It was 7:00a.m. Paul liked to arrive to work before the other staff. He wanted to set a good example for the other family members and staff.
As he sat in his office working on his working to-do list, there was a knock at his office door. He sighed and paused a moment. "I thought the door was unlocked?" Paul looked up from his neat papers and noticed that the second eldest was already making his way across the office toward his desk.
The "Vision" Guy
"Good morning," said Paul. "What brings you in early?"
"Well, Paul I wanted to talk about our situation. I really had a hard time sleeping. I'd like to review some of my mid-night thoughts?"
Paul wave his hand, gesturing him to sit down.
"With all due respect, I think you need to come up with a vision for the store and communicate that clearly and often." People need a strong vision. People need to feel like the store is going somewhere.
"I see," said Paul. "You don't believe we have that now?" Paul asked in as curious a voice as he could. He knew the vision and mission statement by rote. He thought all the staff knew the the vision of the store.
The second eldest shifted in his seat. "Yes, well, we do have a vision and mission. But we need you to champion the cause consistently and regularly."
Again, Paul cut in, "So, we have a vision, but you don't think I talk about it enough. Is that it?"
The second eldest shift in his seat again. "Well, yeah, the staff relies on you. When we meet for weekly staff meetings, sometimes the meeting just seems to flounder. It's like we don't know to what end we are working", said the second eldest.
The room got quiet. Paul broke the silence, "Hey, thanks for coming in to speak your mind. I can see you feel strongly about it. I have another meeting to get to, so let's pick this up later okay?"
The second eldest shrank a bit in his chair and then lept to his feet. "Okay, later then." The second eldest turned around and walked out of the office staring at the floor.
Its a "matter of Integrity" Guy
It was just after lunch that the youngest family member popped in. He bounded into Paul's office. "Do you have a minute?" said the youngest.
"Sure I do", said Paul. "You know I have an open door policy. You are always welcome."
"Well, I've been thinking about our situation. I think our problem is that we need to stand firm in our product integrity. What I mean is that Mom and Pop created these formulas and though there is pressure to adjust the formula, I don't think we should do that. Mom and Pop gave us these jobs -- they wanted us to carry the formula to the next generation. I think we need to be absolutely faithful as we do that. We can't capitulate to pressure to change it. The integrity of the recipe is really why we are here! I mean, really, the quality of our formula speaks for itself. The product sells itself", the youngest exclaimed with some urgency." Paul remembered the youngest had made this point in staff meeting.
"I can see you feel rather strongly about that", said Paul. I will give it some thought. Can we pick this up later?"
Paul peered carefully but strongly at the youngest. The youngest blinked and realized that the conversation was essentially over. "Yeah sure. We'll talk about it later." The youngest turned and walked out of the office.
The "Marketing" Guy
Paul had had a long day. He had reviewed sales reports and inventory levels. Paul's eye's were tired.
Just as the store began to close, Farmer John dashed in. Farmer John was a good customer. He purchased goods nearly every week since Mom and Pop opened the store. As was his routine, John grabbed some rolls and sausage and paid cash to the young lady at the register. As he walked toward the exit he popped his head into Paul's office.
"Hey Paul", said John. "How you doing?"
Paul manufactured a smile. "Hey John, I'm doing well. I've been looking at these sales reports all day. I'm a bit concerned." But Paul was lying through his teeth. He wasn't a bit concerned. He was very concerned and scared and frustrated. Judging from the visitors he had today, it seemed everyone had solutions to the store's dilemma. Everyone but Paul himself.
"Well Paul", said John, "competition is fierce these days. government doesn't make it easy to do business any more. My son just finished his master's degree in business. We were talking about business in a small town. He tells me that all companies need advertising. You've got to advertise and get the word out. That's what your parents did anyways. They always had an ad in weekly Sun."
Paul suppressed the urge to run outside, jump in John's truck and drive right over him. Did John think Paul was a complete idiot? Instead of voicing that out loud, Paul said to Farmer John "I can see you feel rather strongly about that. I will give it some thought. Can we pick this up later?"
Paul laughed about the image of Farmer John all the way home. He sat down on the back porch and lit his old pipe. It was a long time since he fired up some cherry tobacco. He sat there in his lawn chair underneath sparkling stars. It was mostly quiet in this little town. Tonight, all he could hear was the mockingbird singing from the telephone pole and the constant hum of his pool pump. He sat in silence as the voices of his three visitors bounced around in his head. Vision, integrity, marketing: Paul's visitors had highlighted important business tactics.
But there was something seemed odd about the visits. He couldn't quite put his finger on the what made him so uneasy.
Paul sighed. It seems everyone was looking to him to fix these new challenges. He took a hit on his pipe. "How can I possibly live up to the expectations of everyone around me?" He exhaled and enjoyed a long, still silence.
The meeting had adjourned. Abruptly. The children and staff returned to their work stations with a uneasy feeling in their gut. The hard questions were left sitting on the table -- a sustainable future seemed out of reach. The staff longed for a vision that would inspire them, encourage them, empower them to work together. They couldn't say this, but they longed for the synergy that Mom and Pop once brought to the store.
Paul was the oldest. He returned to his office. He sat behind his over-sized maple desk. On the wall behind his desk hung his MBA and certifications from the Management association. On the desk sat piles of papers and books neatly stacked. In the middle of the desk lie a to-do list with items struck through in proper order.
He was anxious. Over the years, running the store was like the change in seasons; one always knew what was coming next: orders for goods and services occurred with regularity, deliveries happened without fail, staff did their job without supervision. It was a well oiled machine.
Or at least it used to be.
The Store faced new challenges. It's brand was tarnished. Sales were slumping and the staff were anxious. Uncertainly hung in the air like the thick winter fog. That staff meeting left Paul's mind racing, his heart pumping, and his face flushed. He sat alone in the quiet of his office and let out a big sigh. Staring into empty space he murmured to himself, "When did this get so complicated?"
"The product sells itself," said the youngest in the family. "If only that were true", mused Paul. When the Store was the only store in town selling product, perhaps that was true. Today, however, stores have popped up all over town. Oh sure, the Mom and Pop store still had the "true product" that was the signature of the store. But other stores sold variations on their products and each had achieved some success doing so.
The more Paul thought about their dilemma, the more difficult it felt. Reputation, sales, competition: these were only the touchstones of what he feared might be the real challenge facing the Store.
The Store, Chapter Two
The weekly meeting
The Schroeder children inherited the quaint little store in the quaint little town.
As was the routine when Mom and Pop were alive, the store staff gathered weekly to discuss operational issues. These meetings were mostly routine.
As the children gathered on this Tuesday morning a new hire of the store -- not related to the family -- spoke out with uncharacteristic authenticity. "Excuse me for saying so, but I was getting my hair cut last week. As I chatted with the folks there in the salon, it seemed that our store has an unfortunate image problem. People in the salon seemed to think that our product was expensive. But they also said that our store was snobby and that it exists only for upper class clients.
The second oldest of the children chimed in, "Yeah, its true, we have a bit of an unsavory reputation in the community. But really, what does it matter? Our product is the best around. We make our product just like Mom and Pop made it. It is as good now, as it was then. It sells itself, doesn't it?"
The new hire chimed in again. "Perhaps many locals don't really know us. Why don't we push some info out into the community? You know, do a public relations campaign. Maybe in the process we could uncover what are the needs of our neighbors?" This seemed to set off a round of murmuring while some around the table nodded in agreement.
The eldest spoke up now, "the best public relations method is to build meaningful relationships," he said energetically. Sure, we need to focus. Yes, we need to keep up the integrity and quality of our product. But its all about relationships."
The room went awkwardly quiet.
Just then, Mom and Pop's youngest joined the conversation. "I don't quite get that. I mean, we are all nice people around this table. Right? Each of us has a cadre of relationships that we nurture. If good public relations occur through personal relationships, why are we not loved in the community? If all we need to do is to keep doing what we doing (in the name of good relationships) how will we ever turn our current reputation on its head?"
He turned to the second eldest. "Furthermore and with all due respect" he continued, "products don't actually sell themselves. If this were the case, our product would be flying off the shelf. But that is not our current state of affairs is it? We started this conversation about our reputation but perhaps this topic dovetails with another pressing issue; namely, the current stagnation in sales. Our sales have really waned over the last couple of years."
"Well" said the eldest, "I see that our time is up. Let's review the items we need to order for next week and be dismissed."
And so, the weekly meeting ended precisely on time. Just as it did when Mom and Pop were running the store.
The Store, Chapter One.
Once upon a time there lived a quaint little family in a quaint little town.
The Schroeders immigrated across the Atlantic. Once they arrived in the new world, Pop worked in the fields. He drove tractors, dug furrows, and loaded bales of hay onto delivery trucks. Mom Schroeder worked as hard as her husband. Dusting was a never ending chore. Despite Mom's best efforts, the powdery valley dust made it's way on every household surface just as it made it way into their clothes. After a daily routine of dusting and washing, Mom took to cooking and spent hours upon hours prepping: canning fruit, baking bread, and preparing meals.
The Schroeders worked hard and saved every penny. After a decade, they had saved enough to open a small store. They sold baked goods, homemade sausage, fruits and vegetables - some grown some purchased from local farms.
After many years, the store had become a community icon. It's imposing edifice could be seen from any direction. Patrons would often stop by just to visit. The owners would offer a patrons coffee at times fresh homemade roles. Stopping by to Mom and Pop had become part of the routine in this quaint little town. In fact, the Mom and Pop Shop had become an important social center.
Beside being popular for their hospitality, the store stocked food that sold very well: cheese, sausages, bread and rolls. Mom and Pop managed to earn a good living and put a considerable sum of money away for retirement with enough left over to leave a handsome inheritance for the children.
Mom & Pop died. The entire community came to pay their respects. Their memorial services were lovely and even elaborate at times. Clearly, Mom and Pop were loved as much as the product and services they provided to this quaint little town.
Ownership of the store passed to the children. The children, like the long time patrons, still loved the products that Mom and Pop sold. But something was changing. Despite their historic popularity, product sales began to stall. After many years of decline, the children had a gut feeling that diminishing sales did not bode well for the future of the store.
www.getvitality.org by Glen Edward Quiring is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.getvitality.org.