO of White Castle.

Rife, and the other CEOs that have been featured learn very quickly that it ain’t as easy as it looks.  Leaving a trail of slider destruction in his wake, he (and the viewers) see that the job of making the little hamburgers requires a lot of hard work by a lot of people and that things don’t always go as planned.

Every episode that I’ve seen ends with the boss developing a whole new respect for the people who do the actual work.  I wish every CEO in America would watch this show and learn some valuable lessons.  But even if you only have employee, there are some good lessons to be learned.

The show airs on Sunday evenings on CBS and you can watch past episodes at the CBS web site.