City folks and Country life

As a business leader, I hold a seat on our town’s Planning and Zoning board. My most asked question by neighbors and friends, “Why doesn’t the town build a Chick-fil-A or Outback Steakhouse?” And second is, “Why are there so many grocery stores in town?” The complexity and detail used in retail location and overall business success can be overwhelming. Understanding the capital investment, builder cost, store up-fit and future value are just some of the considerations.

Have you ever noticed two neighborhood grocery stores pretty much next to each other? Ever wonder why the second one chose to open yards away from the competition? If two grocery stores are right next to each other, chances are it’s a great spot to have a grocery store and many determining factors were applied, for example, scientific analysis using synthesis, mathematical and customer interview methods.

To get more in depth, one of the most important strategic decisions made by retail organizations is where to locate their operations. Customer base does play a huge part. What kind of person are they? What do they do for a living? When do they work? What do they do in their free time? This information might not seem relevant but for many businesses a great location is one that weaves itself into the average customer’s day-to-day life, their income and if they travel for work or work from home.

Another technique is Geographic Information System (GIS) techniques. Potential input variables are extracted from such data sets as Census, consumer spending categories, and point data sets representing location of competitors or location of other important facilities. Selecting the most suitable and relevant variables for further analysis is time consuming but critical in the final site selection decision.

I recently attended a conference where representatives from Starbucks Coffee, Chick-fil-A, and Wendy’s all spoke about how they use GIS to determine where to build new outlets. It was incredible how fast food chains compare all sorts of data overlays which allow them to see auto traffic, consumer demographics, safety information, commercial mix, and other factors which saves them significant money when deciding which locations to open next.

Many of the answers to why some of your favorite restaurants are not located just down the road are found online. Some franchise operations have demographic requirements of 50,000 for a market area and a location with an average daily traffic count of 21,500 to 45,000, depending on the size of the restaurant. It can cost anywhere from $1.8 million to $5.7 million to open a franchise, according to their websites. For anyone with aspirations to open a local Hooters, there’s a sizable population requirement, plus investors need to have $2.5 million net worth and $1.5 million liquid assets on hand.

So, next time you see land being cleared and a sign placed in the dirt, believe there have been countless man hours, thousands of data files, and mathematical methods used in why the location was picked. And always remember this, small towns and rural areas can be a good place for investment, because city folks are often attracted to the country life.



Sphere of Influence

who's cup of coffeeEveryone needs a sphere of influence. Not to influence others as much as to be influenced by others. Influence can work both ways; it has a halo effect, so association with others of influence, such as leaders, “movers and shakers,” or celebrities, extends your sphere of influence. I would like to share with you the types of influencers that I keep in my sphere.


  1. A VP or key sales person within a trucking or logistics company
  2. The owner of an auction company
  3. A soda or beer distributor route person

Never before in the history of business has there been so much change. The only constant in business today is change, from customer demand, to technology, to new products and services. Trucking and logistics companies are the first to feel a shift in the economy. They are the first to see a slowdown in manufactured goods and the supplies to manufacture these goods. They are also the first to see new business trends and are able to gage their growth before others even notice. Case in point, while visiting the small town of Centerburg, Ohio I spoke with the UPS driver that was dropping off goods to a company with which I was doing business. In a conversion, the driver told me about the fastest growing company in the area. It was an internet-based sales company with two employees that moved a 40ft UPS trailer of goods per day. Funniest part of this story was, none of the employees of the small town customer of mine knew of the internet company that soon grew larger than them. The owner of this growing internet company soon built a 100,000 square foot building in the small town of Centerburg. Trucking and Logistics people are great for your Sphere of Influence.

Auctioneers are the best storytellers ever because they learn so much from the customers they do business with.  If you take time to listen to them you will also learn these lessons, and that’s why they are a “must” for your circle of influence. Auctioneers are the first to hear of a business that may be failing or not paying taxes. They learn firsthand by the ones closest to the goods being auctioned how people once made their money and how they subsequently lost it. Auctioneers see trends in business models up to a year before other insiders get traditional “data.” They work hand-in-hand with all the banks and internal revenue systems. An Auctioneer is another perfect person for your sphere and I have one in mine.

Last but not least in my Sphere of Influence is a drink distributor route driver. This group of people are hardworking networkers.  Drink distributor route drivers service all types of businesses from convenience stores, to bars, to mom & pop restaurants. They see how much product is moving and the trends in consumer confidence. They drivers interact with not only the owner and managers of these businesses they call on, more importantly they interact with the employees who are face-to-face with the consumers. When the economy is growing, consumers buy more beer and soda and these drivers understand it and have great insights to the workings of many types of business that you can tap into—if they are in your Sphere.

There is no defined scale on how to measure the sphere of influence—fill yours with the kind of people who help tip you off to trends that are meaningful in your Sphere. “An Auctioneer, a VP and a Driver walk into a coffee shop…..” What happens next is up to You.

Where are they now?

The year was 1978, I was an eighth grader, building a metal tool box for one of our four projects in shop class. Little did we know or understand, we where being taught a trade. Fast forward to 1993 during a trip to New York City. I stood in Grand Central Station, taken aback by the stonework and the engineering. I had been through the terminal before, but never took the time to view the craftsmanship. The journalist and novelist Tom Wolfewould wrote: “Every big city had a railroad station grand to the point of glorious classical architecture that dazzled and intimidated. The great architects of Greece and Rome would have averted their eyes featuring every sort of dome, soaring ceiling, king-size column, royal cornice, lordly echo thanks to the immense volume of the spaces and the miles of marble, marble, marble but the grandest, most glorious of all, by far, was Grand Central Station.”

This summer during my trip to NYC, deep in The Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park, I visited thirteen stone pillars that were installed in the 1910s before Grand Central Terminal was built. Their use was to test the durability of different types of stone that would be used for the facade of Grand Central. I pondered the craftsmen once again, their drive, their skills and the sacrifices their families suffered during construction.

Grand Central Terminal was built between 1903 and 1913, opening February 2, 1913. The terminal was a product of local politics, bold architecture, brutal flexing of corporate muscle and visionary engineering. No other building embodies New York’s ascent as vividly as Grand Central. Its concave ceiling created a view of the heavens from Aquarius to Cancer in an October sky, 2,500 stars, 59 of them illuminated and intersected by two broad golden bands representing the ecliptic and the Equator. For several months, painters debated how to squeeze the heavens onto a cylindrical ceiling, because the artist Paul Helleu’s version seemed more fitting for a dome, and they experimented to find just the proper shade of blue.

Where are these craftsmen today? Where is the drive? Where are the skill sets? Where is the quality? Consider these following statistics. The average age of today’s tradesperson is 56, with an average of 5-15 years until retirement. As skilled laborers retiree in masses, America will need an estimated 10 million new skilled tradesmen by 2020 (such as a pipe fitters, masons, carpenters, or high-skilled factory workers). But even today, an estimated 600,000 jobs in the skilled trades are unfilled and, while 83% of companies report a moderate to serious shortage in skilled laborers.

Not everybody in the modern economy will have “dirt under their nails” after a day’s work;, where are the plumbers, landscapers, carpenters, and electricians? Over time, shop class meant a place where children of “white collar” workers like me, could make toolboxes, a bird feeder or toy car in shop class, but they it had promoted few remaining skills of the true craftsmen, which for centuries had been passed on through a process of apprenticeship.

What can we do about this problem? Although this is a monumental challenge, we can do at least two things. First, praise examples of excellent craftsmanship from auto mechanics, jewelers, masons, electricians and the like that arise above the criticism and display an ethic of skill, beauty and manual intelligence in their work. Second, and most importantly, encourage more young people to go to trade school. While the majority of craftsmen will learn and develop their skills on the job, it is common for most to have at least a high school education. Options exist in community colleges, vocational schools and even higher education institutions for advanced learning.

Here’s to the future: the perfection of our future craftsmen. I respect them and work to generously assist them however I’m able. This will keep me busy until the end of my days. It’s a challenge I gladly accept. I, too, am a craftsman, and always shall be.


If you could, would you go back?

While you can’t go back in a time, you can pay it forward. Hindsight is 20/20 and some of the best insights come from past experiences. As you ponder about yourself, here is a little of my story.

From the outside, Motorsports looks like it’s all about the beer cans and chicken bones, all that rubber in your face and loud cars. In fact, it’s all about coming up with new designs that offer solutions to industry problems and seeing your designs transferred into a commercial reality. Motorsports offered a lot of freedom to test your ideas against other groups of people who thought they too, had a better mousetrap.

You see, I grew up in a sport having access to state-of-the-art technology and I was learning new skills on a daily basis. I was working in a field that significantly crosses over with my hobbies, so most of the time; my work doesn’t really feel like work. Every day brought a new challenge, and I found it particularly satisfying to watch or read a five-star review of a vehicle that I have had a role in testing components for, and know I had a small part in its creation.

Everyone loves working in a team, and for years I lived, breathed and slept Team. My role also required a high level of precision and attention to technical detail, which I find very rewarding, and I like being able to work across a wide variety of projects. It all offers something different day-to-day.

Now days, I get the opportunity to meet fascinating people and improve their quality of life. After years of being part of a team adds to the job satisfaction, my life is never boring and my working days are often quite different.

You too should find every job equally exciting: The progress being made in many industries is rapid and seemingly exponential in its rate of change.

True hard work results in enormous personal satisfaction: “I’m getting the opportunity to use my skills and training to try to make a genuine difference to individuals and a community in great need. It is exactly the job I dreamed of doing when I was a high school student.”

My advice to others? If a job really isn’t working out, find something new and challenging. Life is too short. It’s the random experiences that make life exciting and will lead to new opportunities.”

Don’t treat the symptoms, solve the problem.

root causeAs we go about our daily jobs and deal with the problems that crop up on a regular basis we have a couple of choices, put out the fires over and over or to eliminate the fuel that feeds the fire. With analysis and recognizing pitfalls we begin to see problems in our daily lives. Eliminating the fuel is the preferable route to take but is often the hardest to accomplish. There are many companies out in the world that talk about and teach root cause analysis. Root cause analysis, as it is taught, tends to be theoretical in nature. In a perfect world we follow what we have been taught, find the problem and put in a solution. However, engineers, maintenance personnel and management tend to look at a problem and want to deal with it quickly and make it go away so that they can deal with the next fire that just occurred. As management professionals we are looked at as a source of information with the ability to solve problems. Even though a supervisor’s exception report quite often ends with the sentence “further investigation required” we still need a solid understanding of what our people maybe go though investigating that problem. Solving problems means having a system, one to look at everything associated with the issue at hand.

Whether we do this in a formal team environment or by ourselves, having a system and being able to recognize the inherent potential pitfalls are critical.

Problems are everywhere in our workday. Problems are waste. There are several types of waste in our day. Waste eats up our day by consuming time, energy and resources. How often have we sat back at the end of the day trying to catch our breath and asking ourselves why does this keep on happening? Even though we may have thought through a problem and implemented a solution it seems that we are rudely pulled from a sense of security months or years later when the same problem rears its ugly head again. When this happens, how many times have the words “I thought we fixed that” been spoken? Or “we spent a pile of money on that new gadget that was supposed to eliminate that problem.” Even though we may have identified the “root cause” of the issue we were likely the victims of a pitfall.

Dealing only with symptoms during root cause will cause teams to go into directions that will most certainly create ineffective solutions. Asking “why five times” and utilizing cause and effect diagrams will assist in determining what a cause is and what is an effect. I have seen many times where a team has confused the effect with the cause and put a solution into effect only to have the issue come back at a later date.

Make an effort to make sure that everyone knows who solved the problem.

Have the general manager make an appearance and state how grateful they are for the hard work and resourcefulness shown. Buy them dinner, a hat, time off.

In my experience the best reward was the manager calling in each person and personally thanking him or her, one at a time. Done in a sincere manner and with a few details on each person’s contribution it goes a long way to encouraging others to participate.

Even if it was only yourself that had the problem, looked at the problem, fixed the problem and made it go away, pat yourself on the back, brag about it, write a paper on it, get recognized for it. Most of all “Be proud” about the effect it will have.

What is Six Sigma?

What is Six Sigma?

My Disclosure: Six Sigma is not a simple system, it does not apply to every industry the same, and it can’t be taught in eight weeks for $489.00. It’s not a book, blog or video on the web.


Before, January 15, 1987, Six Sigma was solely a statistical term. Since then, the Six Sigma crusade, which began at Motorola, has spread to other industries that are continually striving for excellence. I was first introduced to the methodology in 1994 through VDO (the instrumentation company). I was trained to use Six Sigma in motorsports to set strategies, techniques, and tools for process improvement. At that time, this methodology was not used outside of manufacturing. Adapting some but not all of the processes then extended and evolved from a problem-solving technique to a quality strategy and ultimately into a sophisticated quality philosophy. These unique philosophies soon became a successful business strategy and were the turning points for NASCAR’s car of tomorrow. I have personally adapted and used these philosophies in raising two daughters, maintaining a healthy home and privately owned vehicle maintenance. I have used parts of the methodology in manufacturing hybrid buses, modifying shipping containers into useful habitable structures and to make many companies safer places to work.

Six Sigma has evolved over the last two decades and so has its definition. It has literal, conceptual, and practical definitions. As Six Sigma has evolved, there has been less emphasis on the literal definition (counting defects in products and processes) and greater emphasis on the conceptual and practical definitions. Six Sigma has grown into a full-fleged business improvement methodology that focuses an organization on:

  • Understanding and managing customer requirements
  • Aligning key business processes to achieve those requirements
  • Utilizing rigorous data analysis to minimize variation in those processes
  • Driving rapid and sustainable improvement to business processes

At the heart of the methodology is the DMAIC model for process improvement. DMAIC is commonly used by Six Sigma project teams and is an acronym for:

  • Define opportunity
  • Measure performance
  • Analyze opportunity
  • Improve performance
  • Control performance

Through my experience, I have learned that the disciplined use of metrics and application of the methodology even together are still not enough to drive desired breakthrough improvements and results that are sustainable over time. I have learned that Six Sigma is a top-down solution to help organizations:

  • Align their business strategy to critical improvement efforts
  • Mobilize teams to attack high impact projects
  • Accelerate improved business results
  • Govern efforts to ensure improvements are sustained

A Six Sigma Management System drives clarity around the business strategy and metrics that most reflect successful execution of that strategy. It provides the framework to prioritize resources for projects that will improve the metrics and it leverages leaders who will manage the efforts for rapid, sustainable, and improved business results.

In closing, Six Sigma is not a simple system, it does not apply to every industry the same, and it can’t be taught in eight weeks for $489.00. It’s not a book, blog or video on the web. It is a methodology! Something you live, breathe and use in your every thought. As cliché as it may sound, with some effort and focus you can retrain your mind and you, too, can change the world.


Are you certain that you’re trapped? NO!

To be actually trapped is to have no options, no choices, no possible outcomes other than the one you fear.

Most of the time, when we think we’re trapped, we’re actually unhappy with the short-term consequences of making a choice. Make the choice, own the outcome and you can start in a new place.

Make it properly

Make it on time

Make it efficiently

Make promises

Make it matter

Make connections

Make a difference

Make a ruckus

Make change

It gets more and more compelling (and more difficult) as you move from making it properly to making change. But we need all of it.

This is often frightening and painful, which is one reason it might be easier to pretend that we’re actually trapped.

So No, you are not trapped, You are never trapped.

Make the choice and own the outcome! And Know you have a Team beside you to help……

Southern Comfort

That Ol' Rocking chairLiving in the deep south of the 40’s and 50’s challenged people to carve out comfort and ease from the harsh and rugged physical and mental challenges of life. Mostly living off the land and without “modern” conveniences, forced them to be efficient and creative in meeting the basic needs of day-to-day living while enjoying the simple pleasures and treasures of life.

It is said, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. It is also said, “life is what you make it”. So then, I guess in a way, it’s all about attitude and perception. For many who lived in rural areas in the south, it was looking at the run down shacks that they lived in and yet seeing how blessed they were to have a roof over their head. That gave them comfort! It was having a meal of fat back, molasses, and corn bread and realizing that the one who prepared it did so with love and care for them, and all the time realizing that their toil and labor, however humble, will provide for them and their family.  That gave them comfort! It was setting on that old front porch in that squeaky rocking chair at the end of the day, rocking back and forth. Rocking their bodies to rest and their minds to lull and ease. That gave them comfort!
If you’re ever riding by my place one afternoon, you will see my rocking chairs, and if you stop to visit, you can release your feelings and emotions evoked by what you experienced during your day, perhaps some discomfort. Nevertheless, where ever it is that you find yourself, ponder and just shift your perception, see if you can feel the “southern comfort” as experienced by many living and rocking their troubles away in rural North Carolina in the 40’s and 50’s. After all, “it’s all about attitude, gratitude and perception”.

Communication Methods

Whenever you are training or communicating with others, you have information and ideas that you want them to understand and learn effectively and efficiently. Your audience is likely to demonstrate a wide range of learning preferences, and your challenge is to provide variety that helps them learn quickly and well.

Your preferred teaching and communication methods may in fact be influenced by your own learning preferences. For example, if you prefer visual rather than verbal learning, you may in turn tend to provide a visual learning experience for your audience.

  • Sensory Learners – if you rely too much on sensing, you can tend to prefer what is familiar, and concentrate on facts you know instead of being innovative and adapting to new situations. Seek out opportunities to learn theoretical information and then bring in facts to support or negate these theories.
  • Intuitive Learners – if you rely too much on intuition you risk missing important details, which can lead to poor decision-making and problem solving. Force yourself to learn facts or memorize data that will help you defend or criticize a theory or procedure you are working with. You may need to slow down and look at detail you would otherwise typically skim.
  • Visual Learners – if you concentrate more on pictorial or graphical information than on words, you put yourself at a distinct disadvantage because verbal and written information is still the main preferred choice for delivery of information. Practice your note taking and seek out opportunities to explain information to others using words.
  • Verbal Learners – when information is presented in diagrams, sketches, flow charts, and so on, it is designed to be understood quickly. If you can develop your skills in this area you can significantly reduce time spent learning and absorbing information. Look for opportunities to learn through audio-visual presentations (such as CD-ROM and Webcasts.) When making notes, group information according to concepts and then create visual links with arrows going to and from them. Take every opportunity you can to create charts and tables and diagrams.
  • Active Learners – if you act before you think you are apt to make hasty and potentially ill-informed judgments. You need to concentrate on summarizing situations, and taking time to sit by yourself to digest information you have been given before jumping in and discussing it with others.
  • Reflective Learners – if you think too much you risk doing nothing. There comes a time when a decision has to be made or an action taken. Involve yourself in group decision-making whenever possible and try to apply the information you have in as practical a manner as possible.
  • Sequential Learners – when you break things down into small components you are often able to dive right into problem solving. This seems to be advantageous but can often be unproductive. Force yourself to slow down and understand why you are doing something and how it is connected to the overall purpose or objective. Ask yourself how your actions are going to help you in the long run. If you can’t think of a practical application for what you are doing then stop and do some more “big picture” thinking.
  • Global Learners – if grasping the big picture is easy for you, then you can be at risk of wanting to run before you can walk. You see what is needed but may not take the time to learn how best to accomplish it. Take the time to ask for explanations, and force yourself to complete all problem-solving steps before coming to a conclusion or making a decision. If you can’t explain what you have done and why, then you may have missed critical details.