Effective Business Management is about balance


I was asked yesterday to give some thought to exactly what it takes to run a successful retail operation. Any retail operation, even a candy store at the main gates of the largest public school in the state, takes a special mix of skills, but I have to think that running a retail store in the dive industry is a special case.
One disadvantage for me is that I have owned a share of a retail store, but never worked in one, so my list is probably going to be short a skill or two. But after less than two minutes, I had come up with a list of close to 20 hats that the average dive retailer may be asked to wear from day-to-day! See how it compares to yours.
·                     Product Buyer
·                     Merchandiser
·                     Human Resources Professional + Baby-sitter
·                     Marketing Guru
·                     Salesperson
·                     Customer Relations Manager
·                     Bookkeeper
·                     Cleaner and Coffee Boy/Girl
·                     Motivational Speaker
·                     Community Advocate
·                     Underwater Photographer
·                     Travel Advisor
·                     Equipment Specialist and Service Technician
·                     Educator and Mentor
·                     General Contractor
·                     Welder and Metal Fabricator
·                     Mechanic
·                     Website Designer and IT manager
·                     Father Confessor
Now the majority of those are self-explanatory; and some less so. But for the record, here’s my take on each of them.


hatsClean.jpgProduct Buyer / Merchandiser


Making the right choices about what gear to sell, has to be right up there with how to display it and how much of it to have sitting around gathering dust out in the stock room; so savvy buyer and display artist is right up there as hats one and two.


Human Resources Professional + Baby-sitter


Opening a shop and keeping it open to suit customers needs, translates into hiring staff in most cases, hence the HR hat. The mention of baby-sitting may simply be a product of my past and experience, and your mileage may vary so we can take that as an optional extra under consideration. At very least, hiring staff, training staff, motivating staff, retaining staff can eat a serious hole into a work week. At worst it can be a bona fide full-time ticket to despair. Certainly it deserves a place on the list.


Marketing Guru / Salesperson


Marketing and Sales are probably two listings that would get the greatest buy-in from anyone in retail. The process of building a marketing plan and the art of closing a sale, are essential to remaining in business… any business! In truth, many would argue that marketing includes sales, but I vote for listing them individually.


Customer Relations Manager


According to most of the textbooks, marketing also includes customer relations since one of the five P’s of marketing is People. Most business people subscribe to the adage that it is easier and more cost effective to keep an old customer than find a new one, and retention is mostly about managing the personal relationship we have with our customers, and since this skill is key to building a loyal following and growing a business, it deserves its own listing.


Well, it’s late April as I write this and the after-effects of the panic to get tax returns in on deadline is still fresh. With all that in mind, bookkeeping and its attendant filing, paper work, basic knowledge of federal tax law, state or provincial tax regulations and local fees and licensing , is a strong enough incentive to add it to the list.



Cleaner and Coffee Boy/Girl


Small to medium-sized business: cleaner (decorator) provider of coffee, hot tea, doughnuts and other refreshments… yep, sounds about right. Even the divisional head of IBM Europe used to arrive with a couple of boxes of muffins for “the team” most Friday mornings. Perhaps a trivial touch but a little boost for morale which can never be a bad thing, so this ‘skill’ is absolutely on the list.


Motivational Speaker / Community Advocate


Including Motivational Speaker and Community Advocate may be a bit of a stretch but I put them in the listing because both are important aspects of growing a business in any sized town or city. Both offer great opportunities to recruit new customers and to increase community awareness of diving; the adventure sport and tech diving represents, as well as the commitment to serve that is part of Public Safety Diving. Presentation made to service clubs, social groups, schools and colleges and the like are hugely effective marketing tools. Because of this, they are on the list.


Underwater Photographer / Travel Advisor


One of the real joys of diving is the visual impact of what is down there under the waves. I’ve read poems about coral reefs and read stories about marine wildlife, wreck diving, exploring caves and lots of other underwater activities, but they all pale beside the photograph that’s on the wall behind my computer. (It’s a picture of a diving flying a scooter over the second breakdown at Jackson Blue Springs.) Photography sells diving.
And while local diving were you are is probably stellar, travel to prime dive destinations, is part and parcel of closing the sale for many dive ops. Actually, the travel advisor hat should really be two; one for being an out-bound operator (sending groups to remote destinations); and one for acting as an in-bound operator welcoming groups to your area. So one hat but it has to be big enough to cover a lot of territory.

Equipment Specialist and Service Technician

Since diving is an equipment-intensive pastime, the next item on the list is a given. Equipment set-up and maintenance is, or should be, a big item on the year-end revenue statement for a successful dive store, and so we have one more hat to wear.


Educator and Mentor

Does your store offer diver education? Of course you do. Formal education and less formal mentoring are part and parcel of being a member of SDI, TDI and ERDI so now issues with this list item.



General Contractor / Welder and Metal Fabricator / Mechanic


I added general contractor because when I owned a share of a retail store, I spent countless hours building stuff and then repairing it. This ran the gamut from replacing slate roof tiles to insulating a crawl space, building a display case, plumbing in a shower and washtub, and converting a Harry Potter sized broom cupboard into an oxygen clean workroom.
I threw in welder and metal worker just in case there was a boat involved in the operations. Same goes for mechanic. Strike these two off the list if they do not apply, but leave them in if there is a charter boat in your future.


Website Designer and IT manager


Probably most of you do some degree of your business over the Internet. Internal networks, public websites, commercial secure servers and generally being wired have all become woven into the fabric of doing business in the 21st Century, so much so that I included website designer and IT manager in the list.

Father Confessor.

I mentioned earlier I’ve never working over the counter in a retail business, but my grandfather owned and ran a couple of pubs and one of many “life lessons” he passed on was about having a willingness to listen to customers and staff when they had to get something off their chest. Never sure why the service industries seem to extend to being asked to comment on everything from finding a suitable university for Junior, to tips on training a new puppy not to pee in the house; but it happens apparently. In a recent study in small businesses operating in the Euro Zone by the Chartered Management Institute, an average of close to an hour of management time each day is spent dealing with personnel issues that fall way outside the purview of business. Add one more hat.

I suspect that if we took apart the required skill set for running almost any business, the listing would be as long as the one above. There is no secret to being successful in business, it takes adaptability and a willingness to roll up your sleeves and try something new. However, there are a couple of things that business people have to face up to if they want their business to truly grow.
Firstly, and probably most importantly, as the business owner, you cannot hope to be good at every skill. You have to balance your core strengths with what your business needs and leave the rest to someone else.
This is one of the most difficult truths for business owners to accept. Getting a small business off the ground often requires its owner to be a jack of all trades. New business owners have to wear a lot of hats and have to present a convincing picture with every one of them on their head. But the really smart entrepreneurs learn to delegate as many tasks as possible as soon as possible, and then stand back and not get in the way.
Perhaps the primary failure point of growing any business is the owner’s inability to hand responsibility AND authority to his managers. Staff who thrive on responsibility (and do not shirk from accountability) are a company’s most valuable asset. Owners who decide which hats they like to wear and “look best wearing,” and who can then delegate responsibility and authority for all the others to others, grow themselves and their business.
But, the best way to mess up this scenario is to miss the second half of the equation; Authority. Giving staff the responsibility to undertake a task but leaving out the part about authority, defeats the object.
Not giving authority is the same as saying “I don’t trust you with this hat… you can wear it but it is mine when I want it back.”  This message is loud and clear to your staff, and to your customers too. Once they understand that you don’t trust your staff, and they will find that out, they will not trust them either.
Most small business owners are skeptical about giving authority. They know there will be mistakes, outright failures, and retrenching periods. The seed change is letting these events pass and writing them off as part of the process of moving the company forward.
The second point is that as the person managing the business from the highest seat in the house – president, CEO, Chairman, call it what you will – you do not need to be an expert in anything; you simply need to recognize one when you see one.
But human nature being what it is we all want to know which skill is the most important for a senior manager / business owner and which hat is the most prestigious. When the head of a large industrial manufacturer was asked to name his most important job, he did not hesitate for a second in answering: “I only have one job, the ability to listen and actually hear what was being told to me. Everything else I leave to the team I work with.”
Now that is a fine looking hat!


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