April 24, 2007

The Fortune Cookie Column

By Paul Bieber

The other night Elaine and I had take-out Chinese food. The fortune cookie was typical, “Be Sure To Use Low-E Glass In All Of Your Installations”.

Gotcha. It didn’t really say that, but right now I hope you’re smiling. It really said, “May Your Life Be Prosperous”; I started to throw away that little slip of paper with the trite saying and the lucky lottery numbers when I started thinking about it.

My life is prosperous, specifically in the important column of a wonderful life with healthy and somewhat respectful kids, relative good health and a job I truly love. While I don’t think this was the intent of the cookie, it’s nice to have this come first.

I took this little cookie slip to be referring to financial success and it got me to thinking what does it take to be a prosperous glass business. In my career I have had contact with thousands of glass business owners, primarily in the Northeast. I came up with the following definition of financial and emotional prosperity and the ways to get there.

So, what is the definition of prosperity?

1. Someone who smiles more often than not, both in person and on the phone.

2. Someone who does work through problems, professionally, without screaming.

3. Someone who pays their bills on time, without needing a phone call or workouts.

How did these prosperous people get this point? Here are the characteristics that crossed my mind.

1. Work Ethic

Work as if no one owed you a living. Work hard, expect to be recognized for your hard work, and work hard even if your not.

Set an example for your employees by working hard. Don’t tell them to work hard as you leave for the golf course or your boat. Expect your employees to work hard and then recognize them when they do. Reward their hard work as they are making you money. The ones who don’t get rewarded will soon get the hint. Replace the ones who don’t get the hint.

Work hard for your customers. Give them ‘mother-in-law’ quality, (you know, you go out of your way to do a good job so she won’t nag you) on each job to each customer.

If you are an employee do what the boss requests. With a smile. If you think you have a better way, do it the boss’ way first, and then suggest a better way. Show the boss you follow direction, but that you also think about improvement.

If your boss doesn’t get this, find a new one.

2. Quality of Work

Care about giving good quality in the area that you can control the best, the installation. Be neat, be on time, and leave your job site better than the condition you found it in. Of course, do the job well.

Sell the best product you can. If you have a choice of two vendors for something, always use the one with the better quality product. This may cost a few dollars more, but will pay dividends in less call-backs, easier installations and happier customers.

Follow up every job with a phone call or site visit to confirm your customer’s satisfaction. If something is still needed, do it. When it an add-on, discuss pricing with the customer. If they feel that is was part of the original job, go over the sale in your head and think through where you and the customer disagree, and change that part of your work order or sales pitch on all future jobs. You’ll find yourself soon getting paid for every add-on. In the beginning you will eat some add-ons, but you will earn dividends by getting paid for all of your add-ons in the future.

Follow up again. In a month. Call to see if there is anything else they need done. Do they have a friend who needs a job done? May you use them as a reference?

These steps will bring in repeat business on a steady basis.

3. Be fair in business and expect to be treated fairly in business.

Be fair to your customers. Explain the work you will do, the cost, the things that may go wrong, possible additional costs and the expected result of your work. Do the work that is expected. Expect to get paid within the terms you provide. If you get a deposit, don’t start the job without it. Don’t compromise your own standards for the potential big job. There can be an occasional home-run in our business, but more often we are hitting singles and doubles.

Be fair to your employees. Pay their wages correctly, offer the best benefit package you can to help you recruit and retain the best people. When you treat your employees fairly, expect that they will do the same to you. It doesn’t hurt to explain that to them. And if the fairness is not returned, by your definition, then replace the employee. When it is, value the employee as treasured jewel.

Be fair to yourself. Pay yourself a good living wage but don’t be extravagant in your business. If you happen to own a sports car or a boat, don’t store it at your business. Drive your truck to work. Don’t put a lot of no-show family on the payroll. The few cents you save in one area are eaten up by productive people discussing the boss’ habits. (You can bet on this!) If you want to live an extravagant life style, don’t do it in front of the working people in your shop. If you are the working people, look for a company that believes in reinvesting profits in the company. Just as you get interviewed for a job, you can interview the company and see if it is a fit for your goals.

(I worked for a gentleman who could have afforded hundreds of times over to live a high life style. By the very fact he didn’t, people worked harder because they saw the profits being pumped back into the business. This is by far the most important part of this blog.)

4. The prosperous business person continues to learn everyday.

Learn leads to earn. Sounds corny, but it is true. Every time you come across a new product, learn from it. Ask questions of vendors and specifiers. Why do they want to work with this product? Why is it better? How will it help you with your customers? How will help you to make money? How will it be easier or better for your employees to work with?

The best place to learn about new products is the advertising pages of trade magazines. (Even though I am sponsored by Deb Levy and US Glass Magazine, this is not a plug…it is true) When a manufacturer creates a new product that they want to sell, an advertising budget is created. Read the ads, study web pages, quiz salespeople that stop in your shop.

Encourage your employees to learn. Don’t be afraid that they might learn too much and go on their own. It will happen no matter what. Keep them educated, give them product literature, the magazines and access to a computer. Have them attend a regional trade show with you, and watch their eyes open up like a kid at Disneyland. That is the person you want to keep on your team. A knowledgeable work force is your best friend.

5. The willingness to invest in a business to get a return from the business leads to prosperity.

Invest your time, for as long as your time is there. Work full days, none of this half-day stuff. Don’t play golf every Tuesday. That’s when the productivity goes down.

Invest the company’s money back in the company. It is better to invest in your self than invest in the stock market. You have more control over the investment.

Invest in your employees. You want them to invest their time in the success of your shop. Share some of the profits through special benefit programs like college expense sharing or special needs insurances. This will keep the better employees with you.

6. Lastly, realize that we are all in service businesses.

We make, install or repair a product that is always needed yesterday. We are a 7 day a week world, 24 hours a day. If you offer overnight service, charge what it is worth, but don’t complain about it. Tell the customer you are glad to come out at three in the morning. Get paid for it, but with a smile on your face.

90 percent of people who go into or call a glass shop need something quickly, respond in kind. A customer is never an interruption of your business.

Ok, these are the features that I thought of when thinking about a prosperous glass shop. Nowhere here does it say making money makes your prosperous. The point is, if you do these things, I promise you will make money in our wonderful industry.