Originally posted – Apr 14, 2014
Extremely successful individuals in any industry have always fascinated me because they’re significantly different from the rest of the pack. They dramatically stand out. They’re not part of the herd… they’re the ranchers. They blaze the trail.
This most certainly applies to ultra-successful laundry owners as well. No, contrary to conventional industry thought, their success is not just attributable to merely having great demographics. They are privy to the same general business information that is essentially available to all laundry owners. However, they’re able to process and utilize this information in unique ways that enables them to rocket themselves out of the atmosphere and into the stratosphere.
Over a period of many months, I’ve taken it upon myself to formally study the attributes and qualities of highly accomplished leaders from an array of industries (including self-service laundry) and have formed some conclusions about what makes them so uncommonly successful.
I hope my findings will be thought-provoking and (more importantly) useful and actionable – so that you, if you wish, can begin to achieve the same kind of extraordinary results they do.
Logic tells us that it takes a difference to make a difference. If you look at the typical bell curve, which is commonly used in statistics, you will find that most (68 percent) human traits, abilities and even levels of business success fall into a distinct pattern by clustering about the mean. In other words, they’re about average.
Of course, you’ll also notice that about 16 percent of traits, abilities and levels of business success fall below average, and an equal amount of 16 percent rise above the mean. “Trail Blazers” are the 16 percent above the mean. These are the small-business owners who achieve superior results. From this, you can rightly conclude that extremely high levels of success are relatively elusive.
The question is to focus on and specifically define the skills, traits, insights and abilities these Trail Blazers uniquely possess, which enable them to take up residence far above the mean?
Here’s where you come in.
Logically, if you imitate successful people by practicing a little “constructive plagiarism” and by doing what they do, you also can put yourself in a position to achieve the type results they enjoy. Makes sense, right?
My research has led me to conclude that these high achievers are particularly skilled at two primary things. First, they know the marketplace is never wrong, and they completely and objectively understand the ever-changing data it constantly provides. They embrace the idea that the marketplace is always dynamic and never stops.
It only takes occasional pauses.
Secondly – as authors Dr. Mark Goulston and Phillip Goldberg best describe in their book, “Get Out of Your Own Way” – they totally understand themselves and are skilled at “not getting in their own way.”
This enables them to accurately interpret market data and creatively devise marketing programs that are saluted by the customers when run up the flagpole. They are capable of doing a thorough mental housecleaning when necessary. They’re objectively dynamic.
So let’s begin with understanding the marketplace. Essentially, this means understanding buyer behavior. Since self-service laundry owners are in the business of satisfying customer demand and not creating it, they must view it primarily from that perspective.
In other words, as a laundry owner, you really don’t have to convince people to launder their clothing. They already get the idea. You only need to convince them to wash and dry their clothing at your specific laundry.
Did you know that the most important customer visit in a restaurant is the second one? It’s because they came back. Extremely successful laundry owners get a lot of second customer visits, too. That’s why they become super successful. As the old adage goes, “you can’t save (a lot of) souls in an empty church.”
Market (customer) behavior can and should be defined as the total collective action of individuals acting entirely in their own (not your) self-interest. Trail Blazers understand, accept and never forget this truism – ever!
As a result, I have concluded that ultra-successful businesspeople have the following customer behavior insights:
They are masters of empathy. They can feel your pain, even when and if it drops by unannounced. They figure out what’s missing from people’s lives and help them to get it. They fill the voids.
At this point, I know you’re likely thinking, “I run a coin laundry, so what significant voids can I fill?” Stay with me and I’ll explain. I can best illustrate this by using the late Steve Jobs and Apple as perhaps the best example.
Steve Jobs was a major Trail Blazer. He changed the world and became extremely wealthy in the process – because he understood that, to be wildly successful, an entrepreneur must provide a product or service that people want or need but just don’t know that they do. Jobs told them what they were and then gave (sold, actually) them the tools and technology to get them.
Do you have a smartphone? The amount of things it can do for you is incredible. And, once Jobs made them possible and offered a device to do them, people bought them by the millions. These features were not available or even thought of before Jobs hit the scene, so people surely didn’t even miss them. Heck, they didn’t even know they wanted them.
However, once he made them available, the collective marketplace said, “Wow! Yeah, that’s exactly what we need and want.” Here’s Jobs in his own words: “People don’t know what they want or need until someone comes along and tells them.” He was absolutely right.
As a laundry owner, you can do what Steve Jobs did. It’s just a different version, but the same principles still apply.
I’m a racquetball player. And one of the sayings within the sport is that, “it’s not the racquet on the hand, it’s the hand on the racquet that counts.” Therefore, it’s not the industry you are in that matters, it’s what you do within the industry that counts.
Perhaps it’s figuring out a way in which – using a smartphone or computer – customers can find out prior to getting in their cars to drive to your store just which machines are available, so that they don’t have to wait.
How about coming up with a unique pickup and delivery service? Maybe devise a never-before-used customer loyalty programs. Or perhaps create an interactive marketing program, in conjunction with other retailers that people love.
Who knows what? The possibilities are endless.
Jeff Bezos did exactly that at Amazon when he went from merely selling books to also providing thousands and thousands of other products. Bezos is a Trail Blazer, too. And so is Bill Gates. Of course, there are others.
The point is that there is always something people want or need but simply aren’t aware of what it is. It’s your job to let them know. Here’s your mission: figure out what’s missing and fill the voids. Start now.
Is it easy to become the Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates of the laundry industry? Absolutely not. In fact, it’s emotionally and intellectually uncomfortable, anxiety-producing, confusing and more than a little difficult to think deeply enough to come up with these types of innovations – but it can be done.
Nobody said it was cakewalk. Making new rules, as opposed to just following the old ones, is supposed to be difficult. Don’t expect otherwise.
A word of warning: when you begin the process, the intensity, scope and depth of your intellectual and emotional discomfort and pain is an excellent indication of just how much you will have to gain by undertaking the task. Here’s a helpful hint – I suggest you print the previous sentence and paste it on your desk or your bathroom mirror, because it will make things a lot easier for you along the way.
Now, let’s address the second identified quality of Trail Blazers, which is their refined ability to know themselves intimately, which enables them to “get out of their own way” and objectively interpret the business data that’s constantly bombarding them without projecting their psychological quirks and biases into the mix.
Trail Blazers simply don’t interpret things personally – ever. They take them objectively. Early on, they noticed that, in the word “business,” the letter “U” comes before the letter “I.” In other words, the customer comes first and is all that matters.
However, only by understanding your personal strengths and weaknesses can you truly produce positive customer responses consistently. High-achiever business types don’t suffer from what is called “perceptual distortion,” which occurs when a person’s mental system automatically distorts outside information by shaping it to fit his or her personal interpretations.
Personal interpretations are the culprits here, and most of us have them. In other words, what we already know can block and alter what we have yet to be exposed to. One of the greatest ironies of being human is that we all want desperately to be correct all of the time.
Ask yourself this question: “As a business owner, do I always have to win every interaction?” If you are brutally honest, you will answer with a solid “Yes.” Therein defines the problem. Trail Blazers separate their opinions from facts. They understand that they are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. They deal with the business world as it is – not as they are. They take very little personally.
Interestingly, the origins of your opinions most often have their roots in your childhood experiences, and you carry this baggage with you throughout your life. It’s your world view. It’s how you see things. It’s how you automatically react. Sure, you can call it your personality, if you prefer.
These Trail Blazers have well-controlled egos. They know themselves. They understand their strengths and weaknesses, and accept them. They don’t distort information just to make themselves more comfortable.
They also have a more accepting attitude toward the outcomes of their actions, so they are more likely to take chances – and they gladly accept the accompanying responsibilities.
They can easily adapt to changing environments without becoming overanxious and, therefore, they typically display a high level of satisfaction with their lives. They are not what author Barry Schwartz (in his bestselling book, “The Paradox of Choice” ) calls “maximizers,” who are people that seek out and will only accept the very best and optimal conditions. Conversely, they are adaptable.
Rejection and approval are not major influences in their lives. They easily accept either without band aids or trophies. They don’t need symbols like money, position or power to validate their identities.
Yet, despite their calm and cool demeanor, they do achieve major success largely because, for them, it just comes with the territory. And here’s a major point: Trail Blazers lack the personality characteristics that would actually prevent them from becoming ultra-successful.
So, are many small-business owners their own worst enemies? Yes, most definitely.
Therefore, to become your own best ally, you need to understand yourself as best you can and not permit the negative aspects of your personality to filter your thinking.
OK, easier said than done. And I will admit that some people are just plain lucky because their childhoods contained no major bad experiences, their mothers and fathers were highly skilled as parents, and their inherited genetic makeup is absolutely textbook fabulous. These people typically do very well, but they are somewhat rare.
As for the vast rest of us, if we want to succeed in a big way, we’re stuck with the challenge of self-improvement. We must develop a plan to know ourselves better so that we can react to the world we live in more objectively. Doing so will dramatically improve your business success and allow you to begin to blaze a trail of your own.
There are many excellent books that can help to you in this regard. I suggest you start with these few:
• “The Road Less Traveled,” by M. Scott Peck, M.D.
• “Get Out of Your Own Way,” by Mark Goulston, M.D. and Phillip Goldberg
• “The Birth Order Book,” by Kevin Leman, Ph.D.
• “The First Born Advantage,” by Kevin Leman, Ph.D.
• “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” by Richard Carlson, Ph.D.
• “The Highly Sensitive Person,” by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D.
It’s important to understand that there are many levels of Trail Blazers. Your last name doesn’t to be Jobs, Bezos or Gates for you to “saddle up and ride.” Those guys are in the high-flyer iconic group. You don’t need to cruise at their altitude to be a Trail Blazer.
Let me tell you about Maddie Robinson, who lives in Galveston, Texas. She started a company called Fish Flops, which are unique shoes for children. She originally came up with the idea in 2006. The shoes sell for $25 a pair, and she has sold more than 60,000 pairs of them. She also signed a deal with both Macy’s and Nordstrom to carry her products.
By the way, I also should mention that Maddie is only 15 years old. She’s a Trail Blazer, Junior Version.
Juliette Brindak’s story is also worth telling. While living in Greenwich, Conn., she started a social networking site for “tweens.” It currently generates 10 million monthly visits.
What’s amazing is that she started this business when she was only 16 years old in 2005. What’s equally amazing is that her business is now worth $15 million, according to early investor Proctor & Gamble.
Juliette also is a Trail Blazer – and a very wealth one at that.
I’ve told you how difficult trailblazing can be, but I think I also can lighten your load and brighten your spirits a bit about starting the process.
Realistically, you should focus strictly on your own individual level of likely achievement to pursue Trail Blazer results. Believe me, Jobs, Bezos and Gates started there, too.
As Peter, Paul and Mary sing, “Inch by inch, row by row, that will make your garden grow.”
One incremental step at a time should be your goal. There is no rush – just begin and don’t stop. There is no need to change the world, just change your world. Make it fun, interesting and enjoyable. Delight in it, and it will refresh you and offer new goals for you to shoot for; and aiming for perfection isn’t one of those goals. Just do the very best you can.
Make the process both amusing and private – no accountability or rush necessary. Here’s a cool secret: You can be the only one who even knows you are doing this and go at your own comfortable pace.
I think it’s best to end with a story, but not just any story – a creative business success story about one of the greatest retailers in the history of the United States. I trust you’ll find this story motivating due to the simplicity of the product and how old the man was when he blazed his trail.
This gentleman was born in 1917. He actually lied about his age to join the Red Cross as a military ambulance driver, but World War I ended before he finished his training. He then worked as a piano player, a paper cup salesman and ended up as a food industry multi-mixer salesman in Illinois. Not a particularly glamorous or highly paid job at the time.
In 1954, he was surprised by a large, unsolicited order for eight multi- mixers from a restaurant in San Bernardino. Calif. He didn’t just ship the products to the customer, although he certainly could have done so. Instead, he took the initiative to journey there to investigate. Something inside him signaled him to do so because of the unusual size of the order.
When he arrived in California, he found a very small but highly successful restaurant owned by two brothers and was stunned by the effectiveness of the operation. They produced a very limited menu concentrating on just a few items, which allowed them to easily focus on quality control at every step.
While at the restaurant, he was struck by the idea that this type of concept was exactly what people everywhere would want if it was available. So, he conducted all of the necessary research and, in 1960, he bought the rights to the name of the original company from the two brothers he had stumbled upon almost a decade earlier.
He would go on to build a national restaurant chain that by 1958 had sold its 100 millionth product! His vision: what customers really wanted was a restaurant system that would be famous for food consistency that was the same in every city and town from coast to coast.
The man’s name was Ray Kroc and the company is, of course, McDonald’s. When he started his enterprise, Kroc was over 50 years old. He died on January 14, 1984 and never stopped working at the company’s offices, even when he was confined to a wheelchair near the end of his life.
Ray Kroc had a passion for innovation and efficiency. And he possessed the two qualities necessary for success – he understood the marketplace and he knew how to get out of his own way. He perceived what busy hungry customers wanted, told them about it, and made it possible for them to get it easily.
Today, McDonald’s worldwide sales are approximately $30 billion annually. Every day, it serves about 69 million customers in nearly 34,000 restaurants in 118 countries. What’s more, the company employs almost 2 million people.
Jeff, Bill, Maddie and Juliette all are impressive Trail Blazers, just like Steve and Ray were. The only differences between them are the sizes and directions of their trails.
After all, trails come in all sizes. And I’ll bet there’s one available in exactly your size, too.