Here’s the story…
Recently, Nancy, Jay and I got to hear Kathy Ireland speak to a group. She is a remarkable businesswoman who is passionate about her brand. She launched her business in 1993 and today it is a $1.5 billion dollar company selling over 45,000 products.
She told the story of starting the brand with a pair of socks selling them out of the trunk of her car. Now she has sold over 100,000,000 pairs of socks.
Her success stems from the intimate knowledge of her customer and what the customer wants. She said to keep those doors of communication open with those you serve. The customer will honestly tell you how you can do better and serve her. Listening to our customers is critical.
A few other points she talked about were as follows:
- We are our own brand. What kind of brand to we portray to the world? If we have to make a change in that brand, do it now.
- A well branded product (or person) will outperform a non-branded, lesser priced product.
- Men buy products but women are loyal to brands.
- Corporate America no longer controls brands. Do to social media like Facebook, Twitter and blogs, people want to be reached in their own terms and not corporate terms.
- Independent retailers can offer what big boxes can’t – customer service.
She was an inspirational speaker who siad her priorities were faith, family, and service to work. She indicated whenever she got the priorities mixed up, she was really in trouble.
Probably my major takeaway from her was her persistence in the face adversity. Anybody can see her now as a celebrated wife, mother and CEO of a $1.5 billion dollar brand. Some may remember her as a swim suit model. But throughout she faced lots of people who told her “no” and she still struggled on to build an empire. The difference between her and millions of others who want the fame and fortune is that she never quits.
Kevin Sauder’s Belief That Independent Furniture Reps Are An Asset to a Manufacturer
In reading an excellent blog post on Furniture Today by Jim Green, I was reminded of an interview I did with Kevin Sauder, the third generation leader of Sauder Woodworking. He leads a company that is one of the top manufacturers in the furniture industry doing over half a billion dollars in sales annually.
In my interview, Kevin spoke of many topics such as
- How Sauder grew from the humble beginnings to the fifth largest furniture manufacturer in the country
- Life lessons in a family business (albeit a very big family business)
- What he has learned from dealing with the largest retailers in the country like Wal-Mart and Office Depot
- Changes he sees our industry needs to address like the new California CARB compliance, getting younger people involved in the industry, how to make our offerings appealing to the consumer and the Green movement
- What he sees successful businesses doing in the jobless recovery
- His take on sales training and it’s not what you think it might be.
- Internet retailing perspectives
- Some of his greatest successes and challenges
What reminded me of the interview when I saw Jim’s column is Kevin Sauder’s opinion on the use of manufacturer’s reps. He felt the use of independent sales reps was much more beneficial for a company on a number of fronts. Here are the advantages he mentioned for employing independent sales reps:
- The relationships independent reps have with the retailers are generally better than any factory guy would have.
- A good experienced manufacturer’s rep is the eyes and ears on the ground in the customer’s door. They can listen not only when they are presenting the manufacturer’s line but when they are presenting other manufacturer’s lines. (In my own case, there are several placements I have made over the years because of my relationship with another line, that allowed me to present a new line)
- Reps have a reason to be in the retailers store and they know more people
- Reps are a variable cost. If business is down, the factory does not have to pay as much.
- And the biggie that he told me was how reps actually create more sales for Sauder from product that didn’t even exist.
Probably the most interesting thing in the whole interview was Kevin’s take on integrity in business. If all businesses (and government for that matter) had his philosophy on how to manage ethically, our country and our economy would be a much better place.
Two months ago my father served as a pallbearer to a friend he’s known for 50 years. Tomorrow he will repeat the process for another friend. It’s sad to have close friends of my parents pass on. These were people I knew since childhood, looked up to while growing up, respected for their business successes while I was starting to get into business, and more recently shared golf games with them and my dad.
For those of us who believe in an afterlife, I know these men are in a better place and so we rejoice in their life with us. But a couple of thoughts struck me hard yesterday when dad told me he was going to be another pallbearer (I think it’s three or four in 2010 alone).
1. There is always a void in the families and friends from a life well lived. The more the people enjoyed life, the more life will miss them when they are gone.
2. I am blessed to have parents who are still going very strong and are of good health. After having great Christmas celebrations with the whole family it’s important to enjoy all our moments together because time is fleeting.
And the thought that hit me the hardest as I am starting to think about my annual goal setting and updating ritual:
3. How many funerals would I be asked to be a pallbearer at? My folks have so many friends that they have cultivated over the years. The fun and joy they shared for 50 some years with these friends more than compensates for the heartache when it gets to the end of the road.
As I prepare and update my goal list for 2011, there will be a new twist on the category of relationships. It’s not as much about how many people you know as much as it is how many people do you know well enough that if you out live them, you will be a pall bearer at their funeral. That my friends is a real testament to a life well lived.
As always let me know your thoughts.
PS. I’ll get back to more uplifting topics next time.
TV alert: this weekend It’s a Wonderful Life is on a couple of times.
It’s one of my all time favorite Christmas movies. It’s the story of a man who has big aspirations in his school years, but through fate of circumstances has to forego his dreams of conquering the world to help save the family’s building and loan association. He marries, has a family, and is continually without money. He sees his friends leave and make fortunes, his brother is a war hero, but this flawed hero, played by Jimmy Stewart , constantly struggles to makes ends meet because he has such a good heart for helping people. His nemesis old man Potter, is the wealthiest man in town owning much of the commercial property and housing, charging outrageous rents, and exacting his pound of flesh wherever he can.
At the crucial point in the movie, Jimmy Stewart’s character has such despair that he believes his life is worth more dead than alive. He claims he wished he was never born. His guardian angel takes him through what the world would be like if he in fact had never been born. In the movie, this man had touched so many lives through his good deeds. He had made a major impact on the community because of the service provided by the building and loan business he had saved from extinction. And in the end he comes to realize that It’s a Wonderful Life. If you never seen the movie or haven’t seen it for a while, I highly recommend it for this season’s viewing.
Here are some reasons why I can watch this movie every year and thoroughly enjoy it even though I’ve seen it all before.
1. My grandfather was in the Savings and Loan Business starting back in the Depression era. He fought this same fight of helping people build their dream homes in good times and bad. After decades of taking care of his customers, and building a great business, he had the satisfaction of a wonderful life filled with friends and family and respect from the communities he helped serve. He was an inspiration to me and the movie is a reminder of what a wonderful life can be.
2. This is the tale of the small businessman doing what’s right for his customers. Monetarily he didn’t feel like he was worth much and for much of the movie had no concept of the impact he was making on the people around him. But at the end, his war hero brother toasted him as “the Richest Man in Town.” Being in business has ups & downs. If you do what’s right, you will be rich in more ways than money.
3. For many salesmen, business owners and workers, this last 12-18 months has been tough. Some people may feel down in the dumps or even a failure over things they can’t control much like Jimmy Stewart in the movie. But the message this movie brings to all who struggle over things they cannot control, is you have an impact on others whether you realize it or not. When the whole town rallies to support this man in his time of crisis, his guardian angel brings it all together “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends”.
As we go into this holiday season and plan for a better new year, let’s remember the struggles of those less fortunate than ourselves. There’s more to life than our business or the wealth we generate from it. We can all make a difference for the betterment of our fellow man by lending a hand to those in need. It will come back to us in ways we do not expect at times we do not expect. Remember, It’s a Wonderful Life.
Merry Christmas and a Happy Prosperous New Year
Last Friday my mother hit a milestone birthday. She would kill me if I told you how old she was. Let’s just say it was in the range of three quarters of a century.
My wife and I organized a birthday party for family and friends. Actually my wife did all the work and I got some of the credit. My wife spent a lot of time obsessing over the details like the menu, seating chart, etc. because she wanted to make sure everything was just right. If you have ever planned a sit down affair for 70 people, half of who you really don’t know, and three quarters of who are over 70, it is a thankless job.
All in all it was a very nice affair and everyone including mom and dad had a great time.
End of story… Until Saturday!!!
On Saturday, my uncle and aunt both called to thank us for the wonderful party. My mom and dad both called to thank us for the wonderful party. Ok, that’s to be expected since it was in their honor, and it was nice to be appreciated for the efforts.
On Monday we received three thank you notes from their friends which all had to be mailed on Saturday.
On Tuesday we received another couple of thank you notes including one from mom again reiterating what a nice party it was.
On Wednesday we received another three thank you cards that probably were mailed on Monday. A couple of these were from people I did not know all that well, like neighbors of my parents.
On Thursday a few more.
All the notes were personalized, heartfelt, hand written on personal stationary. And all of them took no more than 5 -10 minutes each to write and mail.
A week ago we were just glad to get through the affair because of the extra effort required. Now we are thrilled because people have called and written to thank us and let us know what a great time they had.
A few takeaways for you today are as follows…
First, it has been a long time since I have been thanked for the extra effort, though I tend to think I provide extra in a lot of things I do. My mom and dad’s generation were ingrained with common courtesies like writing thank you notes. It is a shame that some of that has been lost over the years because it feels real good to be acknowledged for the extra efforts.
Second, for me personally, I probably am the receiver of the extra effort from people. I need to remember how good it felt to receive the hand written thank you note and try and write more of them myself.
Third, my mom’s of an age and a generation that does not do email. Or if they do, it has not seeped over to the fine art of thank you notes. Frankly an email thank you is nice, but not near as pleasing as receiving an actual hand written thank you note on personal stationary, with a personal stamp, addressed personally to us.
Finally, how can you apply the lost art of the personalized thank you to your business? If you are a rep, do you send thank you notes to customers for new placements or ongoing business? If you are a retailer, do your sales people all send out handwritten thank you notes on their sales?
In some cases you may say it’s a lot of work. It is! On the other hand, if the thank you note is written sincerely it will make such an impression on the recipient because hardly anyone does it anymore. Consider part of the relationship building.
And remember, I’m not talking about an email, or a computer generated deal. Those are nice if you can’t get them done any other way. But nothing beats a hand written thank you on personalized stationary with a real stamp on it.
One of the tips from Joe Girard, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “World’s Greatest Salesman” was he hand wrote thank you notes to every customer he ever sold a car to. If it’s good enough for him, it should be good enough for us!!!
Thank you for your continued interest. Have a great selling day.