Business Success

In today’s world, standing out from the crowd is preferable to being an also-ran. With COVID-19 still among us, supply chain challenges and staffing shortages are adversely impacting many businesses’ ability to be successful. Anything that can positively differentiate a business and make it stand out above other like businesses is important. Being a commodity does not differentiate one from others, and businesses that are more commodity-driven are at greater risk.

A business with a specialty niche has a greater chance of being successful than a commodity does, all other variables being equal. However, having a specialty niche does not guarantee success. Business is much more complex than that.

Knowing one’s customers and what makes them one’s customers is critical to business success. It is not possible to consistently meet your customers’ expectations if those aren’t known. Knowing your market is also necessary. If your market is the luxury market, your customers have different expectations than those of a commodity market.    

Cash flow is critical to a business’s success. Many good businesses have closed due to cash flow issues. In today’s times, this may be even more important than ever. During the past two years, many businesses have not been able to serve customers due to mandates related to the pandemic. Many of those were not able to make it through these times. With fewer paying customers able to purchase what the business was selling, cash flow problems put the nail in the coffin of many businesses. The food service industry has been hit especially hard in this regard.

All have certainly not been doom and gloom during the pandemic, however. The pandemic created new jobs and new businesses, such as the making of masks and the increase in the need for hand sanitizers. These items quickly became commodity items, with style as the main differentiator, followed closely behind by cost. As such, the demand for any particular brand is limited, and the growth in these commodity items alone cannot provide sufficient profit to make these businesses strong.

Quality has become even more important during the pandemic than it is during “normal” times. Quality is often related to cost and value, and poor quality is costly. With many people having less disposable income and holding tightly to what they have, fearing the unknown, they have not been as likely to replace items that are in good condition as frequently.

It is probable that some of our buying values have changed during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, we had already seen a shift from buying tangible items or things to interest in and purchasing experiences. In the past two years of COVID, this trend has accelerated. While engaging in experiences has been limited in part due to COVID and especially travel restrictions, it is clear that the interest in time spent with loved ones has increased significantly. For many people creating memories through experiences has taken on greater meaning. Now that we are finally beginning to see positive changes in COVID numbers in many states, we can expect the interest in travel, including international travel, to peak. Many people are more than ready to get out and engage in life again at a different level than has been possible these past two years.

Is your business positioned for the return to more normal business activity? Or are you still posting “Help Wanted” signs, using lack of staff as an excuse for a variety of business problems? If so, and your business is a commodity business, expect your competition to figure out solutions that will render your business obsolete. If your business is a specialty business, expect your customers to have greater expectations of you. If you meet or exceed those expectations, the business you experience can be exponentially appreciated.

Of these, commodity or specialty, which provides a greater opportunity for success? Where is your business positioned, and if you do not like the answer to this question, what will you do to change?

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Customer Service at its Finest

Feeling appreciated is something most people appreciate! When was the last time you received a note of appreciation from a salesperson at a store with whom you do business? Or any positive connection from anyone at companies with whom you do business? My answer to this question is, “A few days ago!” I received two emails last week from two different people showing that they appreciate my business. This made such a positive impact on me that it motivated me to connect with my customers.

A salesperson at one of my favorite stores, Saks, sent me the following email: “Thank you for your recent visit to Saks Fifth Avenue in Raleigh. It was my pleasure to assist you. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you need anything. I look forward to seeing you again.” My purchase that generated that email was a pair of tights. I do not know the salesperson, she was just one who I saw and asked to help me checkout. While I do love Saks, I probably average going to the store in Raleigh no more than once a quarter. But most times that I do, shopping at Saks is a positive experience. My favorite Saks store is in NYC on Fifth Avenue, which I am usually able to visit once a year. I love Saks because of the quality of the merchandise, the customer service in general,  and the “extra’s” provided, such as how the purchases are wrapped in tissue paper and placed in quality Saks bags.

The other email that I received was from someone identified in the Customer Experience Team at Magic Spoon, a healthy cereal company that I discovered through a podcast by Seth Godin. Magic Spoon is the only cereal that I eat, and before becoming a customer, I did not eat cereal at all! But I became a convert to this healthy and delicious cereal through the influencer that I trust, Seth Godin. The cost of the cereal is approximately $2.00 a bowl. The nutritional value makes this well worth the cost.

I do need to order some Magic Spoon cereal, but I have not yet since I am traveling some, and have not wanted the cereal to arrive when I wasn’t home. The email that I received from Clara at Magic Spoon was, “It’s been a while since we’ve last seen you over at Magic Spoon, and I wanted to make sure you have everything you need to keep those bowls full! We’re grateful to have you in the Magic Spoon community, and we’re excited to see you again soon.” Now, I felt so valued when I read those words. I realize that this is a smart marketing strategy, but that is not the impression that it made on me.

Neither of these emails felt like a typical sales pitch, and they weren’t, since I am a customer of many stores and businesses, and most of the others do not reach out and touch me in this manner. The emails felt personalized and made me feel valued as a customer. I immediately thought of my customers and realized that I need to check in with them, and not wait for them to contact me. Not just for future business, but for past business, because they have been an important part of my business, and me. I have lists of customers who I can contact, and let them know that I appreciate them.

It is a new year. It is time to reconnect with those people and companies that have been a part of my success. Thank you to my Saks and Magic Spoon salesperson for connecting with me, and being a stimulus for me to do the same with my customers.

How about you? Is there anyone that you need to contact, and show your appreciation for them? Is this the week for you to do so?

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Retail Is In Trouble

Many people shop in January to take advantage of after-Christmas sales. I am one of those, having been to the outlet malls and other malls recently. I am amazed at the lack of customers shopping in physical stores. While I realize that some people prefer online shopping, I prefer to get up close and personal with the merchandise. Either I am in the minority preferring to shop in physical stores, or fewer people are shopping in general. While the lack of customers may be good from a COVID standpoint, from a retail standpoint, it worries me. We need retail to get back to normal if our economy is going to begin to return to normal.

Sales are prevalent, yet the sales do not seem to be making much of an impact. While I did buy more because many items are on sale, I did not do any impulse buying. I had a list of what I wanted/needed to buy, and pretty much stuck to it. Sales are good for those who wait for the sales before making a purchase, yet something being on sale is no reason to buy. If we don’t need it before it goes on sale, there is no reason for us to buy it just because it is on sale.

While shopping I also did not buy some items that I considered, deciding that I could do with what I had in that category until another season comes around. If I have been fine with wearing the number of pants and tops that I have had this season before now, why would I need to buy more, even if they are on sale? Also, I know that I wear the same clothes most of the time, leaving some perfectly good clothes hanging in the closet. Given this, why should I buy more? What I should do before even considering purchasing anything else new is go through my closet and get rid of items I have obviously not been wearing. My daughter and granddaughters had a major purge in their closets last week. I need to do the same.

While my choices may be good for my personal budget, they are not good for the economy in general, particularly in the short term, especially if my choices are indicative of a trend. On the other hand, perhaps the trends can be the beginning of changes that could improve quality and perhaps even costs. I would like to see manufacturers and retailers pay attention to the trends, and make fewer items of better quality, beginning to turn the tide of excess inventory of poor-quality items.

Another trend may be a factor in less purchasing. There is a lot of noise online about decluttering, and there are many books about that subject in stores and online. The philosophy behind decluttering includes paring down, not just clearing spaces. I believe this trend is also a factor in people buying less. What is not yet clear is whether the purchasing power is shifting to other things, such as experiences and electronics instead of clothes and personal products.

Retail stores are in trouble, even if retail purchasing isn’t. How long will malls be able to hang on without walk-in customers? The sheer cost of the real estate makes malls and other stores without sufficient foot traffic in danger of closing their doors. This has already begun happening, and I predict we will see more of this in the near future.

What can be done to help keep retail strong? In addition to retail being an important part of our communities, there is a financial incentive to keep retail strong since we depend on its tax revenue.

Loyalty should begin at home. When we can, we should shop local, vowing to keep our small businesses in business. While I am an Amazon Prime customer and doubt that anything I do will change the strength of Amazon, when I can, I should support local businesses that have the same or similar merchandise. Our daughter is a great example of this. She bought gift cards from her local independent bookseller for her three daughters for a year of books. A few customers that are this committed to a local business could be the difference in a business staying in business.

What about you? What are you doing to keep retail strong in your communities? What can we all begin doing?  

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A Restaurant That is An Institution

Restaurants that become an institution are rare. There is one in Raleigh, Angus Barn. Until this week, I only knew of Angus Barn as such an institution. I now know of two, Angus Barn in Raleigh and Sea Captain’s House in Myrtle Beach. Mike and I discovered Sea Captain’s House by accident, and I am so glad we found it, for it is now a favorite that I hope to visit time and again.

Looking for a place for lunch, wanting a salad and fresh fish, I googled “restaurants for salad and fresh fish.” The first restaurant that popped up was Sea Captain’s House. Interestingly enough, the restaurant was close to where we were staying, so we decided to try it. When we arrived at the restaurant, I was smitten by the physical structure. The white frame building was charming. When we entered the restaurant, it was welcoming and warm, in part a function of the décor, and in part due to the fire in the fireplace in the lobby. We were greeted by the hostess, Susan, who was friendly and informative. She told us that the restaurant has been in business for sixty years. I told her how thrilled I was that we had found it, that I could tell it would be a great experience. She said she was also glad that we had found it, that it would be a great experience, and then showed us to our table.

The Grilled Shrimp and Berry Salad that I had was delicious, and it was one of the best salads I have ever had. The hush puppies that were brought for the table were also very good, light and slightly sweet. The fried oysters that Mike had were good. The food was all very good, yet many restaurants have good food.

Good food alone does not an institution make. One expects good food from a reputable restaurant. The restaurant had much more going for it than good food. The care and attention that had been given to all aspects of the business was what set it apart. This was made obvious to us when the Assistant General Manager, Ethan Phillips, came to our table to welcome us, and shared information about the establishment, along with the information given to us by Susan, the hostess.

Sea Captain’s House opened in 1962, and the children of the original owners are now at the helm. The owners know all of the staff. One of the staff members, Marie, has been on the staff for forty years, and this is the only job she has ever had.  Susan has been on staff for eleven years. The owners treat the staff as “one of them, like family.” Susan said there are three rules: “Be on Time, Do Your Job, and Go Home.” “Go Home” means do not bring your personal stuff to work with you; leave it at home, and when your work is finished, go home. It is interesting that pay was never mentioned.

The décor of the restaurant was relaxed chic, with a “clubbish” feel. Ethan Phillips told us that the restaurant’s décor is changed out every year. Every year window treatments are replaced and the restaurant is painted. As I looked around, it did not seem that either was needed, although the restaurant would close in a few days for the yearly refurbishment. Yet while it might not be “needed,” redoing the décor yearly keeps it fresh.

What are the lessons other businesses can learn from Sea Captain’s House? I have three takeaways.

  1. Treat the Staff like Family, yet hold them accountable. Make your rules clear.
  2. Manage by Walking Around. Be present, consistently.
  3. Keep it Fresh. The décor, the food, and the entire establishment. Even after sixty years, and for the next sixty years.  

Is your business an institution, capable of staff wanting to work there for forty years? Do staff who work with you feel the pride that was obvious in Susan and Ethan, pride so palpable that it can be felt by customers?  Are you providing just a job, or traditions that will last for many years?

Not every establishment can be an institution like Angus Barn and Sea Captain’s House. But many more can be than are. What about your business? Are you up for the challenge?

Why not get started?

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Goodbye to 2021

It is hard to believe that another year closes today, and a new one opens tomorrow. 2021 was a year of many challenges, from COVID-19 to Delta and now to Omicron. There have also been other challenges for many people, including job challenges and financial worries. In spite of it all, those of us who are able to read this, and me who is able to write it, also should be grateful for our blessings. While I marvel at being seventy years old, an age I became at the end of November, I also marvel at a life that I have been blessed to live.

My family life as a child was difficult. I lived with various relatives, moving around as my mother tried her best to cope with the challenges her life included. She left high school at an early age and went to work to help support her mother and siblings. She was smart, but not in the choices she made. She did the best she could, and when she was not able to provide a stable environment for me, she reached out to family and made sure that I was taken care of. My mother passed away in 1998 at sixty-four years of age. I miss her and wish that we had been able to connect more often and on a deeper level. But we did the best that we could. As a child, I was not responsible for some of what happened to me. As an adult, I am totally responsible.

As an adult, I became responsible for my own choices. One example comes to mind. When I realized that my wine consumption was not healthy for me, almost three years ago I stopped drinking alcohol completely. I did not want to risk that habit taking control as it had in my mother’s life. As an adult, I am responsible for my own choices, and have no one, not even genetics, to blame for any of my behavior. I am (at least, I think) mentally healthy, and as such, my behaviors are a result of the choices I make. If mental illness was a factor, things would be different.

So, I conquered my drinking habit before it became an addiction. What I have not conquered is my spending habit. Managing my money better was a 2021 goal that I have not met. I will carry this goal into 2022 and have some specifics that I will implement to increase the likelihood that I will be more successful in this area.

The end of a year and the beginning of another one is a great time to reset, to decide what we want to change to have more of the life that we want. Managing money better is at the top of my list. I also plan to declutter more. I began that process with the listing of our home for sale. An update on that is in order. While we did receive two offers for our home, neither one was the price we wanted, so we took it off the market and are resetting in that area. We may do some painting in the spring and re-list it for sale, or we may decide to stay put for another year or two. We are happy with what we did and know that it was the right decision to make to stay put for now.

How about you? How did you do in 2021 related to the commitments that you made to yourself at the beginning of the year? What does 2022 hold for you?

Stay safe tonight and welcome the New Year in on Saturday with a clear head. Greens, black-eyed peas, and other traditional New Year’s food await.                    

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Merry Christmas To All

There are only a few days left before Christmas. Christmas is most of all a religious holiday, the celebration of the birthday of Jesus. In the midst of all of the frivolity, it is important to center ourselves and remember the true meaning of Christmas. May we celebrate the birth of the Christ child, and not let the real meaning of Christmas escape us. If there was ever a time that we need to do so, it is now. From new outbreaks of COVID to our increased political divide, we are more in need of the Savior than ever before.

Christmas has a secular meaning as well, from trees to presents, and all that goes with the season. May your holiday be merry and bright, as you (hopefully are able to) gather with loved ones and celebrate. As we open our gifts, let’s remember those who are less fortunate, and remember to be thankful for all of our blessings.

It is important for us to remember that this season is not a happy one for everyone. I just heard of the passing of a mother whose funeral is today. Christmas will forever have a new meaning for this family. There are also many in our midst who are dealing with a myriad of challenges and doing their best to enjoy the season for their loved ones.

Some of you will be missing family members who were present last year. My dear Uncle Barry will be sorely missed as our family gathers this year. As I look around our home, I am comforted by gifts from him in years past, including lighted penguins and snowflakes on the ceiling. While the physical presence of our departed loved ones is missing, our memories are with us forever.

May you and your loved ones have a peaceful and joyful holiday!

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This is How It Ends

After the family took what items we wanted, the rest was sold through an online auction. This week was pickup day for those who purchased items through the auction. It was also pickup day for me, since I asked for and was given his sofa, two club chairs, and an ottoman. While I do not know when I will recover these items and where I will use them, I wanted them. I remember when Uncle B and Aunt Evelyn purchased these thirty-three years ago, and they hold much sentimental value for me, more than anything else he had. I will enjoy having them with me, literally and figuratively. For now, they are housed in my storage shed, where they can stay until the time is right for their repurposing.

This week I had the gift of saying goodbye to my dearly departed Uncle Barry’s home and possessions. Uncle B passed away in June, and his belongings and home have now passed as well.

The items that were not taken, sold, or donated will be thrown away by the auction company. It was so hard for me to watch this, knowing that Uncle B loved his home and his stuff. Although he lived a simple life and his possessions were reflective of that, I felt his presence in his things. Seeing them carted out by strangers, in most cases for pennies on the dollar, was difficult.

I know that this is how it ends for all of us. As much as we like or even love our stuff, it is still only stuff. We do not take it with us, and those we leave behind will likely not want much of it. If we have time, it is best to part with most of it while we can, so our loved ones can take what they do want, and make decisions about the rest. Or it will go into an auction and go home with strangers for pennies, or be thrown away. But the memories are not thrown away, they remain with us.

As Christmas 2021 comes without Uncle B, our family will remember Christmases past with him, and will miss him terribly. He will be in our hearts forever.

Rest In Peace, Uncle Barry.

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A Season of Giving

There are more Christmas lights this year than I remember in years past. There are more people buying Christmas decorations and Christmas gifts than I have seen in recent years. People are talking about these differences and are giving COVID the credit. Perhaps it is credit well deserved. Last year was certainly a different holiday season.  It is quite possible that this Christmas will be larger than usual, and the reason is, at least in part, due to us being somewhat in hibernation last Christmas.

It should be noted that for some people, this Christmas will not include more monetary gifts, due to financial challenges. We should not forget that even while some people will do more this year, and can afford to, this is not the reality for some others. But giving is not just monetary. There are many ways to give of ourselves without spending money.

But let’s think about tangible gifts for a moment. Some people do not want tangible gifts, that is not their love language. For others, their love language is receiving gifts, and this has nothing to do with them being selfish. It is how they feel valued by others, and this also has nothing to do with the cost of the gift. It is more about the thought that goes into the gift selection, that the other individual cares enough to think through who the person is and what he/she will enjoy. The person whose love language is receiving gifts also loves to give gifts to others, for it is how the person shows love for others.

Most likely you are aware of the “5 Love Languages, ” a philosophy developed many years ago by Gary Chapman. There are five love languages. Receiving Gifts, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch are the five love languages. In upcoming posts, I will discuss each of the love languages. For now, since it is the season of giving, the love language in focus is “Receiving Gifts.”

Even if your love language is not “Receiving Gifts,” it is important for you to think about those who you love and determine if “Receiving Gifts” is their love language, and act accordingly. Think about what is important to them, and find a gift, regardless of the cost, that is representative of that. Even if doing so makes no sense to you. It will make perfect sense to the one you love.

After all, it is the season of giving. And I will reiterate that gifts are not just tangible gifts. But giving a tangible gift to the one whose love language is “Receiving Gifts” is one way to show your love. Granted, it is not the only way to show your love, but it is an important way.

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70 Years Young

I have heard it said that the days pass so slowly, yet the years pass so quickly. That is so true for me this week. On November 29, 2021, I became 70 years young. That is amazing to me. While I have been lamenting this age, I am grateful for living this long. My mother and maternal grandmother both passed away at 64 years of age. How could I not be grateful for these years? And I am healthy. What a blessing.

My family celebrated my milestone birthday in high style. Daughters Tara and Chatham and spouses Stephen and Johnathan and best friend MoMo hosted a lovely dinner for fourteen of us at Sullivan’s Steakhouse in downtown Raleigh Sunday evening. We enjoyed a delicious meal in a private room, complete with many of my favorites. An Edible Art cake capped off the evening. That was my second Edible Art birthday cake. Cousin Paula and husband Bryan surprised me with an early birthday cake on the Friday after Thanksgiving while all of the family was still in town and could enjoy celebrating with me.   

Monday, my actual birthday, was celebrated with lunch at the Capital Grill of Raleigh with Paula. We celebrated both of our birthdays. Paula’s birthday was November 20th, and we decided to celebrate together once Thanksgiving was over.

The evening of my birthday Mike hosted a birthday dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Margaux’s. Mike, MoMo, and I enjoyed a lovely and delicious meal.

Thanksgiving and my birthday are responsible for a gain of four pounds, two of which, thankfully I have already lost. I am seriously working on the other two pounds. I did not lose all of this weight to regain it permanently. I allowed myself the luxury of not worrying about WW points during this time, and thoroughly enjoyed the food, especially the Edible Art birthday cakes!

I am so appreciative of all of the birthday cards, calls, emails, and Facebook wishes. Friends from different parts of my life reached out and touched me in meaningful ways. Thank you, everyone.

Now that Thanksgiving and my birthday are over, I am ready to prepare for Christmas. I do not begin to prepare for Christmas until December 1. The Thanksgiving turkey plates are retired for another year, and the Spode Christmas Tree china is in use. Christmas trees will be decorated next week, assuming there are still some available!

May your holidays be merry and bright!

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Thanksgiving 2021

Thanksgiving 2021 is now in the history books. Once again, our extended family gathered in Raleigh for three days of feasting and family. This year was especially meaningful since we came together after a two-year hiatus due to COVID. Although we were smaller in number than some years, this year forty-five instead of sixty-five, we were still Fralix Family strong. The days together passed too quickly, yet we are grateful that we and our country were healthy enough for us to feel safe to be together. The joy of being together was palpable.

Other than the obvious meals we shared and the dishes that followed, there were long afternoons and evenings spent around a roaring fire. There were games played, including corn hole and card games. Some took long walks. The younger cousins (and some not so young!) spent time on the trampoline. And we caught up with what had been going on in each others’ lives. From our first gathering at Sawmill Tap Room on Tuesday evening until most left to begin their journeys home to Maryland and Florida on Friday, we cooked together, ate together, and played together. Then all too soon it was time to say goodbye for another year, not knowing what the next year may bring.    

Grateful, thankful, and blessed. For those of our family who care enough to make the effort to come together, recognizing that all were not able to. For family who have kept the commitment to be together after the parents passed away, knowing that a chosen break in our tradition (COVID was obviously not a chosen break) would make it hard to continue the commitment. And now, for older cousins who recognize it is time for them to pick up the mantle and let us older ones “retire” from active duty of being in charge of our gatherings. While they will most likely do some things differently, the fact that our gatherings are important enough for them to want to continue them, to take ownership of them, speaks volumes about their importance.  

Family matters. When we give family the attention it deserves, we all benefit. The circle of life continues. And it is about more than the food.

Now, on to Christmas! But first, my big birthday celebration tomorrow. I do not do Christmas until Thanksgiving and my birthday have been given their rightful celebrations. We are almost there.  

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