Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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The Long Way Home

Management is like parenting. Both are nearly impossible to teach, and many of us reach management and parenthood with little or no practical training.

Since moving back to the North Shore, I have never wished I was back in management. It ranks up there with officiating youth sports and having a colonoscopy.

I am still an observer of business and government, as a consumer of both. The success or failure of those ventures is a direct result of management, and too much of management seems wanting.

Management comes with little training, despite the vast armies of consultants scooping up gobs of cash and time from entrepreneurs and government agencies.

My long-suffering wife, who I fondly call the Bohunk, had an experience recently at a local retail business. Neither of us has gotten out in the world of shops and restaurants much in recent years, so when we do, it often leads to the big question, “What were they thinking of at ___ ?” I know most of you ask that question sometimes, too.

At this shop the Bohunk visited, one she’d not been in before (did I mention we don’t get out much?), she walked inside and was the only potential customer in the store. A few more came in while she looked around. The two staff members working the store (we don’t know if they were employees, managers, or potential robbers) were conversing behind the counter. They failed even to greet or make eye contact with the Bohunk, much less the others that entered after her. She left without speaking to anyone and without buying.

Bad management leads to that kind of customer neglect, which leads to lost sales. The experience is far too common.

Before moving back to Grand Marais seven years ago, we lived in Belleville, IL, a small city across the muddy Mississippi from St. Louis. A nearby Walgreens store was a place we visited frequently to get everything from C-cell batteries to ibuprofen and whatever drugs the doctors prescribed for high blood pressure and rising cholesterol.

Someone in management at Walgreens decided to make it mandatory that cashiers, placed wisely by the entrance, greet every-one coming in the door. In a monotone drone known to those raising teenagers, you’d hear, after the bell tolled at the opening door, “Welcome to Walgreens.” There is no eye contact, just a drone. It’s as aggravating as being ignored if I’m being honest.

Business is all about people. Sure, the quality of a product or service matters, but people are the essence.

The most important people are the owners of small to midsize businesses. The management decisions these leaders make determine the profits and continued existence of the enterprise. They need to communicate well to explain why the organization exists to employees, vendors, including the bank, and, most importantly, prospective and existing customers. People. It is damn near impossible to communicate anything positive when you ignore those you need for your business or agency.

The bottom line is that people almost always do business with others they know, like, and trust. At the very least, a business owner should accomplish one of those three with good hiring, solid training, ongoing communication, and proper leadership. The best achieve all three.

Missing out on connecting with customers at every encounter raises questions about whether a business should be trusted. Having employees express a rote greeting like “Welcome to Walgreens” while curling their bangs and gazing at the stockboy doesn’t count as connecting.

For Rhonda… “To be successful, you have to have your heart in your business, and your business in your heart.” — Thomas Watson, Sr. IBM

Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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