GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Finding and hiring the right people

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Owners of businesses both large and small tell me that the biggest challenge they are facing today is finding, hiring and keeping good people. Unemployment in our state as well as all over the country is at record lows. It seems that everyone who wants a job has one already. It is bad in Seattle where I go to work with a company every month, that one company started giving away new Tesla’s for any new hire who stays a year.

Electronics companies in Chicago are stealing one another’s employees so often that war has been declared and companies are suing each other.

The same is true for the companies here in our area. So, with that in mind, here are a few tips on how to hire and keep the right people in your company:

  • Know who you’re looking for: Develop a good job description of the position you are trying to fill. The more detailed you can be about the position the better it will be. Include overall responsibilities, daily duties, qualifications, compensation package, and any special requirements.
  • Show them the future: Don’t offer prospective employees a job, offer them a career or at least training in your business. Show them how they will learn valuable skills that will make them more valuable in the future. No matter what your business is, there is always something to be learned. Show your prospective employees the bigger picture, the future of working with your company, even if your company will be a stepping stone to a greater career in the future.
  • Offer security: If the person is a bit older show them how if they do a good job, they will be able to count on a solid job as long a s they need one.
  • Offer training: No matter what your business, you can teach someone how to do it. Remember, the fact that you own your business puts you in a special category in terms of your experience making you a perfect candidate to act as a mentor/teacher to your employees
  • Hire for passion: Look for passion first. Even if the person knows nothing about your business. You can teach the business, you cannot teach passion
  • Hire slowly and fire quickly. Take your time when hiring the person, (even if you don’t have much time) it will be worth the extra effort you make to not only completely vet the candidate but also spend time with him or her to make sure of the right fit. There is such a thing as company culture, and you have to make sure that the candidate will fit into that culture. And in the end even if you have done everything correctly once the person is hired, if you see that it is not working, then do yourself and that person a favor and let him or her go weekly. And believe me you will know pretty quickly.
  • Respect: Respect your team. Show them the courtesy that you want to receive yourself. Be fair and honest and open with them and they will follow you through thick and thin. Next time we’ll talk about team building, another great way to grow your company.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Take your competitor to lunch

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Welcome her to the neighborhood.

You are the fourth generation owner of a family-owned furniture store. Your great grandfather founded the business many years ago, and it has been part of your small city’s landscape ever since. The business is known for excellent quality, and service, and always making sure that the customer will not only keep coming back but will tell others about your store as well.

For the past few years, you have been hearing about the dreaded Big Box stores that are popping up all over the place. You’ve heard of other small family businesses being run into the ground, and forced to close their doors, because of the severe competitive challenges put upon them by these huge stores moving into their towns. It sounds like a nightmare!

Now one morning, as you drive to work, you go by the old baseball field where you used to play PAL baseball when you were a kid, and horrors! You see that someone has bought the lot and construction has started on a large building. When you slow down to see the sign on the temporary construction barriers, you see the name of one of those giant national furniture stores that will be coming to this very site and soon!

What do you do? Your heart is in your throat, and your stomach feels queasy. You are ready to quit right then and there, just plain throw in the towel. But no, you can’t do that. You think of everyone in your family who came before you, and worked so hard to make the business what it is today. So, what’s the plan? What can you do?

Well, according to Shep Hyken in his book: Amaze Every Customer Every Time, when the store opens you invite the manager to lunch, and welcome her to the neighborhood! You get to be friends with her. You talk to her, to find out what her store can do that your store cannot and vice versa.

According to Mr. Hyken, “Don’t demonize your competition. Learn what they do best. Knowing your competition can make you a better competitor…. Know your competition’s shortcomings and capitalize on them. Know your strengths and exploit them.”

It’s true that the big store can offer many more skews than you can. They have deeper buying pockets, so they can buy in huge quantities at better prices. And yes, they can take advantage of national marketing and name recognition. That’s all true and something you should take into consideration.

But here is what they can’t do. They cannot service a customer like you can. They do not, nor will they ever, have a close personal relationship with their customers. Where their customer service is weak, yours is strong. Where your customers’ loyalty is solid, theirs is very weak. While they sell products to a national audience, you can sell products to a regional customer base, a customer base that you have had almost one hundred years serving and learning about.

And you will always be an integral part of the community. When the kind ladies from the Methodist Church up the street drop in to see if you will contribute a gift certificate to be sold at their holiday fair’s silent auction, you can decide on the spot, while the big box store manager has to call corporate for permission.

If you think about it, you are in a great position to not only compete, but also thrive against that behemoth down the street. Just run a good business, with terrific customer service and you will have nothing to worry about. And, oh yes, take that big store manager to lunch and become friends and learn what she can do that you can’t and what you can do that she can’t and armed with that understand you’ll both end up sending customers to one another, and that’s a nice way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Spreading the holiday business cheer!

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

This time of the year is a perfect time to show your customers how much you appreciate their business, and especially their loyalty throughout the year. It provides an excellent opportunity to connect with your customers a bit more personally.

Look, there is nothing that says that you have to do anything for your customers. You have provided them with a service, or a product, and they have paid you and that’s good enough. Leave it at that…but that would be a missed opportunity to create customer loyalty. So, don’t do that if you’re serious about growing your business.

By giving your customers a small token of your appreciation, not to mention good will, you are creating a bond with them that goes deeper than the normal customer relationship. The effort is small (not to mention fun!) and the rewards are enormous.

If you’re a landscaper, then give your customers a nice fresh wreath for their front door, or a poinsettia.

If you’re in the restaurant business, offer your customers a special holiday desert… on the house.

If you own a spa, then give your customers a free bottle of that special lotion, they like so much.

If you’re a newspaper carrier and you hand out holiday cards, make sure you sign them with a little message. Even if you have a hundred customers, the effort will be worth it.

Even if your business is less personal like a plumbing or electrical business, there is no reason for you to miss out on this opportunity of bonding, through giving. Send your customers a beautiful holiday card signed by your team (Yes, please sign your cards, there is nothing more impersonal than cards with a printed signature if that’s what you plan to do…don’t bother, the effort is destroyed). Or, send them a beautiful calendar, something they can use all year long. Or better yet put a discount coupon in with the card.

And one thing more, let’s do role reversal here. When you receive a gift from your customer. A card. Or a restaurant gift card, or a monetary gift, make sure you thank them by sending a thank you card. A gift from a customers means you are doing a good job for them, and they appreciate you. Show them that you appreciate them and the gift by sending them a nice handwritten thank you card.

This time of the year, is the very best time to spread good cheer and gratitude and also assure your customers that you appreciate their patronage. And that’s a wonderful way to grow your business.

Have a safe and happy holiday season.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Give your people permission to break rules

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Great customer service is often delivered by people who don’t mind breaking the rules.

You walk into your favorite pizza place. You love the pizza here because it is always fresh, hot, and delicious, so good, in fact that as far as you’re concerned, there is no other place in town to get pizza. One of the things you especially like about this place is that they serve pizza by the slice, which you love when you’re in a hurry and need a quick slice, or two, before you get back to what you are doing. You arrive at 7:15 one evening only to be told that they don’t sell by the slice after 7 p.m.

You’re disappointed but you get it, they don’t have enough walk-in business that late in the evening to move the pies by the slice. You are about to choose something else, when the person serving you says, “Hold on a minute and a few seconds later appears with a fresh hot slice of pizza and sells it to you. Now she is obviously taking a risk, she has broken the rule; you don’t know where she got that slice. But all you care about is that she gave you, a recognized good customer, a steady customer, what you asked for, and with that simple gesture, she guaranteed your loyalty forever. That is rule-breaking great customer service.

Sometimes great customer service comes to you unexpectedly, like the lady from the dry cleaners knocking on your door as six in the evening, after her shift is over because you forgot to take all of your shirts when you picked up the others earlier in the day.

Or, the car mechanic who calls you late one afternoon to tell you he has been thinking about the sound your car is making and he is pretty sure he knows what it is; so, if you bring in first thing in the morning, he will fix it right away. Just the fact that he has been thinking about your car’s problem after you left is a big deal!

Or the cable service person who actually tells you exactly when she will be at your house. And then won’t leave until she solves your problem, no matter how often the office is calling her to get to her next call.

Or your favorite waiter, at your favorite restaurant, who knows your taste so well that he likes to bring you a little sample of a new dish the chef is preparing because he thinks you’ll like it…and he doesn’t charge you a penny for it.

Or the person who is drying your car, at the car wash, who is not happy with the job they did, and insists on taking your car through again.

These are all examples of people who care more about the customers they are serving, than the rules of the company they work for. Now as a business owner ask yourself these questions:

  • What would you do if these were your employees? Would you reward them or reprimand them?
  • Do you have a system that gives your employees permission to do the right thing for your customers?
  • Is your entire staff trained to react the way the people in these examples reacted?

If not, then you’d better think about your customer service attitude and training. But if, on the other hand, these examples sound like what’s happening in your company, then good for you because that is the right way you are going to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Brick and mortar retail ain’t dead yet


The new Apple Store at the Maine Mall.

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

If you have ever been in an Apple Store, you will have seen the future of retail and it is here now. I was in the Apple Store at the Maine Mall a few Saturday nights ago and was amazed to see how busy it was. The place was packed corner to corner with people of all age groups and ethnicity. And this was the new Apple Store. When we walked into the mall and went to where the Apple Store used to be, we were surprised and at first disappointed to see that it was closed. But then we saw the sign on the window saying that they had moved to a bigger location around the corner to better service their growing customer base.

“Oh yeah, sure,” I thought, thinking that they were just saying that to act like their business was increasing when actually they had probably just got a better deal on the rent. Wrong, wrong, wrong. When we came upon the new store, we could see that they had been telling the truth. It was twice as large, and it was still full of people. And the best part, there seemed to be as many Apple employees as was needed to handle all of these people.

We had not been in the store for more than a minute when a young man walked up to us and asked if he could help. And help he did. He spent over a half hour with us telling us all about the products we were interested in. Man, this guy was good.

He not only knew everything about the products, he even asked all the right questions so that he could get a better idea as to what our needs were and thus what the best product and model would be for us. We felt that we were not getting a sales pitch but rather an education about the Apple equipment, what they did and which ones we should look at that would best fit our needs.

We looked at the iPads, the Apple Watches and the iPhone. There was even a young woman with a microphone in front of a wall-to-wall screen teaching people how to best take photos with their iPhones.

And get this, nearly everyone was walking out with their smart white Apple bags, each holding Apple products costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars! Did you know that Apple retail stores yield more dollars per square foot than any other store in the world, yes, including Tiffany’s?

My point here is all about service, product knowledge, educational and informative sales. A little later, after my wife had spent $300 on a printer (and I feel I got off cheap), we walked down to the big electronics anchor store down the hall to look at a small refrigerator for her quilting studio. The place was deserted. When we looked around for help, we saw clusters of blue-shirted clerks talking and joking with each other. Once in a while one of them would turn and look at us but then go back to talking to the group of clerks he was with. Finally, one person did break away from the group and amble over to us to ask if we needed anything? When my wife asked him a question about one of the fridges she was interested in, he told her that this wasn’t his department and we would have to wait for him to find the right person in charge. And “oh, it might be a few minutes” because he was probably on break.

We don’t know if the small refrigerator expert ever came off his break, because we never bothered to stick around and wait until it was convenient for him to return. So, that big store will be out of business and they’ll be screaming to the heavens that the internet broke the brick and mortar retail business.

And to that I would say, just take a walk down the hall to the most successful brick and mortar store in the history of the world and take a page out of that book, or maybe a bite out of that apple, and you’ll see the right way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: The small family-owned hardware store

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

We’re talking about a small, possibly family-owned hardware store. Actually, it’s not that small compared to a store in the ‘50s when it was founded, but it is small compared to the big stores that we have around today. So, how do you fare against these big guys? How do you even survive against these giants with huge inventories, thousands if not hundreds of thousands of parts, and huge physical footprints, not to mention their on-line shopping offerings. This seems almost overwhelming doesn’t it?

A real David and Goliath situation if there ever was one. So, what is the local hardware store to do? What if this is your hardware store? One started by your grandfather, run successfully by your father, and now it is up to you to carry on the family business in this new world order. What are you going to do against these odds?

Well, fear not, there are a number of things you can do to not only survive but to thrive as well. First of all, you can leverage all the advantages you have going for you by being small. Small is beautiful. Small means you are spry and flexible with the ability to do anything you want and be as creative as you want with none of the encumbrances of a giant chain box store corporation.

You have full authority to do whatever you want whenever you want. This means that you can throw a sale anytime you want. This means you can focus on special seasonal promotion whenever you want. This means you can have a family day, and open house, a one hour super sale a co-sponsored event with other business. This means you can have a special deal with your local contractors that will keep them not only coming back but sending their own customers to you as well. Heck, you can even have a steady flow of good hot coffee and donuts for those contractors and other customers going at all times. It’s up to you.

But the biggest tool in your bag (pun intended) is that you can be local and personal. You can make a point of knowing all of your customers personally, be able to call them by name, talk to them about that special project they are working on. The big box guys can’t do that.

You can offer special services, personalized services like instructional classes, Special events for local contractors. By the way, one neat little secret is that local contractors as a rule hate the big box stores. Try to get your local plumbing company to fix that “delta faucet” you bought on the cheap at the big store and watch him sneer. I once bought a Lawnboy lawnmower at a big box store and took it to a local repair shop when it broke down, only to have him condescendingly declare that he knew I had bought it at a big chain store because it wasn’t a genuine Lawnboy. Oh, it was made by Lawnboy all right, but it was a special cheaper model made solely to be sold exclusively to the big guys so they can meet their cost expectations. You as an owner of a local hardware store can sell the real genuine products and make sure that your customers know that.

Customers like shopping locally, they like going to places, like they say in the Cheer’s song, “Where everyone knows your name.” Your only job is to make it as easy and pleasant as possible for your customers. Offer them personalized service, special promotions, and friendly service and you will keep them coming back.

One last thing…all business is personal, all business is human to human, keep your business and human and personal as possible, and the customers will keep coming back…and you will keep growing your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Oh, those lovely loyalty programs

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

There is a scene in Seinfeld where Elaine loses her little punch card from a sandwich shop. The card has only one more star to punch and she will get a free sub. And now she is angry and disappointed because she lost it. When Jerry asks her “Why” she is so upset since she had told him she didn’t even like the sandwiches there. She whines, “But it was free Jerry….free!” Doesn’t that reflect the way we all feel about loyalty programs? Often, like Elaine, we don’t even like the product or service, but we will keep going six, or 10 or even 12 times to get our little card punched because we will get something for nothing.

Now just think if we are in a loyalty program where we will get a product, we actually love…and get it for free. Let’s face it, everyone loves getting rewarded as long as it is something they like, and they don’t have to jump through hoops to get it.

Loyalty programs are good, if they are fair and honest and the customer is really getting something he likes well enough to play.

Here are some things to consider when developing a loyalty program:

  • Of course, make sure your product or service or food is great. What good is a loyalty program if your product is so lousy that no one wants it?
  • Make sure the program is fair and honest, and most of all, a good deal for not only you but the customer.
  • Avoid the loopholes. Nobody likes a loyalty program where they have to have a lawyer read the fine print. I once got a notice in the mail that because of my loyalty to a certain local pizza place I was entitled to a free pizza! All I had to do is bring in the flyer and, presto, I would have a free pizza. Since these guys had great pizza I was really pumped. But when I got there and ordered my free pizza the person taking my order showed me that the fine print, and I mean really fine print on the flyer, said that I could get a free pizza if I bought two other pizzas! Please no fine print deals, it tends make the customer angry. They would have been better off not so have sent the flyer in the first place.
  • Focus the program on pushing a product or service that you want to sell. It might be to get customers to try a new product, or to promote a service that is a good deal for both you and the customer.
  • And finally, any business can have a loyalty program. If you provide anything from cleaning services to oil changes, to dry cleaning, to pizzas and subs, you can create a loyalty program that will boost your business and keep those customers coming back.

And that’s how you grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Give ‘em what they want

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Learn to say yes!

The old adage goes that rule one is that the customer is always right; rule two, the customer is always right and rule three, when in doubt refer to rules one and two. Then why is it that so many companies these days do not follow these rules.

There is a chain of sandwich shops in Milwaukee where I used to live that have pickles, not only do they not have pickles, they don’t have pickles with extreme prejudice and look at you, the customer, like you are the weird one, because, well after all who ever heard of a Deli having pickles?

Then there is “In N Out Burgers.” They are loved, nay adored, by customers out west where they are mostly. They pride themselves on only having what they have and not bothering to have anything else. When we were in Tucson, Arizona, a while back, my wife innocently asked for mayonnaise to go with the tomato and lettuce on her hamburger (what, growing up in Auburn, we used to call a North Burger). The person taking our order proudly told us that In N Out burger does not have mayonnaise! Not only was she telling us she could not give us, the customers, what we wanted, she was proud of it; acting like we were the idiots for asking for such something so esoteric as mayonnaise on a burger. By the way this is the same chain that prides itself on having a “secret menu” …please!

The important lesson here is to give customers what they want, when they want it and how they want it, and you will create a loyal customer base, whether we’re talking about restaurants or any other kind of business, for that matter.

Every customer wants to feel special. Every customer wants to know that you care for her and for her business. The rule is simple, give customers what they want, and they will keep coming back.

Avoid saying “No,” as in: NO substitutions! NO sharing entrees! NO doggie bags! NO reservations! And NO one seated until the entire party is here! You know what? All of these could be easy yeses, and the customer would be happy. And your business would thrive

Try saying “yes” as much as possible. I was in a nice restaurant in Chicago a few years ago just finishing a very nice dinner with a group of business associates and when it came for dessert, I asked for a dish of chocolate ice cream. The woman waiting on us made a sad face and said she was sorry, but they had run out of chocolate ice cream that evening. She asked if there was anything else, I’d like instead and I said, “No, I’ll just have a coffee.” A little while later when she brought desserts and coffees to the rest of my party, she put a dish of chocolate ice cream in front of me with a big smile on her face. When I asked if they had found some, in the freezer somewhere, she said, no but there is a grocery store two doors down and we sent a busboy to get some for you. Now how about that for saying “Yes,” and by the way, for growing your business!

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Growing your local restaurant

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

There is nothing like a small local restaurant. A place with charm and history. A place that people remember going to with their parents when they were little. Or taking that first date for an ice cream soda while sitting at their soda fountain. We all have fond memories of a place like that. But unfortunately, that’s all we have “fond memories,” because these kinds of places are being run out of business by the big chain restaurants. The places that can afford to stay open seven days a week from mid-morning to very late at night. The places that buy their food in bulk, so they get the best prices. Those places that can afford multi-million dollar advertising campaigns showing their succulent lobsters and juicy steaks and bright red spaghetti and meatballs, all you can eat specials at prices that would drive the little guy out of the business.

But in our hearts, we love the little guy. She’s our neighbor, you went to high school and played football with him. And now it saddens you to see the business growing dark because they just cannot compete any longer.

Sad but true, but hey, there is hope, this does not have to be. There are ways to fight back if you own a small local restaurant. The big guys do have some disadvantages and it is up to the small family owned business to take advantage of those weakness.

Instead of meekly going into the good night of extinction there are things you can do right now to not only make your restaurant survive, but thrive as well.

Here then are ten ways to make your restaurant thrive in this era of the giant, impersonal food boxes of chain restaurants.

  • Be personal. The big guys can’t, you can. When customers come in treat them like old friends, even if some of them are new customers. Make them feel welcome. Everyone likes the feeling of belonging, make your customers feel like they belong
  • Spruce up the place. Chances are if your restaurant has been around for 30 years, your restaurant might look the part. It’s amazing what some paint, recovered booths and varnished tables and good lighting can do to improve the look of a restaurant.
  • Use your locality to your advantage. You have been here forever. This is your town. You went to school with many of your customers and potential customers. Use that familiarity to your advantage. Display photos showing what the town was years past and how it has changed. Support the local organizations from the school teams to the local churches and synagogues. Budget for this. A small donation to a local church’s silent auction will be remember and appreciated by their members.
  • Come up with some special dishes, entrees that are area favorites. I can guarantee that no box chain restaurant is going to serve boiled dinner, or beans and franks, or red hot dogs, or fresh seafood like a local restaurant.
  • Advertise: You don’t have to spend a lot of money on advertising, but you do have to do it. A small changing ad in the newspaper. Or better yet a local radio station. Or even better yet start your own newsletter complete with coupons. And speaking of coupons, how about a loyalty program to keep those customers coming in on their way to that special reward!

I’ve run out of space for this time. But no worries, I’ll pick this up next time when we’ll talk about the one secret that will guarantee the success of your local neighborhood place for years to come. Stay tuned and we’ll continue to show you how to grow your local restaurant business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS — Beating the big guys: As hard as it seems, it can be done

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

So far, we have talked about service businesses where the company goes to the customer’s home to provide their services from landscaping, to plumbing, to home repairs, to cleaning services. However, these are not the only types of small businesses there are. So, for the next few weeks we are going to switch it up a bit and talk about small on-site businesses such as restaurants, independent hardware stores, clothing stores, fashion salons. The kind of businesses where the customers come to your establishment to do business.

Over the past several decades to successfully own and operate one of these businesses has been more then challenging, to some it has been devastating to say the least. How can you can you compete against the big guys? How can you be open the same hours as Walmart? How can you keep the same inventory as Lowe’s and The Home Depot? How can you provide the same prices as Staples or how can you stay open as many hours as Ruby Tuesday’s and seven days a week to boot? The answer is pretty simple, you can’t. You cannot beat these companies at their own game.

That being said what is the alternative? What are you going to do to become so outstanding that you will not only survive in a marketplace dominated by the huge and intimidating nationals? Look, it’s not easy, but it can be done. It will take hard work, perseverance, dedication, super customer service, and most of all creativity, but it can be done.

For the next few weeks we are going to dedicate this column to small businesses, focusing on strategies and tactics that each of them can undertake to be successful. Next week we’ll talk about small restaurants, then retail stores, the week after that hardware stores. Please note dear reader if you have a specific business that is not covered in these columns but would like some advice on how you can not only survive but thrive in this marketplace, please drop me an email and the address below and I’ll be more than happy to accommodate your needs.

To set us up for this series let’s begin by focusing on some of the things that the big guys can’t do. Being big is not always so beautiful. And to exemplify that here are some of the things the big guys cannot do:

  • They cannot get personal.
  • They cannot treat their customers as individuals.
  • They don’t have to help every customer individually.
  • They can’t sell like a small retail business can. Example: buy a suit at Kohl’s versus buying a suit at your local tailor, who will give you the best service and the better fitting suit?
  • They cannot be flexible. All company policies come from headquarters thousands of miles away which handcuffs the local affiliate when he tries to be flexible with the local clientale.
  • They can’t take part in community activities, everything has to be approved at headquarters which is thousands of miles away. Ever try to get a donation for your church’s silent auction from one of the giants? Good luck with that.
  • And one more, they don’t have a heart. They are not flesh and blood, they are a bureaucratic institution.

Gee I’m almost starting to feel bad for these giants. Not! But you get the idea, although it feels like they might have all the advantages, it’s not necessarily true, is it? Think about it, being small can be beautiful.

Check in next time when we talk about growing your restaurant business.