Homeless and Happy

I have been working with Watered Gardens here in Joplin for the past several years. Watered Gardens is a homeless shelter that provides a roof and food for people in need, which is not all that uncommon in most communities, but how these guys do it is. When people come to Watered Gardens they meet with one of the staff so that the staff can get to know each person and understand what it is they need help with. The theory here is feeding their belly is one thing. Feeding their soul is a lasting thing. Another difference is that you don’t get a hand out there, you get a hand up which means you work for anything that is given to you. (See my “PS” comment at the end of this blog on why that is sooooooo important!)

 Over a year ago, James Whitford who founded Watered Gardens with his amazing wife Marsha, asked me if I would consider being a mentor to one of the guys staying at the shelter. I reluctantly said that I would, because I had absolutely no idea what to do as a mentor. I met Charles Bowers a week later and we have been friends ever since. We usually just have lunch or breakfast and talk about life.

Every time I see Charles he has a HUGE smile on his face. Here is a guy that is living in a shelter with no job outside of all of the great work he does on behalf of Watered Gardens, and he is one of the happiest guys I know. Why? Because of his faith in God and the realization that his needs are simple, and that as long as he is connected to his faith, everything else will work out. He is grateful for his life every single day.

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Meet Charles. One of my mentors.

I was the emcee for the Watered Gardens fundraising event a few weeks ago where we had over 200 people in attendance. My wife and I were sitting with some friends, Lane and Abby Clevenger who just returned from a trip to Haiti doing some missionary work with their entire family. After the event we all went to dinner and they filled us in on how that trip went. They talked about how many of the people in Haiti were very happy despite not having much of anything material. Again, the reason was simple, these people were happy because they were so grateful for what they did have in their life.

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The Incredible Clevenger Famiy

My point today is to share these stories so that it might inspire you to hit the pause button as you read this. Take a moment to reflect on what you have, and be grateful. If there is some negative stuff going on, bring that to someone and begin to fix it. Just think about it. These people don’t own a home, car, or a closet full of clothes, but they have just about everything they want and need to be happy. What would you give to be that happy? You can be if you want to be.

When I am with Charles, I am pretty sure that I am the one that benefits the most from our time together. When I leave him I am always feeling lifted up and more grateful for the simple and important things in my life. He inspires me in many ways. Not just for what he has overcome, but also for what he is doing with the gifts he was given.

Do you get inspired in a similar way? What keeps you grounded and grateful? Share it with me in the comments section.

From my family to yours, I hope that you all have a terrific holiday and a very happy and grateful Thanksgiving!

PS…

The approach Watered Gardens takes to help people when they help themselves is important. Giving people stuff is the worst possible thing you can do IF they are able to help themselves. Making people dependent on you is NOT compassion and I have seen it first hand working at this shelter. This is not a political comment, just a little taste of reality after working with the people at Watered Gardens over the years. If you don’t believe me, go serve breakfast at your local shelter and see it for yourself first hand.

Something I came across from Robert Lupton’s Toxic Charity talks about “The Five Steps to Dependency”.

First you give somebody something and they are (1) appreciative. You do it again and there begins to be some (2) anticipation for it the next time. Then it grows into an (3) expectation that you continue to do it for them. After that, people get to where they are feeling (4) entitled to what you have been gracious enough to share with them. Finally and sadly, they become (5) dependent. This isn’t good for anyone. Especially the person in need!

Fair Play

Imagine for a minute that you are a retailer and you own 10 sleep shops in your home state. A new guy moves down the road from you and opens a store carrying products that you carry, but these guys are selling them at prices below what you can even buy them for. To compete you start to slash your own prices, and sell more services to compensate for lost revenue, but in the end you have to close your store because you can’t compete anymore. Is that fair? What if you found out that the guy that ran you out of business was ILLEGALLY dumping products below your cost because the Chinese government was propping him up with subsidies? Would that get your blood pressure up a little?

That is pretty much what is going  on with Leggett and Platt as reported by USA Today. Not to be too much of a homer here, but I have to support L&P on this. When I first started working at Leggett and Platt, I watched as we made very tough decisions to shut down factories because of the Chinese imports that were being sold below market prices. That means that we had to let go of thousands of Leggett partners because of illegal trade. I would imagine that many went on unemployment and some families probably lost their homes as a result of people breaking the law.

 Fair Play

I don’t care what political party you are with or even if you like Leggett and Platt, just set all of that aside for a minute. If we don’t protect the American way of life from foreign countries that mean to do us harm, then we are the fools. We all like to bring prices down and offer better and cheaper solutions to the consumer, but at what price?

I hope that nobody in this industry has to face this kind of unfair and illegal competition that threatens your business. And if you do, I hope that the industry supports you doing what you have to do to protect what you have built and the people that helped you build it.

So what do you think, is Leggett and Platt handling this the right way? Share you thoughts in the comments section.

Blind Faith

When I was first approached about leaving Leggett and Platt my initial reaction to that conversation was intrigue, followed by skepticism, followed by excitement. Like any big decision we make we have to consider what is on the table and then we analyze it and ultimately make a decision. In my case I reached out to my family to discuss it (most of them have worked in the mattress industry so that helped), and then I made the call after careful consideration of the risk and reward connected to that kind of move in my life. But on some level it is like running off of a plane with your parachute on yelling GERONIMO.  You can calculate all you want but at the end of the day you just have to BELIEVE it is the right thing.

 Blind Faith

 In the book Blink  by Malcolm Gladwell he talks about how we make decisions using our instincts and trusting that inner voice. There is no doubt in my case, that is exactly how I made my ultimate decision to start something new in my life. Yes I gave heavy consideration to many things as I debated leaving a perfectly good job, in a safe environment, with a very conservative company that would provide a lot of security for my family and me in the years to come. What I left for is totally opposite of that but I knew down deep that it was the right thing to do.

Sometimes you have to allow that instinct to win out over logic. Sometimes you have to trust yourself even when facing uncertainty. Sometimes you just have to have a blind faith that you are equipped to face whatever life throws at you. If you are waiting for someone to give you some assurance that it is all going to be okay, you are going to miss out on that adventure that could take you to exciting new places.

There is a real good chance that I could fail in what is next for me but my heart is telling me to charge ahead with conviction. I know that we are going to face some challenges along the way, but on this issue, I have enough passion for what I am doing to fuel the fire to get me to where I am going. I am blessed with that incredible feeling that there is nothing that can keep us from winning.  So as Roy Williams says in his Monday Morning Memo, get your hopes up or nothing will every happen. “Not a bloody thing.”

Is passion driving you today? Have you ever had that blind faith that helped you break down walls and propel you into something incredible?

 

 

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Why Do Leaders Crush Followers?

My 10-year-old son, Nick, had a big class presentation last week where he was to get up and deliver a weather report using the map on his classroom wall. The poor kid’s a lot like his father, so he wanted to go big and make an impact, not just deliver a report. He dressed up in a suit, rehearsed his lines, and set off to earn that A.

 When he came home frustrated after the presentation, I assumed he’d forgotten his lines, or something like that. But it wasn’t that at all. Nick’s frustration sprang from that fact that a few of his classmates said that when they gave their presentations later on in the week, they were also going to wear a suit and copy a few other elements from his presentation.

I explained to Nick that having people copy what you do is great because, as they say, “imitation is the best form of flattery.” He wasn’t feeling it, but I further explained a few reasons that leading—not following—is the way to go, and when people follow you that is a good thing. When you lead instead of follow:

  1.  You establish yourself as an authority, which builds significant value for you on many levels.
  2. Your ideas are validated by your competition.
  3. You are the first to make an impact in the market, which delivers the “first to market advantage” that can give you an incredible edge on market share and profits.
  4. You are not troubled by trying to figure out how to copy the leader and not make it look like you ARE copying the leader.

 Why Do Leaders Crush Followers?

I was watching a commercial the other day and Gillette is now offering a subscription model for their razor blades to combat what Dollar Shave Club is doing to disrupt that industry. A small startup, Dollar Shave Club was a leader, and figured out a way to completely change the way consumers purchased razor blades. Now others are following suit, but not before DSC has taken some serious market share in the almost $13 billion dollar industry dominated by Proctor and Gamble. This is a great example of a startup schooling the industry big boys with creative ideas that made an impact. And they did it first.

Do you have the creative muscle in your organization to generate ideas that can lead your competitors in the mattress industry? I understand that it’s much easier to follow. There is less risk, and you save yourself some embarrassment should you fail. At the end of the day, however, if you let others lead, you’ll never realize the profits that are possible if you’re the one out front. I have heard some say that we are an industry of followers and so I gave that some thought. Pillow tops, one-sided beds, gel memory foam, hybrids, moving away from flexible foundations, and now temperature regulation, adjustable comfort solutions, and the integration of technology just to name a few. These are all areas where somebody has launched an idea, it was received well by the market, and in a few of these cases EVERYBODY followed suit. I don’t want to criticize our industry too hard because this happens all of the time in other industries as well, but it might be more frequent among the mattress faithful. Did Simmons have an early advantage being first to market on single sided? How about Tempur-Pedic or Select Comfort on memory foam and air?

Nick has this figured out now, and he’s very happy that his friends are following in his footsteps on this class project. The great thing about him—as with many of the leaders in this industry—is that he didn’t wait around for others to innovate. He’s already trying to figure out how to lead on his next project.

How about your company? Are you leading the way, or staring at the butt of the guy who’s always in front of you?

Simple Sells

When is the last time you heard someone say, “this is way to easy we need to make it more complicated.” Okay, outside of a conversation with an attorney, when is that last time you heard that? (My apologies to the legal profession, but I could not help it.)

That said, it irritates me to no end when I buy something and it’s difficult to assemble. Or when the second paragraph of directions on my son’s fourth-grade math page doesn’t make sense. So what’s wrong here? Simply put, some people just make things way too complicated!

We’re all familiar with the acronym KISS, or “keep it simple stupid.” Why can’t we apply that to the mattress industry? Pillow top, ultra cushion pillow top, euro top, foam density, ILDs, soft, firm, ultra plush, ultra firm, memory foam, visco foam, gel foam, gel bits, gel swirl, diamond particles … and the list goes on.

 Simple Sells

For consumers just turning their attentions to the mattress industry, there’s a lot to take in. The terms we use can confuse people, but how about the actual shopping experience? The consumer can’t really cross-shop beds very well and on top of that, we make them look so dang similar on the selling floor, it’s almost impossible to to compare and contrast their favorite beds.

Why should we try to simplify what we do? How about big profits?! I hate to do this, but I am going to make yet another comparison to Apple, as if everybody else out there doesn’t do this on a daily basis.) I just bought a new MacBook Air from Apple—and it didn’t even come with directions. Did your iPhone come with directions? These are some of the most complicated devices you can buy and they have made them so easy to use that you just have to turn them on to get started. Hmm. If we simplified the mattress industry, would it help create more interest from consumers or possibly make the buying experience better? Ask the guys at Casper or Tuft and Needle, and see what they tell you.

I know there are several reasons those guys are doing well, but you can’t discount the impact that simplifying the business has on driving results. Think about it: There is no magic in the products they are selling. I know many people in this business that could build the same products with no problem, but the approach to the consumer is what makes the big difference, and telling their story in a simple and compelling way is paying big dividends.

I’ve been around long enough to understand the need to have different ticks and names, so consumers have a more difficult time cross-shopping products. But at what point do the consumer frustration and cries for help trump our desire to maintain that healthy margin the way that we are used to doing it? When a company like Tuft and Needle comes along and makes things easier, the consumer reacts favorably and shifts their business to the “new way” of buying a bed. I’m not saying we’re going to change who we are because of a few Internet startup companies. But they sure have created their share of buzz and have a lot of people questioning their own business models.

All I’m saying here is that simplicity sells. We all like it when the ready-to-assemble furniture actually takes only three minutes to build, and the directions are easy to understand. How about the ease of using Uber when you are traveling and looking for a ride to the hotel? Simple equals easy, and easy equals happy, so let’s make our consumers happy. What do you say?!

Is this industry simple enough for you? How would you make it easier to navigate?

Many thanks to Beau Fraser at The Gate advertising agency for inspiring this blog by starting a great discussion thread in Linkedin.

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