Snow In The South

It snowed here in North Carolina last night. I awoke to find maybe two inches of the white stuff. Having lived almost my entire life in New York and Connecticut, my immediate thoughts were “how pretty” and “no big deal.” Then I remembered where I was. We got what I would call an overnight accumulation here last February (under an inch, seriously), and it closed the schools for four days.

In my mind, there is about a foot/inch ratio which applies to the level of hysteria and inconvenience here. An inch of snow here is the equivalent to a foot up north. The local TV stations have been nothing but the weather for the last day and the excitement in the reporters’ voices as they stand by some highway pointing to a dusting is palpable.

There is, of course, a business thought or two in all of this. One is that of perspective. My perspective on snow is very different from that of my neighbors, most of whom rarely have ever had to deal with it. Don’t let your own perspective corrupt your ability to get inside that of your partners, vendors, and customers.

Next is emergency planning. Despite the rarity of snow here, many of the roads were pre-treated with brine before the snowfall to help keep the roads clear. That means the authorities have both the equipment and the knowledge (brine actually works better than rock salt and is way more cost effective than clearing the snow later) to be proactive. They had a plan. Can you say that you have a plan, the tools you’ll need, and the knowledge required to handle most emergencies that happen in your business?

I’ll probably just hunker down today and let nature take its course. It’s a sunny day with the temperature back above freezing so the snow won’t be here long. Nevertheless, it’s been here long enough to remind me of a couple of business truisms. You?

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Don’t Be Eeyore

And we’re back! Happy New Year to each of you. I hope whatever time you were able to take off was fun and, more importantly restorative.

Eeyore as depicted by Disney

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the time of the year when we’re inundated with ads for resolution fulfillment. You know: weight loss, smoking cessation, and products and services that will help you to achieve whatever new goals you’ve set for yourself during the upcoming year. In many cases, people make these resolutions to raise their happiness quotient. They are trying to have their reality exceed their expectations, which is one traditional measure of happiness. Improving the reality – bringing it up to or exceeding whatever expectations they have – improves happiness.

There is another way to go about this, of course, and that’s to lower expectations. Think of Eeyore, the gloomy donkey. He expects that a sunny day will become rainy and that a rainy day will result in floods. His expectations are low and so he is rarely disappointed.

Some folks think that way about their businesses. They have low expectations so that they’re not disappointed with the outcomes. The issue with that is that both in business and in real life it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We expect next to nothing or to be dissatisfied with things and when we get very little or aren’t satisfied, we’re actually kind of OK with it since we didn’t expect anything otherwise.

So if you’re the resolution-making kind of person, maybe you can make one more: not to be Eeyore. I believe that our expectations affect our decision-making. If we don’t have any expectations at all we’re paralyzed. Having negative thoughts will depress you and low expectations are premised on negative thoughts. You don’t need a Debbie Downer in either your personal or professional life and you certainly don’t want to be one.

Please don’t misread this as encouragement to throw caution to the wind. Jumping off a roof, either literally or figuratively, because you have a high expectation that you can fly is just nuts. But don’t be Eeyore. Things are going to go wrong from time to time. Learn from it and keep refining those lofty goals. You might not achieve every single one but it’s also about the journey, right?

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Most Read Foodie Friday Post Of 2017

It’s only fitting that we end the week of most read posts published in 2017 with the food-themed post that was most read. After all, we end each week with something of that sort and I kind of like ending not just this week but this year with one. This post was published last October and was originally called “They Don’t Make It  Like That Anymore.”  Have a healthy and happy New Year and we’ll see you on the other side. Enjoy!

This Foodie Friday I am going to run the risk of sounding like the grumpy old man I’m slowly becoming. Rather than admonishing you all to get off my lawn, I want to share the sentiment I had a week or so ago as I fired up my smoker. My smoker, or as it’s lovingly known, “The Beast”, was made by the New Braunfels Smoker Company at least 20 years ago, How do I know that? Well, that’s today’s food and business thought.

The Beast is made of heavy steel that’s quite thick and it weighs well over 100 pounds even without my usual load of meats inside. As I was cleaning up the old Rancho Deluxe to get ready for its sale, the smoker was one of the very few things that I was adamant about saving for the move. Why was that, especially when I also gave away or junked a Caja China and two other grills? In a sentence:

Because they don’t make them like that anymore.

The New Braunfels Smoker Company was sold to Char-Broil 20 years ago. Almost immediately, the quality of the products went downhill, and this was especially noticeable on the gauge of the steel. The steel was thinner and didn’t hold heat as well. When a rust spot developed, it was difficult to sand and paint it without almost going through the area that has rusted. The products were similar in design and name, but that was about all that was the same. The bbq forums, home to serious meat smoking aficionados like me, were deluged with negative comments and, more importantly to the business, better alternatives to what had been a superior line of smokers.

This is something from which any business can learn. We’re always under pressure to improve our margins. Some folks look to cheaper materials, other to cheaper, less-skilled labor, and still others to cutting customer service. Sometimes we just skimp on quality control. While margins might improve, there is a strong chance that revenues will decline as the customer base figures out that “you’re not making it like that anymore.” As an Apple user, I recently switched to a Chromebook because my Mac OS isn’t as smooth and there are glitches that were never an issue before. For you cooks out there, Pyrex changed their formula and “new” Pyrex is not as good. Recent Craftsman tools, once the industry standard, are now made in China and aren’t nearly as good. I can go on and I’m sure you can as well.

If you’re successful, resist the temptation to cut corners. People notice (so does your staff). Don’t be part of a conversation that claims you don’t make it like that anymore.

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Filed under food, Consulting, Huh?

Most Read Post Of 2017

This post was far and away the most read thing I published this past year. It is a rumination on a business I’ve worked in and loved for decades – sports. It’s a lot longer than my typical screed and several prominent folks were kind enough to link to it and encourage people to read it. I guess they did since this had roughly triple the readership of the next most read post. Written last July 12, it asks the question “Is The End Near For Sports?” I hope not!

I know you might be thinking that my headline is just some outrageous form of click bait and that I can’t seriously think that big-time professional sports are heading down the same path as traditional big media. Let me throw a few recent articles at you and maybe you’ll come to a different conclusion (which I do hope you’ll post in the comments).

The sports business is based on a few large revenue streams. One is income from the games themselves: ticket sales, concessions, merchandise, etc. What makes many of those things possible is a nice facility – an arena or stadium. We’ve seen franchises move (and piss off their fans) over the stadium issue, sometimes even before the bonds on the last stadium built for the team are paid off. I urge you to watch the John Oliver piece on the relationship between teams and towns but here is why I suddenly think there is an issue. As reported by Mondaq:

bill has been introduced that would eliminate the availability of federal tax-exempt bonds for stadium financing… The bill would amend the Internal Revenue Code to treat bonds used to finance a “professional sports stadium” as automatically meeting the “private security or payment” test, thus rendering any such bonds taxable irrespective of the source of payment.

In other words, it will make public spending on a private facility way more difficult. That will lead to fewer new facilities and a much harder path to growing that revenue stream. Strike 1.

Then there is the largest revenue stream for most big leagues: TV. Kagen recently reported that the U.S.pay-TV industry will lose 10.8 million subscribers through 2021, according to their latest forecast. You might already know that ESPN has been losing subscribers – May 2017 estimates were 3.3% lower than the year before. For every million subs lost, ESPN takes in roughly $7.75 million less PER MONTH – or $93 million a year, and they have already lost multiple millions of subscribers. Yes, some are being replaced via the sale of OTT services, but that requires spending to sign customers, something ESPN hasn’t had to do before. The same subscriber loss issue is true of every other sports network albeit to a lesser degree since their monthly fees are less than ESPN’s. Smaller subscriber fees mean a diminished ability to pay those large rights fees. Sure, other channels (some would say suckers) will step up – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others. But my guess is that the outrageous increases many entities have secured over the last few rights cycles are gone for good. Strike 2.

Finally, costs are not going to go down, at least not without major disruptions such as the two recent NHL lockouts. Players aren’t going to make less (the downside of the salary cap), team personnel probably won’t, at least not without a lot of turnover, and many of the other costs are either already low (minimum wages) or difficult to cut (food costs in the concessions, etc.).  In an effort to mitigate some of the lower revenue and growing costs, some of the entities involved in sports are beginning to do what the airlines have done and make what was once part of the deal (in-flight meals, free bag check) part of an a la carte menu to grow revenue. Specifically, look, for example, at what NBC has done with their Premier League package. They are doing away in part with their NBC Sports Live streaming coverage in favor of a new premium streaming service called “Premier League Pass” that will be in addition to the matches that are already broadcast on live TV. The stand-alone streaming service will cost $50 in addition to whatever you’re paying for your cable subscription. That will bring in more dough but it will also anger fans. Strike 3?

Don’t misunderstand me. I think interest in sports generally has never been higher, and I think any sports entity that doesn’t rely on a big TV contract and employs athletes as independent contractors (I’m looking at you, LPGA) will be in good shape. I just think there is a major disruption coming in the next few years as we’ve seen in the TV and music businesses. Watch out as the next cycle of TV deals begins and if this bill is passed. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, don’t you think?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, sports business

Most Read Of 2017 – #2

Here is not actually the second most read post that was written in 2017. Why not, you ask? Because the second most read was actually published last week. Called  “You’re On Your Own,” I didn’t think I should run it again so soon. You can read it again (or for the first time) here. This next post, actually the third most read, was published on May 24, the day after we sold our family home of the prior 32 years. It provided me with a chance to reflect on both the mixed feelings I had as well as something any of us in business can take away.  Originally called “A Little Bit Better,” I hope it makes your business life just that.

We closed on the sale of Rancho Deluxe yesterday. I lived in that house for 32 years (almost to the day) and it holds a lot of happy memories. The pictures you see are the view from the yard when we moved in and the day we moved out. As you can see, quite a bit changed. While the core of the house is pretty much how we found it, we added on a few times and changed the old kitchen into office space when we built the new kitchen/family room.

The core of the house itself is over 100 years old and, as with most older homes, wasn’t without issues. Over the years we replaced the furnace (twice!), the roof, fixed sills, removed asbestos, and landscaped. There were also hundreds of little fixes and improvements. We did all that without tearing down the original structure as so many in our town have done. We like to think we left it better than we found it.

That’s really the business point. We often get pulled into situations or projects where there is a lot of history that predates you. One approach that many people take is to just blow everything up and to start over. That ignores the good in what’s been done already. It can also cause a backlash from the people who invested their efforts to get things to where they are when you walk in. The challenge, both with old houses and old business situations, is to leave things at least a little bit better than you found them.

That’s not to say that some things are beyond saving. Sometimes a situation is in such disrepair that gutting it and starting over is the prudent and less expensive course of action. I think, however, that we often get more focused on a solution that may be more expedient and different as opposed to better.

Think about the things on which you’re working. Are you making them better or just patching things up so you can cross them off the list? Is the team happy with what’s being built or are you painting things a color that everyone hates but which was on sale at the store?

I’ll miss the old place while at the same time not missing the almost non-stop series of items on the “to-do” list. It protected us from hurricanes, blizzards, countless minor storms, withering heat, and freezing cold. I always felt that we had to protect it a little. I’m walking away knowing it’s better than I found it and hopefully in good hands for the next 32 years. Can you say the same about what you’re doing?

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Most Read Posts Of 2017 – #3

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas or at least a nice day off! This week I’ll be posting the posts written in 2017 that were read the most. This first one was written last April after I had some sort of a cold (I’d actually forgotten that!). Originally titled “Clear Headed,” it’s a reminder that decisions made under sub-optimal circumstances are often themselves suboptimal (I’m being kind – they usually are horrible). Enjoy!

I’ve been MIA from this space for a few days (hopefully you’ve noticed). I caught some kind of a bug and it pretty much laid me out for a few days. Body aches, a little congestion, and a foggy brain. I had zero energy and just wanted to sleep. More importantly, I couldn’t really focus my thinking on anything.

This may come as a shock to you but I do put a fair amount of what I hope is clear-headed thought into the screed. While I might have been able to force myself to spend a lot of extra time to write something, I thought it a better course of (in)action just to give it a rest. I’m a big believer in doing nothing when one’s head is foggy and let me explain why.

“Foggy” to me just doesn’t mean the state I’ve been in over the last few days. Foggy is when things are unclear at all. It may be because you’re distracted or it may be because the information you need to make a decision is incomplete, unclear, or inadequate. Jason Day, for example, withdrew from a golf tournament a couple of weeks ago because he was distracted by the fact that his mom was having surgery (she’s fine) and he couldn’t focus. Rather than making bad decisions on the course, he made a great one and left it.

Each of us needs to think along the same lines. Sure, sometimes fuzzy logic is called for because we can’t get enough information. In and of itself, that’s a clear-headed decision you make. Oftentimes, however, anything from a cold to a hangover to a family matter to office politics can reduce or eliminate your ability to focus. Those are the times when we need more time because I don’t concur that a bad decision is always better than no decision.

What do you think?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Consulting, What's Going On

What An Egg Roll Tells You About Business

Foodie Friday has arrived at last. This will be the final “new” food-themed screed of the year. Next week’s posts will be the annual review of the most-read posts of the year and the most read food post will be next Friday. While I hope you’ll continue to read next week, thank you for doing so today and throughout the year. Happy 2018!

While I like to think of myself as a fairly worldly person when it comes to knowing about food, I learned of a regional specialty here in the US just the other day. If you’re from the Detroit area you’re going to roll your eyes, but I just found out about Corned Beef Egg Rolls. I’ve lived in and around one of the world’s greatest multicultural food centers (New York City) my entire life until recently and had never encountered such a thing. It’s exactly what you’d think: a pile of thinly-sliced corned beef inside an egg roll wrapper that’s then rolled and fried. There is usually cheese involved (some gooey, white, mild stuff) and sometimes sour cabbage. Apparently, these rolls are quite popular in the Detroit area and they are spreading into adjacent areas. Coming soon to a deli near you?

So what does this have to do with business? It serves as a gentle reminder of a few of the things we’ve discussed this year. First, like many great dishes, this one was born as a sort of happy accident. Just as buffalo wings were the result of using up some food a bar has around, so too was this roll the result of a thrifty employee not wanting to toss out a bunch of corned beef scraps. Begin Vietnamese, he did something very typical in his culture – he made a roll out of them.

This reminds us that if you make content or products, there is no garbage can. Beyond content, if you have an idea that doesn’t quite do what you had planned, don’t toss it. Think about how what you have can serve another purpose. You miay have the right answer to another question you or your customers haven’t asked yet.

Second, it’s a blending of two iconic dishes from very different cultures – Jewish and/or Irish corned beef (see this post on THAT subject) and a Chinese/pan-Asian fried roll. This is a great reminder that the business world has become a very small place. There is a huge value in understanding how to communicate to and with different cultures, both with respect to language, values, and practices. If we isolate ourselves by failing to tailor our messages and products, we’re really going to be missing out. What are we doing in business today if not trying to blend a lot of cultures into a more coherent market?

Finally, I suspect that the Corned Beef Egg Roll will mirror what happened with the Coney Dog which also came from Detroit. There are places all over that serve a hot dog with thin chili and onions (The Roast Grill has been in business here in Raleigh for over 75 years serving just that) even if they’re not called Coneys or Coney Island Hot Dogs or Coney dogs. That product has grown way beyond its origins. Smart entrepreneurs spot trends, assess needs, find openings, and fill them. I did a little digging and while there are a few restaurants with “egg roll” in their name, there really doesn’t seem to be a chain that just serves egg rolls (and the restaurants named Egg Roll Express, despite the name, are regular Chinese restaurants with 2 egg rolls on the menu). Here is your first business idea for 2018 and a franchise opportunity for well beyond.

A few good reminder with which to end the year. I’m looking forward to stepping up to the fryer with you next year!

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud