Was I working on the family business or in the family business? I mulled over this question many times since I sold the business in 2019. If I’m honest, I worked in the business far more than on the business and was always involved in or around the shop floor for most of the forty years, interacting with Customers, Staff, and Suppliers.
This interaction is so important in many ways. The staff see you rolling up your sleeves and helping them out. Customers love to talk or be seen talking to the boss, and I loved hearing and listening to the customer`s needs and challenges. By engaging with suppliers face to face, I was learning about the new trends, new products and the latest technical news. However, at times it was utter mayhem, with no structure, and I ended up being pulled in so many directions, leading generally to unorganised chaos.
Most days I’d end up gulping down my lunch at 4pm, and then trying to catch up on emails and office work etc, for the rest of the day. Not having much experience working elsewhere, this all felt ‘normal’ and what running a family business is all about. Then came a stage when I thought I can’t keep going on like this or I’ll completely burn out and I’ll be no good to anyone. It was at this stage I started to work on the business. I had no great ‘lightbulb’ moment, as it just seemed to make sense to try and bring some calm and structure to the madness. The first thing I did was to stop jumping to everyone’s’ call. I learned to stay in the back office for periods of the day, even if it was quite busy on the floor.
Some customers used to ask for me, mostly by habit, and I learned to tell the staff member to tell them I’m tied up or will be out in approx.15 mins. In the meantime, the staff member was able to help them, and there wasn’t really a need for me to leave the office and go out on the floor.
At first it was really difficult to do, as I loved the shop floor, but then it became the norm. The customers got to know more of the team, and the staff got used to the idea of me not being available to them all the time. This gave me time to breathe and time to think about the business and start planning for the next phase of the business plan.
By being able to plan, the business began to run more smoothly. I found I had more time to negotiate with suppliers, more time to review and set up promotions, to look at our social media and to engage with the team in the office as against trying to talk to them from the shop floor. I was able to ask myself many questions such as:
These types of questions are all about working on the business and were crucial to the future successes and bottom-line profits of my family business. Having time to think and plan helped me to steer the business in the direction we wanted to bring it.
Looking back, I can honestly say I was running the business far too tight, and by that I mean keeping staff numbers to the absolute minimum, just in case there was a sudden downturn in business. We had the finances to ride out most downturns over the past 20 years, so there was no need to have been so conservative. An extra person or two would have given us more opportunities to grow the business further or expand the business wider. We would have had the luxury to send our team members away on training courses, giving them valuable and confidence boosting tools to help them excel in their daily lives.
In summary, while I believe it’s very important to work in the business in order to understand it, particularly if your ethos is great customer service and superior product knowledge, it’s just as important to work on the business and keep ahead of the game.
Kevin is contactable at email@example.com / 086 8181473.
This Business Support article featured in the September/October 2021 issue of The Hardware Journal.