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Insight from The Work Bench

One thing I have always struggled with is setting goals with a system to achieve them. I was sharing that fact with my son the other day. I told him how having a desire for anything without a plan to acquire it is simply a dream.

There have been times in my life where I did lay out a plan and had success with achieving my goal. Most times I rush in with a basic plan and just keep tweaking my thoughts and method until I either make my goal or decide to abandon my fight. It's of course not the best approach, and I'm hoping my son develops a better one.

Along with teaching my repair classes, I have been a consultant of sorts to a small number of dealers over the last 10 years, if they ask me for help in certain areas. We have all been in situations where we've needed a different viewpoint from someone else to hopefully steer our ship into calmer waters. This place of uncertainty or confusion is like hitting a bump in the road to a goal you set without a clear plan. You have gone down the road a good distance, but now the path is unclear. So how do you choose to go further? Do you trust your own judgement or go with the other person's viewpoint?

I won't pretend to have the answer to this difficult question, other than to say: Going with my gut has proven to be the best for me, although not perfectly without some serious fails. I've shared how I've almost bankrupted myself 3 times in the past. When faced with that stress, I sat down and planned, called my vendors, explained my plan, then didn't waiver until my business got back on track. The time needed for correction will vary, but don't rush it. The lessons learned in recovery are wonderful if learned properly. They will save you from going down the same road in the future.

I've always been able to ask myself tough questions and give myself honest and sometimes painful answers. There are many qualities we must have as owners, but I believe all other qualities hinge on that one.

The hardest question can be, "Am I the Problem?" If the answer comes back yes, lay out a plan of change and do it quickly and honestly. Admitting failure, apologizing if necessary, and doing whatever it takesto get the mistakes behind you to move forward is a must here. People will love to help you but only if you are completely honest.

Restructuring your store and generating a new viewpoint to your customer takes time. They will only believe it if you back up what you say. For example: when customers take their machine home from your service department and it works better than it ever has. Or if you found a way to save them some money or didn't charge them because they just had the needle in the machine backwards. And so on. They see you go above and beyond with caring and quality. I believe good gestures go further than advertising a special.

I remember the first store I tried to help. They were a Husqvarna Viking dealer. In our first meeting, I discovered that they sent their customers' repairs to Husqvarna for service, because they had no technician. Then they simply gave the repaired machine to the customer FREE! I was told they felt customer service was more important than profit. I changed that immediately and pointed out that without profit, there would be no business.

Good customer service is of great importance and a high goal, of course. We don't, however, adjust our profit up and down to mirror our feeling of customer service. I must say this store was one of the most beautiful quilt stores I've ever been in. It was this couple's first venture into business as they bought it from the original owner. I'm sorry to say they didn't make it, and though my figures might be off a bit, I think they closed after a 4-year period or so.
In 2016 I realized a goal. I still didn't write it down, but I have focused on it daily for years. It was a personal income goal. I wanted to get my income back to where it was when I had 3 stores, even though I generate less than half the dollar volume I did back then. I also no longer have 11 people in the company. Until this year, it was just myself with 2-part time employees helping me.

So how did I do it? I quit giving away so many things for free. I still don't charge if the needle is in backwards, but after pointing it out, I recommend a service. I pay more attention to the parts we put in vacuum repairs instead of realizing it at the pay counter, then just throwing it in! I am charging what I'm worth concerning all repairs and raising them accordingly, especially embroidery / sewing machines. Most importantly, I'm recognizing a buying customer and offering them a personal on-the-spot special, then not squeezing them for a decision right then. I take the pressure off by explaining my exchange policy and refund policy if they want to purchase elsewhere.

Is 2017 going to be a better profit year for you? Not if you don't change something in your store. If you run it the same as 2016, you can expect similar results. If it was a good year, then that might be a good choice for you.

What's your goal? There is no right or wrong answer here, just the answer that's right for you. If you want a serious, fun-filled, exciting, profit-expanded year, you won't get it by just dreaming about it. Any decision is better than no decision because that's indecision and that's what drives people crazy!

Norm Himebaugh
Himebaugh's Vacuum & Sewing Center

Reprinted from SQE Professional, March 2017