The Best Way to Learn Is To Teach

When asked about the single greatest benefit that he received from critiquing a fellow colleague’s kitchen and bath design firm, Gary Case, CEO of the Rockville, MD-based Signature Kitchens Additions & Baths, wrote: “It may be that the best way to learn is to teach. It’s also the best way to recognize the incongruence between the advice you give and your own lack of compliance with that advice. Living up to what you advise others to do is then hard to avoid.”

Therein lays the intrinsic value of onsite critiquing of each other’s businesses: learning from teaching and implementing change through peer pressure and accountability. Often, the biggest obstacle to change is the owner of the kitchen and bath design firm himself…the person who grinds away working in his business 60 hours per week or more, and rarely takes time off to step away and gain perspective on what’s working or not working. Could that be you?

 

A CHANGED MINDSET

Change always begins with a shift in the owner’s mindset. And that shift happens most readily with an intervention that drills down to the raw truth, delivered from people you have come to trust and respect.

Case belongs to MyBOD (short for My Board of Directors), which evolved from an online business development roundtable launched by the SEN Design Group a couple of years ago as a venue to combat the challenges of a sluggish recovery after the worst recession in 80 years. Other peer groups are available in the remodeling industry – such as Business Networks and Remodeler’s Advantage – that generate similar benefits for their members.

After bonding together with bi-weekly teleconferences for a number of months, Dan Luck, president of the Madison, WI-based Bella Domicile, suggested that this group of a half dozen members start visiting each other’s operations. These onsite meetings would be scheduled every six months. That way, the group could see firsthand how each colleague’s showroom was set up, how the business was organized and run, what processes and systems were deployed to manage the myriad details, what caliber of individual filled each staff position and how the financial statements reflected staff and management performance.

Most of all, they could recommend laser-focused advice on how to improve that company’s performance and, going forward, hold the owner accountable for changes he or she commits to making. Hence, MyBOD developed organically from an intimate group of kitchen/bath dealers each with a desire to improve their business, their management skills and those of each other’s firms.

In this kind of a venue, there is no way for a dealer/owner to hide behind ego, arrogance or a veneer of success when his business may actually be quite fragile or underperforming.

What’s lacking by many dealer/owners in this industry is hyper-vigilance, disciplined thought and superb execution with respect to managing their operations and making smart, surgical changes. When 90% of kitchen/bath dealers reportedly lack a board of directors or regular business coach for feedback and direction, onsite business critiquing groups can be an effective vehicle to achieve these objectives.

 

GETTING CRITIQUED

In June, this merry band of business advisors descended on the Lansing, MI-based McDaniels Kitchens & Baths, owned by Don Jessup. Case and Luck were joined by Sandy Winslow of Splash Kitchens and Baths in LaGrange, GA and Raffael Brugnoni, CKD, of Woodmaster Kitchens in St. Clair Shores, MI. John Lang, LPBC, a licensed business coach from Newtown, PA with nearly 30 years of kitchen/bath industry experience, served as facilitator.

It took courage on the part of Jessup to be the first to have his business sliced, diced and shaken up in the onsite critique group blender, especially without knowing exactly what he signed up for or what the results might be. But his business passed muster pretty well as Luck wrote in an evaluation: “Your history and reputation, your staff, your vision and your core values provide a strong foundation from which to build on; I am excited (and a bit envious) for what the future holds for you.”

Jessup’s own evaluation of the critiquing experience went like this: “I had the opportunity to show my business to five great businessmen and engage them to recommend ways to improve my business. I also received great (maybe stern) encouragement to raise my pricing to get more in line with other businesses.”

Indeed, part of the 2½ day session was a meeting that the group held separately with Jessup’s sales designers wherein they convinced the sales team that McDaniels Kitchens & Baths should be operating at a higher gross profit margin – something that Jessup would have had difficulty accomplishing by himself. Then the group of five business owners showed the salespeople how to strategically accomplish that objective. Experienced, third-party perspectives can be powerful agents for change.

Jessup knew full well that his colleagues were going to make sure he implemented the recommended price increase. Such an action – or non-action – can’t be hidden when these advisors will be reviewing his financial statements at their next onsite meeting. And, in Jessup’s case, he didn’t have to wait that long. I saw Don Jessup at a conference a few months later, where he proudly reported a 1.5% gross profit increase on his August Income Statement. “It wasn’t as hard to get the higher price as we originally thought,” said one of the two sales designers standing by the beaming Jessup.

To be sure, Jessup (and his business) was the focus of attention at this initial meeting. But he was not the only beneficiary. All of the participants gained a greater understanding of how a different business model from their own can be successful, what parts of that model could be applied to their own operations, and what advice offered about Jessup’s business could also positively impact their own.

Summarizing his onsite business critiquing experience, Dan Luck commented: “Spending extended time with a group of kitchen and bath dealers that engaged in conversation much deeper than surface chatter was very valuable. The nuggets gleaned and the experiences shared were priceless!”

 

Ken Peterson, CKD, LPBC, is president of the Chapel Hill, NC-based SEN Design Group, which co-produces with KBDN a regional seminar entitled “Systemizing Your Sales Approach for Maximum Profit.” Peterson welcomes comments, questions or concerns, and can be reached at 800-991-1711 or kpeterson@sendesign.com.

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