Case Study: A Square Peg in a Round Hole

imgresMost people with an entrepreneurial spirit aspire to someday own their own business. Or perhaps you may have already started your business and are on your way to fulfilling your dreams!  There are many types of business opportunities in the marketplace and for as many businesses as there are, there are just as many factors that affect the chance to succeed in the business you choose.

Before you ever welcome  your first customer you should write down the Primary Aim– how you want to live your life both today and in the future; and your Strategic Objectives which include your monetary goals, the customers you want to serve, the type of services/products that will provide the most value to that customer, and ultimately when you will want to exit this business.  Your Strategic Objectives Plan is the structure and purpose for your business in order for you to meet your Primary Aim.

As a small business owner the culture of your business will mirror your personality. If the business you choose and the other elements that make up that business don’t align with your life’s Primary Aim and your defined Strategic Objective Plan, not only will you limit the chance of success, but you will be miserable in your efforts to succeed.

I’d like to introduce you to Joe. I first met Joe many years ago while working as a Business Management Consultant for a large national quick printing franchisor. Joe was a great guy. He was a former professional boxer and then became a captain on a charter boat on Lake Erie near Cleveland Ohio.  Through these endeavors Joe had amassed enough net worth to buy a quick printing franchise with dreams of financial success and a less physically demanding life compared to boxing or commercial fishing.

In the late 1980s quick printing was a hot franchise concept. Franchisors were literally opening hundreds of locations annually across the country. Success wasn’t guaranteed, but with a little business acumen and the ability to sell yourself and your business most of these quick printing businesses met the level of success envisioned by their owners.

Downtown_Cleveland_Ohio_(44)In the summer of 1988 Joe opened his quick printing business in a twenty story building in the heart of downtown Cleveland within blocks of his beloved Lake Erie where he previously had a successful charter boat business.    Joe met this new challenge with the same zeal and enthusiasm as he did everything else in his life. He used every fiber of his wiry 5”6”, 140 lb. body into making his business successful.

Joe practiced the systems prescribed to him by his franchisor, he offered good customer service at the counter, offered all the suggested products, followed the marketing program for a new franchise, and made the suggested number of sales calls each week. Theoretically all this should have made his print shop grow, however Joe was a round peg in a square hole.

The culture of downtown Cleveland at the time was a suit and tie environment made up of executive, mid level management and administrative professionals.  It was a group of people foreign to Joe, folks he had never come in contact with socially or through his experience as a boxer or charter boat captain. Joe’s comfort zone was kahki slacks or blue jeans and he was better suited to a small mom and pop business and the working class people of Akron, Canton or the blue color suburbs of Cleveland.

The button down corporate environment of downtown Cleveland was a different animal.  He was totally intimidated by this environment and as a result had a difficult time connecting to the people who bought printing in his market area.

The slow summer months passed into fall and then winter sales remained flat, far below his breakeven. Like many new business owners Joe was trying to do everything himself.  He would meet with customers during the day, print jobs at night and then try to squeeze in time to get out and find new business during the day leaving his one employee alone at the shop. Getting a full night of sleep and spending time strategically thinking about his business was impossible for Joe.  He had neither the time nor the energy!

After the first nine months Joe had spent most of his original working capital he brought into the business and had barely enough money to cover the business expenses for another ninety days before he would have to close. One afternoon while I was accompanying Joe on another frustrating day of making cold calls and we were high above Cleveland on the twenty fifth floor of a forty story building, Joe turned to me and said,

“I can raise some more working capital by selling my boat. “  

Like everything else Joe had done in his life he was willing to do whatever it would take to make his business work. However, after spending a considerable amount of time with Joe and getting to know him as a person, it had become obvious to me that he was a ‘square peg in a round hole’.  No matter how hard he worked or how much money he threw at the business he was not going to succeed in this cosmopolitan downtown Cleveland  business environment.  I turned to Joe and said,
“You know Joe, you’ve made a great effort to fulfill your dream of owning a quick printing shop but it’s just not happening.  I think you need to keep your boat as your safety net and together we need to find a buyer for this business.”

Fortunately for Joe it was at a time when there were eager buyers for franchises in desirable locations.  And as much as the Cleveland location was a detriment to Joe, it was perfect for the person who was comfortable in a metropolitan suit and tie corporate environment.

670x310_skylineMeanwhile Joe went back to running his Charter Boat service on Lake Erie serving clients and enjoying life with the enigmatic skyscrapers of downtown Cleveland in the background.

In retrospect, if Joe would have properly defined the Primary Aim for his life and created a Strategic Objective Plan for that business before choosing a new business to start-up in downtown Cleveland, he more than likely would never have bought a printing franchise and located it in a corporate downtown location.

Fortunately for Joe this story had a happy ending and his franchisor was able to quickly find a new franchisee to assume the building and equipment leases releasing Joe of his financial obligations. The new franchisee was an executive who had previously worked in downtown Cleveland and had a lot of business contacts on which to call.  His business soon thrived and the franchisor and franchisee enjoyed many decades of success.

Owning a business is much like being in a second married in that you will spend as much, or even more of your time there, than with your family. And like a marriage, if things go poorly it is difficult, painful and expensive to get out of it.

So, if you and your spouse are going to jointly own and operate a business create your Primary Aim and Strategic Objective Plan together so you will be on the same page from the beginning.  Not only will it potentially save your business, but it will possibly save your marriage as well!

Owning a business is much like being in a second married in that you will spend as much, or even more of your time there, than with your family. And like a marriage, if things go poorly it is difficult, painful and expensive to get out of it.

So, if you and your spouse are going to jointly own and operate a business create your Primary Aim and Strategic Objective Plan together so you will be on the same page from the beginning.  Not only will it potentially save your business, but it will possibly save your marriage as well!

MBhsfrntIf you’d like help defining your Primary Aim, Strategic Objectives or with any portion of your business, give me a call at 406-690-5988.

Case Study: A Square Peg in a Round Hole

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