I long for the days when I could believe what the news anchor said. When I was a young man, Walter Cronkite held our trust in his fatherly hands and he held it honestly and tenderly. Over the years, I have become such a cynic. There is no real news. There is nowhere to go and get the truth. What we get are faux facts, manufactured to look like truth but spun to become sensational. Or we get half facts. Facts that are pulled out of context so the real meaning is completely lost.
What kind of world are we living in? Do they think we’re too stupid to understand? Have they forgotten it is government by the people? I believe if we are given the facts and educated about the problems, we could make good decisions.
What we need is a hero. Someone we can believe in. Someone we can trust.
When I was young there were heroes, people who rode white horses and rescued damsels in distress. Good triumphed over evil and the day was saved. The good guys had names like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Audie Murphy. If it was on television it was true. How dare somebody get on television now and say something that is not true. In those days, even senators and congressmen understood their responsibility to the people who elected them. Do you think our children look up to the politicians they see on television today? I hope not!
Where are our heroes? I feel so discouraged at what I see and hear. I want someone to look up to. Someone who grabs the microphone or the podium and tells us the truth. But I know I can’t change the way television networks fight for ratings or what lies politicians will tell to get re-elected. So what can we do? We can express our beliefs using the freedom we have in this country, our vote. Vote your conscience.
But there is also something I can do every day. I can be the person that goes to work and treats people fairly every day. I can be a husband that shows my wife how much I love her every day. I can be a model of honesty and kindness for my children and grandchildren. I can be the best friend my friends could ever have. I can be the best me that I can be.
So here’s the commitment we all need to make:
First, we will do the things to become a hero in the lives of the people we love. And then, we will reach out and find those people that are disillusioned and be a hero for them. Heroes aren’t dead they’re just waiting to appear when they are most needed. They’re needed now.
Be a hero.
In our communities, it’s the small businesses that embody the principles we hold dear: honesty, integrity, fair pricing and a commitment to excellence. Small businesses that operate by these principles have earned our respect and they need our loyalty. BUY SMALL.
Let me give you an example of such a business. My wife drives an old red truck. Even though the odometer says 250,000 miles the truck still runs pretty good. It has big wide tires and is jacked up 4 inches so everyone can see her driving down the street. A pretty lady in a big red truck is not a bad way to be recognized.
We put about $500 a year in truck maintenance to keep it on the road, but that’s cheap when you compare it to a new truck payment. When we look at the truck, we think it still looks good except for one thing: the front bumper. It’s tilted down and looks like we had an accident and never repaired it. We kept saying we should get it fixed, but just hadn’t done it. We finally decided it was time and took Big Red to a local small business called Hollywood Finishes in Keller,Texas. I’d used them before to repair my daughter’s Jeep. The owner had suggested a repair that looked good and also saved us a lot of money. That was especially good since the problem wasn’t covered under our insurance. Hollywood Finishes had already shown that they were focused on making the repair fit my needs and my pocketbook.
Back to the red truck. The owner took a look at the bumper and said, “We can straighten it by adjusting the supports.” I asked “How much?” He said “Not too much, $85.” Sounded great to me. After a few days, I went to pick up Big Red and was ready to pay the $85. That’s when the owner said the price had changed. I winced. Then he said, “The total is $70.” I said, “That’s not enough. You told me $85.” He smiled and said, “That’s right, but it was easier than I thought.” I was amazed. He did a great job, at a lower price than I was quoted and lower than I was prepared to pay. He could have charged me the $85 and I would have still been happy, but he didn’t. He put his honor above profit and honesty above gain.
When I talked to him about it he said, “It’s just business, the old school way.” I just can’t get that comment out of my head. Business the old school way. If the old school way is good quality work at a reasonable price then what’s the new way? My fear is that the new way may be poor quality at an inflated price. I don’t believe that as businesses grow they need to leave their morals and ethics behind. Please don’t misunderstand, there are many large businesses that have stayed true to what they believe. They are great examples of truth and honor in business. I am just suggesting that we should all seek out those companies, whether small or large. We should spend our money where we believe in the ethics of a company. Our purchases are our votes. Vote your morals and ethics with your purchasing power.
So how did Hollywood Finishes score?
Fair Pricing A++
Since small businesses are the most sensitive to toxic practices in the marketplace they require our close attention and feeding. They live and die by reputation and word of mouth. If you agree that our dollars are our votes of confidence, then you probably would also agree with my rule.
🔺 SPEND YOUR MONEY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD WHERE YOU LIVE
Seek out the small local companies in your area and use their products and services. Find the local restaurants and sample the local dishes prepared by local hands. Frequent them regularly and be sure to compliment them when the food and service excel. But there is another way to help these establishments, tell them when there are ways they can improve. Helping them to continuously improve is good for them and great for the neighborhood. If they fail, you will have an empty store front and another dead canary.Another example. In the back of my property there is a small creek. Near the creek we built a treehouse. Now don’t jump to conclusions, this is just a few boards and a wooden ladder, but my grandsons love it. The grass and weeds can grow up pretty high back there so it needs to be mowed from time to time.
I have an old riding mower that has definitely seen better days. One day it just stopped working. It wouldn’t start, wouldn’t even make a starting sound. Advantage went to the grass and weeds for the time being.
In my neighborhood, there’s a small repair shop, Gary’s Small Engine Repair in Keller,Texas. It is a family run business, with the wife in the front dealing with customers and the husband in the back, repairing everything from chain saws, to leaf blowers, to mowers. I dropped in to see what they thought. The wife said the waiting list to work on riding mowers was about 3 weeks long. She could have said “Put your name on the list and we’ll call when you can bring it in.” But that’s not what she said. “Tell me what it’s doing and maybe you can repair it yourself.” Was I dreaming? Instead of focusing on the profit they could make from repairing my mower, she was helping me diagnose the problem and suggested I fix it myself.
I kept thinking about what my other small business said, “Doing business the old school way. Maybe I’ve discovered something. The old way must mean putting the customer first. She laid out some things, step by step, that I could go back and try. But there was another thing she did that surprised me. She said, “After you try that, come back and tell me what you found and then we can look at the next step.”
Expert advice with no talk about money, is this the old school way? I followed her steps and eliminated the possible problem areas one by one. I decided it must be the starter, so I removed it from the mower and went back to see my new friend. As I was standing there talking to her, the husband came up from the back. He asked me to hand him the starter and follow him around to his shop. There, he tested the starter and said, “Nope, starter’s just fine.”
He could have handed it back to me and gone back to his work, but he didn’t. He said, “Follow the starter backwards and check each component until you finally check the switch itself. Don’t forget the safety switches. One under the seat and another under the lever that activates the blade. If those aren’t working the mower is locked out.” Again, customer first. I did what he suggested and sure enough the safety switch under the lever was out of alignment. I moved it so that the lever and switch touched each other, held my breath, and turned the key. The mower started and I felt great. I did it. Well, we did it. What did this small business get for their unselfish advice to me? I’ll tell you what they got. My loyalty and whole hearted endorsement to all my friends and neighbors.
How did Gary’s Small Engine Repair score?
Fair Pricing A++
Many years ago when I first started working in Water Treatment, I spoke to an esteemed colleague and asked him his secret to success. He thought for several minutes and relied, “Put the customer first, the rest will take care of its self.”
Putting the customer first might be old school to some, but there are businesses that follow this principle. Small businesses can be a great example of meeting the needs of the customer with honesty, integrity, quality, fair pricing, and follow up.
Spend your money in your neighborhood. Seek out and support those small businesses that do business the old way, the right way. Do your part. Save the canaries.
Through the presidential primaries and even after the election was decided, I heard that small business in America was the driving force for new jobs. That’s so important because I believe that the answer to most problems in our country is jobs. Pure and simple. People who have jobs that allow them to support their families don’t have time to riot in the streets, break store windows and get pushed back by water cannons. Without jobs, the masses see no future. No way up or even out. Jobs bring pride in accomplishment. Hard work, whether mental or physical, can provide an outlet for creativity and invention. I believe most people want to work, but when there are no jobs, people are easily swayed and manipulated. In America we need more GOOD jobs.
So, back to small business. Can they bring more jobs? Sure they can. Could they create enough jobs to pull the economy up by its bootstraps? Maybe. Here’s what the SBA states:
⚪ 28 million small businesses in America account for 54% of all U.S. sales.
⚪Small businesses provide 55% of all jobs, and 66% of all net new jobs since the 1970’s.
⚪ 600,000 franchised small businesses in the U.S. account for 40% of all retail sales.
But percentages can be deceiving. What about the number of new jobs? Ok. Let’s look. Since 1990, big business eliminated 4,000,000 jobs while small business added 8,000,000 new jobs. So, great work small businesses, we owe you a lot. But creating enough new jobs is like moving a mountain and will take a partnership between big and small business.
Looking back in history, we see that the Ottomans came up with a unique strategy when faced with sailing past the big cannons at Constantinople. They took their ships out of the water, pulling them on the shore using logs and ropes. This got them safely out of reach of the big guns. Every man, woman and child had to pull their weight. It took a total effort with no time to rest.
That’s what it will take in this country. America the beautiful. America the brave. America the strong. So grab the rope. Do what you can, and of this nation speak no ill. The future is what we make it, bright or dark. Words aren’t enough to pull this ship, called America, across the land and out of cannon fire. GRAB THE ROPE. IT’S OUR JOB TO KEEP AMERICA GREAT. Yes, I believe small business can add jobs, but they can give us more, much more.
It occurs to me that most successful small businesses have several things in common. This is at least true of the ones I have been fortunate to work with. Let me show you the common characteristics.
Honesty, sounds simple and is easy to say, but not so easy to find today. Being honest requires making promises and keeping them. This builds trust and trust keeps us going. How much do we trust the big companies we deal with? I think you would find our attitude about big companies much like Ronald Reagan’s thoughts about Arms Control. When speaking to Mikhail Gorbachev, he said “Trust but verify.” Small businesses must rely on their reputation to be successful. No one wants to do business with a company that they think is dishonest.
Small businesses often survive or fail based on repeat business. Repeat business is a product of fair pricing, high quality and follow up. How many times has a big company called you after you bought their product to see if you like it? It does happen, but you must admit, it’s rare. Small businesses have to follow up, because their customers must not only be satisfied, they must be elated.
Next comes integrity. You might say that’s the same as honesty, but let me disagree. In my mind, honesty is making promises and keeping them, walking the talk, and doing what you say. Integrity might go a step further. Integrity means doing more than what you promise. If you begin a task and find there is an alternative that is a better solution, offer that alternative. Look for ways of being better than even the customer expects. Don’t just fix things. Fix them so they don’t break again. Truly understand the needs of the customer and the resources the customer has to fix the problem and then tailor a solution to fit. If there is something better, even if you don’t have that product or service, don’t be afraid to say so. So, integrity is really honesty after it has spanned the test of time and held up against the fires of unjust criticism. When you have honesty, integrity, quality at a fair price and great follow up, you only need one more thing. Hard work.
I’ve discussed honesty and integrity, but what about quality at a fair price? Quality is a lot like value, it’s mostly in the eyes of the customer. Quality could be seen as meeting the expectations of the customer. A quality product might be one that out performs other products in its class or category. High quality might even surpass average or normal expectations since its performance is critical to support the product or service produced or offered by the customer.
That leaves follow up. If you don’t follow up with your customers, how will you know if they’re elated or not? Follow up gives you the feedback necessary to make adjustments to your service or product to improve and retain that customer. It closes the circle of continuous improvement. If you underperform and your follow up either doesn’t occur or takes too long, the laws of disconnect engage and your lost business will increase. Also, without follow up, you won’t know why things aren’t going so well. So there’s a good chance you’ll blame it on some easy target like the global economy or unfair competition. The fact is you just missed the target.
What’s a fair price? A book could be written about fair pricing, in fact many books. But here’s a simple way I look at it. A fair price is one when the price of your product or service matches the value that it brings to the customer and the quality meets expectations. But you also must look at it another way. A fair price is one that allows the provider of the product or service to make a reasonable profit. If you don’t price to make a profit you will be out of business and no longer able to provide that quality product or service. In this case, everyone loses. As a business it is your responsibility to run your business in a profitable manner.
In a small business if you are honest, have integrity, good follow up, and work really hard, you get to eat that week. If you forget one of those attributes, you might go hungry.
So,why are small businesses the canary in the coal mine? When mining for coal, miners could be exposed to dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide. They would carry a cage containing a canary down into the tunnels. The canary was much more sensitive to the gases then were the miners. If the canaries started to die, the miners would evacuate the tunnel to safety. The canaries were an early warning of eminent danger. Small businesses are this canary. If they fail, it means that one or more of these critical attributes are missing or lost. If it’s missing here don’t you also think it might be missing in big business as well? This trend has me concerned and you should be concerned too. When the canaries are getting sick and dying, the miners aren’t far behind.
Here’s my simple formula: Perform honestly, act with integrity, deliver quality, price reasonably, and follow up to make sure the customer is completely satisfied. I believe the young people of today will punish those companies that don’t heed this simple formula.
In my next blog I’ll share with you some of the small businesses that I’ve dealt with that are great examples of these principles.