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Do any of you have an insurance agent?
Do you know who they are? Better yet, do they know who you are?
I want to tell you about my friend Frannie.
Probably about five years ago now, I decided I'd switch my business insurance. I didn't really have a good reason for doing so, but the company I was with at the time was just kinda OK; they were nothing special--faceless, out of touch, out of mind, just there in the background somewhere and pretty much blah. Since business insurance is so very important, I really wanted to sit down with a local agent who knew the community, understood what I needed, and, even more importantly, understood what I didn't need. So, I googled.
Frannie ran a State Farm branch here in town and her business's online presence impressed me. She had a clean, professional site, good reviews, and was clearly well favored and involved in the community. That, paired with the fact that I knew exactly where her well-presented office was, prompted me to reach out to her.
I sent her an email and, right away, Frannie got back to me and we made an appointment. She understood that I was running a shop solo--retail hours--and didn't have the availability to meet at her office. So, she came to me.
We sat down and worked out a plan catered to my needs. She recommended coverage I didn’t have before and took away line items that made absolutely no sense in my situation. Insurance confounds and confuses me, but she made it clear; she spoke my language and garnered my trust.
After I signed up with Frannie, she kept in touch. She checked in now and then and often invited me to local business-to-business networking breakfasts. Granted, I never went because, as I've mentioned in my writing in the past, I take serious issue with 7AM meetings. But the gesture was very appreciated!
A year or so into my relationship with State Farm through Frannie, I had a pretty bad flood. A sprinkler pipe in a shared hallway of my building froze and burst and water rushed through my shop, washing us out from the back door to the front. Soon, the store was crawling with firefighters and I was hustling to lift as many of my customers' items and outgoing shipments off of the ground as fast as possible, knowing instinctively that they were the priority. Product can be replaced, but something precious that a client has entrusted to our care cannot.
After the water got shut off, I called Frannie. You know those State Farm commercials where the agent just appears out of nowhere in crisis? Well, that's pretty much what happened. In no time, she was at my store, wearing a winter coat and rubber boots, trudging through the water that was still draining through the open front door on that frigid February day.
She assured me that she'd take care of it; she assured me that I was covered. I needed to hear that. Then she took pictures, preliminarily assessed the loss (which was significant), and we created a plan of attack together. My landlord actually ended up paying my claim directly, but Frannie was on my side and by my side through it to make sure I got a fair deal … and a new carpet.
Frannie has since moved on, contacting me personally to let me know I'd be taken care of by another agent she trusted. She added a pair of twins to her brood and was offered an opportunity for bigger and better things in her field. And I was nothing but grateful for her service and happy for her move; I have serious respect for what she's accomplished!
When I think about it, I honestly don't know how my premiums with Frannie compared to other options. I mean, I shopped around a bit when I signed up with her, and know for sure that her offerings--catered to my needs without extra unnecessary fluff--were far less than what I was paying with my previous, faceless company. But the bottom line is that I didn't and don’t care. I trusted Frannie, knew the price was fair as a result, and knew that service and support that I receive in return was well worth it.
Let's all take some lessons from Frannie and apply them to our own businesses:
What a business model! Why would we not want that type of relationship with all of our clients? It keeps giving and giving, growing and growing, connecting and reconnecting.
Ask yourself this: Do your customer know who you are?
Better yet, do you know who they are?
#CustomerService #RelationshipBased #LikeaGoodNeighbor #StateFarm #Frannietastic #AskUncleMarty
Marty Johnson, AMBC Director of Marketing | askunclemarty.com
I wanted to share this podcast with you about my CAGE Method, one which I spoke about in Vegas last year at the RS Expo Breakout sessions for Social Media 201.
It's important to note that consistency, authenticity, generosity and excellence are winning qualities in business and in life.
Here's the link for you to listen and share with others (it's only less than 10 minutes long): https://soundcloud.com/fahim-mojawalla/fahimfix-podcast-for-cage
Each letter of the "CAGE" stands for a particular quality that I would love for each of you to adopt when posting on social media. . The C in the CAGE method stands for consistency: Consistency in our posting, consistency in our timing, consistency in whatever we do has a great impact and effect. It is very effective when we are consistent with something and we know that with our stores, consistently opening on time, consistently closing on time, consistently being there with customer service, and consistently performing better than any of our competitors allows us to exude excellence. The same consistency principle holds true for social media. So, be consistent.
The A stands for authenticity. #BeReal. #BeYourself. Excellence only comes about when you are your true self and you alone know who you are. So, tap into yourself first. That is called introspection: Looking inside of you. Who is the real you? Look in the mirror and find yourself and then display that person, that human being, that male or female in front of an audience of listeners, of talkers, of social savvy people, and just go with it and keep posting with that authenticity, with that real self you know. If you like a particular sport, go with that. If you like a particular game, go with that. If you like a particular activity, go with that. Use that even in your business posts because that will resonate with all the people that like that sport, game, or activity, etc. So, authenticity is truly important. People can smell out the fakeness. They can smell people who are just not doing it right and they will leave you. A lot of my posts on social media, whether they're on my personal page, personal profile, or they are on my business page, they're real. A lot of people come into my store and they already know who I am because of the way that I post online and it resonates with them. I say things the way they are and I'm extremely respectful when doing that, but I like to tell a story. People come in for that inspiration, for that motivation, for that upliftment, and for that rejuvenation. It's part of my mission. Find your purpose, find your authentic self, and then share it with the world. You would be amazed how much you will grow because of that.
The G stand for generosity. Tony Robbins says that, “The secret to living is giving,” and really giving doesn't mean just money and wealth but information, which is the new currency in the social world. This revolution that we’re going through now is the technology revolution and its currency is these social qualities and a huge currency is generosity. When we give proper information to our clients who come into our stores, and we empower them with that information that the other stores don't give them, about FedEx, UPS, Postal Service, DHL, we have seen over the years, as you very well know, how much business that gets us because we become the go-to source. Well, why don’t you do that in social media? Give away that information to people. Show them how to pack, show them which copies come out better, which color paper works, which scans are truly excellent, whatever it is about our business; how we can do same-day business cards, why they need a rubber stamp for an endorsement stamp, how we can save them time in terms of packaging, and then let them be empowered with that information and then allow them to make the decision and 9 times out of 10, they will make the decision in the favor of our business and that's a really great business strategy. But it's long-term and it is essential to social media.
And then, of course, the E stands for excellence. So, one of my favorite hashtags and one that hangs on my wall (one of the three that actually hang on my wall) is #ExudeExcellence and if anything, my biggest struggle right now, is working with people and convincing them or shall I say, inspiring them to move from mediocrity to excellence. Because, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you, mediocrity does not sell; complacency does not sell; excellence sells. Being the best at what we do or at least, trying to be the best expert at anything, really makes people gravitate towards us in terms of our services, and in terms of our products, and overall, in terms of our business. So, take a look around you, see what needs improving in your life, in your store, in your relationships, in the products and services that you offer, and then daily, weekly, monthly, make a list and start checking it off one by one. Then, just work to improve your weaknesses, and as you now go from mediocrity to excellence in the way your store looks or in the way you've added another product, post that process (whether through pics or video) on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Pinterest or YouTube, etc. Share that experience with people. Instead of being solicitational, be social and that's what social media is all about. That’s what this “CAGE Method” is all about. In order to get out of your cage of hesitation, your cage of limitation, and your cage of negativity, I encourage you to use the CAGE method for posting and for life.
With efficacious effervescence, and sincere gratitude to be of service to you and ultimate ongoing kindness, I remain yours, Fahim Mojawalla, AMBC director of social media. You can find my videos at FahimFix.com and also contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank You.
Fahim Mojawalla is the social media director for AMBC and the effervescent co-owner of Island Ship Center, an experience based retail shipping store, conveniently located 10 minutes south of Niagara Falls USA & affectionately called the "Spa of Shipping" by its clients. Fahim has been studying social media for over 10 years from some of the top experts in the industry, including Gary Vaynerchuk, Seth Godin and Mari Smith. Fahim is also referred to as the "hashtag guy" because he uses many hashtags to explain his ideas. His YouTube video, which recently was launched earlier this year, entitled, "Get SMart with Fahim," covers many aspects of social media in an easy to understand format, a format which Fahim uses in his breakouts as well.
I'm from a New York Italian community where pizza is a way of life. I'll take on anyone and debate the merits of crust, sauce, cheese blend, hand tossing, oven styles, fresh or canned mushrooms, anchovies, or any other topic or topping. I know good pizza; I value good pizza.
But I have a dirty little secret: one of my covert indulgences is by no means "good pizza." No, indeed gas station pizza is quite the opposite. You've seen it at nearly every mini mart you've ever been to … heated up behind the counter from a frozen package, with ingredients that are definitely not fresh, with dough that is definitely not hand tossed, kept in a little glass warmer next to the scratch-off dispenser with leftover breakfast sandwiches wrapped in foil scattered along side it on the not-washed-in-a-while round metal rotating trays, and usually served by a clerk with a dirty shirt and smoker's breath on a paper plate entirely too small for the slice so it flops over the edges onto the stained, ancient Formica counter. It's really quite disgusting. But it's also really quite delicious!
I eat gas station pizza entirely too often. Though, in my defense, I don’t have many dinner options on my way home from work. I close my shop at 6pm, often have evening pickups or deliveries to do afterward for my clients, and then start on my hour drive home. The roads between Ithaca and Endwell are not exactly bustling with commerce, and despite my best intentions I don't always have healthy snacks packed for the ride to sustain me until I get home. So, when I just can't hold out, my quick on-the-road dining options consist of an old Burger King (which I've vowed never to go back to after the manager felt that the appropriate response to a friendly request for extra sweet and sour sauce was to use obscenities before berating me) or one of half a dozen mini marts along the road for a hot dog, a sausage, or a slice of pizza.
Last night, exhausted and entirely too verklempt to think about cooking, I stopped at my favorite mini mart for a couple of slices. To my delight, one of my favorite clerks was working: a very friendly fella, probably in his mid-20s, in wide legged skater style baggy pants, wearing oversized untucked shirt, inked on every limb, with sagging holes in his ears where enormous gauges once were, and consistently sporting the cheeriest demeanor in that little town.
They had only three pieces of pizza left in the display case: one very crusty slice of three-meat and two less crusty but still way past their prime slices of pepperoni. So I asked for the two pepperoni, and my favorite clerk looked at me with a little side eye and asked me if I was sure. When I told him that I was, he insisted on giving me a side of ranch "to soften them up a little bit." I expressed my gratitude, to which he responded, "That's how you run a good business … keep people coming back!"
He was spot on.
I go to this mini mart over the other ones because their pizza is usually decent. I go there because their clerks—this one in particular—are often very friendly. I go there because I feel appreciated as a customer. But last night, the pizza wasn't fresh; it wasn't good. I really kind of had to choke it down, dipping it in ranch, and loathing myself a little bit more with each bite. And the clerk was up front about the substandard pizza before he sold it to me, knowing what I had come to expect there. So he did something above and beyond to help make it better, knowing that that if he couldn't provide his best product he could still provide his best service … and keep me coming back.
#CustomerService #KeepPeopleComingBack #GasStationPizza #DirtyLittleSecret
Independence Day is just around the corner—a day on which we celebrate the tremendous freedom we have as Americans, look toward a future full of unlimited possibilities, and remember the cost at which our freedom came. And then we eat too much, drink too much, and light things on fire. It’s fabulous!
I've been thinking about the freedom we have as independent small business owners. Being independent means you have the right and the freedom to say "yes" and to say "no." You can do what you want, sell what you want, and cater your business so very pointedly to meet the needs of your immediate community. This is a huge—HUGE—advantage! As independents, we sculpt our offerings so they’re just right; we wiggle.
You hear me talk about my dear friends Seema and Fahim a lot. And that’s because we have a whole lot in common: we own our own independent shipping stores, serve together on the AMBC Board of Directors, collaborate on coaching for our mutual clients, and have studied each other’s businesses in depth. I’m here to tell you that, while I have a serious case of the wiggles, Seema and Fahim have full-on wigglemania! And it’s a beautiful dance to behold!
When I first opened, I had a large section of gifts. At other stores I’ve run in the past, small gifts, plush, souvenirs, and trinkets did fairly well. But I found quickly at my store that my mainly student demographic wasn’t into it. I sold some, but the majority just sat on the shelves collecting dust (though my Swiffer and I didn’t let that dust settle). Eventually, I clearanced all of that out and wiggled things around to make more room for products that do sell in my area: office supplies, gift wrap, greeting cards, etc.
Seema and Fahim also had a large section of gifts in their store when they opened. But their customer base is entirely different from mine and their gift section and unique one-of-a-kind leather goods quickly became very popular. In little time, their store evolved into a well-known gift destination and its savvy willing-to-wiggle owners shifted their floor plan accordingly. When they remodeled a couple of years ago, a main goal was to set aside a large chunk of their retail area to create a boutique. It’s gorgeous! It’s successful! And it perfectly complements their “Spa of Shipping” mission.
One of my largest profit centers now is student storage, even though this offering isn’t very common among shipping centers in traditional markets. When I opened, I heard that storage in my community was in high demand, but I didn’t realize fully its scope. I offered it, but it was a lot of hard work and I really didn’t like it. In fact, I hated it. As a result, I didn’t push it as much as I should have during my first few years. But then I looked hard at the numbers and the margin on storage is fantastic! So, I wiggled my mindset. I pushed storage and this past year my storage business was up exponentially. It’s now one of my most popular SKUs and storage customers often turn into shipping customers—many moving internationally when their storage term is up, shipping those heavy boxes to far and away places through my DHL and FedEx services because I do it the best, make it easy, and solve their problems in my one-stop shop.
Seema and Fahim have studied my storage process, but it doesn’t make sense in their market right now. However, they’ve wiggled their way into other services that have done very, very well! While my younger demographic tends be very tech friendly, doing most of their own design work, many of Seema and Fahim’s customers are of a generation that often needs more assistance. So Seema, already inherently gifted in design, has studied technique and sourced the right tools to assist their clients with amazing graphic design.
I have so many more examples of our chronic wiggling that I could share, including how I was able to shift floor space in my very tight store to make room for a few freestanding banks of new private mailboxes, but Seema and Fahim took expanding mailbox offerings to a whole new level by building the most impressive business center I’ve ever seen alongside a huge new backroom (more like a warehouse) expansion they recently completed. Or how I’ve wiggled into a great niche in printing and binding master’s theses and doctoral dissertations and Seema and Fahim have found uncanny results by producing and selling their own line of delectable homemade soaps, lotions, and lip balm.
So, as we celebrate our American freedom this weekend, think about your freedom as a business owner. What could you do in your area that just might turn out to be huge? How can you wiggle your way into a new profit center? Where are you stuck and how can you change your mindset to break into a new market?
Celebrate your independence with a wiggle. It’s the American thing to do.
#SmallBusiness #IndependenceDay #Wigglemania
The month of May is my busy season, and it's just winding down now.
My shipping and storage business is in a college town and, as graduation approaches, the students—the majority of whom hail from lands far away—all move out in a mass exodus peaking on Memorial Day weekend when my local university, Cornell, holds its graduation.
In 2012, my first May season at this location, I decided almost on a whim that I'd open my store on graduation Sunday and the day after, Memorial Day—days on which a shipping business would traditionally be closed. I expected some business. After all, thousands of guests were convening on our little city for Cornell's commencement and we'd been very busy with student move-outs and storage for a week or two prior. But I didn't expect anything near what we experienced that weekend.
Memorial Day 2012 set a daily sales record that held for five years, and a daily customer count record that remains unbroken. All day long, graduating students and their proud, often overbearing parents came in to buy boxes and ship their belongings to faraway places. Most students were so overwhelmed with planning for graduation that they totally forgot to plan for moving out! Many had flights leaving that day or early the next day and we were one of the only places in town open on the holiday weekend. By the end of that day, we had outgoing shipments stacked floor-to-ceiling, from the front of the store to the back, with an ever-growing-narrower aisle for people to get from the front door to the front counter. It was epic.
In years since, other shipping outlets in the area have caught on to the Memorial Day opportunity, though that weekend still remains far and above my busiest weekend of the year, much bigger than the week before Christmas when a traditional shipping store would see its peak.
In May of 2015, starting just days before graduation, we were quite surprised when demolition crews arrived, blocked our road, and started leveling the vacant buildings and houses that were across the street from us. My store is on a dense city block, not in a strip mall, so there is no parking lot or back door access; we depend completely on our curbside front door and the loading zone that always was just outside of it. But now our entire block was cut off. Business, which should have been booming that week, tanked. Instead of going insane with shipping, we were standing outside our front door watching buildings crumble and pedestrians staying as far away as possible from the construction zone we found ourselves in the middle of. I had a very poor Memorial Day that year, down 30% from 2012.
You see, our neighborhood had some zoning changes and, when they were approved, a number of very large development projects that were on hold suddenly had the green light to start. These projects will ultimately be a game changer for our neighborhood, ushering in significantly more foot traffic, businesses, and residents. It's going to be great! But the growing pains of getting there have really hurt.
Construction has continued since that May, leaving my street effectively closed for over two years. It has been a serious challenge. But the loss of a road and a loading zone doesn't just affect a shipping business like mine, it also affects any business that gets things delivered or sent out, depends on drive-by traffic to see their storefronts and window advertisements, and depends on pedestrians who are wary to walk on a block under so much construction. In other words, it affects every single business. We've lost some business neighbors because of the conditions, and that makes my heart ache.
A few years ago, I co-founded the Collegetown Small Business Alliance. Through it, I work with my neighbors, contacts in our city administration, and local project managers to find solutions to the challenges that all of this major development packed into in just a few small city blocks brings. This is new territory for everyone and only through increased communication and understanding will we find compromises that permit work to continue, completing as fast as possible, while still allowing the small businesses and residents in the affected areas to function. It's a balance we haven't quite struck yet, but we're working toward it. And things have certainly gotten better recently, though the road is still closed the vast majority of the time. But we now have better warnings when something will happen, open discussions, and better awareness of all parties’ perspectives and the scope of current, pending, and proposed projects. I've personally found that developers, site managers, and city staff can be incredibly reasonable—and sometimes downright delightful—if approached in a positive, solution-based manner; I've learned that making friends is far better than making enemies; I've learned that, if you ask nice enough, construction workers are more than happy to use their big forklifts to load and unload your pallets from the freight trucks that had to park on another block.
We have a long way to go in our neighborhood. Some of the biggest projects haven't been started yet and many of the utilities that are underneath the roads still must be upgraded. There will be lots of digging, dust, and disruption for a few years to come. But, when it's completed, our neighborhood, which serves as the grand entrance corridor to Cornell, will be bustling and beautiful—a walkable part of the city with wider sidewalks, bike lanes, landscaping, and a plethora of shiny new buildings.
But, my rose-colored glasses aside, the reality is that it's been extremely tough to make it through the past couple of years. To allow my business to survive, I stopped my regular salary, which admittedly was still menial as a new, budding, growing small business, and began only paying myself the minimum amount possible as infrequently as possible. I had just started finally paying myself the year before this all happened, so I was used to living with little to no income, living instead off of rental income from a small property I have … and a few loans. It was a sacrifice I didn't want to make, but one I had to make, keeping the long-term goal and bright post-construction future centered in view.
I also put off hiring a staff. In my original business plan, I hoped to have a couple of employees by this point, allowing me to focus a little more on new projects, new profit centers, and maybe new locations. But that had to be put on hold, and I've been running the business solo, as lean as possible, with invaluable assistance from the best family and friends anyone could ask for.
I had to think about and plan for opportunities that will come about because of the new developments, putting whatever resources I saved into investing for the future. Directly across from me will soon be completed a giant new building that will house Cornell's Johnson School of Management's graduate MBA program. Yes, an academic building will be my new across-the-street neighbor, full of working professionals going back to school on nights and weekends, faculty, staff, and offices filling each floor of the glowing, glass-faced, open-24-hours monster that is now all I can see from my front window. It's going to be glorious! After all, those people will all want to rent a private mailbox at my store, use me as their go-to FedEx site, and discover that my printing prices and quality are far better than anywhere they've ever been. Soon, they'll all be my loyal clients. So, I've had to prepare for that and now I have a few new banks of sleek mailboxes ready to rent and other investments that I've scraped to make in order to accommodate what I know is coming soon. I also tried to lease the vacant storefront next door to me, imagining breaking down the partition wall and expanding with a new business center to serve the new buildings, however my landlord had other plans for the space.
But there was more that I could do. If customers couldn't find me through the construction dust, then I was going to find them. So, I put everything I could into advertising, hitting social media hard, bumping up my weekly ad size in the university paper, doing some radio, regularly postering every local and campus bulletin board I can find, and creating a refer-a-friend campaign. My best advertising has always been word of mouth, so I do what I can to encourage those conversations.
And when customers couldn't get to me through the torn-up, blocked, and crane-filled road, I decided I would go to them. I've always offered pickup and delivery service, but now it's a daily occurrence with a fourfold increase this season over last. Often, I close my shop at 6pm and head to customers' homes and businesses to pick up their boxes to ship or store and bring them back to my location to process in the morning. Or, I get to my store early so I can do pickups before my 9am opening time. The majority of my storage and shipping sales are now a result of pickups that I do, most involving carrying heavy boxes, bins, and suitcases up and down winding staircases in dorms, creaky old apartment buildings, and pretty new residential complexes. And during the busy few weeks in May when my saintly retired mother comes in every day to hold down the fort, I'm often doing pickups all day long. It's exhausting, but it's necessary.
One personal expense that I haven't cut are my monthly massages. I consider them a necessary medical expense, as important to my personal health and mental health as the yoga classes I also refuse to give up. Regular massages have significantly helped my migraines, and fewer migraine days makes life so much better! But I digress: the point of this statement is that last Thursday, just a few days after my record breaking Memorial Day, I hobbled into the massage studio like an old man—aching and bruised from a killer week of box schlepping. My therapist took one look at me and simply said, "I'll fix you." I told him about the arm that I was convinced was falling off because the muscle I pulled in it earlier that day by lifting something entirely too heavy was throbbing. I told him about the wrist that still hurt after I fell on it a few days earlier when I tripped over a bin of books some student decided she'd put right in my path as I navigated narrow halls and garbage-filled stairs carrying oversized boxes out of the filthiest sorority house I've ever seen. I showed him the bruises on my thighs where I rest boxes while trying to open the series of doors that inevitably lead out of each apartment I pick up from. And he commented that the knots in my back were … well … extreme. Indeed, this season beat me up more than any other before it.
Business had been down since construction started, and it hurt. But I wasn't going to stand for that, so I shifted my business plan, adjusted my business model, and seriously hustled. As a result, 2016, a year completely without a road, showed 16% growth over 2015, the year in which sales tanked halfway through when block demolition knocked us for a loop. And last Monday, Memorial Day 2017, I broke my 2012 Memorial Day record for most sales in a single day by 16%. For the month of May, this year I was up 32% over last year and 17% over my previous best May ever, which happened in 2013. And it's all because I made tough decisions, made sure every single customer left my store grateful that they did business here, and worked my tail off.
I hustled. I really, really hustled. And it was worth it.
#YouCanDoIt #StayPositive #FindYourMemorialDay #Hustle #TheFutureIsBright
Here is a great piece of advice when posting online:
If you are planning on promoting your business through social media, please keep your personal profile clean. Specifically, don't post anything political on your personal profiles. This week, I received a heartfelt private message on Facebook from one of our veteran members, and I had to share it with you, because it resonates with how a lot of people feel when scrolling on the Facebook news feeds:
"Hey buddy. I was just going through my FB newsfeed, and once again I was insulted by a "friends" comments about my political views/affiliations. I try to keep politics out of my social media, so maybe many don't know where I stand. Frankly, it's none of their business. It's bad enough when it's friends that I'm not affiliated with through business. But, I'm seeing lots of business acquaintances now making opinionated and insulting political posts. I just thought that maybe someone as highly respected as you could write something about proper social media etiquette for those who use Social Media for business. Many of us co-mingle, and some of these people are pissing off not just business acquaintances, but customers as well."
So, if you want to talk politics, please talk offline, not on social media, especially if you're using social media to promote your business to your clients. I know many small businesses that have lost many customers because of political posts. Furthermore, many of you know Under Armour; it has lost a significant share of business this year, due to 3 main reasons, one of which is because of its CEO voicing his political opinions in public online. Here's the link to that article:
3 Big Reasons Under Armour Cooled Off
Years of positive posts (not to mention close friends) can get lost because of one emotion-filled personal post. So, think before you click that button.
Fahim Mojawalla, AMBC Director of Social Media
Island Ship Center
AMBC Certified Store
10 Minutes from Niagara Falls, USA
#SpaOfShipping #FahimFix #ExudeExcellence
1879 Whitehaven Road
Grand Island, NY 14072
I was listening to a TED Talk yesterday. Well, it was really a TED discussion. Chris Anderson was interviewing Elon Musk—you know, the genius behind Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity, Hyperloop, etc.—and the discussion was fascinating!
I always enjoy hearing Elon speak about the projects he's working on. He doesn't seem constrained by the limits most people put on what could be possible. If there's a problem, no matter how unsolvable it may seem, he comes up with a grand solution and presents it in a matter-of-fact "yeah, we can totally do this" fashion.
He spent a good part of the discussion answering questions about The Boring Company, one of his latest brainchildren, and how he's looking to solve Los Angeles congestion by digging down instead of building up—totally rethinking the way we dig tunnels to create a massive underground network potentially allowing a vehicle to get from Westwood to LAX in six minutes. It's nuts. I love it!
But what really caught my attention was when the conversation turned to SpaceX and Elon's ideas for a Mars colony. He and Chris were talking about a future where we, as humans, are a space-faring multi-planet species. And I think most of us, myself certainly included, just assumed this is what the future holds. But Elon made it very clear that this destiny is not by any means imminent.
Elon explained, "Then there's becoming a multi-planet species and space-faring civilization. This is not inevitable. It's very important to appreciate this is not inevitable."
He then mentioned the space program, "If you look at the progress in space, in 1969 you were able to send somebody to the moon. 1969. Then we had the Space Shuttle. The Space Shuttle could only take people to low Earth orbit. Then the Space Shuttle retired, and the United States could take no one to orbit. So that's the trend. The trend is like down to nothing."
I never thought about that. I guess I, probably like most people, just thought that we're naturally getting better and better; that progress just happens as a fixed course. But Elon rebutted that mindset and said, "People are mistaken when they think that technology just automatically improves. It does not automatically improve. It only improves if a lot of people work very hard to make it better, and actually it will, I think, by itself degrade, actually."
He then mentioned how the Ancient Egyptians developed the technology to build the great pyramids, but then forgot how to do it. And the Romans built the magnificent aqueducts, and then forgot how to do it.
How many times in our own experience have we tried to do something we once were great at and mess it up royally? We get out of practice … and we forget. And if we don't put effort into improving, growing, tweaking, and sometimes completely reinventing, we'll get stale and eventually go backward.
Our businesses need constant attention. We can't get too comfortable. We can't just go forward for years in the status quo. Because the market is constantly changing, our customers' needs are constantly changing, and the way in which we process, deliver, source, and serve should always be adaptable to meet those needs.
And sometimes we have to look at our situations completely objectively. We must let go of all the constraints that we put our minds in and think, "What if!?" What if we dig tunnels instead of going up? What if we retire our old low-orbiting space shuttle and build a new kind of rocket that will take us much, much further? What if we break out of the path that we're stuck in and think about going to new worlds instead?
You can do anything. Your business isn't limited by where it is right now or the way it's always done stuff. Go ahead and break the mold.
Please listen to the TED Talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/elon_musk_the_future_we_re_building_and_boring?language=en
Dear Uncle Marty,
I know you’re involved in some community groups. How do you suggest I get involved, and what are the best groups to join?
Hoping to meet new people,
Friendly Florence “Flo” Fenstermacher
Indeed, I highly recommend joining some community networking groups.
Right now, I’m very involved with a group that I co-founded: the Collegetown Small Business Alliance. “Collegetown” is the name of my neighborhood of Ithaca, New York, aptly named because it borders the university here. It’s a very unique couple of blocks, and so we’ve banded together to share ideas, co-market, and solve neighborhood quandaries.
I’m also on a bunch of committees with my local university and with my city. I’m constantly at City Hall for one meeting or another, and on campus for design charrettes for building makeovers and committee meetings to plan community walks and information fairs in my neighborhood. I’ve found that being part of a committee is an amazing place to network, as you’re there as a volunteer and not as a salesperson.
Years ago, when I was working with the AMPC Flagship Store in Rockford, Illinois, I was part of RASA, the Rockford Area Services Association. This group was amazing, meeting once a month at a different host restaurant to network and share ideas. We were each given a couple of minutes for a brief introduction of ourselves and our businesses at the start of each meeting, and then we spent the rest of the time talking about how we could work together. It was invaluable!
Many stores join their local Chambers of Commerce. I highly recommend this. And don’t just join, run for office! Take a page from Fahim’s playbook and become the Chamber Vice President. You’ll work your tail off, but the connections you make will be well worth it.
Other people like the BNI (Business Networking International) networking group, and this might be a good place to start if your town has a local chapter. Personally, I find their 7AM breakfast meetings uncalled for, but that’s just because I am the antithesis of a morning person and it’s everything I can muster to get to my store to open on time at 9AM.
I’m not sure what’s available in your neck of the woods, but certainly there are some organizations just waiting for you to join. And if nothing tickles your fancy, take a page from my playbook and start your own! Your neighborhood certainly needs a small business alliance to facilitate its own business-to-business networking.
When you’re at these meetings, events, and posting on these groups’ listservs, keep in mind to not use the platform as blatant advertising. Don’t list your services like some bot, but offer your support and friendship as a fellow community member. Share news, sponsor good causes, donate your time and goods, and offer your services only if they add value and provide solutions. Otherwise, let your outreach draw others to you. Be a magnet, not a bulldozer.
Not all groups meet at 7am (#JustSayin),
The original version of this Ask Uncle Marty letter was published in MBC Today Volume 19, Issue 2 (March/April 2017).
I love talking on the radio.
I don't do radio ads often, but when I do I always get a thrill going to the studio, sitting in the soundproof booth, and letting it rip. And every so often I get the opportunity to be interviewed on the radio. Today was one of those opportunities.
The delightfully entertaining and amiable Lee Rayburn from Ithaca's own WHCU had me as a guest today on Morning Newswatch. He was curious about Collegetown, the neighborhood of Ithaca where my store, Uncle Marty's Shipping Office, is. You see, Collegetown has been under major redevelopment for two years now and it has dramatically affected vehicle traffic, pedestrian traffic, and consequently businesses … not the least of which my own.
Now I'm an optimist (generally, with certain moody exceptions). And I fully acknowledge that the rose-colored glasses that I wear can sometimes get on people's nerves. But truly I see hope and a very bright future with all of the construction surrounding my business. Of course it hurts now and has been an absolute bear to deal with—full of frustration, hair-tearing-out moments, and complete bewilderment at some of the things that we've seen occur—but through it all, the end result will indeed be fabulous!
So Lee and I talked about it. And I hope that our discussion will encourage more of the general public to visit our fine neighborhood and support our fine businesses during the redevelopment process that we're stuck in the middle of.
I'm very grateful for the opportunity to speak freely and openly, no matter what the topic. Because nothing gets done if nothing gets said. And there's always a way to address a situation in a proactive, positive, professional, and solution-based manner, which has been my approach with this construction process and an attitude I hope to continue with. As a result, and by being involved and outreaching, I've been able to make some amazing connections with major developers, landlords, media, and local city and university officials. It's been quite the silver lining!
We all have something to say. For some, it's sharing hope. For others, it's raising awareness. We have stories to tell, accusations to make, positions to defend, causes to rally for, jokes to jest, encouragement to give, love to extend, and new connections to foster.
A good friend of mine gave me very good advice recently. He's a designer and was critiquing some new logo ideas I was toying around with. He said, "In design, it's not what you can add, but what you can take away." And I think the same editing mindset is appropriate with our spoken/written platforms. But when it's appropriate, timely, and might—just might—bring positive change, then why not speak up?
Talk about it. It'll do you good.
#WHCU #Ithaca #Collegetown #UncleMartysOffice #AskUncleMarty
Check out the full interview here: http://whcuradio.com/morning-newswatch/uncle-marty-invites-you-to-collegetown/
Marty Johnson, AMBC Director of Marketing | askunclemarty.com
Am I allowed to send anonymous packages when people don’t want their name to show on the return address?
Under an assumed name,
I’ve asked a few store owners and my fellow AMBC board members about this since receiving your question. The general consensus is that it’s OK to block out someone’s name or ship under a pseudonym for someone as long as you keep record of the actual shipper’s real name and contact information.
Some stores make it a policy that they will ship anonymously, but if the recipient calls them asking who sent the package they will tell the recipient who the sender was.
My policy at my store has been that the transaction must be under someone’s real name for security, safety, and accurate records. Then the shipment may be generated under a pseudonym as long as records connect it to an invoice reflecting the real shipper’s genuine information.
But now that I’ve thought about this more, thanks to your question, I’m going to change my policy. From now on, my official policy is that I don’t ship anonymously. But here’s the catch: I’ll unofficially make an exception for known, trusted customers who I know are only removing their name because they’re nervous about the eBay buyer, want to surprise someone with a secret Santa gift, or are playing a harmless practical joke on their sister.
Remember, you as the account holder are ultimately responsible for every package sent from your store. So don’t ship anonymously willy-nilly. And always, always, always make sure your records can trace every shipment back to a real person.
This is my real name,
Association of Mail & Business Centers TM, 2058 N. Mills Ave. #626, Claremont, CA 91711 ~ (815) 316-8255