The first “convenience store” in Ocean City, New Jersey opened five blocks from my family’s neighborhood grocery store. The Cumberland Farms store sold the same stuff as Fulton’s Market, but at prices only chain stores could offer. A roll of toilet paper purchased by the case from my father’s supplier cost him what a shopper would pay at the Cumberland Farms store. Most of the stuff on our shelves didn’t move.
With each passing year, I could tell my parents were becoming increasingly worried about the future of the family business. Shore Memorial Hospital offered my mother a nursing position. Dad said he could handle the store hours himself, so Mom accepted the position. Life went on. But not without a cost.
When my parents opened Fulton’s Market in the late 1960s, they believed they were launching a family enterprise that would enable them to spend quality time with each other and their three boys. My mother left a career in nursing and my father dropped two part-time jobs to devote their attention to this new venture, a neighborhood grocery store in Ocean City, New Jersey.
My family moved into the cramped apartment above the store and the tiny kitchen and living room on the ground floor. We all started adjusting to dinnertime with visitors in the next room … customers.
Despite the serious price advantages offered to shoppers at the local supermarket, our neighbors seemed to like the convenience of dropping in for basic stuff like the daily newspaper, milk, bread, lunchmeat, cigarettes, soft drinks, snacks, ice cream, etc. Summer tourists provided a robust flow of customers from May to September. Life was good for my family.
Christmas gifts and I have a love-hate relationship. Some of the gifts I’ve given have become treasured reminders of special occasions, like the sweater I gave my wife on our first Christmas together. Others have been less inspiring (although practical), like the nose-hair trimmer I gave my brother-in-law a few years ago. But there’s one gift that I believe is an undeniable gesture of affection and thoughtfulness … a good book.
A carefully chosen book is a present that offers hours of enjoyment, inspiration and encouragement for someone you love. Here are some books I highly recommend that illuminate vital life skills and elucidate important ideas.
I love to read. Books, magazines, blogs … reading feeds the mind. Unfortunately, the speed of life can make reading a luxury that gets relegated to downtime during vacations, a few minutes before bedtime and interludes in the loo (ahem). However, if you own a business, reading is an essential tool that can help you be a shrewder entrepreneur, stronger leader and sharper individual.
Here is a short list of books that I believe should be in every business owner’s bookcase. Buy them. Read them. Use them to enhance your enterprise.
Poet Robert Frost once described the brain as something that “starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.” Okay, so you can jump start it again with a stiff cup of Folgers. The point is, much of what passes for work in the workplace requires—admit it—very little of your cerebral cortex.
The mundane tasks that constitute the average workday are often far from intellectually stimulating—but that’s probably a good thing. A certain amount of routine helps us balance the stressful elements of operating a business. Too much novelty can lead to overload and burnout.
Nevertheless, we all enjoy occasional opportunities that seriously engage our gray matter. Otherwise, going to work can become a daily visit to the Zombie Zone. Facilitating regular brainstorming sessions for employees at every level not only creates an environment for generating ideas, but also establishes an invigorating atmosphere for energizing employee enthusiasm.
In the late 1960s, my mother and father got into operating a family business rather unexpectedly. My great aunt, who had owned and operated a corner grocery store in Ocean City, New Jersey, for decades, died from cancer. My mother acquired the store property through my great aunt’s will.
Mom had been a nurse her entire adult life, both in a doctor’s office and in a hospital. Dad was a school bus driver and retail and wholesale eggman. That’s right, he sold and delivered eggs to residential and commercial customers just like a milkman. Neither knew the first thing about operating a grocery store.
Above the store was a small two-bedroom apartment, where my great aunt had lived. My folks saw an opportunity to move out of the house we were renting and operate a family business, which would give them more time with their three boys. The store also had a small kitchen and living room downstairs, so we could have meals together and Mom and Dad could wait on customers. And so, Fulton’s Market was born.
Have you ever had to renovate your occupation? By that I mean: pursue a new profession, acquire a new skill, launch a new business or product line or just expand your thinking about why you do what you do. I did that recently. Surprise, surprise … it’s exacting, exhilarating and exhausting.
When I passed my 60th birthday, it dawned on me that it was a good time to rethink how I would spend the remaining years of my work life. As a leadership coach for the past 20 plus years, I enjoyed working with business owners who wanted to improve their management skills and improve other aspects of their enterprise. However, that path began to get a bit mundane. I wanted to interact with entrepreneurs in a new way.
Some years ago I attended a seminar presented by the Disney Institute, a training program for business professionals created by the folks who gave the world Mickey Mouse. The five-hour seminar, “The Disney Keys to Excellence,” addressed topics such as leadership excellence, employee loyalty, management creativity and customer satisfaction.
Now this is an organization that knows something about dealing with large numbers of customers—or in Disney-speak, “guests.” One of the “fun facts” included in the seminar materials puts the numbers in perspective: Each year Walt Disney World guests consume almost 9 million hamburgers, 7 million hotdogs, 9 million pounds of French fries, more than 275,000 pounds of popcorn and more than 46 million Coca-Cola drinks.
At the conclusion of the seminar, attendees received a copy of the book Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service. The book explains the “practical magic” behind creating the “Disney difference” for customers by focusing on five key areas.
When was the last time you said something you regretted? Has it been a while? Or can you count the number of days (hours) on one hand? And how about that email comment you wish you could unsend? Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. You’ve probably heard that childhood saying. It’s a lie. Disagree? Just ask the person on the receiving end of your most recent regrettable remark.
Perhaps you were angry and reacted with the first thing that popped into your head. Let’s face it, there’s nothing like delivering a zinger when you’re really ticked off, right? However, unless you’re an antisocial dork or a reality TV show star, you usually wind up wishing you had bitten your tongue.
I’m surprised at how little it takes to make me a happy customer. I’m not a demanding guy by nature, so a business simply has to offer me decent prices and good products or services to get me to come back. If the business’s salespeople treat me like a fellow human being, then that’s icing on the cake. But it’s icing I really like.
Lately, I’ve been thinking that my attitude about customer service is an unfortunate sign of the times. You may feel differently, but I view bland or poor customer service as the rule, rather than the exception. Occasionally, I’m pleasantly surprised when a clerk, receptionist or telephone order-taker does something to violate my expectations. But more often than not, I walk away from a business transaction shaking my head rather than nodding in approval at the way I have been treated.