Creatives Are Couragous

So what did you think of this video? If you sat down to eat at a restaurant that featured a “little” dinner entertainment like the Petite Chef, would you go away impressed? Would you tell somebody?

Last week I wrote about Jordan’s Furniture and what an amazing job they do making an impact on their customers. They EARN the traffic and the business because they value a creative approach. Do you? Does it show? I know that I am a broken record on some of this but I want to hit this point hard today because I really believe that this incredible industry that we all work in could be so much more.

Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist, the only problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” Given all of the boxes that organizations put us in expecting us to produce an outcome, I can see how this statement is true. I have been involved in many business meetings over the years that have been billed as brainstorms run by people that really don’t understand what a real brainstorm is. They all start with great intentions, where people are throwing ideas out, getting excited about a new way to sell something or create something, and either the leader of the meeting or someone else inevitably squashes it by pointing out why it couldn’t possibly work. What happens if you let that meeting run wild, force rank the best ideas, and then figure out how to make something work instead of the default of why it won’t?

The award winning Ring is a doorbell. A doorbell that does some really amazing things but at the end of the day it is a doorbell. Luggage didn’t used to have wheels. Beds didn’t used to tell you anything about your sleep. Retail stores didn’t used to have IMAX theaters. I have spent time with bedding producers and retailers that are concerned about their business surviving. They talk about the competition, macro economic conditions, and the complexity of marketing today as reasons for the problems they face and I totally get that. Mostly now being a small business owner in this industry. HOWEVER, all of the great ideas are not gone! How hard are you working to bring creative ideas to the table? How often do you try them? What kind of creative people do you have on your staff and do you allow them to be creative? If you don’t invest the time or in the kind of people that can take you outside of where you are, the result will never be what it could be.

The challenge with this is to proceed with caution. Inspire the creative approach to business but be calculated in your execution. Try in small doses when you can. Fail cheaply when you can. Make sure that everything intersects DIRECTLY with your business objective in a way that can be clearly measured. I have made this mistake myself and its easy to do when you get caught up in the fun of the new idea.

I loved working at Leggett and Platt so when people ask me why I left a great job at the age of 46 when I had two kids, I tell them its because Simon Spinks has created something so incredible in the business model of “growing beds” that I had to be a part of it. I was inspired. What inspires you? Chase after it because that is where the truly great stuff will happen.

creativity

 

The Willy Wonka Of The Furniture Industry

I recently wrote about my upcoming trip to the annual Seena Magowitz event and as expected it was a huge success. Dave Perry does a great write up about it in Furniture Today so check that out. He even gave Kinsley and I some love as he reviewed our performance as the events auctioneers. I am happy to say that we were able to extract $125,000 this year from the very generous attendees so thanks again to everybody that participated.

Instead of golfing this year I went on a private tour of Jordan’s Furniture, hosted by Peter Bolton their COO and Lorie Silva their Director of Bedding Operations or the “Bedding goddess” as some refer to her. Yes I love to golf but I have been in the industry for 25 years and have never been to Jordan’s so I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. Boy am I glad I went.

Here are a few facts for you to consider about this furniture mecca.  It was started way back in 1918 by Samuel Tatelman and in the late 30’s his son Edward joined the business. Edward’s sons Barry and Eliot took over after that that and grew it into what is is today. They have 7 locations and get over 3 million people in their stores annually. They were purchased in 1999 by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. when reported sales were estimated at $250 million so one can only imagine where those numbers are today.

I can sum up my big takeaway from this trip in a single word. VISION. I was talking to Peter about the early years and heard him speak of his father who was an Orthopedic Surgeon and how conversations with his father grew into a VISION where he thought selling a mattress should be about more than the item itself. Instead, linking it to human form and health. Lorie’s VISION of turning the entire mattress category into a place where the consumer could come and learn about the product the right way. Dressing her sales force in white lab coats only AFTER they had earned their stripes learning about sleep and sleep equipment in an 8 week training course.  The VISION of Elliot as he stood on top of a trash heap and spoke of how awesome it was going to be when they transformed that spot into “Beantown” one of their newest locations that gets over 1 million visitors a year. If that’s not enough there are IMAX theater’s, dancing water shows and a Bean Stalk ropes course to entertain the Jordan’s guest as they shop.

If your business delivered a great customer experience, sold quality merchandise at fair prices, and made significant profits for your shareholders, you would be pretty happy with that right? Jordan’s didn’t stop there. The VISION was to create such an incredible place that it has become a tourist destination! This is a place where families from all over Boston have come to shop AND CREATE MEMORIES. If you are having fun, will you be in a state of mind to spend money? Have you ever been to a tourist destination on vacation and hit the shops in town? Did you happily spend some money?

This is the kind of thinking that gets me fired up. They are without a doubt the Willy Wonka of the furniture industry. Not just a place to buy a sofa or a mattress, but a place to come and EXPERIENCE something truly unique. The best part of this for me is the heart that goes into every detail. These guys aren’t building these stores just to sell product. They are building these EXPERIENCES to WOW their customer. To exceed the wildest expectation and earn those big eyes they see on the face of every kid that walks through the front door. When you watch Peter and Lori and the rest of the team at Jordan’s talk about their store, they tell the story with great enthusiasm as if it were the first time they had shown the place off to somebody. That passion and excitement is contagious and the transfer of that to the customer pays big dividends.

Congrats to every Jordan’s employee out there because I know it takes all of you to deliver on the promise of the brand. You guys have accomplished something outrageously good. Well done!

Water Show

Water Show

Ropes Course

Ropes Course

Jordan's Furniture in Reading, MA

Jordan’s Furniture in Reading, MA

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Magowitz Moves To Beantown

On August 27th my wife Bridget and I are getting on a plane and heading to Boston for the 14th annual Seena Magowitz Golf Classic. This is something that we always look forward to because Roger Magowitz and Liz McBeth do an incredible job putting on a first class event, and all in the name of a very worthy cause!

I have been involved with this charity for several years now and it has been so great to see this event grow as it raises money to help build awareness and fund research to put an end to one of the most deadly forms of cancer there is. This year alone over 40,000 people will die from the disease. The good news is, Roger and his team are fighting back by helping to fund research that will allow for early detection, and giving money to support more clinical trials to find medications that are able to fight the disease.

If you have not been to this event you really HAVE TO GO. We are going to a Red Sox game, playing golf, taking a cruise on a lobster boat and even taking a private tour of the legendary Jordan’s Furniture. On top of all of that we are staying at the incredible Boston Harbor Hotel which is the only Forbes Five Star Waterfront hotel.

OOOO La La- a14.5 carat fantasy cut oval amethyst

OOOO La La- a14.5 carat fantasy cut oval amethyst

My good buddy Mark Kinsley and I will be your live auctioneers once again as we attempt to break last years record. It shouldn’t be hard as we have some  really great things to put on the block. How would you like to throw out the first pitch at the Red Sox/KC Royals baseball game? Maybe a luxury box to watch the Arizona Diamondbacks, NY Yankees, NY Mets or the Sacramento Kings play ball? Guys, show your spouse some love and get her a 14.5 carat diamond and amethyst pendant, or a 5.4 carat diamond tennis bracelet. Attention all golfers, you need to spend more time on the course so what better way to do that than in your own golf cart sponsored by E-Z Go. (I bought one of these at the last Magowitz event and it is awesome, just ask my kids.) If you want to hear more about the event listen to the Sleep Geek Podcast with Dos Marcos where we talk about Magowitz and the recent Mattress Firm/Steinhoff deal among other things.  And for all of you wise guys that listen to this podcast, I know that 7,500 + 3,500= 11,000 and that Mark Spitz actually ended up with 9 gold medals but he won 7 at the 1972 Summer Olympics so cut me some slack!

I am fired up for Boston because I will get to see some great industry friends, give Dr. Dan Von Hoff a big hug for all that he does at Tgen for people fighting this horrible disease,  and spend time with my incredible wife in one of the coolest cities in the United States. There is no doubt that this event is one of the very best in our industry so DO NOT MISS OUT!

Inside the Mattress Firm and Steinhoff Deal

In the last few weeks Mattress Firm has been beaten up and left for dead by some stock analyst out there. Some claiming that Mattress Firm has nowhere to go but down, and that the value of the company was well below the current stock price which was about $30 at the time. For people with no long term view that might be true, but not for Markus Jooste and the Steinhoff Company.

Markus Jooste CEO Steinhoff International Holdings

Markus Jooste, CEO Steinhoff International

 

I met Markus a few years ago when I was working at Leggett and Platt and it didn’t take long for me to realize that he was a master deal maker with great integrity  and is a first rate business man. Not to blow too much smoke here but if you ever have the chance to be around Markus I think you will understand what I am talking about. In my opinion he is one of the few visionaries left in the mattress/furniture industry. Markus sees what he wants and he goes after it aggressively which is exactly what he has done in this case. The question is, did he make a good deal?

People have been calling me non-stop since the announcement on Sunday to discuss the big news of the Mattress Firm buyout at 115% of their stock price. If you look at Mattress Firm today in their current state and then try to reconcile the price Steinhoff paid, you might have some trouble justifying the number. If your Markus, you see things not as they are but instead, how they could be. Once you do that and consider their past success, it becomes more clear.

Steinhoff has proven over and over that it understands how to run retail AND supply their own companies with goods that they make. These guys have several retail formats from mattress stores, to furniture stores to mass discount retail. To be successful in all formats and grow to over 10,000 retail outlets, it takes more than luck. They get it.

mattress firm

I have heard Markus talk about how good his own management team is and how important it is to have a solid management team in place when he looks at companies to buy. Knowing the Mattress Firm leadership, it is no surprise that the two companies mesh perfectly when it comes to culture. So when you pay that kind of premium to buy a company I think it says a lot about Steinhoff’s opinion of what the Mattress Firm management team can do and how far they can take the business under the right ownership structure. (On that note, I don’t know of another company that could max out the upside to the MFRM purchase like Steinhoff can and will.) The good news is, they are not going to be the only ones to benefit from this deal.

As for the industry, I think it is a HUGE win for us as well. We have a new player in the United States market that has a big passion for BUILDING companies, not for buying them and bleeding them out. They understand what it means to be successful and to deliver a great product and experience to the consumer. If our largest mattress retailer is now owned by a company with a long term view, I would make an argument that this rising tide could lift all boats.

I have had a chance to meet several people in the Steinhoff organization so if you are reading this I say congratulations! Steinhoff bought the right retailer and you are now part of one of the most dynamic mattress markets on the planet. You guys have built a world class organization and now represent the worlds largest mattress distribution organization. Well done; we are very glad to have you.

As for the Mattress Firm… most of you don’t know Markus or his team yet but trust me when I say, you should be very glad that you are now in the Steinhoff family of companies. You have built the first coast to coast mattress retailer in the United States and have been highly criticized over the last 3 months by some on the sidelines. People have shorted your stock in a significant way, betting against you and your ability to produce a result. Well, consider this your 3 point shot at half court to win the game. Many of us are very happy for what this means to your organization and your ability to focus on what is important; selling beds. Congratulations to you all.

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The Perfect Ending

Today I am writing to tell you about a CRAZY story and to celebrate one of my hero’s. If you have been reading this blog for very long you have probably heard me talk about my 14 year old daughter Gabby and her softball team. She has been a part of the Battitudes family for the last 4 years and I say family, because that is exactly what it is.

Every year we play we end up at some big tournament to end the season. This year we played at a World Series in Iowa for the 13 U division and finished in the top 15 so for us, that was a pretty disappointing result.  The final tournament this year was in Arkansas at the 14 and under National Championship. There were about 40 teams from several states so we knew we had our work cut out for us; especially playing against older girls.

So….we lose our first game to a team we should have beat so we were on some shaky ground right at the beginning. Every game right before they take the field I go out and say a few words to the girls in a huddle and we pray together. After that loss I started telling them that the team that plays mentally tough would win it all. Boy was I right. After that first game we got busy and won every game, making it to the championship on Sunday. Our girls were ready and there was absolutely no way they were going to lose. Do you ever just have that feeling? They did and it showed.

Final game, 4th inning we are up 3-1 and we are batting. We have bases loaded with no outs and their pitcher throws an illegal pitch which walks in another run for us making it 4-1. The other teams head coach storms on to the field, confronts the home plate umpire and and gets ejected from the game. He gets so mad after that he starts to scream at the official standing inches from his face, chasing him around the diamond. (Keep in mind that this coach stands about 6’5″ so he is an imposing figure.) He finally gives up, walks off the field and tells his girls to get in the dugout, that they are all going home. WHAT!?!?!?

So this coach robs these girls of their chance to compete for the championship. Like us, they have worked all year to maybe get lucky enough to make it to that moment and create a memory that will last a life time. Their coach was not mentally tough enough and cost them that dream.

We were outraged by this and protested through the fence but it didn’t matter as we realized we weren’t going to change anything. So we watched those girls as they packed up their gear while big tears streamed down their faces. A few thoughts for parents with kids playing competitive ball of any kind:

  • It’s a game so RELAX. As a parent or coach you have to hold it together because your kid is watching you at all times and everything matters.
  • Unless you are the coach keep quiet unless it is to tell them how great they are. If you are the coach, there is no need to scream at your player unless they are not making the effort in which case you can dial up the volume a little.
  •  Being mentally tough isn’t just for the players, it applies to coaches and parents as well. If we all stay cool and support the kids when things get bumpy, they will be much better for it.
  • Apply these bullets to your business in some way. It works there as well.

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After four years and over 400 games the Battitudes took home a National Championship title. To say I am proud of Gabby and her team mates would be an understatement. They worked their butts off and earned what they got. The team is at that point where they are entering high school so this could be their last season together. What a way to finish.

No matter what you are working on, how discouraged you might get along the way, or how many years you go home from the tournament without a medal, stay after it. Work harder, stay mentally tough, and your business will get where you want it to be. A perfect lesson given to me by my 14 year old, I hope it resonates with you as well.

PS. The coach from the other team sent us a nice note apologizing for his actions so I hope that he is able to reconcile that moment. There is learning there for him and that team so as bad as it was, I know some good can come from it.

2016 USSSA National Champions-MVP BATTITUDES

2016 USSSA National Champions-MVP BATTITUDES-My hero, top row last one on the right.