What’s the Best Business Advice You’ve Ever Received?
I am going to dovetail my blog with my friend Reid’s blog from earlier this week. Reid wrote about the best advice he’s received from his bosses over the years.
My first job was as a bottle boy at a local grocery store in Oregon at the age of 14. The Damascas Thriftway was not a bustling store. More like the only grocery store within 10 square miles of this small town. Well, I had a boss there by the name of Mike Woolsey. He hired me. Truth is, I think he had the hots for my mom and that’s why I got the job.
But I digress. So, as the bottle boy, you are the lowest man on the totem pole. Really, no one is lower than you. However, Mike taught me through his actions and words that your importance inside an organization is not dictated by your title. According to Mike, “Everyone has a role and that role has importance.” If the bottle boy doesn’t do his job properly, then things get cluttered which in turn causes problems for the freight/stock guys. They can’t be efficient if there are bottles in their way. If that happens, then when the store opens at 7:00 a.m., the shelves are not stocked properly and customers can’t find what they want.
At 15, I applied for a job with a company that truly shaped my professional life. Meaning, it really gave me my foundation. I was hired as a stock boy for Nordstrom. Whether you start in sales or in stock, you go through a training process. And the training is focused on one thing and one thing only: Customer Service. The emphasis is all on one simple motto: “The customer is always right.” There are numerous stories about this in a book called The Nordstrom Way. It’s a great read for any new employee (or employer), regardless of the industry!
Over the next five years, I advanced through the ranks of Nordstom, including moving to NY/NJ to help with the opening of the first two stores in NJ. All the while, the one thing that stuck with me was that motto. I’m not trying to stereotype at all, but the reaction to that type of service to East Coast shoppers vs. West Coast shoppers was staggeringly different. Maybe it was because Nordy’s was based in the West that their customers were used to it. But on the East Coast, you got some very strange looks when you welcomed someone into the department with “Hello, can I answer any questions for you?” 🙂
I eventually left Nordstrom to pursue Production Studies in college and work as an intern for a small video production company in Manhattan. Let’s just say that it was the black hole of advice. I learn more about how NOT to run a company than anything else. Yet, it was a good growth experience for me when I look back.
After moving home from NY, I actually went to work for another Thriftway at a different location. Basically, it was “a job” until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. At Thriftway, my boss was Stan Lim, and Stan, while mild mannered, was very specific about how he wanted things to look when he arrived in the mornings. And since my job was overnight stock/freight, I was the one being held to his standards. I learned a lot from him. He was very customer-centric and wanted his store shelves to be full and organized by 7:00 a.m. when the doors opened.
Have you ever heard the retail term “facing”? If not, it means that every label on every can of Campbell’s soup must be rotated so that it is facing out. And not just the first can . . . all of them. His theory was that “Why wouldn’t you do them all that way. That way, when someone comes by and grabs a can of Chicken Noodle, leaving a void, the next customer can clearly see the label.” He would often say, “Make it easy for the customer . . . they’ll buy more.” Very true statement!
After awhile, a friend offered me a job at his father’s company. The company, Classic Exhibits, made trade show displays. At the time, I had no idea what a trade show display was. My boss and the owner of the company was Lowell Nickens, who many of you know. Lowell provided me with a wealth of advice as well. Two things most notably!
First was the idea of “If you do enough of tomorrow’s work today, when tomorrow goes to hell in a handbasket, you will be better prepared handle it.” This is a philosophy that still exists at Classic, especially on the Production floor. It is the driving force behind our quicker than average turn times and our ability to make the “impossible”. . . . possible!
Next was the idea of “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Which really means two things to me. One — if you put everything back where it came from, then it will always be there when you go looking for it. And two — if everything is in its “planned” place, then you are organized enough and have room for more things. Basically it comes down to clear processes and procedures!
Lastly, on a more personal level, my grandfather used to take me fishing a lot. It was always a great time. As I got older, it did not happen as frequently, but we still made it out at least 7 or 8 times a year until he died about 12 years ago.
He was a great fisherman and always caught something every time we went out. Every time! Yet, I never once caught a single fish when I went fishing with Grandpa Lawrence. NEVER! And I have caught hundreds in my lifetime, but never with him. Eventually, it began to really bother me when I was about 17, so I stopped going for about six months. He finally asked me why and I told him that I was frustrated about never-ever catching a fish. I will never forget his response, “Then let’s go golfing or something else Kev. The fishing is not the reason why I enjoy our time together.”
Best piece of advice ever!
How about you? I would love to hear about some of the best business or personal advice you have received.
Hope you all have a great weekend!