Success… It Starts and Grows with a Vision

In a recent interview, I was asked my opinion about why some Private Equity firms fail in their efforts at operating what was originally considered a successful franchise system, while others take the system to even higher levels of success… As you’ll see by my response below, I actually started at the end and worked backwards. But in the end there is a common theme and its built around relationships, or lack thereof. Certainly, systems play a big part in the success equation but losing sight of “people” is a sure way to create a disconnect, even within the most perfect systems. My response and theory may be too simple for many to agree, but I do feel it lends towards the foundation of any successful business in one way, shape, fashion or form.

“All too often you hear about founders buying out the Private Equity firm. I personally, know of two that have done so recently, and for different reasons. And, even though only one was a franchise company, there was a common denominator in the circumstances that had developed within the organizations that led to the founders deciding to buy out the PEs… the “parent” company lost sight of its relationship with its “employees & franchisees” and the end-users, “clients & customers”.

My opinion is that “true” mom & pop operations are typically built upon the foundation of relationships, and it’s the strength of those relationships that build the foundation of a strong organization complete with common beliefs, values and mission. It definitely becomes an interdependent relationship. I have rarely seen that occur when PEs get involved where it’s more numbers, numbers, numbers. Don’t get me wrong, numbers are important. But, it’s the lack of balance between driving towards making the numbers and building relationships that is often missing. Ultimately causing rifts in the organization with the customer or client feeling the lingering effect of diminishing service levels.

Let’s look at a similar situation that occurs all too often in a very typical mom and pop setting even without the inclusion of a PE in the equation. Mom and Pop have run a very successful business for 25 years. They have done quite well over the years, building the business very methodically, never taking on too much debt at any one time. But still progressive in growing to meet customer demands. Sure, their product or service stands out as excellent. But it’s the relationships they have fostered over the years that have truly made the business successful.

Looking ahead, Mom and Pop have structured a very strong succession plan. Junior has gotten his MBA and is primed to take over the business. In fact, Pop has insisted that Junior also work five or so years out in the corporate world so he can gain some hands-on experience, and mature. Mom and Pop have met with their attorney and CPA and have everything in place for Junior to take over the family business. What’s next is a situation that occurs all too often when Mom and Pop are no longer in the picture.

Junior, complete with new ideas, a wealth of education, and some successful business experience, begins operating the business. He introduces new technology, replacing the antiquated systems that had been in place since day one. Junior streamlined operations, improved inventory control, and basically tweaked here and there to the point that the business appeared to be transformed to a business that appeared bigger than it was – almost like it was a part of a national chain.

Initially, customers loved the transformation and the buzz within town was full of praise and admiration for the family. But what transpires over the next few years as things begin to change as the business becomes less personal and more structured is actually the beginning of the end.

Strict policies have been put in place for both customers and employees. Product and service lines have become more defined, but at the expense of some customer favorites being eliminated. Customer service, having become more automated has reduced the necessity of a large staff. In-store signage has taken over where courteous employees once stood. Well, the list goes on… to the point of the business losing sight of people and relationships. Employee turnover continues to increase. Customers’ faces are no longer familiar. And, when a true national chain opens on the edge of town, foot-traffic starts to diminish.

You see, with all the great succession planning that Mom and Pop painstakingly put into place, they missed a key component to the success of the business. And when Junior transformed the business he also lost sight of that key component. It basically comes down to WWPD… “What Would Pop Do?”

WWPD is basically the relationship part of the business. To put it simply, Pop knew when to put his arm around an employee. Pop knew when to come out from behind the counter. Pop knew how to make a customer feel special. Pop knew to carry certain items that some of his “regulars” loved. And, again, the list goes on… Pop knew, but Junior didn’t. It’s the classic example of the disconnect between WWPD and MBA, and it’s a similar disconnect between a founder-run business and a PE-operated business.

Now, I’m not saying that it can’t be done, or shouldn’t be done… meaning the sale of a successful business to a PE. Absolutely, it’s the American Way! Instead, along with the financial and legal succession plan needs to be a visionary succession plan that basically outlines and teaches, “What Would Pop Do?”

So, in addressing the original question, let’s just insert Mom and Pop for the franchise, the employees and customers for the franchisees, and Junior for the PE… and the scenario fittingly plays out.”

Technology As The New Norm – Are We There Yet?

As we’re at mid-year, it’s essential we look forward to the second half of the year and review our goals and objectives. But, too often we don’t take into consideration how we’re going to make certain we achieve those goals and objectives… understanding what’s involved, doing the necessary prep work, learning about technology that will help, etc.

As the world rapidly moves towards “everything digital” it is vitally important, and absolutely essential we stay on top of technology. This cannot be stressed enough! It is reality and is paramount to any type of business success. The key is not to look at this from a negative perspective. Instead, embrace it for what it is, and for what it can do to help grow your business. Technology is not the enemy. It truly is your friend and one that can help you in more ways than you could ever imagine.

Imagine doing business today without computers? Without the internet?

Many business owners in the late ’80’s were reluctant to embrace computers and many thought the internet was a fad and would wither away. Many of today’s business owners have the same thoughts about social media and digital technology. Heck, many are still complaining about Web 2.0, when Web 3.0 is already here!

I guess the most important thing to realize, and probably quite different than looking back at technological advances in the ’80’s and ’90’s is the fact that today’s consumer has embraced technology and has incorporated it into their daily routine. Of course, let’s not lose sight of the younger generations that utilize technology because, quite frankly, they don’t really know any other way of doing things. It’s the norm to them. Actually, many in the younger generations don’t even look at it as technology!

So, back to today’s consumer… As they have embraced technology at a quicker pace than in the past, they demand, correction, expect, brands to have embraced it as well. They also expect brands to be ahead of the curve, and at the very least, ahead of where they are as consumers using technology. I guess a key question to ask at this time is, “At what point does today’s and tomorrow’s consumer meld together and eliminate the transition stage?” I ask that because the transition stage is today’s business owner’s comfort zone. It’s the comfort zone relied upon that minimizes the sense of urgency to embrace technology. It’s the comfort zone that has many business owners stating, “I have time. I’ll check it out next year.” or, “Our customers are older. They don’t use this new stuff. I’ll worry about it when I have to.”

Understand, today’s consumer, regardless of age, has embraced, or at the very least, accepted technology. Their expectations are growing by the minute, and most have ventured far beyond their own comfort zones. Add to this the influence of younger generations that in the past would have been considered to be bringing up the rear, that are now pushing forward, and pushing hard. Before you know it, the transition stage, the comfort zone, will be gone, and business owners that have not embraced and accepted technology will not survive.

3rd Quarter is Key for 2010 Success!

What happened to the first half of 2010? July 1st started the 3rd Quarter. In football, this quarter is key to the outcome of the game. In business, it’s no different.

Corrections must be made on problems and challenges from the first half. Improvements must be made on things that were headed in the right direction, but not quite as effective as you’d like. And, significant changes must be made if the game plan just isn’t working (be sure to look at execution of plan as well).

So, whether you’re building upon that first half lead or playing catch-up, NOW is the time to kick things into high gear to achieve your goals and objectives in 2010. Waiting for late in the 3rd Quarter or at the start of the 4th Quarter may be just too late…

What challenges did you face in the first half of 2010? And, what measures are you implementing to overcome those challenges in the second half of 2010?

On the other hand, if you’re on target, will you stay the course and in essence, not rock the boat? Or, will you implement some changes to build upon first half success?


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