Monday, December 11, 2017

Nobody (Tradecraft)

Nobody will run my business as well as me.

This is a true statement for every business owner, but how relevant is it? Are you willing to spend your life behind the counter to provide the best experience possible when a very good experience is attainable by someone else?

I think it comes down to two possibilities. You either want to work in the business, on the front lines, on a day to day basis, or you don't know how to get good results from other people. The first option is a perfectly valid choice. I know several veteran retailers who I greatly respect who want to be on the front lines daily. I personally spent nine years doing this before I just had to step away. If I had nobody capable to take my place, my best option would have been to close my business.

The other choice, that you're personally unable to get good results from other people, can be fixed. It requires trust. It requires allowing people to make mistakes in your temple of perfection. People will let you down. They will not only fail at their job, but they will betray you. You will inevitably befriend them and you'll get a knife in the back or best case scenario, they'll walk away one day.

This is not cynicism, this is what it means to be an employer in a small business. You have to tolerate the inevitable back stab and you have to train your people for their next job as you train them for their current job. You have to be a mentor, because the other option is being a bad employer.

As I write in my upcoming book, I feel like The Doctor from Doctor Who, with a steady stream of young companions to remind me of my humanity, which after 900 years (or 13 years in retail), is a receding memory. The companion eventually leaves, to be replaced by another young companion, while I grow older and more distant. Sometimes the companion has the better solution or reminds the wise doctor of his original intent and purpose. It's good to have a young companion, even if they break your heart when they leave.

Speaking of growing older and older, how you run your business, every process and procedure, is determined by whether you believe other people can run it as well as you. If it's all about you, there's little work to be done here. When you're gone, things just don't get done. But you're never gone. How many stores can only buy Magic singles when the owner is around? My managers can all buy singles. I'm not allowed.

If you want to retire one day or start a second business or even a second store, (or you know, die) you have to build your business with the intention others will run it. This is another area where not everyone is willing or able to do that work. There is something lost in the pudding when a gourmet chef franchises his restaurant. But how important is it that the pudding be perfect? Can it be pretty good? Is it possible that if you work on your recipe for other to follow and hire the best people, the pudding might actually be better? I mean, have you had coleslaw from Kentucky Fried Chicken? That stuff is awesome. If Chef Gary has lost the spark to make the pudding, my guess is the next chef might actually do it better than him.

My point is if you want to declare nobody will run my business better than me, know that you're either making a perfectly valid personal choice to do it all yourself, or you need to admit you don't know any other way, a position of ignorance that can be remedied. You're not all that important. None of us are. Your business will never be perfect.

The problem with the low barrier to entry with game stores is we fetishise a well run operation as something more than a business. Good stores are not magical, they just have good policies and procedures implemented by skilled owners. When we reject the game store fetish and accept this technical explanation, we can proceed to build more of them.

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