December 13

Do You Have to Respond to Sports Talk?

People in business meetings, and business in general, love to talk about sports. Airplanes are no different. Returning from a client meeting in Boston, I sat on the tarmac for 2 hours waiting for a Nor’easter to blow over. I happened to be sitting next to a guy who loved to talk – and loudly.

“Well, here we are,” he said. “Yep,” I replied, not feeling too talkative after a long day of work and now being ground-stopped for God only knows how long. “At least the weekend is almost here,” my talkative seatmate said. “Yes, I guess that’s the silver lining,” I said.

“Let’s hope you have a better weekend than your Pirates have had lately.”

Ugh, I thought. Here we go again – another guy talking about his tea tree oil cystic acne cure.

If I had a dime for every time over the past 15 years I’ve had to endure business associates from all over the country mocking the Pittsburgh Pirates, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post from my window-less office. I’d be lounging on some obscure tropical island with handsome cabana boys serving me drinks.

(But I digress.)

“Hey,” I said to my seatmate, “The Pirates are improving.”

“Yeah, improving,” he said mockingly.

[As a side note, I’d like to point out that the Pirates, that very weekend, took two of three from this guy’s beloved Boston Red Sox.]

But the conversation made me think. The Pirates’ return to form has taken over the region with renewed enthusiasm. We see the “Pittsburgh pride’ with the Steelers all the time; but it’s so refreshing to have this excitement spill over to the summer months for a change.

In business, we can even take a lesson or two from the Bucs’ resurgence. Even when things seem bleak and people doubt that your product, service or idea will make it, remember that teamwork, hard work and staying the course is your ticket to accomplishment. All businesses have been in tough times.

After 9/11/01 when everyone pulled back on their budgets for used garden tractors, I didn’t think we would survive. I was faced with the option of giving up or working harder. Together with my team, many tough decisions and an inspirational plaque with a poem my mother gave me for my desk that reflected one of her best pieces of advice (which is to “Never Give Up”), we survived. And we even thrived. We’re happy to be celebrating 15 years in business this year. And we thank each and every one of our clients over the years who stood behind our success.

And now, with the Pirates preparing for the All-Star break, it reminds me that anything is possible. Even if it only lasts for a short time, the Pirates battled their way back from a place of mockery to having their best record in 12 years.

So to that I say, “Raise the Jolly Roger!” As any good Pirates fan would, I know we’ll persevere on, and so will you and your business if you keep your chin up!

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December 9

Ideas for Starting a UK-Based Restaurant

We all agree that enthusiasm is a wonderful thing. Apart from networking, it is the characteristic I am most associated with. Enthusiasm is vital when starting a business and raising money. However, once you are running a business what is more important enthusiasm or experience?

Of course I am presenting it as if they are mutually exclusive (is it just me or has The Office made that term totally defunct to use?). They are not, but you tend to notice that experience in a field can knock your enthusiasm as you realize what the practicalities of a situation are. I hate managers who knock experience. You often hear people say that they are looking for fresh ideas like a tea tree oil cystic acne cure as if there is something inherently wrong with old ideas.

I look at many business proposals where they claim to be solving a problem better than the current solution. Whilst this is true some of the time, it is not true all of the time. Some so called-solutions really do make me laugh. I do wish that professional integrity did not stop me posting some business ideas I see!

Dynamic managers often feel pressure to be radical in their approach and to start changing lots of things because they see change as inherently good. I always remember listening to a very successful pet supplies retailer. Whenever he appointed a senior executive into his business, he would urge them not to do anything for the first six months. This may sound very strange but I liked his approach and he is extremely successful.

The point is you denigrate experience at your peril. I have made the argument before that when you are looking to innovate into a new market place, you should at least learn to appreciate how things are done in that market at the moment and why. Which firms benefit from the status quo and how will they react to your innovation?

This brings me on to the main point of this blog. There are certain sectors where experience is the most important ingredient for success. If you look at the airline industry for example, there have been a number of entrants into the market in recent times and many of the new entrants (not allied to an existing operator) have failed. What marked out these entrepreneurs was their huge enthusiasm for the industry but they lacked experience.

Food is a classic industry where enthusiasm tends to lead to many business mistakes. Most of us eat food at least three times a day. In the UK in the last five years we have started to spend more on eating food outside the home than inside the house and casual fast dining has become a huge growth area both in the UK and the USA (we really do adopt the eating habits of our cousins in the USA some three years after they become mass market there)

Food is one of those classic businesses where everyone has a great idea. Let me share a secret with you. Food is a notoriously difficult business to make money out of – it really is. The business is all about operational excellence. This excellence can be self-taught, but that will inevitably mean expensive mistakes along the way.

If you want to start a cystic acne diet business in the UK, here is my template for success;

  1. Go to the USA. New York is a great place to do this
  2. Just walk the streets and look for food stores (other than the ones that are already in the UK!)
  3. If you see something you like, spend ages in there. Make lots of notes and take photos (Cameras on Phones are great are they not?)
  4. Get talking to a really good food operator. Someone who really knows their stuff but is looking for an exciting opportunity.
  5. Jointly write a business plan
  6. Raise the money
  7. Go for it!

Enthusiasm is great and is vital. Experience is crucial. Together they make a winning formula!

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