Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Play to Your Strengths

The phone rang again.  Feeling the pressure, Jack finally answered.  It had been ringing all morning as the news became public.  Jack answered, and the reporter on the other end said, “What does it feel like to lose 300 million dollars?"  It was a startling question, and he thought about it.  Could it really be that much?  Did he really just lose $300 million in less than a day?

When Jack was growing up, he always had ideas for making things better.  His family never had a lot, which meant Jack had to do odd jobs to earn his own money.  He sold newspapers, delivered groceries, and loved garage sales.  He would go around and buy things from other people, then sell them for a few dollars more.  He dreamed of one day opening his own store.

Jack began thinking of an idea for a store that would sell merchandise without the customers ever physically seeing the products.  He made a few catalogs with less than 20 items in them, and then put the catalogs on display in a small store he rented.  He explained to people in the neighborhood that he could save them a lot of money on products they wanted and would deliver them for free within a couple of days.  All they had to do was come to his store, look at his catalog, place their order, and they’d experience big savings.  It took a while for people to get the hang of it, but Jack was on to something.  Over the next few years, he expanded his catalog to include hundreds of items.  As the business grew, he started to keep the most popular items in a warehouse behind the store to make deliveries faster.  Jack began opening stores in other neighborhoods, and in less than ten years, he had the makings of an empire.

Thirty years went by, and Jack Stupp's company, Consumer Distributors, was worth over a billion dollars.  He was the king of discounted merchandise in Canada and began expanding to the United States, where he faced huge competition from a company called Service Merchandise that had the same basic business model.  Jack was wealthier than he ever imagined, although most of his money was tied up in stock of his own company.  Unfortunately, the bubble was about to burst.  Both his company and Service Merchandise were soon put out of business by a new innovation in discount retailing, led by a company called Wal-Mart.

That's when the phone started to ring.  How did it feel to lose $300 million?  Jack answered, "It feels great!  I never thought I could lose $300 million and still be ok."

I met Jack when I was living in New York, and loved to hear him tell stories.  We were eating dinner at The Russian Tea Room when he told me about his company going out of business and his own loss of $300 million.  I was intrigued and wanted to know what he did next.  How did he recover from such a devastating blow?

I'll never forget his answer.  Jack said, "I focused on what worked well."  He explained that most people focus on their mistakes and shortcomings, and that, when they have a so-called failure in life or in business, the first thing they usually do is lament over what went wrong.  It's not that we shouldn't learn from our mistakes, but he believed it was more important to study our successes.  When we focus on what we do well and repeat that process, success breeds more success.

Shortly after Jack lost his business, he went on Canadian television with an incredible deal.  As thanks for the years of supporting his business, he offered viewers an opportunity to buy a brand new pool table for only $1 more than his cost to buy it and ship it directly to them.  This was hundreds of dollars less than the retail price, and the response was overwhelming.  Within a month, Jack sold more than ten million pool tables, earning him $10 million in profit.  It was more than his competition sold in an entire year.  He also had no store or inventory, as he’d arranged for the manufacturer to ship the tables directly.  It was unheard of, but Jack had simply gone back to what worked for him in the past.

When you find yourself struggling and wondering what went wrong, try thinking back to when something went well.  What worked?  What was it you did that produced the results you were happy with?  Figure out the answer, then do more of that!

Until next week...

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