Archive for category Disruptive Innovation

The Opportunity to Listen (and Learn)

Over the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a number of amazing speakers at conferences. Each speaker had a great message tailored to the audience and each offered a look into their area of expertise; offering advice that was meaningful and relevant to the industry audience that was listening.

At a conference held earlier this year I listened to keynote speaker Ron Insana, award-winning journalist, financial analyst, commentator and author. His ability to examine and offer analysis of past and current world events, be they political or business, that have shaped or shape the decisions made by politicians, businesses and individuals was amazingly insightful. Ron spoke of how those in attendance could also look at those same events to determine the direction that we lead our respective companies. I had the opportunity to spend time with him at breakfast prior to his keynote and his engagement and interaction with those of us at the table provided a great experience.

I attended a conference in May that had a number of great speakers. One was Brad Grossman, Chairman and CEO of Zeitguide. Zeitguide was founded in 2009 and provides a unique view into our ever-changing world. Zeitguide utilizes people from around the globe to “find, filter and focus” on the abundance of information that exists to provide context to all that is going on today. More importantly, Zeitguide provides crucial understanding as to what is going to happen in the future that will determine the direction an industry make take. Mr. Grossman’s talk was as inspiring as it was insightful.

Another speaker at this conference was James Spellos, President of Meeting U. Mr. Spellos talked about the importance of technology and how technology is driving or should be driving your business to the greatest success imaginable. His discussion of the use of existing and innovative technology was highly entertaining. Spellos mentioned a former Google CEO’s quote, “we create as much information in two days now as we did from the dawn of man through 2003”.  As he walked through the audience answering questions posed to him he was offering countless suggestions and ideas to more effectively use information, technology and devices, but wisely.

At a conference in June the keynote speaker was Sheryl Connelly who, for the past decade has been Ford Motor Company’s Futurist. What does a futurist do? By definition she’s looking for trends. What events, conditions or insights that can be gleaned by scouring the globe for what’s happening now that helps Ford be a leader in its industry for the very long-term. For Ford, Ms. Connelly’s insight provides them another view into the strategy they could follow, the shape of the design of their vehicle platform that will find the greatest acceptance in the market and the products or technologies that will be offered in Ford vehicles well into the future. She’s not looking at the auto industry to determine the future but the social, technological, economic, environmental and political events (or “steep” as she terms it) that will affect our lives in the next 10 to 20 years. Ms. Connelly’s talk gave me a different way to think about what I could be looking at to determine what could affect my future.

At a recent conference this month I had the opportunity to listen to Bernie Brenner, author of The Sumo Advantage and Co-Founder, Chief Strategy Officer of TrueCar, Inc. He spoke of the importance of business development (BD) in the future of any business, regardless of size, to drive strategy and indirect revenue (future revenue). He offered ideas to utilize BD to form strategic partnerships with industry heavyweights that can help build and sustain your company’s growth. Bernie’s directness and openness at the conference, in his presentation and while interacting with attendees, was both refreshing and inspirational.

Next month I’m attending an industry conference where the keynote speaker will be David Robinson (The Admiral), a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, a U.S. Navy veteran, an outstanding player in the NBA (1989-2003), a humanitarian and a partner in a private equity firm (Admiral Capital Group). I’m looking forward to hearing him detail his experiences and advice on how to achieve success in business and life.

If you have an opportunity to attend an industry conference don’t miss out on listening attentively to the keynote speakers. They typically have amazing backgrounds and experiences to share. Each speaker I listened to this year offered insight which I could use to improve myself in both my business and in my personal life. So I would highly recommend that when given the chance to register and attend conferences in your industry do so. Then take the time to listen to those that the conference organizers have selected to speak. They’ve been chosen to speak for a reason. I’ve found them to always have great messages.

Just sayin’.

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20 Years Ago

Twenty years ago today the United States subsidiary of Belron International Ltd. (Belron) operating under the trade name of Windshields America (WA) merged with Joe Kellman’s U.S. Auto Glass (USAG)/Globe Glass & Mirror (GG&M) companies to form a company named Vistar. The second and third largest automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) businesses merged on February 26, 1996. If memory serves me WA had 274 stores in 43 states and the retail arm of Kellman’s two companies, GG&M had approximately 200+ locations in maybe 20+ states. USAG was the network call center arm of the business covering all 50 states. The merger provided Belron with a majority shareholding in Vistar, but management control fell to USAG/GGA. WA had annualized sales at the time of approximately $ 225,000,000+ and USAG/GG&A had annualized sales were approximately $ 200,000,000+ so as one sales totaled $ 425,000,000+ with approximately 500 store locations.

At the same time Safelite Auto Glass (SAG) was the largest AGRR company in the United States both in the number of stores and total sales. SAG had well over 500 stores and sales of approximately $ 500,000,000+. So if you had been able to combine the largest AGRR company together with the second and third largest AGRR company’s sales would have been over approximately $ 925,000,000 in 1996. A very tidy sum by anyone’s measure. The race was on two determine who could become the true market leader in the United States AGRR industry.

Lo and behold just two and one half years later on December 17, 1997 the shareholders of Vistar and SAG decided that they could achieve their market goals better together than apart so they agreed to merge. SAG at the time was owned by the Boston based private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners. When the merger took place Belron received the largest shareholding followed by Thomas H. Lee Partners and Joe Kellman. After the merger Vistar was absorbed by SAG with SAG and Thomas H. Lee Partners holding management control.

As you would expect, when in just 1 year 9 months 21 days the three leading companies in any industry merge, attempting to bring together three distinctly different cultures would be a big challenge. Especially when the largest and smallest shareholders of the new SAG didn’t have management control even though they had considerably more experience in operating AGRR companies than the shareholder with control. I’m not going to delve deeply into what happened next, but the newly formed company lasted just 2 years 5 months 23 days before heading into bankruptcy via a Security and Exchange Commission filing on June 9, 2000. As reported at the time a SAG spokesperson said,

“In papers filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware Friday, Safelite, based in Columbus, Ohio — with 500 U.S. locations — listed $ 559.2 million in assets and $ 591.4 million in debts. A spokeswoman for closely held Safelite, Dee Uttermohlen, said the Chapter 11 filing was related to a debt-load from an acquisition three years ago–but added that the company has been renegotiating debt with creditors.”1

So with that bit of historical background of the two mergers that took place in 1996 and 1997, along with the fallout from those mergers with the subsequent bankruptcy in 2000; I read with interest the 2015 financial results released by Belgium based D’Iteren n.v., majority shareholder of Belron International (and its subsidiary SAG). SAG’s 2015 sales, as per a SAG press release from February 3, 2016 (follow link), are $ 1,500,000,000 ($ 1.5 BILLION). That certainly sounds like a lot of sales doesn’t it?

Looking back to the total sales of WA plus USAG/GGA plus SAG in 1996 ($ 925,000,000+) and reading the sales that was reported today for SAG (remembering that the company now comprises WA, USAG/GGA and SAG) I found it surprising. Very surprising. DollarTimes.com calculates the value of a dollar in one year and adds the cost of inflation to determine that value to today’s dollar. Using the DollarTimes calculator you will find that $ 1.00 in 1996 would equate to a value of $ 1.54 today. The site shows an annual inflation of 2.18% or a total inflation of 54.09% over the past 20 years. When you calculate the 1996 value of $ 925,000,000, today’s value is worth $ 1,425,313,518. So when you look at SAG’s reported 2015 sales against the 1996 sales you see a real growth of 5.24%.

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There has certainly been a lot that has happened in the AGRR industry in the United States over the past 20 years. While SAG has faced a number of challenges over the past 20 years they have always come out somewhat unscathed. Bankruptcy, legislative issues, what have you they seem to always come out on top. But in real dollar growth they’ve seen a 5.24% increase in sales. Seems small doesn’t it?

But arguably there is a problem if you only look at the growth in sales dollars over the past 20 years. Sales figures really don’t take into consideration calculating the effect of the large increase in windshield repairs that existed in 1996 versus today. Nor does it take into consideration the price compression that was wrought on the industry in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s by the insurance industry. Determining what those two factors have in the calculation of real sales growth is difficult as it requires you to look at both the industry’s and SAG’s 1996 mix of products sales and customer versus that mix today. SAG and Belron unquestionably know what those factors mean to the performance of the company, but I’ll leave that for speculation and debate by you.

In my looking back over the past 20 years I’m taking a positive spin as you can see that today there are competitors both old and new that are busy chasing SAG. Be they local, statewide, regional or national competitors; there are countless companies working hard to take on SAG and its position in the AGRR space. There are AGRR retailers, alliances, networks, collision and glass companies, internet platforms chasing after consumers, insurers and commercial customers alike that need the services that the AGRR industry provides. Competition abounds and although it is always difficult to take the throne from the market leader, you’ve got to continue to try at the local, statewide, regional or national level if you want your company to find success in the industry with you’ve chosen to compete.

So when you look back 20 years ago to today at the AGRR industry and at what the landscape was like then versus what it is like today, what comes to my mind is a joke about a pony attributed to President Ronald Reagan.

“Worried that their son was too optimistic, the parents of a little boy took him to a psychiatrist. Trying to dampen the boy’s spirits, the psychiatrist showed him into a room piled high with nothing but horse manure. Yet instead of displaying distaste, the little boy clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to all fours, and began digging. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ the psychiatrist asked. ‘With all this manure,’ the little boy replied, beaming, ‘there must be a pony in here somewhere.'”

I admit that I’m an eternal optimistic and I always see the pony in the room, but I think that opportunities abound for those who want to take on any leader in any industry. Never give up. Never.
Just sayin’.

 

1. Desert News article titled “Safelite Glass files for bankruptcy after listing $591 million in debts”

2. http://www.tomfishburne.com / http://www.marketcartoonist.com

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Credibility Leads to Success

It really doesn’t matter what it is you do in life, to find long-term success in your chosen field or business you have to have the skill set to adapt and find solutions to the problems you and your business face. To be able to continually build on successes and achieve goals that you’ve set for yourself, or those that your boss or board-of-directors have set for you and/or the business, is key to finding long-term success. That then earns you credibility.

 

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How do you achieve credibility? There are a lot of ways to do so, but as a mentor once told me years ago, that way was to “fulfill the promise”. “Fulfill the promise” meant delivering on the budgeted fiscal year revenue and EBITDA that we developed for the company. The person who told me that was the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a multi-national company and I reported to him as President and CEO of the U.S. division. He taught me a great business and life lesson.

By surrounding myself with a talented team of like-minded individuals, together we fulfilled the promise year after year. That gave us credibility. Credibility provided greater influence in moving the business forward. Credibility also provided us flexibility to pursue new business opportunities, money for acquisitions to further the growth of the company and to build innovative software solutions that provided us with greater success. The key is that you have to work continually to fulfill the promise. It’s not an easy task but it’s the only way secure the future for yourself and the team.

Ultimately when you establish credibility, gain influence and flexibility in what it is you do you will find that new opportunities abound. It really doesn’t matter what it is you do in your life, if you have credibility it speaks to the ability to inspire others.

“In government institutions and in teaching, you need to inspire confidence. To achieve credibility, you have to very clearly explain what you are doing and why. The same principles apply to businesses.”

Janet L. Yellen, Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

When you have credibility you gain influence. Your ideas and views have greater meaning and weight, which will help shape the direction of the company that you work.

“Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire team-mates and customers.”

Robin S. Sharma, Author

With credibility you also gain flexibility.

“What is clear is that business leaders must commit to champion change – to be transparent about their goals for change, to align their incentives systems to drive the change, and to make sure their work environments are flexible in a way that allows men and women who choose to work to be able to achieve all of their potential.”

Beth A. Brooke, Global Vice Chair – Public Policy, Ernst & Young

So working to gain and then maintaining credibility should serve you well in whatever endeavor you choose. Credibility is achieved when the actions you’ve taken allow others to believe in you as a leader.

Just sayin’.

 

EBITDA – earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization

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Employees vs. Robots

I was reading an article that appeared in Tuesday’s USAToday with the headline – “Amazon puts 15,000 robots to work on Cyber Monday”. 15,000?!?! The Kiva Systems robots do tasks that historically have been done by some number of Amazons 88,400 employees. Robots picking products that are purchased online by consumers that then need to be shipped to them from Amazon fulfillment centers across the globe cost some number of people jobs. Using Kiva robots obviously provides great value to Amazon shareholders since they don’t require a human resource department to oversee payroll, other benefits such as medical and dental plans, vacation days, sick days, etc.. But this can’t be good for union and hourly workers.

Automation Robots vs People

 

Robots are obviously taking over or facilitating any number of manual jobs that historically have been done by employees. Amazon’s use of robots brings the product(s) ordered online and stored in shelf bins to a packer for shipping. Once the purchased item is delivered to the packer the robot returns the shelf bin back to where it belongs awaiting the next task. These robots have certainly saved Amazon the cost of workers who provided this service. The article says that Amazon spent $ 775 million for the Kiva robots and that, “The robots are part of a complex software and hardware system that simplifies picking and packing at warehouses that contain literally millions of items.” The article doesn’t mention that each robot, and the systems that supports them, cost an average of $ 51,667. Payscale.com estimates that the average Amazon employee salary cost is in a range of $ 50,098 – $ 122,195. After Amazon’s initial investment in the Kiva robots there would be ongoing costs for maintenance, repairs, replacements and of course those whose job it is to manage the 15,000 robots, but Amazon obviously did all the internal analysis and studies to see that the return on investment was well worth the $ 775 million.

The advent of using robots isn’t new, but with robots taking over responsibilities of human pickers at Amazon and the use of robots across countless industries and companies the potential loss of unskilled or low skill jobs could be devastating. Taking place at the same time is the strong push by some city and state governments to increase the minimum wage through legislation. Somehow there seems to be a potential disconnect.

Redwood.com compiled a report titled “The Top 10 Reasons Businesses Demand Enterprise-Level Automation”. Reason #2 in this report is:

“Happy and Productive Employees

Automated tasks keep people—who can get bored or irritated by doing repetitive tasks—free from drudgery. It also liberates them to do more strategic and valuable activities for the company. Automation lies at the core of all of our modern conveniences. Machines are made to do repetitive, boring tasks—without complaining.”

You can see where the use of robots and/or automation that is rapidly taking over or helping employees in their jobs providing cost reductions and greater shareholder value for companies who utilize them, but I’m guessing that most employees would prefer being “bored or irritated” and not “free from drudgery” versus not having a job. Certainly there are countless jobs that won’t be taken over by robots, but is your job completely safe from being replaced by a robot so that you can be freed to do something else? I’m guessing the Amazon employees that were picking products for packing at one time thought so.

If you’re a business owner or in management with responsibility for delivering shareholder value you have to continually be looking for ways to cut costs and increase value just as Amazon has done. There are countless jobs that aren’t going to be replaced by robots, but are there robots that can help you improve the productivity of your employees making their jobs easier and provide greater shareholder value? As companies compete against each other for business at a local, regional, national or international basis; looking for the slightest advantage against industry competitors the answer has to be yes. What are you doing to take any advantage available and ensure that you continue to grow and prosper in your industry?

Just sayin’.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

www.usatoday.com

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/12/01/robots-amazon-kiva-fulfillment-centers-cyber-monday/19725229/

www.kivasystems.com

http://www.kivasystems.com/about-us-the-kiva-approach/

www.amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Locations-Careers/b?ie=UTF8&node=239366011

http://www.amazon.com/Inside-Careers-Homepage/b?node=239367011

www.payscale.com

http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Employer=Amazon.com_Inc/Salary#by_Yearly_Sales

www.wikipedia.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pick_and_pack

www.Redwood.com

“The Top 10 Reasons Businesses Demand Enterprise-Level Automation”

 

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The Future in the Automotive Aftermarket Industry

For me, listening to keynote speaker Tony Aquila, CEO of Solera Holdings, Inc. at Auto Glass Week in Baltimore was most interesting. He led Solera’s purchase of LYNX Services, GTS and GLAXIS from owners Pittsburgh Glass Works LLC and PPG Industries, Inc. earlier this year. Tony’s accomplishments are considerable, especially considering that he grew up sweeping floors working in his uncle’s body shop and he has a 9th grade education. You have to be incredibly impressed by the guy.

The “Strategic Focus” web page for the company states, “Solera is the world’s leading provider of software and services to the automobile insurance claims processing industry.” (Link to corporate history) Solera will certainly be changing the world of auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) with innovative software solutions that will simplify the claims handling process surrounding glass repair and replacement. The organization has the potential to affect the way all consumers and influencers ultimately buy AGRR products and services dramatically. Depending upon the vision and direction Solera heads automotive aftermarket parts and service providers, including the auto glass repair and replacement industry (along with the collision repair industry and parts distribution industry) could be in for some big changes. It’s all about taking out market inefficiencies and reducing costs associated with those inefficiencies.

Just look at the AGRR industry. To ensure that service level expectations of the consumer is ultimately met, any software program would need to have access to the real-time inventory level of any supplier or distributor warehouses in the area, the inventory levels of any AGRR shop or technician in the vicinity vying for repairs or replacements, along with the schedules of all technicians available to properly repair or replace the part.

Imagine when an auto glass replacement is required, if it would be possible for the software program to instantly search for the part determining which supplier(s), distributor(s) or AGRR shop(s) has (have) the part in stock; perhaps ranked by cost for the part while finding the best auto glass replacement technician suited to properly install the part; when and where the consumer wants it installed. With that capability you then have to start asking some questions like:

Once the software program has all of the information required to start processing an auto glass replacement, who or what company is directly buying and paying for the part(s) required?

It could be:

  1. The AGRR shop or technician facilitating the replacement or
  2. Maybe the customer’s insurance company or
  3. If it’s a cash job the consumer could pay.

Which of the three above pays for any part required is important to determine the all-in price to be paid for replacement parts, along with the price paid for required installation supplies and labor.

So which organization determines the pricing level for the various scenarios outlined above?

Who is buying and paying for the part and installation supplies required?

Who is paying for the technician to install the part?

Answers to these and many other questions will give you an idea as to where the industry could be heading. There will be changes coming and margins are probably going to change in the AGRR industry in the near future. And probably not for the better.

What is it you’re doing to be prepared for the future?

Just sayin’.

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Courtesy of TomFishburne.com – Marketoonist.com©

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Vehicle Miles Driven Improving?

You may have seen statistics recently relating to the increase in miles driven in July 2014 versus July 2013. Seemingly great news for any business in the retail automotive repair industry as miles driven is one of the key drivers that affect the industry and any increase is a positive indicator. As shown on the United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration web site[1],

Travel on all roads and streets changed by 1.5% (4.0 billion vehicle miles) for July 2014 as compared with July 2013.”

Region

Total Travel

Percentage Change

North-East

38.3

0.0

South-Atlantic

55.4

2.4

North-Central

61.1

1.3

South-Gulf

53.4

2.2

West

58.6

1.3

o    Estimated Vehicle-Miles of Travel by Region – July 2014 – (in Billions)

o    Change in Traffic as compared to same month last year.

Great news it would seem. The governmental web site further shows that,

Cumulative Travel for 2014 changed by 0.6% (10.1 billion vehicle miles).

That sounds like continued improvement and more great news for the industry, but perhaps not…..

In the Thursday, September 18, 2014 edition of the USAToday™ a small graph was shown in the USA SNAPSHOTS® section on the front page with the header “USA’s driving stalled” (click link). According to Advisor Perspectives, the organization that provided the information shown on the graph, miles driven in the United States:

 

 “Adjusted for population growth, January to June miles driven this year are down 8.5% since 2007 peak”

 

Down 8.5%! That certainly isn’t great news for automotive retailers. You can read the article titled “Vehicle Miles Driven: A Structural Change in Our Driving Behavior“, that was written by Doug Short for Advisor Perspectives that was the source of the information on the declining number in its entirety by following this link (click here). The article takes an in-depth look at how miles driven are being affected by gasoline prices, changes in driving behavior, the effects of an aging population, unemployment trends and changes in the ways we interact with one another due to ever changing improvements in communication technologies.

 

Miles driven, along with weather and the economy are the three key drivers[2] for the automotive retail industry. How have these three key drivers been affecting your business? Based on Mr. Short’s perspective on miles driven, automotive retailers will have to rely on improvements in the economy and favorable weather to offset a real decrease in miles driven to help drive growth. You’re going to need to take greater advantage of your push and pull marketing strategy to attract customers.


If you have a desire to continue to grow your business (and who wouldn’t) into the future; it would seem advisable to work hard on ways to differentiate and separate yourself from your competitors. The decline in the miles driven has certainly had an effect on volumes to date and will unquestionably continue to influence the automotive retail industry going forward. With declining miles driven the opportunities for replacing or repairing damaged auto glass, for collision repairs, for tire replacements, oil changes, etc. will also obviously continue to decline. It’s critical for smaller retailers to find new ways to attract customers just as the large market leaders aggressively pursue those same customers with name brand awareness campaigns. Now is not the time for complacency.

 

Just sayin’.

 

complacent brands

Courtesy of TomFishburne.com


 

 

 

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Help Wanted: Writer Wanted for Social Media Conversation Page on Auto Glass Repair & Replacement

Hashtags

 

An interesting email hit my inbox on Monday from a company representing Service AutoGlass, a part of Safelite Group, Inc. The email came from Fun Online Corporation which is headquartered in New York, New York. Mike Schoenback  (and his partner Ron Luks) sent the email and it started with,

“Hi David,

I came across your contact information through Glassbytes.com.  Our company (Fun Online Corp) is working with Service AutoGlass®, a national provider of wholesale vehicle glass products and installation materials, to launch a social media conversation page in the fall of 2014.”

So the wholesale division of Safelite wants to interact with its customers via social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, along with numerous other social media sites? The email went on to say,

“We are interested in connecting with a person with good writing skills who has technical experience with auto glass repair and replacement and a familiarity with the industry. We are looking to hire such a person on an ongoing (freelance) basis to respond to posts on the social media page and work with us to develop conversation starters. Experience as a blogger is a big plus. This is a paid position.”

I guess I tick a couple of the boxes they’re looking for. I’ve spent my career in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry, I am on some social media sites so I’m familiar with how those work and I blog. Even though it looks like the opportunity is being “outsourced” to Fun Online, the fact that it is a paid position is also great to know. The email ended with,

“I’m writing to see if you may be interested or if you have a colleague who may be interested in this opportunity.  We’re happy to have a phone or email conversation if you’d like more information about this.

Thanks very much!

Mike Schoenbach

Ron Luks”

Their email didn’t mention Safelite, just Service AutoGlass. I replied to let them know that I really appreciated the email letting me know about the opportunity, but I didn’t think I would be an appropriate person for the role they were looking at for a variety of reasons and I guess they didn’t look at some of my blog posts. I replied to Mr. Schoenback explaining that I was pretty sure that Safelite wouldn’t want me to fill the role even if I was interested. That being said I was once a part of Safelite filling a number of positions in the mid to late 1980’s leaving as the regional vice president of New England in late 1989; so I do have some familiarity with the company. I just didn’t think I’d be a good person to help “develop conversation starters” for them at this point in time. I’m sure that I could come up with a few “conversation starters” though. Here are some possibilities:

“If an auto glass replacement somehow slips through the hands of Safelite and you’re lucky enough that the opportunity comes to your company would you consider giving us a call so that we could sell you the part?”

“Here at Service AutoGlass we’re your all-in-one source for products and service, even if Safelite is spending countless millions on television and radio ads and is your biggest competitor. Come on…..give us a call. Won’t you?”

“We know that Pilkington, PGW, Mygrant and other wholesale distributors aren’t in the retail AGRR space installing auto glass in competition with you, but that shouldn’t stop you from giving us a call should it?”

I’m sure that you can come up with a few of your own. I asked a friend in the industry for a social media conversation starter for them and he suggested,

“They say you get what you pay for…. What did you get from us?”

I wished Fun Online success in finding someone to fill the social media role for Safelite…  er’ I meant Service AutoGlass. I found out that they sent the same email to a few other people in the AGRR industry as well. Imagine my disappointment hearing that. Perhaps they contacted you to see if you were interested? If not and you’re interested in the freelance position you can contact Mike and Ron to find out more. The Fun Online web site states:

“At Fun Online Corp. we’re your eyes and ears during business hours, evenings, weekends and holidays. A round-the-clock business infrastructure is expensive and can be a logistical nightmare. We can create a social media team or expand your current team and save you money. You’ll have 100 percent full coverage.”

It seems like a great opportunity.

Just sayin’.

 

 

* Cartoon courtesy of TomFishburne.com/Cartoons

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Rube Goldberg Machines and Business

I was recently sitting in an airport waiting for a flight and for 30 minutes I stood mesmerized watching an amazing sculpture designed by George Rhodes known as a ball machine. This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen one of these ball machine sculptures. The first one of Rhodes designs I saw was in the late 1980’s while walking through a terminal at Boston Logan Airport. I remember almost missing my flight watching and listening to the sculpture. This Rhodes sculpture at another airport attracted young and old alike. The sculpture really doesn’t serve any practical purpose, but is an intriguing piece of kinetic art. It’s hard to pull yourself away from watching all that is going on – a sculpture that often uses a combination of drums, cymbals, gongs and depending on your point of view makes either a virtual cacophony or euphony of sounds.

In a way these sculptures remind me of a Rube Goldberg machine. Wikipedia defines a Rube Goldberg machine as follows:

“A Rube Goldberg machine is a contraption, invention, device or apparatus that is deliberately over-engineered or overdone to perform a very simple task in a very complicated fashion, usually including a chain reaction. The expression is named after American cartoonist and inventor Rube Goldberg (1883–1970).”

An Example:

Rube Goldberg Guinness World Record by Purdue Society of Professional Engineers

________

Rube Goldberg and Business

While watching the steel balls that roll endlessly though the intricate Rhodes sculpture I started thinking about examples of how some businesses work effortlessly and continuously in a similar endless fashion. Businesses that provide the same exacting levels of customer service and delivery of a product (or products) over and over again that are a key to success. Some businesses have developed very simple processes to find success while other companies tend to overcomplicate processes in an attempt to achieve success.

While at the sculpture I was holding a Starbucks coffee and that company certainly comes to mind as a business that invariably delivers both simple and very complicated orders efficiently and effectively. This Seattle based company that got its start almost 40 years ago has today become the largest coffeehouse with over 23,000 locations in 64+ countries. I just order a Venti black coffee when standing in line at Starbucks. I can never tell if the barista is happy or somehow saddened by my straightforward order. A Huffington Post blog titled “The Most Obnoxious Starbucks Drink Orders“ details some of the complicated orders at Starbucks such as a ‘Venti Iced Skinny Hazelnut Macchiato, Sugar-Free Syrup, Extra Shot, Light Ice, No Whip’. Now that order would be a challenge to any barista fulfilling Starbucks “delicious, handcrafted beverages” mantra. It makes me smile when I hear someone standing in line ordering a similar concoction. It really doesn’t matter where in the United States or the world you place your order; Starbucks seems to always deliver the same level of consistent service regardless of the local. The company has obviously spent a great deal of time and effort in perfecting the delivery of consistent levels of service, but it all seems pretty simple to the casual observer ordering coffee. Everyone knows that you’re going to have to wait a bit when ordering one of the “delicious, handcrafted beverages” mentioned earlier versus my Venti black coffee order, but those who order the complicated drinks don’t mind. They know they are going to be rewarded with a delicious drink made to order by a barista that has perfected his or her craft. In plain sight the platform seems pretty simple. Do you think that behind the curtain there resides a Rube Goldberg machine? Doubtful.

Can you think of other businesses which deliver products consistently in a simple straightforward manner? Maybe FedEx, Amazon.com or even MacDonald’s could come to mind. Fortune Magazine lists 50 of the “World’s Most Admired Companies” and the top 5 are:

  1. Apple
  2. Amazon.com
  3. Google
  4. Berkshire Hathaway
  5. Starbucks

I’m sure you’d agree that each of these companies is the polar opposite of a Rube Goldberg.

I’ve worked in a business or two that have taken great steps to simplify business processes through employee training and the use of technology in an effort to reduce back office costs that keep company investments focusing on people and growing the platform. And I’ve worked in a business or two that seems compelled to use a Rube Goldberg machine mentality. I think that those who insist on making simple processes overly complicated could find greater success by streamlining operating procedures, but as long as shareholders are pleased with the return on investment, changes in operating styles aren’t likely to happen. In a highly competitive industry companies that are overcomplicated ultimately could be disadvantaged versus others in the same industry that have found ways to reduce the Rube Goldberg machine mentality.

Do you know of businesses in your industry which operate more like a Rube Goldberg machine (deliberately over-engineered or overdone to perform a very simple task)? I’m sure that you do. Noted management doyen Peter Drucker is quoted as saying:

“Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.”

It has to be frustrating for people who work for companies that use complicated procedures or policies in an industry where other companies have found a simpler way of delivering the same service. I’m sure you can come up with some examples in your industry.

So, what’s it like at the company you’re working? Does your company operate more like an Apple, Amazon.com, Google, Berkshire Hathaway and Starbucks; or does it operate more like a Rube Goldberg? Imagine the potential for those companies that operate using a Rube Goldberg machine mentality that pivot to find a better way to provide the services or products they offer. If you look at your company and think you see an area of the business that might resemble a Rube Goldberg machine, perhaps you should seek ways to make it a little less complicated. Isn’t that what leadership is all about?

Just sayin’.

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