We Have Pepper, But No Salt!

When I meet someone who reads my column regularly, one of the questions I frequently get asked is: “does the crazy stuff that you say happens to your family REALLY happen? Or do you make it up for entertainment value?”


Truth IS stranger than fiction and that idiom applies in the Lipton family. This IS my life!


This morning while you sleep, I am posting this from Amsterdam. A little family vacation, but we all know what’s really going on: my family is auditioning for who will get to start my next column! And the winner is.......


Yesterday as we passed through security from London on our way to Amsterdam, my fiancée got pulled out of the line. I didn’t think much of it at first. She had shopped London dry of jellies, jams and other liquid type goodies and was flagged for having too much. Nothing to see here folks.....keep moving.


THEN......from the bottom of her bag the British version of a TSA employee pulls a key ring with a pocket knife and a can of pepper spray! NOW I’m paying attention!


We learned that it’s not just that you can’t fly with pepper spray in Great Britain: turns out possession is a crime! Mental note: the best time to throw evidence out is before the police get there!


After a lengthy run-in with Her Majesty’s Finest, we were released with a warning. No need to go to the gym yesterday: between the detention and the sprint to the gate, we had sweat enough!


Anyway, vacation means (for the most part) putting down my pen and I’m doing that this week. I thought you might enjoy reading something that I wrote about 20 years ago!  This column ran as my monthly feature column in The Paint Dealer magazine in 1999 ish: well before there was such a thing as blogging.  After tripping over if the other day while looking through some old files, I find it still applies!


I did not edit it nor update it so by way of a glossary for you younger folks: a PDA was a “Personal Digital Assistant.”  It was like a really old cell phone….without the phone part!


I hope you enjoy and I’ll be back next week!


Mark


Would you hire someone to work in your store and not tell him or her what was expected of them?  Doubtful.  When I interview a new employee I lay out a job description for them and explain how I will assess their performance.  I like the people working for me know what I expect from them.  


I am sure most of you reading this do the same.  But what about our own jobs?  Do you have a job description for what YOU are supposed to be doing?  Do you have a means set up for assessing yourself and your own performance?


I spend a lot of my time considering employee performance and operations.  But when I do, I always consider myself as one of the employees.  Yes….I am the CEO, but in a small retail business, what does that mean?  Am I just the guy that does everything else that does not get done?  Where is the line drawn and who draws it?  


For my stores, I have set up operation procedures that leave very clear channels of authority.  At the manager and assistant manager level everyone INCLUDING ME knows exactly what his or her job is.  


For years, my stores operated on the old model: my father’s model of how to run a paint store.  Like my father did, I worked in the store, side by side with the manager and the counter help.  If there were boxes to be unpacked, I unpacked them.  If there were retail customers to be taken care of, I helped them.  If there were orders to be placed, I did those too.  


That assured me that I would always have to work a full day.  As long as anyone had work to do, I had work to do and would stay in the store.  


I remember those days.  Sixty hours was a short week and that feeling of being tired and overworked never really went away, even on Sunday.  


Now, we have adopted a more modern approach, which has led to freedom for me as well as increases in productivityfor others.  Our POS system handles our ordering (that takes an enormous load off the personnel).  Now instead of me walking the store for two to three hours everyday and trying to remember what was sold and who needs what for the big job, the managers have a short interaction with the computer system and presto!  All orders for all vendors are done.  


That freed up ten hours a week for me in the stores.  

For the managers, there was no doubt left either.  It was their job to make sure that the product came in and wasaccounted for in their own store.  My new job became clear:  it was my job to check the work, set up the min/max ordering points and maintain them; check the paperwork for errors; check that specials got billed out properly; negotiate special terms or prices with vendors.  These were all now clearly defined as my jobs AND they took a lot less of my time then the old way.

 

Another way that I have defined my own role is with customers, both in the store and out.  When it comes to in the store retail customers I am generally the last on line to take