Breakfast At Chet’s
Life Lesson: 30 Minutes with a guru can save you 8 years of headaches.
*This article was written by U.S. SBA Entrepreneur of the Year, Clay Clark. Clay travels the country working as motivational speaker in Las Vegas and throughout the country. He is also an author and business consultant.
For the first time in my business life I was really unable to fully appreciate the tremendous levels of success that we were experiencing. Jason Bailey was now pretty much running the Tulsa office (the inbound customer service center) of DJ Connection without much supervision. The very Irish and fiery Eric Cooper was now running the DJ Connection production department. T.O. (the name we used to reference the ex-employee with the biblical sounding name) had been fired, so the stress was nearly all gone from the office. The photography component of the failed partnership had been sold. Aubrey could see. My mom and dad had moved to Oklahoma from Minnesota to be closer to Vanessa and I (and the grandkids, which is really the main reason). My dad had completely standardized our payroll and accounting processes. Vanessa was able to stay home full time with the kids (because my dad was now running the accounting portion of the DJ Connection office). We had just been named as a member of Oklahoma Magazine’s “40 Under 40” club. We had been named by the Better Business Bureautm as an accredited member, meaning that we had had no formal complaints in five years.
National wedding publications were writing great things about us, and a local wedding association named us “Tulsa’s Wedding Vendor of the Year.” Our sales were now approaching $1,200,000 per year, which is a long way from when we worked in the one-bedroom apartment. The office had been moved out of our house and into the 5800 E. Skelly building. And the United States Small Business Administration had named me as “Oklahoma’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year.” We had a lot to be thankful for, but the speed at which life had been moving made it nearly impossible for us to take in the full magnitude of what was happening. Basically we were going through life with our pedal to the medal, and I was not taking any time out to smell the roses, to gaze at the moon, or to mentally marinate on any of our recent successes.
At this point, DJ Connection had truly grown from “‘me’ to ‘we’” as Magic Johnson had encouraged me to do through his story in John Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. And because we had built a great team who was truly committed to offering a quality product, I felt a renewed sense of urgency about improving our service to distance ourselves from the competition, and I knew just how we were going to do it. Here was my plan:
I knew that QuikTriptm was the best gas station chain in the country, and I knew that Southwesttm airlines was the best air travel service in the country. Thus, I believed that if I studied these two companies with tenacity and intensity, I could mine their histories and best-practice processes for applicable action steps and ideas that could be immediately used at DJ Connection to improve our product and service. I had long revered QuikTriptm and Southwesttm with the kind of devotion that most adult men only reserve for their favorite college team. My friends, I am obsessed with the quality and customer service of Southwesttm airlines and QuikTriptm. I love those two companies. And so I went out and purchased Nuts!: Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg.
When I read this book, I had just finished reading, Jack: Straight From the Gut by Jack Welch, which details Jack Welch’s ultra-intense journey to the top of the GEtm mountain and the amazing successes that were achieved by GEtm as a result of his management and leadership. So I was mentally prepared to grind out the reading of yet another business CASE-STUDY-STYLE BOOK. As I read Nuts!, I could not help but be inspired by the stories found on the pages of the book. Many businesspeople have told me that a book or conference is worth reading or attending if they get just one good “nugget of knowledge” from it. Well, if this is the case, then Nuts! was worth millions to me.
As I read from page to page, I could not help but feel as though God had divinely put this book in front of me to read at that very moment. I read how Southwesttm airlines only flew 737 Boeing airplanes to maximize efficiency versus American Airlinestm who was losing massive amounts of money because of their refusal to find a profitable niche. I immediately saw how that related to DJ Connection. Over the years as I was growing this business at a lightning speed to keep up with the size of my ambition, I never took time out to think about our niche. As we continually bought hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment, I never took time out to think if the gear we were buying fit our niche or not. I never stopped to think about whether the people I was hiring fit our niche or not. I had never even taken the time to define our niche, and so for the first time I did.
I determined that DJ Connection was going to specialize in providing entertainment for weddings of 300 people or less. I determined that we were not going to grow into a huge concert sound and lighting company as we had been dabbling in. I then wrote down what standardized gear we were going to buy for each system, and I came to the realization that only sincere people with a good sense of humor and ambition could work for us and be truly successful.
After defining our niche for the first time, I pressed on to discover Southwest’stm incredible philosophy of only promoting from within as detailed in Nuts! This reaffirmed my belief in not bringing in outside talent to manage company insiders and long-time people. I was fired-up to know that Southwesttm airlines believed as I did in the importance of starting everyone at the bottom so that they can grow with the company and motivate those around them who witness firsthand the work they had to do to get to the top.
The portion of the book where the founder of Southwesttm recounted its beginning by stating that the company began as an idea to do lots of flights for a small amount of money per ticket instead of charging a ton of money for a few flights like the others airlines were doing at the time inspired me even more. I started realizing that unintentionally DJ Connection had clawed its way into the market by charging very little; therefore, we had actually created a niche for ourselves as being the Southwesttm airlines of the DJ industry. While our competition was holding out for the high-dollar shows, we were profiting while charging nearly half as much, plus our customers loved it (and our competition hated it). Many airlines still hate Southwesttm because they ruined the industry with their low fares. However, customers love being able to afford flights for business, vacation, and to see family. DJ Connection customers loved the affordability that we provided, and our competition hated us too. In fact, most them still hate us, which is good because I really wouldn’t want to hang out with the mullet-toting, how-big-of-an-amp-do-you-have, cummerbund-wearing, chain-smoking, I-have-the-biggest-music-catalog-in-Tulsa crowd anyway.
As I powered through the Southwesttm book; highlighting, notating, and questioning everything that DJ Connection was doing in light of what Southwesttm was doing, I also stumbled across this little Southwesttm belief that employees are the company’s most important assets. Southwesttm doesn’t avoid firing underperformers, but they try to avoid hiring underperformers using their rigorous employee-interviewing process. Southwesttm believes that you can essentially train almost anyone with a skill, but you can never train someone to have character. Once someone with a great attitude actually gets through the screening and exhaustive training process, they are then welcomed into a company that systematically shares its profits with its employees and celebrates the business successes and individual achievements of its people like they just won the Super Bowltm. Reading this book inspired me to take DJ Connection to a whole new level. I preached to our guys about the continuing need to hire the best people.
Studying Southwest changed my brain and reaffirmed a few core beliefs that I believed but that I had been reluctant to implement with the full faith that comes with knowing that these ideas have actually worked somewhere else previously.
And as luck would have it, after we implemented the nuggets found within the Southwesttm airlines book to fullest capacity of our abilities, I got a response from QuikTriptm. For years I had mailed them letters requesting a moment or two with the founders to pick their brains and to learn from the founding fathers of the QuikTriptm convenience store juggernaut. Finally, they had responded with an invitation for me to meet with the founder’s son and the current president of QuikTrip, Chet Cadieux.
To say that I was excited about meeting Chet was an understatement. I felt like an early 1990s teenage girl getting a chance to meet the members of N’Sync backstage before their Madison Square Garden concert. And like any good Star Warstm nut would do when going to view a Star Warstm film (I am a huge Star Warstm fan), I showed up early. In fact, I showed up crazy early. I showed up like two hours early. And I was so excited about meeting with him that my brain could probably have been audibly heard humming with the electric energy being generated as my mind was building with anticipation. As I sat in my 1984 Chevy (Stalker class) brown van (that I bought for $1,000), I wrote down questions I would ask him. I knew that he was the explorer who had found gold. He had found the lost city of “Business Atlantis,” and I knew he knew how I could get there too. I just had to get the information out of him without coming across like a spy for his competition or some stalker who drives a 1984 Chevy Brown van (strike one).
Anyway, eventually at 7:45 a.m., I approached the front of QuikTriptm world headquarters. The place was everything that I dreamed it would be. It was like the church of capitalism. It had vaulted ceilings, high-quality QuikTriptm logos, nice furniture (but not unprofitably nice), a receptionist desk that was being manned by an incredibly friendly lady who encouraged me to sign in because, “Chet will be right with you.” Holy crap! I was going to get to meet the Obi-Won Kenobi of convenience store capitalism. As he approached me, I couldn’t help not recognizing him at first.
He walked briskly and was wearing the standard QuikTriptm polo shirt that all of his store employees are expected to wear. I expected him to wear a suit or to come in on a solid-gold hovercraft, but he just briskly walked in dressed like every other employee, and that was my first sign that this dude was not like most other CEOs. You see, at QuikTrip, they also hire for personality and attitude, and they train for skill. Like Southwesttm, they always promote from within, and thus Chet (the president), the son of the founder, has actually worked in QuikTriptm gas stations himself. He actually worked the night shifts like everyone else. He worked on holidays like everyone else, and because of that, he had earned the respect of those working underneath him like no one else. As Chet talked, I tried my best not to ask for an autograph, and I interrogated him with as much tact as possible while I feverishly took notes. Here is a copy of the notes that I took that day:
Chet Cadieux Meeting Notes
Title: President of QuikTriptm
Chet works hard at achieving balance. He reads three books per week, and he always reads “really cheesy crap.”
He sleeps 6 hours per night on average. He’s an “insomniac.”
He is very accessible to his staff.
To free up his time to work on business growth projects, Chet “empowers people by making it okay to make a mistake” as long as people show that they are learning from their mistakes.
Chet says, “Don’t ask for something if you already know the answer.” If you need someone to partner with you so that you are confident that you are making the right decision, that is okay.
He says, “Get the best people you can. Spend money on people and not marketing. YOUR PEOPLE MUST DELIVER! Get solid people. Your people are “MARKETING.”
Don’t care about what people think. “Make right vs. wrong decisions based on whether you would be proud to tell your mother.” He went on to explain that you can’t base your decisions on whether your father would be proud because fathers can justify things that your mother will not. Mothers are the moral authority.
Love on your people, and they will love on the customer.
Business Growth Tips:
QT employees can buy “B stock” in the company. They can continue to own it after they leave QT, but they can only buy it if they work there.
The company is 15-20 percent owned by employees.
Invest in your people.
Reinvest in your own company.
Own one-half of your land and lease the other one-half.
Every year QuikTriptm has an employee-focused New Year’s party that celebrates their year’s end, not the actual year’s end.
QuikTriptm benchmarks itself against Southwesttm airlines.
The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard, Ph.D. & Spencer Johnson, M.D.
The Service Profit Chain
by James L. Heskett, W. Earl Sasser, & Leonard A. Schlesinger
The Value Profit Chain
by James L. Heskett, W. Earl Sasser, & Leonard A. Schlesinger
***To be read in that order
Chet will retire when he finds someone better at doing his job, and he owns ton of QT “B stock.”
Employee Ownership Is Key.
As you can probably imagine by now, meeting with Chet sent me on another three-month tangent to improve DJ Connection with each and every business tip that he gave me. When we parted ways, I wanted to hug him because meeting with him was everything that I had built it up to be and everything that I needed it to be. So often, I have built up characters and heroes to be something more than they are. I base my opinions of them as people on their business successes. Thus, when I meet them, I always leave disappointed. When I left my meeting with Chet, I left inspired because he was the real deal, and he was more than I thought that he would be. When he sent me home with an employee copy of their 40 Year Anniversary, I was pumped. I had my memorabilia. I could now hop in to my 1984 brown Chevy (Stalker class) van feeling satisfied and content.
When I got back to the office, I immediately ordered the books he recommended. I told the office dudes about how cool he was, and again I think that Jason, Eric, and Josh were inspired: and everyone else was pissed knowing that we were going to become great, which meant that they, too, were going to have to become great through the process (because achieving greatness requires a lot of hard work). I then immediately ordered the books Chet recommended.
When the books arrived, I read them as quickly and with as much focus as I could possibly muster. I got so many “good nuggets” out of the books that I felt as though I had doubled my intelligence when I finished reading them. Without exaggeration, reading these books made the employee management issues that I used to deal with seem easy if I was just willing to follow the steps outlined in the books.
The books were case studies of Outbacktm, UPStm, GEICOtm, and various other industry leaders. With each case study, I felt like I was gaining more knowledge than I had learned in my first ten years of experience running DJ Connection. As I read The Service Profit Chain and The Value Profit Chain, I almost began to feel overwhelmed by the excitement and the ambition that these two books I bought for $10 (used) off of Amazon.comtm were causing to stir within me.
For the first time in my business career, I felt as though every small detail of my business “to deliver” was laid out in front of me with amazing clarity. I could now gaze into the future and see what DJ Connection was going to become, where we were going, and how we were going to get there. These books were so rich with knowledge and actual practical business case studies that they had an example that I could relate to for just about everything.
How do I market my business with precision? They had a case study and an example for it. How do I build a customer database that adds value for our customers? They had a case study and actual example for it. These books really helped expand upon and perfect the systems that Brent and the The E-Myth had encouraged me to build. These three books recommended by Chet instructed me on how I was going to build a workflow that would allow me to not work ninety hours per week. These books had action steps, charts, and statistics designed to show me how others had done it, and how I could do it too. How was I going to develop team loyalty and systematically nurture employee relationships? They had a case study and quantifiable examples that documented precisely how to do it. These books truly pushed my belief in the phrase “If I have seen further, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” – Sir Isaac Newton to a whole other level and extreme. As I finished reading the books, I found myself knowing what to do with 100% clarity.
I now finally understood the value of reading the case studies of other successful business owners. I finally appreciated the value of reading about the business moguls who had gone to hell and back to discover what worked and what didn’t work.
My friend trust me on this, you and I will never do our best work if we are making our decisions based up guess work. Study successful people and businesses and do what they do. It will save you time, money and the headache.
“Knowledge without application is meaningless” – Thomas Edison
Thus, to keep this chapter from having about as much practical application as the old wives’ tail that eating chocolate causes acne, get down to business and answer these questions:
Most millionaires spend one hour per day reading information related to their industry, business, or service (Brian Tracy). Why aren’t you reading one hour per day?
**If you wrote that you were too busy, don’t ever watch TV again until you can find a way to carve out one hour per day to double your income.
How long will it take you to order the Service Profit Chain and The Value Profit Chain books?
What is your current business’s (or your future business’s) niche? (Describe this business niche in great detail making sure to document what related items and services that your company will provide that does do not fall into your business niche.)
Write down three action steps for how you will recruit employees who will be able to fit successfully in your business’s niche.
Write out two detailed examples of great people whom your company has hired for their personality and their attitude rather than just their skills.