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 care of them.  When I see that it is busy on the floor, I ask the manager if he needs help.  If he says no, I get back to my own work in the office.  That keeps me at my work longer.  If the floor is not too busy, I can get all of my work done and go home.  That keeps me happier.  It also keeps me free to deal with our larger customers and to keep up my outbound calls looking for new business.

 

The good news here is that by knowing that this is a main part of the role that I fill, I make sure to leave time to do it,so it gets done.  More good news here as well:  With the advent of cellular phones, PDA’s that check my email andPC networks that allow me to access my POS system from home, much of this type of work can be done from my home or on the road allowing me to be much more efficient.


Those are just some of the roles that I have defined for myself.  Since I started doing this (5 years or so), I have become much more productive.  Our business has grown and more importantly is more profitable.  As the owner, you are the one who knows best how to get every last bit of profit margin out of your stores.  You need time away from the everyday grind to do this.  


But all that I have said to here is only half the story of where we started.  


Judging my own performance can be trickier than judging that of others.  Sometimes I wish that I were not the only real authority in my stores.  


Most people will tell you that they think that they do a good job.  But with nobody other then themselves to judge, of course they feel that way.  For me, I need something a little more concrete.  Since there is no board of directors to hold me accountable, I let the spreadsheet hold my feet to the fire.  I have goals for each month, quarter or year and it is my job to meet those goals:  sales, profitability, new accounts….anything really.  I can judge myself against these goals as well as against other benchmarks, such as previous year’s performance.  

In the end it comes down to how much money we make by December 31st.  That is the judgment that counts and my biggest role is making sure that we earn as much of it as we can.  


But if I understand what my job description is, and continually evaluate myself to make sure that I am doing my job, then come December 31st there will be no surprises.




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© Mark Lipton 2020