An Open Letter to the CEO of SEARS

Sears

Dear Mr. Ed Lampert,

When you took over as CEO of Sears I assumed you were hoping to make a lot of money and that you were the man for the job. As a small business and franchise consultant, I see a lot of guys who think they can handle the job. As a successful hedge fund manager, it is easy to see how you can take the leap from understanding spreadsheets to thinking that you had a handle on the pulse of retail. After all, there are spreadsheets at Sears.

I watched with great interest as Sears has turned from a family place to shop into a thrift store.  That is what you were working to make it into isn’t it? A smart, successful man like you can’t walk around Sears and think that you wanted people with real money to spend any of it there, so it must be a call to gather all the Walmart shoppers who want to visit a mall setting. Thrift Store in a mall! Genius!

I especially like the way you keep payroll down so you can add more to the bottom line. It took me forever to find someone to allow me to spend over $100 on a new battery for my car. This, I further assume, was to make me wander around the store searching for an employee so I could find more things to buy. I threw out my back carrying the battery, but I did see lots and lots of things on clearance. I will have to add a new rule to my Bulldog Rules for Business – “Make ’em wait!”

Your new tagline is “Life. Well Spent.” I get it now. I can’t spend money at Sears, but I can spend my life trying to find someone to help me. That old tagline, “The softer side of Sears”, was for wusses. Make ’em work to give you money! That must be the best strategy.

When I did find someone to help me he was helping someone else and I had to wait more. More genius! When he was done and the other customer wandered away, I was told I had to wait more since he needed to put paperwork in a little bin somewhere behind a wall. I am not sure what that was for since all he said was, “I’ll be back”, but it was apparently more important than me and my money. Whatever you told that guy his job was, he did it well. I waited for more than 10 minutes and then left.

There are many places to buy a car battery, but there is only one Sears. I think you can be proud of that. No one can be as service-oriented as you and your team. I can tell that you have them all trained that way. The recruiting and training process must be intense. Proud!

As I finish my letter to you, Mr. Lampert, I want to thank you for showing me what it takes to run a big box retailer. I know I am not ready for that level of, um, success. As for you, my retail friend, be ready for more success as things seem to be moving faster than you anticipate. Your spreadsheets can’t tell you the future. They only look at what has already happened. But, from what I saw, I can tell you things will be exciting this year. Exciting!

Sincerely,

Bob Griffin – Bulldog-in-Chief
Business Bulldog, LLC
Bob@BusinessBulldog.com

P.S. I will be happy to talk with you personally anytime, Ed. As a fee for my services, you’ll have to buy me one of those sweet clearance shirts that I can’t look at directly without getting dizzy.

Lose Business – Eat BBQ!

I managed a dry cleaners during college to help pay the bills. It wasn’t an enviable job, but finding a decent job when there are thousands of other students looking for work isn’t easy. I considered myself lucky just to have the job.

It was a back-to-basics customer service kind of work. There were six or seven other dry cleaners on the same road, so being the service leader was vital to staying in business (and keeping my job). I would get to know each customer and have their clothes ready when they pulled up.

One night I was called by the owner. He told me there had been a fire and the entire store burned down. This was a real nightmare. You only bring your best clothes to the dry cleaners and now they were burned or smoke damaged – definitely not very clean.

The owner, not being the brave one, gave me the job of calling all of the customers and letting them know we lost their good clothes to a fire. I had to get the price they paid for the clothes to give to the insurance company and other information so they could be paid for their loss. On top of that, I had to sit outside the burned ruins of the business and talk with the customers who drove to the store to talk. This was a perfect time to use some of those crisis management skills I had learned.

Overall, customers were supportive. I had spent the prior year getting to know them, their families, and the story behind a lot of the stains on their clothes. I had a ready question about their family, work, or vacation when they visited to drop off or pick up clothes, so letting them know how sorry I was that we burned their nice clothes was easier because they also knew me.

There were customers who were not so nice. I still vividly recall those people in my mind. The screams of, “How dare you burn my clothes!” and “What are you going to do about this!” were ringing in my ears for weeks after the accident.

Once the insurance company paid the claim, things really got moving rebuilding the store and the brand.

Think about that for a second. We were going to get back into the same business where just months earlier we had lost all of our customer’s clothes. This was a business that was out of business and sent customers to our competitors. How in the world was I going to attract customers back and keep them after an accident like this?

I gave them BBQ!

Bulldog Rule # 7 – Remember to dream about where your business can go and then make it happen

When it came time to reopen the store, I wanted to take some of mystery out of dry cleaning. After all, how do you clean something without getting it wet? I also gave the customers a chance to look around the sparkling clean, new store. I sent invitations to our “Re-Grand Opening” and made it look like a party. We had music playing, toys for the kids, and BBQ sandwiches to eat. I decorated the outside of the store with balloons and streamers and made a sign to hold at the street.

Now, I want to mention the BBQ sandwiches again. This was my moment of genius. Since customers are always worried that stains on their clothes would not come out, I made sure to feed them something that was guaranteed to cause stains. Once they dripped that tasty BBQ sauce on their shirt, I would bring them back to the new machines that would remove the stains and show them how it worked. If it was possible, I would use some of the cleaning fluid and remove the stain while they were still wearing the shirt. On top of that, I gave them a coupon with a steep discount to use on their next visit.

Customers came back because they could see how nice the store was and that we truly wanted them to come back. I re-instituted the customer service that we were known for and customers even brought new customers.

In the end, a fire made things look overwhelmingly dire, but taking advantage of the good customer service I had provided along with a plan to transparent business model gave us a chance to come back stronger than before. A year later, other dry cleaners on that same street started to close. We had taken too many of their customers to keep them going.

If you think like a Business Bulldog, there is always a chance to bring your best efforts. You just have to want it, plan for it, and make it happen.

Bob Griffin – CEO and Chief Bulldog-in-Charge

Nice Try

An owner thought he was being helpful by showing his desire to help customers. It missed the mark.

It is always the execution that we stumble on.  We get the right idea with the wrong delivery.  I was passing a sign with the message “It Would be our pleasure to serve you” and had to take the picture.  It seems innocuous but, add the word “IF” to the end of the message and you have a whole new meaning. “It would be our pleasure to serve you IF we wanted to or IF we were done with our smoke break” is a sad message to send.  Any time you do not make a good, clear point, you lose credibility and putting a bland message out says a lot about who you are.

“It is our pleasure to serve you” is a better message, but what does it mean?  Why are you wasting prime space on your sign to make a throwaway statement?  Step up and sell me something.  Be funny or eye catching. Be bad, strange, or thoughtful, but be something that people will remember. That sign I saw made me think they are not worth my time.  From the number of cars driving by that had passengers that didn’t even look at the sign, I was right in my analysis.

The message you send to customers needs to be as thought out as any big advertising campaign. If you are not making the effort to do something that will draw customers into your store to buy, you are wasting time, money, and effort.

Years ago, I saw a tiny doughnut store that was packed.  I mean they had people who were getting kind of personal in they way they were crammed into the front of the store.  BUT, every one of them was smiling and waiting to spend money.  The sign at the front of the store said, “Fresh Doughnuts! If we drop them twice we throw them away!”  That was a bad message, but it was memorable.  It has been over twenty years since I visited that shop and I still talk about that sign and those doughnuts.  Did anyone really think they reused a doughnut that they dropped?  Maybe.  Did it keep some customers away?  Yes.  Why is that good?  The owners made it a point to target the customer base they wanted.  They wanted fun people who would put up with a tiny store and being packed in.  I bet you go somewhere that is not up to your standards as an owner, but keeps you coming back because of some bit of character the place created.

Never let your message be wasted on blah!

Bob Griffin
Bgriffin@businessbulldog.com

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Reaching Goals Without Money

 

I failed. I admit it. I failed.

I wanted to help franchisees in Atlanta, GA raise funds for Children’s Miracle Network and I did not hit my goal. The funds were to be used to buy equipment that would help in the rehabilitation process when a child loses a limb and needs to relearn how to move to get around, grab an object, or even dance. And, I failed to raise the money.

What happened? Why did I not get the donations that would buy the tools kids needed to live full lives? I was focused on the wrong things. How many times have you had a goal and you failed to reach it? Every person fails to reach a goal. It is human nature to push for goals. We all want to win. But, somewhere along the line we miss the mark because we misspent our capital.

You can spend money or time and effort to reach a goal. You can hire people to help you reach your goals. Money goes a long way to covering ground when you want to stand on the top of the mountain and declare a win. As for me, I was looking to raise funds, so it seemed to be counter productive to spend money to raise it. Just like in the model where money is spent to reach a goal, you can find others to help you. I spent my own time and effort to reach the goal and I didn’t look for others to help me.

What would I do differently?

  • Get the message right.  I had a lot of good ideas, but I was a mess when I was asked to explain the process of raising funds.  Figure out, in the shortest way possible, the words to explain what you are doing, why, and where someone can help donate.
  • Ask others to get the word out.  I tried this, but didn’t get the power players involved to give it a strong push.  I should have asked the executive team to mention it in their circles.
  • Look for people who have the same goal.  Reach out on social media and ask.  Combining your goal with someone else’s goal doesn’t diminish your goal.  It makes it bigger.  If you can partner with someone to reach an even bigger goal, do it!
  • Make it easy to find you.  I set up a Facebook page and sent everyone there.  I also set up a Twitter account.  I was bad at keeping them updated.  Spend time each day updating your social media accounts.  Giving someone a consistent message shows them you are serious and organized.
  • Celebrate the people who are helping you.  Speak to them often and in front of the rest of the group.  I should have thanked the group who joined my cause and asked for updates on who they talked to about it.  That way, they would know I would ask and be open to having a discussion with someone new so they could talk with me about it.

Reaching a goal is a tough proposition when you don’t create the plan.  I didn’t plan well and I didn’t hit my goal.  Save yourself from the same fate.  Plan, follow up and implement changes to keep on track.  The biggest thing to remember is that you don’t have to reach for goals alone.  In fact, asking for help is easier now than ever before and there are always people ready to help.  Even halfway across the world, people are ready to help.

What have you failed at and was it money or time and effort that would have made the difference?

Bob Griffin
Questions@businessbulldog.com

SWOT ‘Em

When I am asked by small business owners how to improve their business I ask questions. The more questions I ask, the better I can see how their business operates. More importantly, the more questions they answer, the more they can see about their business. Often we put blinders on when we look at our business, employee’s performance, or customer service. Having a list of questions to answer about facets of your business can bring a clearer focus to what you think you know about things. The way to do that is to SWOT it.

SWOT stands for:

Strengths

Weaknesses

Opportunities

Threats


Have four sheets of paper ready to work on this exercise. The more you are able to write (even if you think it is not important) the more clearly you will see your business and the changes that you can make to have an immense impact on your success.

What are the strengths of your business? This is also known as the elevator pitch. You should be able to give a clear description of what your business is about and why someone should work with you as opposed to a competitor in the time it takes an elevator to go from the lobby to the top floor of a building. Of course, you should have more bumpers sticker phrases to give all the strengths about your business. Starting with, “Why should I buy from you?” is a good focus for the first run-through on a SWOT analysis.

Weaknesses are tougher to name. Both because you do not like to mention them, but also because you may not easily see them. Answer the question, “Why do people NOT buy from my business?” and you will have an uncomfortable list of things to fix.

Opportunities are the part of your business that more often than not costs you in time, money, or effort. Be honest with yourself. Think, “If I had unlimited time, money, or manpower to make changes, what would I do?” The answers to where your opportunities are will show up on your list easily. Take your time and think back to when you were first starting your business. What vision did you have when you wrote your business plan? What do you need to change to bring that vision to life. Business Bulldog Rule #7 – Dream about where your business can go and then make it happen.

Threats are easier to see, but no less tough to see on paper. Competition is the first on the list, but what about internally in your organization? Are there people on your staff who are not helping make your vision come to life? What about cash flow? Are you able to ride out this economy and still make payroll? Threats can come from every direction imaginable. Are you covered if someone gets hurt at your store? What if the street in front of your store closes down for a week or a month? What can you survive and grow despite?

Bulldog Rules for Business were written using this format. Bulldog Rule #6 – Failing to plan for your day, week, month, and year is unacceptable is a good example of where this website came from. How about Bulldog Rule #8 – Re-examine your business often is what we are doing when we use the SWOT method. Even Bulldog Rule #12 – Be aware of your entire business is a SWOT in the right direction.

SWOT every business you can. Not only will you find interesting facts that can help make your business stronger, but you will be able to forecast when business opportunities become available before your competition. You can SWOT anything really. Your business is just one part of you day, so why shouldn’t you look at what else in your life takes time away from building your business. SWOT your business and then make the changes you need to grow, thrive, and build a business that exceeds your vision.

Bob Griffin – CEO and Chief Bulldog
Bgriffin@BusinessBulldog.com

Do You Speak Employeese?

We talk with employees every day. We need them to complete tasks for their job and they need to tell us about the job they do. Seems simple enough, but why is it that there are still employees that we cannot get through to and have one team all working in the same direction? Maybe it is because you are not speaking the same language.

 It is not the phrasing or the words, but rather the lens they see your business through BEFORE you start talking that trips up a good conversation. Before you start a conversation with your employees, you need to understand what biases your employees bring to the table and how they are going to see what you have to say through that point of view. You are, after all, living in two different worlds and may never meet in the middle.

 You think about your business like a prize fighter does a big fight. You plan and train for the day and know that everything you do brings you closer to your goals. From the paperwork, the inventory you account for, and even the taxes you pay – both financially and physically, you are your work. It is something more than pride that keeps you going and you expect the best from everyone you meet. It is the lens that you see your business and your life through. Often you cannot see a reason not to work as hard as you do or why anyone would live any differently.

 Your employees, on the other hand, think about when they need to work and when they get to clock out. Their lens shows them how much money they bring in to the company (your company) and how much of that they get to keep. They see things in black and white. Black is the money that is coming in and white is the amount they get to keep after working hard all day long. They see other workers and calculate that you are rich off their hard work and they just get a small cut. They work – you get paid. They see when you drive up that you are in a nice car and that you have nice clothes. They know you take good care of your family and that, as your own boss, you have the time to spend with your family. They work and do not have as much to go home to. Their lens, to them, is clear since they see things this way every day.

 Recently, I was speaking with an owner of a successful company and he stated he could not get his employees to get extra training and was adamant that they would call in sick, just not show, or have one of a hundred excuses to keep them from showing up. My knee-jerk response was, “You pay them don’t you? Just tell them it is mandatory.” This advice was poorly given and received.

 What I should have done is find out more about the employees and why they did not want to show up. Once I asked the right question, I found out that they wasted their time in a training class in years past and did not want to repeat this. Simple. To them, they wanted to know more about the training before committing to the time required to go. Once we wrote an agenda and had a conversation about how it would help them, they all agreed to show up.

 What else do you want your employees to do that they approach halfheartedly or not at all? The job never end, it just takes on new challenges.

 Find the lens that they see things through by asking questions and removing your own biases and you will get the job done. Follow a few standard questions to help you see things more clearly.

  1. Is there resistance because of time, money, or education/ training issues?

  2. Is there prior experiences that keep them from committing?

  3. Does the message need to come from someone else?

  4. Have you had success discussing this issue before? What is different now?

Stop before you talk and think things through by looking at it as an employee would. Talk with them…not at them. You will find that they return the favor and explain things in terms you will understand too.

Bob Griffin

CEO – Business Bulldog

Business Bulldog

Top 10 Myths of Franchising

Every workday I am struck by the number of people who fight against the system (franchise) they bought. It’s like balling up all the money you worked so hard to earn and rolling it down the street. If you did roll it down the street, you’d at least be able to know you weren’t on the hook for thousands more because of all the contracts you sign when you buy a franchise. On second thought, forget rolling your money down the street. Tie it to fireworks and blow it up. It’s more spectacular and your crummy neighbors won’t be bothering you for more money.

The ability to lose common sense when it comes to making money is amazingly fast. From the time you sign the Franchise Agreement to the time when you want to change things breaks the sound barrier. Why buy something you want to tear apart and not use correctly? It’s like buying a car and then taking it apart to make a skateboard. Just following the system that made you want to buy in the first place.

Here are is my top 10 myths of franchising that I have seen in my years as a consultant. If the guy selling you a franchise mentions more than one of these, even in passing, he is probably an OK guy to buy from. The best franchises try to discourage you a little from buying.

Top 10 Myths about Franchising

  1. I can buy a franchise and let it make money.
  2. Hiring a manager will take care of most of the work.
  3. I manage people in my day job.I can handle a few hourly/contract workers.
  4. I have a Masters/ PHD/ Doctorate in Accounting, Marketing, Management, etc. This will be easy.
  5. I can teach the franchisor a thing or two with all my knowledge and skills.
  6. I can buy a poorly run store and turn it around for a profit.
  7. I can jump in and sell out fast.
  8. I can buy a franchise for my wife, son, daughter, etc to give them a career.
  9. No one can teach me anything I don’t already know about business.
  10. I like the product so I will be the best marketing person for my franchise.


Do any of these myths sound familiar? We all want to see the best in the things we do. It is human nature. It is also human nature not to want to fail, but we seem to set that fear aside in the “knuckle-headed view” that you can buy a franchise, open the doors, and make huge amounts of money without doing any heavy lifting. You have to work at whatever business you buy.

Hard work, building on success, building a business for yourself first, and many more lessons are hard learned when you get in business the right way. Why start out on the wrong path?

I ask the classes that I guest lecture what kind of businesses they want to buy. Not one, so far, has said they want to buy into an existing franchise. Some of them have mentioned wanting to start a franchise but none want to buy a business with a track record and a reputation. Absolutely none of them have mentioned the work that goes into being a business owner.

Ask anyone how much money they think they will earn in the first year in business and they will gush with profit margins that would make Bill Gates blush. The misunderstanding about the cost of doing business – more than money – is where most people fail to be honest in business.

Take my list my happy franchise friends! Pass it around to anyone interested and especially those who are blind with new business bliss. Don’t follow the myths.

Bob Griffin – CEO
BGriffin@BusinessBulldog.com

Twitter: @BusinessBulldog
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Darwin’s Theory in Franchising

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Darwin was right. Survival of the fittest is the mantra of every living organism and that includes business. It is especially true in franchising where fresh new operators jump into open waters under the watchful gaze of the franchisor. Awash in the blissful wave that is the Franchise Agreement, franchisees feel safe that someone will rescue them if something goes wrong. This is where Darwin’s theory smacks them upside the head with a thud.

The problem is that safe in business is not a reality you will find. Did you ever think that some of the big-box retailers would go out of business? Of course not. Were you thinking bigger is safer? That’s wrong and so is buying a franchise and thinking you are safe.

Want to be safe in business? You have to work for safety. There is risk in everything and the quicker you realize how fast things can turn upside down, then better your business will be. The only constant in life is CHANGE. Darwin knew that and he applied it to animals. I know it and I see it every day in business.

As we have mentioned many times here at Business Bulldog, there are really three areas to pay attention to in your business:

  • The Leadership
  • The Employee Team
  • The Marketing

You may notice that no where on that list is there a parachute with the franchisor’s name on it. That’s because you bought the right to use a system, not the right to be saved from failure. Now do not get me and the team at Business Bulldog wrong, the franchisor wants you to succeed. They make more money when you make more money and they get to survive another day right along side of you. Some franchises though are not set up for rescue missions. We have worked with plenty of them and cried with the families who lost everything.

Jumping back a couple of paragraphs, I mentioned that you can work for safety in business. Here is the secret to that safety in a franchise…follow the system. Sound simple? The franchisor has already lost a ton of money on how to do things wrong. If it is a good franchise, it will change over time to meet the new needs of customers. Follow the system and be prepared to follow the three steps above. Focus on what will strengthen what you already have and your business will live another day.

The question you need to ask is, “Are you the right person to be a franchisee?”

If you are going to get into a franchise, think like Darwin. Are you the strongest you can be to jump into the pool and keep your head above water? Can you survive the first of many attacks by competition, vendors, and customers? Your franchise may not be able to help you fast enough or understand what is happening in your local area. There are more questions like this that you can ask, but the main question is, “Are you the right person to be in business under contract with a franchise and grow a business that you are comfortable with?”

How dare I say that some of you won’t make it in a franchise? That seems to be the million dollar question. That is, a million dollars you can earn or lose. I would rather tell someone they aren’t ready to be in a franchise than let them flop around like a fish out of water with the hope they learn to breathe. Darwin had it right. There are groups of people who make it and thrive and there are groups that disappear. The world of business is ugly and does care if you really, really want to be a business owner. Failure happens more often than success. It has always been that way and it always will be. Franchising is best suited for a follower/ leader – yes, that is the same person. Is that you?

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