It’s taken me 30 years in business to learn these 12 tips, most of them the hard way! You certainly don’t have to agree with all of them, but I hope that at least some of them help you.
Because this article is so long, I’ll be running it in four parts, one per weekly newsletter, with three tips in each. This is part three with tips seven to nine.
As I have announced that I will soon be finishing in my role as Editor of Bicycling Trade, I thought I should try to leave you with something of value that’s quite personal. Usually I try not to ‘editorialise’ in any article other than my Editorial column. That is, I try to simply report the facts and to keep my personal opinions to myself, but this article is different.
None of the tips below are completely original. We’re all an amalgam of our life’s experiences. We learn from our parents, school mates, teachers, our business and life partners and many other sources along the way.
No two people have identical life experiences, so it’s unlikely anyone will fully agree with all of my tips in this article! Please feel free to give your feedback. I’ll still be in the hot seat until Friday 30th June 2017.
One final caveat before we get started. I am not a qualified financial advisor. Please do not follow any of the advice that I give in this article without seeking independent advice from an appropriately qualified professional.
- Tip Seven: Winners Take Responsibility
I’m definitely not going to name names in this section because I know how hard you all work and I don’t want to personally offend anyone.
But from the hundreds of bike shops, wholesalers and other bike businesses around Australia that I’ve either visited or interviewed for ‘How’s Business’ and other articles, I’ve noticed a consistent, common theme.
The winners, that is, the businesses that are clearly doing well, take full responsibility for their destiny. They focus their time and energy upon the things they can influence that will improve their business. Sure, there are some things beyond their control, but winners don’t get bogged down worrying about these.
But the losers, if you’ll excuse such a harsh term, almost always externalise the factors for their poor business performance. ‘It’s the weather!’ ‘It will be better once this stupid election is over!’ ‘Everybody’s doing it tough at the moment and anyone that tells you otherwise is lying!’ How do they know this? Has every other business posted their latest financial statements online?
When you’re pointing the finger of blame at someone else you’ve got three fingers pointing back at yourself. They are the fingers you should be taking notice of.
Winners operate subject to the same weather, elections and other externalities that are beyond their control, but they think about them far less. When they do, it’s usually in the context of what they can do to counteract them.
‘Wet or cold weather? Great! Let’s ramp up our stock and display of rain jackets and winter gloves! Let’s convert our basement and run indoor spin classes!’
I was taught this lesson well by a highly successful Olympic cycling coach who also coached my local state team. He made us speak out our goals in front of our peers, then taught us what was required to achieve those goals. Apart from the obvious one, hard work, another key was to be able to objectively assess your own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of your competitors.
Being overly optimistic was just as unhelpful as being pessimistic.
Another huge factor he stressed was our mindsets. Some people go through the motions without ever expecting to win. I knew I wasn’t always going to win, but that didn’t stop me playing through all sorts of scenarios that would see me cross the line first.
Largely because of this, I ended up winning at least twice as many races as I would have based upon my relatively modest physical ability alone. Sure, I still lost 90% of the time but if you keep going and ride a thousand races it still means that you end up winning about 100, which was roughly my lifetime tally.
If all of this talk of winners and losers sounds too competitive for you, then it’s probably time for you to sell up and work for someone else, because like it or not, the world of business is no less competitive than the world of sport.
Over time, your reality ends up matching your expectations. So if you don’t already think of yourself as a winner, start doing so today and aim higher!
- Tip Eight: Do What’s Best for Your Business
Should you become a concept store carrying only one bike brand or should you carry many brands? Should you trade seven days or just five? Should you sell via mail order or only through your store?
The answer to these and other questions is, ‘Do what’s best for your business.’ In other words, the right answer for one store may be the wrong answer for another.
The concept store vs multi brand question is one of the most contentious of all. I’ve heard dealers on both sides of the fence swear black and white that their strategy is the right one.
But like all real world decisions, the reality has more shades of grey.
Concept stores allow simplicity in ordering, a greater depth of relationship with one key supplier and possibly larger margins. But on the other hand you’re totally reliant on that supplier keeping good stocks of the bikes you need and for their overall brand to remain popular and competitive.
Multi brand dealers stand by the principle that, ‘Customers want to see choice!’
I know of one long established Melbourne shop that used to stock multiple brands, but was really struggling to sell high end bikes. Then they became a concept store. They made the most of that brand’s shop designing team and gave their store a magnificent makeover which lifted them up to best practice, whilst highlighting their unique heritage. They did every training course that their supplier offered and really took the lessons to heart. Now that store has no trouble selling the highest level bikes as well as the ‘bread and butter’. The owners’ financial wellbeing has been transformed.
Meanwhile there are still plenty of very successful multiple brand stores around including some of the largest stores in Australia.
Only you can decide what’s right for you.
- Tip Nine: You Can’t Get There on Your Own
To succeed in any business you need two teams to help you. One is external, the other internal.
Your external team consists of your accountant, lawyer, insurance broker, finance broker your key suppliers, possibly a business coach or some other specialists specific to your business such as a customs broker if you’re an importer, a logistics partner if you do third party warehousing and so on.
By all means if you’re not happy with any of your current providers of these services then ask around widely, short list, talk to potential providers and try the one you think is best. But once you’ve found the right one, I strongly believe that you’ll reap the benefits from being a loyal customer and sticking with them year after year.
You only really find out how good they are when you have a problem, such as a health issue, family crisis or a major insurance claim. That’s when you need them most and the goodwill you’ve built up over years of loyal business will result in them going the extra mile for you.
Of course your internal team is your staff. Many business owners will tell you that staffing issues are their single biggest stress. You’re only human if you don’t find that sacking or retrenching staff can be emotionally challenging.
Whole books have been written on staff management. It’s a subject way beyond the scope of this article. But in essence, you know that you’re managing staff well when you have a unified team, who feel valued and secure in their employment, who look out for each other and work together to achieve common goals.
I’ll finish this section with just one piece of advice. Don’t confuse staff with family.
By all means treat your staff with respect and be friendly, but ultimately, if you’re the business owner you need to consider each employee’s conditions of employment in terms of the value they bring to your business. If that equation is not consistently in the black then you need to take action, which might involve staff training and empowerment, rather than simply a pay cut which will probably result in them leaving. You can’texpect them to work for a pittance out of loyalty.
Likewise, don’t assume that your family members will be the best staff just because they’re family. Hire with care! You have no room for passengers in a small business. It’s a lot harder to sack your son or wife than an unrelated employee.
This is the end of part three of this series. Look out for the fourth and final part next week.