Batavia Chamber of Commerce Blog
Working with 285 businesses of varying sizes over the past year has given me a new perspective on the successes, failures, obstacles, and blessings of business ownership. I have seen the entrepreneur experience success for the first time, and the seasoned veteran lose that big client. Here are some of the hidden pitfalls of owning your own business:
· The Whole Package
- All of your friends tell you that you have the best spaghetti sauce and that you should open your own restaurant. Hold the meatball! Though the myth of 9 out of 10 restaurants fail in the first year has been busted, the truth is still scary at about 60% failure. Think about finding a store front, staffing, finances, state regulations, contracts…and the list goes on and on.
- Okay, so you have a great idea for a business and you know yours is going to be the best. Chances are, you are a control freak, and that’s okay. But, you need to let other people do some of the work. If you cannot afford to hire staff, you can’t afford to own a business. Virtual staffing is an affordable option and they can do some of the paperwork for you. They can even do marketing for you. Identify your weaknesses and find skilled people, or services, to help you. Otherwise, your passion for your business will begin to fade.
- You need a roadmap for your success. That roadmap starts with a strong foundation for the road. All of this is going to sound boring, but that road is paved with policies and procedures, including a mission and vision statement, the “Must haves” and the “Can’t haves”. From how often you have to report your sales to the state, to if your employee can have a beard; these are things you need to write down. This will help you be proactive instead of reactive, essential for success.
· Identify Your Sweet Spot
- Who is your ideal customer? Find them and target them. Believe it or not, some people are never going to buy your product. Why spend the money marketing to them? Stay focused.
· Be the Expert
- Create an online brand that portrays your excellence. You want people to come to you because they heard you are “the guy”. Start by networking and getting your face out in the public eye. Tell stories about things you have done, and people you have helped with your product or service. Create a regular blog or, or at least use social media to share industry info. People buy from people. And if you are the expert, referrals will be your best friend.
Friends don’t let friends make bad business decisions. At the Chamber, we have lots of friends that can help you be successful. Start off with a membership in your local Chamber of Commerce. Chambers help you on your journey through educational seminars, peer relationship development, and creating an online presence. Then work with your local SBDC (Small Business Development Center). They offer free advice and help walk you through the process from starting a business to business growth and development. SCORE (non-profit organization) provides mentors that are experts in your field that have been there, done that.
As always, shop local and shop often.
Is Blue the new White?
There are several factors that impact success of a business; quality of product, quality of service, business plan, growth strategy, and the list goes on and on. One element that seems to impact businesses the most, no matter the size of the organization, is employee recruitment and retention.
I met this week with the Distribution Manager at one of the large warehouses along Raddant Road. We took a tour of the facility and noted a long wall that is dedicated to goals and accomplishments of their staff. Now, when you consider that every square inch of that 300,000 square foot facility is accounted for and optimized, that is a huge investment. They continually try out employee recognition programs, bonuses for productivity, even posting pictures of their star employees. All of this investment is an effort to encourage high performance and retain employees.
On the same subject, I participated in a community focus group that the School District organized, to understand the meaning of a comprehensive education. How can we best prepare our students for the next stage in their education, or careers? Most of my input was directed by discussions I had with business owners and the quality of interns and “newbies” that are in the workforce now. Many employers are concerned about work ethic. They are experiencing a drop in on-time and motivated staff. Many manufacturers have been struggling with finding “blue collar” employees. When I bring this up in mixed company, the conversation typically revolves around the suburbia mentality of parents wanting their kids to be doctors and lawyers. How do can we redirect that focus?
Let’s consider the fact that manufacturing in the United States has had its ups and downs, but it is here to stay. So, how do we fill the shifts at those work stations in the industrial park? Let’s work from the top down. Do we have local resources for technical training that is accessible to our children? Yes. Does the high school offer vocational programs that fit the trades that are in demand? They are working on it. Many are available, but enrollment is down. When an adolescent is preparing for high school, how to the parents react when their child says they want to take a vocational class instead of an AP class? It depends on the household. But, I have a sense that the parents are pushing the AP Class. My gut tells me that the problem lies in our society. So, let’s broaden the conversation. Let’s ask our kids what they have a passion for and how can we guide them to the right path. Do we want our kids to go to college, get a degree, incur, on average a $33,000 loan, and not have a sensible career path when they graduate? Oh, and don’t forget, they will probably need to move back home. Just consider that manufacturing is skilled labor. CNC operators need Trig level math skills to succeed, pretty impressive.
I think back to my grandfather and father who both retired from Chrysler Corporation, and were always able to put food on the table, take family vacations, and never paid a student loan. My brother and I were the first generation to graduate from college. I now have 2 boys of my own, 5 & 9 years old. One wants to be a monster truck driver, and one wants to be a drummer. Neither of those seem realistic to me. But, who knows? But when the time comes, and they are selecting classes for their freshman years at Batavia High School, I promise I will look to the back of the student handbook for the vocational classes. Are you with me?
The Call to Service
Each year the Batavia Chamber of Commerce hosts an awards ceremony to honor the Citizen of the Year and recognize many local businesses for their contribution to our community, through the Ole Awards. This annual event, Inspire, is the premier event for the Chamber.
Last month, I wrote about one of the businesses that I visited as part of the Ole Award nomination process. This time, I am going to share with you a meeting I had in preparation for the selection of the Citizen of the Year.
When selecting the Citizen of the Year, a group of past Citizen’s of the Year is assembled to discuss the merits of each nominee. Then after a short debate in the Mayor’s Office, a name rises to the top, and the committee votes on the winner. This year, Ruth Burnham, an often participant in the committee was not able to attend, so we met up for a chat to discuss this year’s nominees. Ruth is the 1992 Citizen of the Year, and I had the pleasure of a fireside chat with her at The Holmstad Town Center earlier this week.
Ruth couldn’t be any sweeter. She is beautiful, poised, and a pure delight. I was enchanted by her. From her perfectly set hair, to her beautiful jewelry, Ruth Burnham is a sight for sore eyes. I began by asking her, why she thought she was selected as Citizen of the Year in 1992. She said, “There weren’t that many to choose from back then. Batavia was a smaller town.” In typical Citizen fashion, she didn’t think she was deserving of the award. I then asked what was her favorite organization, and why did she devote so much time to it. She said, her church, the Congregational Church of Batavia. She likes being on committees and having a voice in what is being done, and then she feels proud when they accomplish something. Ruth liked talking about her family, and was somewhat shy about her own personal accomplishments. So she began speaking about her former husband, Joseph Burnham. They met when they were both stationed in Kansas City, Missouri. Ruth was one of the first women to enlist in the Navy and serve in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during WWII.
She didn’t go into much detail about her time in the service, she wanted to focus on her life with Joe. She recalled the time when they went downtown Chicago to pick up their marriage license. Since they were nearby and Joe had never been to Marshal Fields & Co, they decided to go in to have a look. Once inside, Joe was in awe of the splendor of the sight, and proclaimed to Ruth, “I am going to work here someday!” And someday, he did. Joe worked in every department, with greater responsibility along the way, and eventually became President and CEO of Marshal Fields & Co. Ruth was so proud of her husband, and you can still feel the love she had for him when she recalls that accomplishment.
Ruth and Joe had 5 children, 4 boys and a girl. Their daughter teaches in Batavia, and one son owns the Paper Merchant in Geneva. She is so proud of each of them, and was happy to report that she was going to see most of them over the holidays.
The time I spent with Ruth Burnham will forever be a highlight. She is royalty. Looking back at the stories of those that shaped Batavia into what it is now, is a pleasure that I never expected to experience. Take some time and review the stories of Batavia at www.BataviaHistory.org. Ruth Burnham is highlighted in Volume 44 – Numbers 2 & 3.
Get Hooked on a Local Business
Each day I have the opportunity to meet with local business owners to learn more about their businesses and to see what the Batavia Chamber of Commerce can do to help them be successful. The businesses in our membership are very diverse and offer an array of products and services. This week, I would like to share with you a couple of meetings that strike me as being unique.
In interviewing candidates for the Chamber’s annual Ole Award, I met with the General Manager of Nutegrity, Scott. They have invested nearly $200,000 in modifying their building to accommodate a “tank farm”. This tank farm looks much like a distillery room in a brewery; big, above ground, cylindrical tanks. But it isn’t hops and barley in the Nutegrity tanks, it is fish oil.
Believe it or not, Batavia is home to one of the largest producers of fish oil for the purpose of nutritional supplement. Nutegrity’s parent company, Omega Protein, begins the process off the east coast. They send out airplanes to spot schools of the Menhaden fish. Once spotted, they deploy boats to the location where they catch millions of Menhaden each trip. Once back on shore, the fish are processed and the oil is collected. Tanker trucks are filled with the oil, and they head to the processing plant here in Batavia. In Batavia, they filter out mercury and other unwanted chemicals, and then distill the oil. This high temperature, high vacuum distillation prepares the oil for consumption. The distilled oil is then sold to packaging companies that complete the cycle before it ends up on the shelves of the vitamin/supplement aisle in our local stores. So, if you are in the market for omega-3, support your local producer.
My next encounter relates to health in a different way. This is not a pill that you take, but a needle that you poke. Mavis, owner of Inner Harmony Acupuncture, recently walked in to the Batavia Chamber office to invest in a membership. Neither Stacie nor I had experience with acupuncture, so Mavis offered us a free session. Stacie is a bit nervous around needles, so she declined. But, I accepted. So, about a week later, I visited Mavis at her office in Aurora and had my first experience with Acupuncture.
The first thing Mavis did was present me with a stack of health forms to complete, and I expected the usual yes or no questions. But, these were unique. The forms were not only trying to assess the potential for problems based on prior health conditions or those of my family, but a more in-depth understanding of my body. Question like, “Rate your level of satisfaction with your weight, stress, ability to sleep, etc.” It was more about me as an individual, not what they think I am based on family history. I don’t know about you, but when I go to the doctor or dentist, the receptionist asks for the forms back and I never see them again, and I don’t know if my doctor even looks at them. Mavis was different. She looked through all the answers, asked me for clarification on a couple of things, and really spent time trying to understand how she could help me. Mavis REALLY cared about ME. We decided that I just needed a good tune-up, and some stress relief. So, into the treatment room we went. She began at my left foot, traveled all the way to the top of my head, then back down to my right foot, approximately 25 needles in all. No pain, maybe a twitch or two, but that’s about it. Then she says, just relax for the next 20 minutes, and try to take a nap. A nap, at 6pm? Really, Mavis?? I have dinner to make and laundry to…do…ZZZzzz. Needless to say, I am now a regular at Inner Harmony Acupuncture. Smart business tactic, Mavis.
Whether Omega-3’s or Inner Harmony is on your shopping list, get hooked on a local business.
How can a haircut change your life?
From my Kane County Chronicle column of September 2014...
Over the next 450 or so words, I plan to entertain you with my musings about local business. At some point, I hope that by reading my columns you will visit a local business that you never patronized before, or at least, think local first.
Since I started in my role this past February, I have met some of the most interesting people. Today I would like to share with you how a local business owner changed my life.
My husband, Andrew, and I bought our first home together in Batavia, IL in 2002. We were welcomed by Jenny Zack of Welcome Home Batavia and North Aurora. She came with a nice package of informational materials and also some promotions from local businesses. One of the promotions was for a free haircut from Foltos Tonsorial Parlor. So, one sunny Saturday morning we walked down to Foltos and my husband received his first of many haircuts from Craig Foltos. While we waited, Craig asked us both about our professions and immediately identified how we could align ourselves with non-profits so that we could give back to our community. I have a degree in Accounting, so Craig invited me to join him at the next Batavia MainStreet meeting. My husband is a Civil Engineer, so he volunteered on the Donovan Bridge redevelopment committee. Both of these “assignments” were very rewarding. We are both from out of state, but by participating in these ventures, we became Citizens, not just residents of Batavia.
Craig and I remained friends and when another opportunity came up, he gave me a call. This time it was to serve as the Treasurer of the Board for BATV (Batavia Access Television). The Board of BATV selected someone else initially, but about five months later, Craig called me back and asked me to come on board at BATV. I enjoyed my time as the Treasurer of the Board for BATV at just over three years, into June of 2009. At that time, BATV was going through reorganization, and was looking for a business manager to come on and take the wheel. I was fortunate to be selected as the Station Manager at BATV in July of 2008. From my work at BATV, came opportunity to grow at the Batavia Chamber of Commerce. I am happy to be aligned with another great local organization, another way to give back to my community.
How did this all start? Local business merged with community care, and my life changed. I ask that you think about what local non-profit you can serve. If you can’t come up with any, stop in and talk with Craig, that haircut may change your life, too.