The Third Factor: Genetics, Environment, and Will
Gnothi Seauton: Know Thyself
Gnothi Seauton is inscribed in gold letters over the portico of the temple at Delphi. Its authorship has been ascribed to Pythagoras and Socrates. It is prudently at the beginning of every journey.
My Mission Statement
My mission is to provide the vision, resources, and confidence necessary to enable the development of the Advantage Co as a business experience for those willing to take the full measure of the challenge.
My Job Description
In order to not only bring our ideas and concepts to life but, more importantly, to continue their ever-changing and dynamic growth, it is my job to build and support a flexible matrix for each business that enables, encourages, and ensures ongoing paradigm shifts through the simple restructuring of elements providing maximum speed to benefit and cross-platform recognition.
It is my responsibility to create an environment where people are motivated to give an enthusiastic, fully engaged, effective, and personally beneficial effort toward the desired result.
This Handbook will help you better understand the Advantage Co and our unique business experience by giving you an idea of who we are, where we are going, your possible role in our journey, and, most importantly, the opportunities we offer. This can be more than a job – it can be the foundation of the future you hope to build.
By joining the Advantage Co, I realize you are looking to maximize your performance capabilities in the most productive and beneficial environment possible, so, before you do anything else, be certain this is the right environment for you to fulfill your enormous potential. In order to choose the right environment, you should know what you are best suited for and what you are willing to dedicate yourself to. Once you are certain what you are best suited for, the next step to success is to thoroughly understand the environment you are entering.
One of my earliest influences was the sign off on radio station WNAI 1230AM. They would close every night with the valediction, “Be big, be a builder!” Add to that encouragement the constant insistence of the Jesuits who taught me that we are here to do more every day with the gift of our life, and you have the foundation of the core philosophy of the Advantage Co.
We are, at our core, business developers. However, the core objectives, goals, and values of the Advantage Co that define us need to go beyond such simplification. It is incumbent upon us, therefore, to supply you with a more vivid and applicable understanding of who we are and where we are heading. Take a moment to see things through the lens of the Advantage Co. This will help you to better understand our company and the singular role as a builder that you will play in our shared success.
We have created a particular environment where everyone has an enormous opportunity for advancement and personal equity – some will flourish in this environment and enjoy it; however, the Advantage is not for everyone.
For the past 42 years, we have been building the Advantage Co as a vibrant resource for our community, our employees, our partners, our suppliers, our associates, our customers, our families, our friends, and ourselves. Today, the Advantage is an eclectic mix of independent business ventures that range from IT services and enterprise software to retail to wholesale to brand development to food service to repair services to zero-fee fundraising to e-commerce to just about anything you can imagine.
The Advantage Co has always been a builder of dreams, a builder of families, a builder of friendships, a builder of careers, a builder of opportunities, and a builder of social good. And, today, we are poised to be a builder of almost anything we can imagine. However, if you want to build all that can be imagined, it does have a cost. And that cost is in our commitment, determination, courage, and effort.
At the Advantage, we learn from the past, live in the present, and build for the future. The past provides us with precious memories, moments, and a building block for the future. The present is here to both challenge us and provide enjoyment [and neither meeting the challenge nor enjoying the moment should ever be delayed until tomorrow]. The future provides us with the promise of what can be. Fortunately, the future of the Advantage provides us more promise than ever before. We can not, however, fulfill the promise of the future without your help.
I hope your time at the Advantage proves to be a rewarding experience [for all of us].
Below is the most recent draft of my Advantage Handbook: The Third Factor. I began writing it in the ’80s, and the last update was on December 27, 2020. To me, this Handbook is essential. If we want to meet the challenge of today and fulfill the promise of tomorrow, we need to embrace it with enthusiasm, effectiveness, and enjoyment.
Understand, Believe, and Deliver
1. The Advantage ‘Magic.’
As a business builder, it is essential you understand, believe, and deliver the Advantage ‘Magic.’ We are successful because of the effort of those who have understood, believed, and delivered the Advantage ‘Magic’ over the past 40 years. I believe we are indeed magic. A litmus test for ‘Magic’ will always be the smile on your face – no smile, no ‘Magic.’ As a builder, it is essential that you are always enthusiastic, it is your job. If you are not enjoying your job – it’s a good indication that it is time to chart a new path.
2. Recognition and Improvement
Growth at the Advantage is based on a gradual accumulation of modifications. Your successful growth and development will give us the opportunity to take on new challenges. Our aim is to be better tomorrow than we are today. Recognition and improvement pave our road to success.
3. Be Positive
As you read this Handbook, you will recognize we are committed to creating a positive environment. You must understand the difference between being critical and being negative. The former is the foundation of improvement, while the latter plants the seeds of discord. We must always recognize the need for improvement, but being positive in our criticism is what paves the way for both our success and enjoyment.
This Handbook will also explain what is expected of you as a business builder and the rewards you can expect for helping us reach our potential. We recognize that compensation goes beyond money. We want to reward your outstanding effort with opportunity and a sense of satisfaction. We want you to enjoy a job well done, and we want you to reap the long-term benefits of our success.
At the Advantage, you’ll find our incentive programs and opportunities help to shape our character. They reward the attitude, performance, and results that are necessary for our continued growth. Our incentive programs are designed to give you a share of the profits and opportunities you help generate.
With our leadership programs, there are four components that allow us to define and recognize your value to the company and to properly compensate you for your effective efforts on our behalf. You will be evaluated and rewarded based on …
Your ability to effectively promote the adoption of the strategies, goals, and objectives of the Advantage Co by our suppliers, teaming partners, resellers, and, most of all, our staff.
Leadership is the ability to create an environment where people are motivated to give a 100% effort toward the desired result.Therefore, in order to get the results we desire, we will need effective leadership. Are you an effective leader? It’s not about the great effort you’re putting forth, we want to know if you are creating an environment where everyone around you is motivated to give a 100% effort toward the desired result.
The difference between a valuable employee and a leader is dramatic. In order to be an effective employee, you will need to be enthusiastic, fully engaged, and effective … however, in order to be an effective leader, you must be all in. Leaders must be fully committed.
Management’s role is to deliver results.
“Management has to be accountable for performance. Management exists for the sake of the institution’s results. It has to start with the intended results and has to organize the resources of the institution to attain these results. A manager’s job should be based on a task to be performed in order to attain the company’s objectives … A business enterprise has only one true resource: people. It succeeds by making human resources productive. It accomplishes its goals through work. To make work productive is, therefore, an essential function. Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant. This is what an organization is all about, and it is the reason that management is the critical, determining factor.” – Peter Drucker
The seller’s role is to profitably deliver the sales of our products and services worldwide.
“What the customer buys and considers valuable is never just a product. It is always a utility, that is, what a product or service does for them. Because its purpose is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two — and only these two — basic functions: innovation and marketing. The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits them and sells itself. The business does not ask, What do we want to sell? It asks, What does the customer want to buy? It does not say, This is what our product or service does. It says, These are the satisfactions the customer looks for, values, and needs. The business defines its goal as the satisfaction of customer needs. It demands that business bases its reward on its contribution to the customer.” – Peter Drucker
“It is the definition of a business that it exists for the sake of economic performance. In all other institutions — hospital, church, university, or medical services — economic considerations are a restraint. In business, economic performance is the rationale and purpose. Business management, therefore, must always, in every decision and action, put economic performance first. It can justify its existence and its authority only by the economic results it produces. Business management has failed if it does not produce economic results.” – Peter Drucker
5. Your Career Marketability
Advancement at the Advantage is based on how well you understand, believe, and deliver the Advantage ‘Magic.’ In addition to your career advancement at the Advantage and the commensurate financial benefits, you will also be rewarded, almost immediately, by the improved marketability of your skills. This is a very real and substantial reward for your association with us. If you look at how marketable you were before you came here, and how marketable you are now that you are a part of our success, the difference you recognize is enormous and profitable to you in both the short and long term. A successful company with a great reputation benefits everyone.
6. Our Reputation
Therefore, it is easy to recognize we share with you not only our resources but our reputation as well. By helping to make our reputation the best it can be, it will allow you to benefit from the association you have with a strong, independent, creative, and successful business. Our reputation is your reputation – and you are its caretaker and direct beneficiary. It’s your responsibility. It is something that you have to deliver on 24 hours a day. Every time you represent the Advantage, you define us. Reputation is equal part image and substance, we need you to deliver on both. Be big, be a builder.
7. Energy and Purpose
They say that 90% of what we do is by routine and habit, and only 10% is by energy and purpose. Success, however, comes from focusing 100% of your energy and purpose on what you have a burning desire to achieve. You can’t fake it.
8. Do the right thing
At the Advantage, we always strive to do the right thing rather than to do things right. You are responsible for making the right decisions. Never compromise yourself or the Advantage. Your integrity and good judgment are vital to our success. You brought your integrity with you, what we hope to help further develop is your business judgment. Your judgment will improve as your knowledge and depth of understanding our business grows. Success is the result of good judgment and good judgment is built on experience.
Built to Last
pro•fit n. the return on investment or business undertaking after all expenses have been paid.
9. Battery Attached
Power is the ability to initiate and sustain action, translating intention into reality. You are here to help create an environment where individual needs are satisfied by a cumulative and focused effort. You are the power. You are the battery attached. You are the energy. Pour it on.
10. We are looking for giants.
David Ogilvy said, “if you hire people smaller than you, you will have a company of dwarfs; but, if you hire people bigger than you, you will have a company of giants.”
11. Points of Contact
We need to maximize the potential of every point of contact. It is not enough to merely satisfy the immediate pretext of the contact, we need to recognize and maximize the potential in the future of the relationship. It’s not only what we are currently doing with all of our contacts that count, but it’s also recognizing what is possible – and the possibilities are often limitless. We are building relationships that last a lifetime.
12. Security, Profitability, and Growth
Often, people do not feel involved because they do not see the effect their actions have on the final outcome, so they focus solely on the minutia of their particular task [in that limited environment they can see the immediate result of their effort]. That is why most people feel more comfortable being judged on a particularly controllable and well-defined task. It doesn’t work that way at the Advantage. As a business builder, you are responsible for the eventual results. It’s the big picture.
We are not here for a good effort, we are here to be successful; and success at the Advantage is defined by achieving security, profitability, and growth while creating opportunity for everyone involved in our journey.
13. Qui tacet consentit.
He who remains silent consents. Another translation is ‘Silence implies consent.’ So, speak up at all times.
14. The two essential ingredients of success.
In order to be successful, you will need to give an extraordinary effort and you will need help. In order to give an extraordinary effort, you will need to have faith in yourself, and in order to receive the help you need to be a success, you will have to have faith in others.
As a business builder, you must respect our customers, your fellow workers, and the community. It’s a big job. You show respect by taking pride in your work and giving a 100% effort. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Remember, if you don’t have the time to do it right – you certainly aren’t going to have the time to do it over. Get it right the first time. People will remember how well it was done, not how fast. Exceed expectations. Your success as a builder will be regularly evaluated.
16. Fully Aligned. Fully Committed. Fully Engaged.
It is everyone’s responsibility to make certain that they are fully aligned, fully committed, and fully engaged.
Understand. You can not expect to be fully aligned unless you truly understand our businesses, objectives, and strategies as well as our desired results. Keep in mind that it is your responsibility alone to make certain that our principles, strategies, and desired results are in line with what you believe.
Believe. It is up to you to demonstrate convincingly that you are fully aligned. Belief is manifested by your motivation, enthusiasm, and concern.
Deliver. We can not possibly achieve all that we are capable of without everyone being fully aligned, committed, and engaged [as well as being fully loaded, enabled, and empowered]. It is up to you to meet the challenge and deliver the results.
ni•dus n. a nest or breeding place; a place where something originates or develops.
17. Theodore Roosevelt’s famous Man in the Arena speech.
‘It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause and who, if he fails, at least fails while bearing greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.’
18. What do you think of your job at the Advantage?
“I like it here, I mean, I like the people I work with, but it just, well, I don’t know if it’s what I really want to do. It’s a decent company if you’re into it, but I’m not sure if I am. I like my free time, and I don’t like taking my work home with me. The commitment is demanding, and I don’t know how long I can take it. They are always changing things, and I never know where I stand [half the time I don’t know what the hell is going on]. I work harder than most, but it never seems to be appreciated. I do my job. I would like to be making more for the effort I have to put in. If it was up to me…”
“I love my job, it’s both a challenge and an opportunity. It’s been hard work and a major commitment, but I really feel as if I’m developing. The main thing is that I’m building something. I’ve had to make some sacrifices, but I think I know what I want, and I’m heading in the right direction. I think as a company, we’re doing the right things, but we certainly need to improve – and I think I can help. It’s a long haul and I’m already packed. I could have worked somewhere else that was less chaotic [half the time I don’t know what the hell is going on], but life is a journey, not a guided tour.“
Who would you rather build a future with?
The sciences use nidus to refer to a breeding ground, often a place where the bacteria lodge and multiply. Although it literally means ‘nest’ in Latin, the word carries none of the positive connotations that nest has in English [such as home]. A nidus is usually a source of infection or undesirable habits. The reason I bring this up is that I want to make all of our operations part of our nest rather than a nidus – a breeding ground for growth and prosperity rather than infection or undesirable habits – a place where opportunity develops.
The symptoms of a nidus are easy to spot. It starts with a bad attitude that leads to an us-against-them bias. A nidus then becomes isolated and the bacteria festers and rots the spirit of all that come in contact with it [fellow workers and customers alike]. Isolation breeds suspicion.
In order to build a nest rather than a nidus, we need to come together and build our future as one. We can not afford a nidus builder. You are either here helping us to build our future or you will become part of our past. Every choice has a consequence. Be big, build a nest, not a nidus.
20. The Consequences
‘Although the emotional impact of being fired varies with the individual, studies show that the trauma associated with termination is so great that it can be compared in intensity to divorce or the death of a loved one. Shock, depression, anger, self-pity, confusion, and loss of identity are some common feelings and reactions. The person is filled with anxiety and self-doubt about their prospects of finding a new job, the reactions of family and peers, and finances. The individual may be extremely bitter and negative about the future to the point of seeking revenge. He or she may go to work for a customer or competitor, file a lawsuit against the company, or spread malicious rumors. Such negative actions can substantially damage a company’s reputation and can have a serious effect on its recruiting efforts, community image, and employee morale and loyalty.’ – A.M. Triosi. June 1980
21. Fully Engaged in Life
‘In 1982, I wrote in my diary that life is motion, not joy. If the way you measure success in life is by how much joy it brings you, you’re measuring inaccurately. Life is also sadness, defeat, striving. It is many things. I want to go home winning, but the important thing is that I played the game.’ – Mario Cuomo
A Brief History of the Advantage Co
luck n. to gain success or something desirable by chance.
22. Gary Player. ‘The more I practice the luckier I get.’
23. The Old-Fashioned Way
There are three worlds: the one we are given, the one we are stuck with, and the one we bend to our will.
I am a builder. More specifically, a business builder, that’s my world. It’s a builder’s life. It’s not for everyone, but, as I have often said, it’s the life I chose [and love]. It has been good to me. I have been fortunate as a builder beyond my expectations, and I am grateful. I am a lucky man, and I pay constant respect to my good fortune by never taking it for granted. I never dismiss or discount the tireless help, loyal support, and good luck we have had. Fate plays a cruel joke from time to time on those that don’t appreciate their good fortune. Hubris is historically the tragic flaw for good reason.
I started the Stereo Advantage in the Spring of 1978. I was 24 years old and in no particular hurry to do anything. I had sent my deposit to law school for the Fall of ’78 semester. At the time, I was selling Lloyd’s all-in-one stereo systems out of my apartment, and I had a few of my friends on commission. On June 6, 1978, I rented a 450 sq’ storefront at 5687 Main Street. My childhood friend, TM, and I started the Taplin Agency [an advertising company] and Jalmar Graphics [gift items] to go along with the Stereo Advantage. We were young, enthusiastic, and well… After a few weeks, TM left with Jalmar Graphics [now Manzella Productions], and I ventured alone with the Stereo Advantage. I never did make it to law school.
I was married in the Summer of ’79, hired Audio Al in the Fall of ’79, and had my first daughter in the Spring of ’80. Fatherhood certainly motivated me. We stopped carrying albums [only $4.97] in the Spring of ’80, and we were off. ‘Sounds Great’ almost blew us out of the water during the Summer of ’81, but we dug in! We bought some more product, relentlessly promoted our business, enthusiastically sold to our customers, and managed our business affairs well. It was all based on a simple premise: buy product people wanted and then sell it to them in a way that made them want to buy more.
I remember we were painting the store late one night when a guy knocked on the window and asked if we were still open. I unlocked the door and told him that we had a store full of product to sell him, so, yes, we were definitely open. We were always open to anyone who wanted to shop. Store hours? There was no such thing. We had product to sell, and our one goal was to sell it in a way that would make them want to buy more. As I said, it was a simple premise.
We started Wholesale [iFul] in the Spring of ’82. It was around then that I talked Butch out of college. As ’82 came to a close, we opened our first Stereo Advantage catalog store in Olean. There was also a joint venture in a Stereo Advantage in Phoenix, Arizona, not to mention the little Stereo Advantage on Elmwood Avenue in the heart of the city. None were as ahead of their time, however, as our computer school – Computer Head Start [launched in 1983]. Around this time, we also started the Stereo Shop in Rochester and the Sneaker Advantage. We were an intrepid bunch.
By 1984, we were a $10 million company, and we made the big move to 5195 Main St. Silo came to town and opened the largest electronics store on planet Earth in October of ’84, and we moved into our new store in November of ’84. Everyone wrote us off, but we’ve been taking on all challengers ever since.
Today, the Advantage Co is a remarkable mix of independent businesses with over 1,000 employees and associates worldwide. We have a varied menu of operations: Advantage Global Resources, Unified Global Archiving, Smart Squad Design, iWorldFundraising.org, Zovy Cloud, Tony Walker & Co, AIDO, Advantage Brands Group, Bogavia, Lab to Beauty, Pure + Fresh, CISO Sentinel, Giancarlo’s Sicilian Steakhouse, Grivani Wine Cellar, The Walker Center, Lifetime Service & Solutions, AP Professionals, iWolrd Professionals, Black Progress Matters, Panther data Solutions, FedCloud Resources, and various other remarkable partnerships.
We are a well-diversified organization, uniquely prepared to not only face the challenges of volatile economic realities but strategically positioned to reap the benefits of future growth. The development of our company began in 1978, and our current direction has been evolving since the beginning of 2012.
Many are called, few are chosen. Business development was not the life for many of those that have joined us over the years. Of the 8,000 or so people who have worked at various Advantage Co operations worldwide since 1978, only a few have ever truly embraced the builder’s life, and fewer still have been able to truly find success and happiness as a business developer. Success as a builder of businesses is realized by focusing all that you are capable of on what you have a burning desire to accomplish. There are no secrets or shortcuts to this success. It is the result of thoughtful preparation, maximum effort, effective execution, learning from your mistakes, and selling like your world depends on it.
Our remarkable growth over the past several years has been accomplished by the extraordinary efforts of the very few who have a unique understanding of what it takes to make us a profitable and responsible venture.
Our success could not have been achieved without the investment necessary to support such opportunity. It takes people, money, and courage. I think we have a great mix of all three and that is why I am so excited about our prospects for the future. It has been earned – and it has been rewarding!
root n. the portion of a plant that serves as support and draws minerals and water from the soil.
24. The Root
A business starts out as one lonely root. It heads down into the dark recesses of the earth looking for water. It’s not sure where it’s heading, but it sure knows what it needs. It knows its purpose! Nothing else matters, and this singularity of purpose defines the root. There are no philosophical contradictions, no conflicting strategies: just find some water – it is better to be fit than to be right. It takes more courage than virtue.
25. Grow or Die
Once it initially succeeds in its search, the root begins to grow. It won’t grow in just one direction – instinctively it knows better than that. It sprouts new roots in all directions. Some find water and repeat the process, others find nothing and atrophy sets in. Grow or die, succeed or perish. The root never rests, it never stops searching.
The root is not stuck on one path, it does not resist change. It welcomes the opportunity to intertwine with other roots, knowing there is strength in this union. It is ready to adapt. It knows its job and it sticks to it. It is the search that gives the root meaning, not the success. It is the skills developed and used [to grow] that give it substance and character. Like the root, we are not here to collect and admire, we are here to build and grow. We measure the quality of our life by the effort given to our journey, not by our ephemeral success. It is the struggle that defines us.
27. We are always at risk.
Our business knows its purpose, it’s been taught well. We have strong roots. We do not resist change, we welcome it. We must grow or die. It would be nice to say that we have arrived at the journey’s end, but that doesn’t happen to a root. A root goes on searching, the journey continues unabated. The challenges that can destroy us are right around the corner, lurking behind this veil of success. We must be ready, we must be prepared. Who knows when the next storm will hit? We must stay strong. It is not enough for the root to find water, it must have the ability to store enough water to survive the eventual drought. No root is so bold or so arrogant as to think that it will avoid drought. The key is to survive. Luck has nothing to do with it, preparation does. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail. We have our water stored and we continue on.
28. Stand Together
This business is a seed of opportunity. Properly cared for it will grow strong and prosper forever. It must be able to withstand the vagaries of life. It must be supple and pliable enough to change with the demands of a dynamic world, yet strong and firm enough to stand tall against all challenges. Like the mighty Redwoods of California, we cannot stand alone. The roots of the great Redwoods do not run deep and alone, rather, they spread out and intertwine with each other. They stand together. A storm doesn’t take on just one, it takes on a hundred, and the Redwoods have been standing tall for thousands of years.
As we continue into the 2020s, we stand together with 4 categories of businesses that have us uniquely prepared for all challenges, risks, and opportunities:
These are our operations that form the foundation for all that we do and aspire to do at the Advantage Co. These operations are our Advantage Global Resources [e.g. accounting, design, building, maintenance, legal, administration, human resources, etc.]. Recently, we have been paying particular attention to organizing, developing, and expanding our Advantage Global Resources.
These are our operations that do not currently provide an operating profit, but they do have the remarkable and very valuable ability to incubate outstanding opportunities. These operations [e.g. Advantage Brands Group, Giancarlo’s, UGA, c1 Resources, etc.] may one day become resource or investment operations, but right now, they are [along with Advantage Global Resources] an incredible resource for building the future.
We will continue to incubate businesses that will one day become Incubator operations on their own, investment operations with effective management, or brands to be sold.
- Brand & Resource Development
These are the operations that we build or transform with the intention of selling them as a brand or resource [e.g. Autonomic Resources, Capax Global, FullCloud, Lab to Beauty, Bogavia, etc.]. This is how we often realize the maximum value from our creative efforts.
These are our operations that are being run by dynamic leadership and provide us with a phenomenal return on our investment. These operations [e.g. AP Group, Lifetime Service, Advantage Properties, etc.] have a solid foundation of their own, and, most importantly, effective management. When you add up the years that the top 7 leaders of these operations have been with the Advantage Co, it comes to over 160 years – and they are just getting started with all they can build with our full support. Going forward, we will continue to build businesses that we will add to our investment category.
Building a Business
29. Step One: Pick the right market space [know thyself].
The criteria for picking the right market space is based on our ability to be competitive in, to be profitable in, and, ultimately, to be dominant in the chosen space.
Is this the space we are best equipped to compete in? Do we have the leadership, expertise, and resources to deliver? Can we navigate effectively? Can we be more profitable in this particular market space [as opposed to another space]? Is this where we will maximize our return on our investment for all the resources we must commit to compete, profit, and dominate? Is this the most fertile ground for the seeds we are going to plant for our merchant harvest?
Can we eventually be dominant in this market space? If we can’t, we will eventually be overwhelmed by the dominant player. In order to build a sustainable core business, it is not enough to be competitive and profitable – we must be dominant. Business is extremely competitive and ruthless. There are winners and losers. All of our competition wants to put us out of business. There are no half measures. Dominate or be dominated. Now, I’d like to paint a warmer, kinder, gentler picture of the business world for you, but, just like the rest of the world, it’s not survival of the fit, it’s survival of the fittest. There’s some nasty shit going on out there. Our intention is to dominate because the only other option is to be dominated [and eventually expunged]. That’s just not going to happen. We have the resources and desire to build a world-class business that dominates our market. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Bring it on.
30. Step Two: Brand equity [the Advantage ‘Magic’].
In order to build a sustainable business, it is essential that our operations become the brand. This creates our brand equity. Our brand, however, is of little value unless it delivers performance, value, and cache. We build our brand equity by exceeding the customer’s expectations in all three deliverables.
We don’t merely have a service department, we have Lifetime Service. We don’t just have an IT programming division, we have Sceven. We don’t simply have IT managed services, we have the PremCloud. It’s not just an A/V system, it’s a Smart Center system installed by the Smart Squad. We even had Audio Al.
At Tony Walker & Co, we are the brand. Our customers do not buy a North Face jacket, they buy a ‘North Face jacket from Tony Walker.’ It’s where they got it that gives it its cache. A gift from Tony Walker & Co is a special gift. Just like when you give a gift from Tiffany’s in their little blue box, the Tony Walker hounds-tooth wrapper itself evokes a promise of quality, fashion, elegance, and style. It is not meant to be discounted or diminished. It is not meant to evoke a feeling of prudent shopping and closeout pricing. It’s not a deal, rather it is a big deal to get something from Tony Walker & Co. Our goal is to make every customer proud to shop and promote the Tony Walker experience because it is how I want to build our business and it elevates them, as well. It is both a social experience and a statement. Therefore, we must do everything we can to make their in-store experience magical.
In TW&Co’s chosen market space, we need to not only attract the customers who will naturally shop in that space but, more importantly, we must also attract those who are likely to make an aspirational purchase in that space. We help accomplish this by branding everything we do, and we brand everything we do by adding the special sauce. It’s just like the Ragusa Figs my great-great-grandfather use to bring to market back in Sicily. He would dip his figs into his special sauce and get a premium price for his figs. They weren’t just any figs, they were Ragusa Figs. We need to dip everything into our own special sauce – that’s the differentiator – that’s the Advantage ‘Magic.’ And, remember, you’re the special sauce.
31. Step Three: Get more bites out of the apple.
In order to build a sustainable business, it is important to get the maximum performance out of our resources, especially our inventory. In our inventory-based businesses, we must get as many bites out of the inventory as possible. We need to keep our inventory fresh, productive, and turning. Therefore, we not only sell our inventory through our retail stores, we also wholesale and distribute it. Today, the internet offers even more opportunities to get additional bites out of our inventory. The same is true for our software-based businesses.
Our Jumpsite strategy is built on our remarkable iWorldShoppingCenter.com marketplace and it is the foundation of our unique online experience, but there are so many available venues it’s almost limitless. So, since we already stock our core inventory, why not sell it in as many ways as possible? One of the noteworthy aspects of this strategy is that we don’t have to use the same criteria for choosing our market space. As long as we are not putting our core operations, our suppliers, or our customers at risk, we can sell it anywhere. We don’t necessarily have to be competitive, dominant, or, at times, even profitable. It’s a great way to start a new root and create opportunity for everyone with limited risk.
32. Step Four: Turn our support functions into profit centers.
The same perspective goes for our other resources, especially our support functions. If we have to do it anyway, why not turn it into a profitable business? Whatever we do, we want to be world-class, and that’s a great start for any business. Once again, our criteria for turning our support functions into profit centers is not as demanding as picking a market space for our core operations. We have to manage our properties, so why not develop profitable income-producing property? We have to have a design team, so why not start a profitable Smart Squad design agency? We have to have a service department, so why not provide profitable service for other companies? Look what we did with our personnel department [our G8 division has become our fastest growing and most profitable business]. This is the Root Philosophy in action.
33. Step Five: Growing the Business
In order to grow our business, we need to start with the obvious. Every one of our operations can certainly increase their sales by at least 40% by doing a more effective job of selling more of the goods and services we already have to the customers we already have. We need to look at our business through this lens every day and every moment. It’s essential.
If we are going to continuously grow our business, we must identify everything we have available to sell, then make it accessible, desirable, and consumable. Next, we need to identify all of our customers, get to know them better, make them accessible, and then connect with them [this is where the rubber meets the road]. We facilitate this connection by building a better conduit between all we have to offer and all of our customers. This is really the key to growing our business. It’s organic.
One. Sell more of what we have to the customers we have.
a. Identify everything we have available to sell.
I have no idea of the entire scope of our remarkable offerings, I doubt anyone actually does. Out of sight, out of mind. The products, programs, and services we now offer are as diverse as they are outstanding. Before we get started working on any strategy to increase sales, we have to begin with identifying ALL of the goods and services we currently have available to sell.
b. Make all that we offer more accessible to everyone at the Advantage.
Once we identify everything we have to offer, we need to make it accessible to everyone at the Advantage. This is the challenge of the Advantage Business Exchange Directory. If we can’t identify and access it – we can’t sell it. This access must be available for everyone from the first day they arrive at the Advantage and continue on [even as they become more and more focused on a specific division and less likely to be exposed to the rest of the company]. It’s easy to become myopic and miss opportunities. Keep everything in sight and accessible.
c. Merchandise it all for customer access.
After we identify and provide access to our eclectic mix of offerings, everything needs to be offered, packaged, and presented in a way that is attractive to our customers. This is the special sauce, this is the Advantage ‘Magic.’ We are here to satisfy particular needs. Our customers need to know that we have what they need, but, more importantly, we need to fire their imagination with all that is possible. Along with our personal performance, one of the things we can control is the quality of our customer’s access, so let’s make certain that they have the best access possible.
d. Make it consumable.
Our range of offerings is nothing short of incredible, but it is just too much to present or grasp all at once. We need to make it all consumable in one bite – maximum exposure in the minimum amount of time and space. The most consumable venue, in retail, is obviously a little flier. Do you think we can get everything we have to offer in one little flier? It’s a challenge, but it is essential. I’m certain we can do it. From a simple flier, we move into other more voluminous venues; each providing a larger format for more information and depth. So we graduate from a flier to a brochure, then a catalog, then a website, and finally to the actual displays in a store or trade show. Each venue presents an opportunity for maximum exposure of all that we have to offer [as well as defining specific offerings]. We will bring all together in the Advantage Business Exchange.
e. Identify all of our customers.
We have customers everywhere. In fact, everyone we touch is a customer or potential customer. We need to build, organize, and profile our customer lists. We need to know our customers better. It is essential.
f. Make all of our customers more accessible to everyone at the Advantage.
Once again, if we can’t identify and access them, we can’t sell them. We need to share all our resources, including our customers throughout the Advantage Nation.
g. Connect with our customers.
We need a better conduit to our customers. Every point of contact needs to be improved. From our website/blogs to social media, to all of our salespeople, we need to improve every day.
Two. Find more customers for what we already have to sell.
We always start with word-of-mouth referrals because we know nothing is more critical to our success. Until our customers refer us, we haven’t completed the sale. In addition to referrals, we must seek out new customers through a comprehensive marketing program. Effective marketing makes selling easy.
Three. Create or source more to sell to the customers we already have.
We’re actually pretty good at this, especially at TW&Co. This is what makes buying and developing fun. It’s the hunt. Fortunately, the internet allows us to access and deliver an even broader array of goods and services for our customers at a minimal cost.
The future is uncertain and the end is always near, let it roll. Everything wears out – every fad, every product. Everything that is new today is old tomorrow. Sooner or later we have to be ready to move on. Diversification will lay the foundation for future growth. We should always be on the lookout for new opportunities that provide us with access to different products, services, markets, suppliers, partners, and customers.
When the inevitable storm comes, it’s taking on our redwood root structure. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail. We are uniquely prepared: We have branded ourselves; and, unlike our competition, we are getting more bites out of our resources. But equally as decisive, we have dramatically reduced our overhead by turning many of our support functions into profit centers. This all adds up to a remarkable competitive advantage, not to mention a growing root structure.
There are many businesses that are successful but not sustainable. Most stop short of steps two, three, and four in building a sustainable core business. Once they handle step one, they think they have succeeded. It is a combination of hubris [the tragic flaw] and ignorance that eventually proves their undoing. We, however, are in it for the long run. We are here to build sustainable core businesses.
We are the root. This is how we roll. Be big, be a builder.
34. Second Floor Resources Brand Development Program
At the Advantage Co, the development of our backend support services over the past 40 years has positioned us to realize our potential as an easily accessible, cost-effective, and flexible resource for a variety of business operations. At the core of all our Advantage Co backend support is our Second Floor Resources [2FR]. Second Floor Resources provides the essential support apparatus for the origination, design, structure, financing, development, growth, reporting, monitoring, analytics, compliance, security, accounting, legal, sourcing, distribution, branding, and governance of all our businesses and partnerships.
Based on our deliverable expertise, Second Floor Resources has developed a unique and extraordinary Brand Development Program. The services that we efficiently deliver to all our businesses and partnerships [i.e. Unified Global Archiving, c1 Advantage, AP Professionals, ABX, Bogavia, CISO Sentinel, TW&Co, Giancarlo’s, LTS, Grivani Wine Cellar, etc.] are indeed world-class, and we are now able to make them readily available through our Brand Development Program to various clients who are looking to effectively and expeditiously launch their own brand [i.e. Carolina Clothing Co, LeCleanse, King Finley, etc.].
While venture capitalists and start-up incubators assist in the development, marketing, financing, and launch of a brand, 2FR not only provides those highly visible services, but goes well beyond to provide the nuts and bolts of every business, including, as needed, product sourcing, warehousing, and distribution, as well as e-commerce, retail testing, and full accounting and compliance support.
Simply put, our Second Floor Resources Brand Development Program provides every aspect of brand development and sustainable business activity efficiently and effectively [launched in a matter of days, if necessary]. From creating the desired corporate entity to building the brand to providing full business support, 2FR is the complete resource.
In one of my favorite Aesop’s Fables, a father whose daughters were perpetually quarreling decided to give them a practical illustration of the evils of disunion. He gave each, in succession, a bundle of sticks and ordered them to break them. Though each daughter tried with all her strength, none succeeded. The father then unbound the sticks and gave each daughter one of them, which they broke easily. Then he said: “My daughters, if you are of one mind, and unite to assist each other, you will be as this bundle, proof against your enemies. But if you are divided among yourselves, you will be broken as easily as these sticks.”
This simple story tells us everything we need to know about the importance of building a strong and loyal team. We are in this together, and I am dedicated to building our future with your help and loyalty.
It starts with our reputation. A reputation is equal parts substance and image. We must provide the substance and promote our image. First impressions are lasting impressions. We must show our customers, community, friends, and each other that we believe in what we are doing – that we are indeed the best merchants anywhere. Our reputation will hold in good stead through the storms we must face; it is our root. It is our greatest and most fragile asset.
36. Henry Ford. ‘Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t – you’re right!’
The Moment of Truth
del•liv•er n. to produce what is expected; make good.
37. Will Durant’s The Mansions of Philosophy.
‘We may take the same attitude to pugnacity and its advance agent, pride; these are virtues, not vices; and though we shall prune them, it is only to make them grow. Not quarrelsomeness, and not conceit: conceit is the imagination of victories to come, pride is the remembrance of victories achieved, and quarrelsomeness is the pugnacity of the weak. To fight does not mean of necessity to shout and strike; it may mean to persist quietly and politely to one’s goal.’
‘To be ambitious need not mean to be cruel and greedy; the strong man gives as readily as he earns, and finds his joy in building rather than in owning; he makes houses for others to live in, and money for others spend.’
‘Character does not come from conspicuous consumptions, it comes from construction and creation.’
Leadership is the ability to create an environment where people are motivated to give a thoughtful, enthusiastic, and effective effort toward the desired result.
I have never taken my responsibility to create an environment where everyone was motivated to give a 100% effort toward the desired result lightly. My efforts have always started with making everyone cognizant of what we were trying to accomplish.
A company without a clear vision of what it wants to be – and where it is going – is a lost company with no hope for success.
39. Supply Time
We are all builders. From preparation to execution, all of us are inexorably tied together in a process that produces the desired result [security, profitability, and growth]. It is my job to supply the leadership and the resources to help make it happen. Since you can’t draw water from an empty well, I have to ask myself if I have supplied you with the reputation and resources so you can deliver. If you are taking care of a customer, have I empowered you with the authority and knowledge to satisfy their needs? This is my Supply Time. If I haven’t, you better let me know. We have our faults, but we aim to correct them. Be critical, not negative. We are committed to recognition and improvement. This is our strength. This is our responsibility.
40. Delivery Time
Delivery Time is your time to come through for the Advantage Co, this is your responsibility. It is that moment of truth when you have to deliver. Whether you are at home, work, or play – you are on call for Delivery Time. You define the Advantage Co every time you represent us. So make sure you understand, believe, and deliver the ‘Magic.’ When you are at work, people will respond to how you represent us, that will be their definition of the Advantage Co [be it good or bad]. The same is also true when you are not at work. If someone mentions the Advantage Co, this is a moment of truth, this is Delivery Time. Do you have the pride and loyalty to make it happen? We are all counting on you. You are where the rubber meets the road.
Our reputation is our most treasured asset. It is the one resource we can not replace. Our inventory, facility, personnel, and skills can be replaced, but our reputation has only one life. Every time you are faced with a moment of truth, remember, it’s Delivery Time and our reputation depends on you. You should be able to say with confidence and sincerity that we are the right place, that we deliver on our promises, and that you believe in our future. It’s a 24 hour a day commitment. It’s not just your job – it’s your reputation.
41. Measurement Time
Measurement Time is the process of recognition for the sake of improvement. This is the time when we take a look at how well we are keeping our promises and commitments.
As a builder, we are making an implicit promise to satisfy particular needs. As a company, we make many more promises. We have made unspoken promises, especially to the community we serve. We have also made considerable promises to our suppliers and each other. Quality is external. It is measured by what people expect. They keep score. We are here to exceed expectations.
The Business Life Cycle
fit adj. suited, adapted, or acceptable for a given circumstance or purpose.
42. Everything has a life cycle
The earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old, and there was no life on it for the first 2 billion years. Man has been around for about 50,000 of those 4.5 billion years – that’s about 800 generations. The first 650 generations were spent as cave dwellers, and nearly all the manufactured products and technology that we use today were produced by the last 5-7 generations.
43. Survival of the fittest.
It’s been a Darwinian Process – a struggle for existence. Darwin’s Natural Selection suggests results from the gradual accumulation of individual modifications. It is survival of the fittest. We must be fit and willing to adapt.
44. About Darwinism
‘It’s true that Darwin couldn’t prove his theory, since, as he put it, the great span of evolutionary time was simply unrecoverable. But that was okay. The circumstantial evidence – in the form of fossils, species, distributions, plant and animal structure, embryology – was good. And, except to the religious fundamentalists of the day, the basic setup felt right, just as the theory that the earth was round had felt right. What was upsetting were evolution’s vibes: that nature had gone from being a sun-kissed harmony to being a tag-team wrestling match; that there was no such thing as virtue, just more and more adaptation; and that there were greater rewards for being fit than for being good or even for being right.’ – Jones & Wilson
45. The 6 Phases of the Business Life Cycle
Businesses also have a life cycle and ours is no exception. There are six phases in the life cycle of a business: the first three are dependent upon the efforts of the individual leader, the next two are dependent upon the core ideology, and the final phase is when the leader and the core ideology give way to expedience, status, and greed. I would like to see us stay in the Expansion Phase forever. Every phase calls for significant adaptations.
1. The Dreamer Phase
The founder of the business sets out on a journey, chasing a dream. Few are convinced, and those who come along do so on faith alone.
2. The Rebel Phase
The battle has been joined. The business lives on the edge of success or failure every day. There is no respite, the leader knows that success or failure rest in his ability and efforts alone. The team is tight and loyal, there is no room for anything less than total commitment.
3. The Captain Phase
Initial success creates a more intrepid attitude. The team grows into a workforce and internal conflict begins. The business works at becoming more productive and efficient. Competition and creativity are at their height. The leader must begin to delegate. Things are changing overnight. The business remains fluid and adaptive.
4. The Expansion Phase
The business is a financial success and is recognized as a force in its industry. Competition is giving way to internal growing pains as the main concern. Expansion in its core business and development of an efficient infrastructure provide the foundation for further development. Professional management is being developed and gaining power. Profits provide for creativity and new ideas create new opportunities.
5. The Diversification Phase
The core business is seen as a profit center. Current operations must continue to cut costs and run more efficiently. The leader is now a corporate manager and creativity gives way to ‘numbers’ and return on investment. Bigger profits and higher margins are sought in new businesses through diversification. Professional managers have now become more important than producers. A corporate culture [with its inherent caste system] is fully developed. Image begins to dominate substance. Hubris is indeed the tragic flaw.
6. The Acquisition Phase
The core business is being sucked dry and is limping along. In a final effort to stave off extinction, the business acquires other businesses. The future is mortgaged by overburdening the business with debt for acquisition and status. A well-entrenched management is a variety of power cells. Creativity is a thing of the past. The leader has made his money and has left the business to the stockholders and their internecine Board of Directors.
46. Courage. A man who says he never had a chance is the man who never took one.
The Need Hierarchy
need n. lack of something required or desirable. want v. to wish for.
47. Every choice has a consequence.
There is a gap between stimulus and response, and the key to both our growth and success is how we use that space.
Everyone perceives things differently – not correctly, or incorrectly – just differently. ‘Human Relations’ is the development of awareness about others as individuals.
Our brain can only process about 1/10,000th of what we see; a criterion is developed to select what is useful to us [selective perception]. This process is based on our growth and survival needs. Because we do not react equally to all information, we are left with gaps in our perception. We use a process called ‘closure’ to fill in the gaps with the information we already have. Sometimes this ‘closure’ is made too quickly, without enough information. This narrow perception is called ‘stereotyping.’ However, this is not always bad because it often allows us to categorize large volumes of information efficiently.
50. ‘Just do it’ doesn’t work.
We need to understand why people do things, or what motivates them. It should be understood that getting someone to do something, and having a person want to do something, are two completely different endeavors. It can be opportunity, responsibility, or fear that appears to motivate someone, but there is a more basic force at work.
51. Motivation comes when a person wants to do something because it satisfies that person’s own unique needs.
To better understand motivational structure we can use Abraham Maslow’s Need Hierarchy. The structure contains 5 separate graduating Need levels:
1. Basic Needs – Survival [food, water, air, and so on].
2. Safety Needs – After survival needs are met, we turn to meet our need for health, steady job, and other basics to depend on.
3. Belonging Needs – The first set of needs dealing with the psychological well-being of the individual. Love, affection, and a sense of belonging are sought from groups such as the family, coworkers, and friends.
4. Esteem Needs – Prestige, recognition, and respect. The need to feel worthwhile and significant intensifies.
5. Self-actualization Needs – the final and highest level. This can only be achieved after all the other physical [1,2] and psychological [3,4] needs have been basically satisfied. It is reaching one’s full potential.
53. The Value Equation
Maslow felt that unfulfilled needs were the motivating needs. In order to be successful, our information must clearly demonstrate remarkable value by effectively communicating a combination of functional, monetary, social, and psychological values. The real value is created by satisfying desired needs, but success is achieved by exceeding those needs.
Information is the foundation of our business. How we deliver it defines us. Our information must decisively define the value equation and concisely provide the roadmap to participation. Effective information creates the narrative that is essential to energizing the enthusiastic participation necessary for the success of all our business activities and relationships.
The information we provide will help to forge the confidence and cache that are essential to establishing our value equation. This information must be accurate, elegant, and convincing.
Value is the direct benefit one derives from doing or buying something. There must be a recognizable and personally rewarding benefit if there is to be enthusiastic and successful participation. The benefit is demonstrated by assuring the participant that their reward will be greater than their required effort or cost. That’s the value equation.
54. More Will Durant
‘But then one can be too cautious, and by turning away from the beckoning of great deeds, remain forever small. Make sure that modest victories shall not content you; on the morning after your triumph, having feasted for a day, look about you for the next and larger task. Face danger, and seek responsibility, it is true that they may defeat you, may even destroy you; but the date of the one death which you must die is too slight a chronological detail to disturb philosophy. If they do not kill you they will strengthen you, and lift you nearer to greatness and your goal. Make or break.’
55. It cuts both ways.
You can’t have life in slices, you have to take the whole pie, and there is the potential for adversity or success in every bite. This can be either a burden or a challenge.
56. Our greatest assets are also our greatest liabilities.
This is true for everyone and everything. A good example of this is free will; it is our greatest asset, but yet it remains our greatest liability. It leads to the ultimate burden of individual responsibility and the enormous consequence of every decision.
char•ac•ter n. moral or ethical strength.
57. The Mansions of Philosophy.
In 1929, Will Durant wrote The Mansions of Philosophy, a story of human life and destiny, or, as the subtitle promises, an attempt at a consistent philosophy of life. It has been a chisel on my life. One of the most revealing chapters concerns itself with character. Character, in Durant’s view, is a sum of inherent dispositions and desires; it is a mosaic of instincts colored and rearranged by environment, occupation, and experience. Below he formulates the extremes: the negative and the positive character.
58. Here is his negative character:
…If he meets a man he observes him unobserved, looking at everything but the eyes, and measuring the other’s power and intentions. If danger comes, he trembles with surprise and fear; he does not feel active anger, but is consumed with a fretful resentment; his violence is the mask of one who knows that he will submit. He shrinks from responsibility and trial. He believes that the world would entrust him with leadership if it had intelligence. If he succeeds in anything, he credits himself; if he fails, he is “not guilty”; it is the environment [i.e., other people] that is at fault, or the government, or the arrangement of the stars. He is a pessimist about the world and an optimist about himself. Rest and inaction, being his essence, causes him to shun the sharper realities and tasks of life, and shrinks into a world of reverie, in which he wins many victories. These being his impulses, he is weak above all because his impulses are not coordinated by some purpose that dominates and unifies his life. He is restless though always seeking rest; he passes discontent from project to project and from place to place; he is a ship that never makes a port, while all its cargo rots. He is incapable of regularity or industry; and though he seems at times nervously busy, he finds himself unable to persist in a definite purpose. He is intense in intention and lax in application; he is given to bursts of passion that simulate strength, but they end in quick exhaustion and accepted chaos. He has a thousand wishes, but no will.
59. Here is the positive character:
…If he looks at you it is face to face; but he does not look at you; he is absorbed in his enterprise, intent on his goal. His motto is ‘to have and to hold.’ It is his pugnacity that gives power to his purposes; in him desires are not timid aspirations, they are unavoidable impulsions; for their sake he will accept responsibilities, dangers, and wearing toil. He has more courage than virtue, and less conscience than pride. He has powerful ambitions; he despises limits, and suspects humility. If he meets a man stronger than himself, his impulse is not to bow down before him, but to honor him with emulation and rivalry. When he is defeated, it is after a struggle to exhaustion. He is curious; all processes lure him, and his mind plays actively about. He believes in action rather than thought, and like Caesar he thinks nothing finished if anything remains undone. He is domineering, and likes to think that men are bricks to his trowel, to build with them what he likes; and they find a secret zest in being led by him, he is so certain, so confident, and so cheerful. He has a hundred lives of action for one life of thought. What he has above all is will. A unity of aim, an order and perspective and hierarchy of purposes, molded in his character by some persisting and dominating design. He dies never doubting that life was a boon, and only sorry that he must leave the game to younger players.
60. The burden of power.
The strong are subject to the depredations of the weak, but they cannot effectively retaliate in kind.
61. The situation often helps make the man.
During peacetime, Winston Churchill was considered by most an anachronism, but when the free world was facing defeat at Armageddon, he was the man who held forth against the cataclysmic onslaught of fascism. He saved the world! And with peace restored, he was once again relegated to the broom closet, a relic.
res•o•lute adj. firm or determined; unwavering.
62. There are three factors that determine who we are: Genetics, Environment, and Will [the Third Factor].
It is a comforting fact that although we cannot change our heredity, we can alter our situation. In order to change our situation, we must sometimes first change our character. Recognition is the key element of the process to redefine your life as you want it. It is an ongoing process which can only be fueled by a resolute will. To take control of your life, get out of denial and stop blaming everyone and everything else. It’s your destiny, your free will puts you in control, and you are responsible and accountable.
63. There are two worlds – the one we are given and the one we make.
64. The will to change.
How do we develop a positive character and the will to achieve our common goals? This is where we encounter some subtle difficulties. Some of us do not want to change our character. We like our faults. We find comfort in our old familiar habits. The same is true for organizations. We often do not feel the need to grow. So, it is imperative that we first develop the will to change. If we are to make ourselves stronger, we must understand what will is.
Will is the one desire that stands out so high above the others that they are harnessed in one direction [focus]. It is the way of life. Will is unified desire, and its strength and stature increase only as life finds for it new challenges and new victories [the root].
66. What doesn’t destroy us makes us stronger.
Face danger and seek responsibility, it is true that they may defeat you, but if they do not defeat you they will strengthen you and lift you nearer to greatness and your goal. Your fears will make you stronger if you have the will to overcome them. Beethoven, losing his hearing, fought his way to incomparable music; Demosthenes, who stuttered, became a perfect orator. The Advantage, initially lacking in resources, is now a diversified, dynamic enterprise.
67. What’s right for you?
The old wisdom is that there are two things you need to know: what are you good at, and what will make you happy. If you’re lucky, they’ll both be the same. At the Advantage, we have many diverse opportunities with different concentrations, find the right fit, and have the will and courage to make it happen.
68. A trite guide to happiness.
Bring pride into your life and you will be amazed at the transformation. You will lose weight and get in shape. You’ll stop smoking and drinking. You’ll stop hanging your head. You will be renewed. You will walk tall and have confidence. You’ll never shortchange yourself, and you will stop taking shortcuts. You’ll look in the mirror and feel good about what you see. You will be nicer to people, your fear will be replaced with friendliness. You will find fewer reasons to lie. You’ll stop cheating yourself [and others]. You will be admired. You will be happy. Sounds unlikely? Not really, you can do it. Try it.
I believe it is immoral to waste. Do not waste your opportunities.
70. Take Flight
There are only two kinds of people in the business world, eagles and mosquitoes. You either soar with the eagles, or you swarm with the mosquitoes.
10 Points of Business
mag•ic n. a mystery quality of enchantment.
71. The 10 Points of Business
These are our original Stereo Advantage guidelines for the everyday care and feeding of our retail business:
1. Loyal Employees
JC Penney believed that you could tell how well his customers were being treated by how well his employees were being treated. You will treat our customers the way you are treated. It’s that ‘do unto others’ thing.
2. Loyal Customers
They are our partners in the future and an essential part of our root system, let them in on the ‘Magic’ of it. Earn their trust and respect and they’ll stick with us forever. Treat them with only the thought of earning their loyalty as your goal, it makes it all come into focus. Understand the difference between a satisfied customer and a loyal one [and its importance].
The sale is not complete until the customer is so excited that they refer us to their friends:
We must develop and enable every customer as our advocate. This is exceedingly more important than having every customer merely making a purchase or being satisfied in some vague way. A customer does not become an advocate because they bought a great stereo system, they become an advocate because of the remarkable experience they have when they are in our stores. If we have a choice between making a customer an advocate or having them buy a pair of speakers, it’s not even close – I want them as an advocate. It is a thousand times more beneficial.
Back in ancient China, sometime between the 4th and 6th century BC, Lao Tzu, who was the founder of Taoism, said, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” which is analogous to my strategy for making every customer an advocate rather than a sale [and the founding premise of iWorldFundraising.org].
We must encourage every customer to spend more time in our environment. This is our affinity program. The more time a customer spends at our stores, the more time we have to imbue them with the Advantage ‘Magic.’ We have to have events, programs, services, and entertainment in order to keep them involved. We need to give them a reason to both stay and come back. Anything we can think of to enhance the experience must be done.
We need to involve our customers in both our success and our destiny. Our customers want to be part of the experience. They want to suggest product and make recommendations. They want to feel they are an active part of it. I want to enable and encourage that feeling. We need more customer activism.
3. Loyal Suppliers
We need our suppliers. It is essential to understand their needs and to satisfy them. Price is not the only criteria we use to judge them. They too are an essential part of our root system.
4. If It’s Good – Pass It Along. If It’s Bad – Own it.
This is all about taking responsibility. The days of passing off your problems are over. The time has come to work through the lows and pass along some of the highs. Try saying, “I’ll take care of it!” It is not a question of ‘if’ hard times and challenges are coming, it is a question of ‘when,’ and you are measured by how well you handle them. There is the potential for adversity or success in every bite.
5. Lead, Don’t Follow
Leadership sleeps with humility, management is in bed with arrogance. The time has come to lead. It takes intelligence, patience, and a strong will. A leader sets a higher standard and exceeds it.
6. Teach, Don’t Tell
If someone tells you to just simply do something – ask why. If they tell you because they said so – tell them to blow it out their ass.
7. Choose Quality First, Then Price
We want to offer the best products and services at the right price. Remember that it is the performance we are offering – not the price. Everything has to be the best, not just our product and service – everything. Take pride in everything you do.
8. Get Better, Not Bigger
Growth is a byproduct of getting better [as is profit]. We set our own standards. We measure our progress against our previous performance, I could care less about what someone else is doing. Getting bigger is sometimes a fatal flaw.
9. Support The Community
It is time to give more back than economic revival. We must have a positive impact on our community with a greater social awareness. Our roots are intertwined.
10. Create Opportunity
Take care of 1 thru 9, and 10 will take care of you. We have it, let’s do it. At the Advantage we offer opportunity as our #1 benefit, you’ve earned it, so grab it and build it.
The Art of War
dis•ci•pline n. training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior.
72. An excerpt from The Art of War
Sun Tzu, whose personal name was Wu, was a native of the Ch’i state. His Art of War brought him to the attention of Ho Lu, King of Wu. Ho Lu said to him, “I have carefully perused your thirteen chapters. May I submit your theory managing soldiers to a slight test?” Sun Tzu replied, “You may.”
The king asked, “May the test be applied to women?” The answer was again in the affirmative, so arrangements were made to bring 180 ladies out of the palace. Sun Tzu divided them into two companies and placed one of the king’s favorite concubines at the head of each. He then made them all take spears in their hands and addressed them thus: “I presume you know the difference between front and back, right hand and left hand?” The girls replied, “Yes.”
Sun Tzu went on. “When I say ‘eyes front,’ you must look straight ahead. When I say ‘left turn,’ you must face toward your left hand. When I say ‘right turn,’ you must face right around toward the back.” Again the girls assented. The words of command having been thus explained, he set up the halberds and battle-axes in order to begin the drill. Then to the sound of drums he gave the order “right turn,” but the girls only burst out laughing.
Sun Tzu said patiently, “If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame.” He started drilling them again and this time gave the order “left turn,” whereupon the girls once more burst into fits of laughter.
Then he said, “If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, the general is to blame. But if his orders are clear and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers.” So saying, he ordered the leaders of the two companies to be beheaded.
Now the King of Wu was watching from the top of a raised pavilion, and when he saw that his favorite concubines were about to be executed, he was greatly alarmed and hurriedly sent down the following message: “We are now quite satisfied as to our general’s ability to handle troops. If we are bereft of these two concubines, our meat and drink will lose their savor. It is our wish that they shall not be beheaded.”
Sun Tzu replied even more patiently: “Having once received His Majesty’s commission to be general of his forces, there are certain commands of His Majesty which, acting in that capacity, I am unable to accept.’ Accordingly, and immediately, he had the two leaders beheaded and straightway installed the pair next in order as leaders in their place. When this had been done the drum was sounded for the drill once more. The girls went through all the evolutions, turning to the right or to the left, marching ahead or wheeling about, kneeling or standing, with perfect accuracy and precision, not venturing to utter a sound.
Then Sun Tzu sent a messenger to the king saying: “Your soldiers, sire, are now properly drilled and disciplined and ready for Your Majesty’s inspection. They can be put to any use that their sovereign may desire. Bid them go through fire and water and they will not now disobey.” But the king replied: “Let our general cease drilling and return to camp. As for us, we have no wish to come down and inspect the troops.” Thereupon Sun Tzu said calmly: “The king is only fond of words and cannot translate them into deeds.”
After that the King of Wu saw that Sun Tzu was one who knew how to handle an army, and appointed him general. In the west Sun Tzu defeated the Ch’u State and forced his way into Ying, the capital; to the north, he put fear into the states of Chi’i and Chin, and spread fame abroad among the feudal princes. And Sun Tzu shared in the might of the kingdom.
73. David Ogilvy. ‘Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.’
Inventory and Margin
con•trol n. to verify or regulate by systematic comparison.
74. The #1 Inventory Rule
Narrow and deep, keep it fresh and keep it turning. The definition of a great inventory is one that has a great selling motion [selling motion = margin x turns]. For example:
Let’s say we have a business that does $4,000,000/yr @ 25% margin. That would mean that our cost of goods sold [CGS] is 75% of sales, or $3,000,000. Now, if our inventory was $1,500,000 that would mean our inventory turns/yr is 2 times [$3M/$1.5M]. Now, if we were working on 4 turns/yr it would mean our inventory would only have to be $750,000 [$3M/4]. That would leave $750,000 to do whatever you wanted to [invest in stores, etc.]. The more turns the better.
Some inventory investments, however, like investing in inventory for our own brands, create opportunities for us to build on for future harvest. An inventory that we control our fate with allows us the flexibility to develop new opportunities, such as: online sales, wholesale, and new stores in any market we choose [not to mention the increase in margin].
75. Cash Flow
Simply put, cash flow is a game of beat the check. If you have to pay for your product before you have collected for the sale of that product, you are in a cash flow negative position. Conversely, if you have collected for the sale of your inventory before you have to pay for it, you are in a cash flow positive position. If you are purchasing a product that will only turn once per year, you would need one year dating to be in a cash flow positive position. If you are turning your inventory 12 times per year, then you would only need 31 day dating to be cash-flow positive. The 12 turns in the electronics division is a huge advantage in our quest to be cash-flow positive. Understanding the limitations of turns [but the advantage of higher margins] in the clothing sector, we are more than willing to have more actual cash tied up in our clothing inventory because, ultimately, we are concerned with the net ROI on our entire investment in an enterprise [and by that standard, the clothing division is doing ok, but not as well as we should].
When considering margin you must always take into account inventory turns. One without the other leaves you with an incomplete picture.
If you were to invest $10,000 in two different businesses [A&B], and if A were to promise you a 40% return, while B promised you a 15% return, which would you choose? You shouldn’t choose yet because you don’t have enough information. If I was to tell you that the 40% return from business A is over a 4 month period, and the 15% return from business B is over a 1 month period, you could now make a more reasonable evaluation of the merits of each investment.
Over a 1 year period business A will make you $12,000 [$4,000 x 3] while business B will make you $18,000 [$1,500 x 12]. The choice is easy. Business B makes you 50% more. So, never talk margin without turn, that’s margin efficiency and we call it the selling motion.
77. Selling Motion
Margin x Turns = Selling Motion. Always consider margin efficiency when pricing an item. Each item has its own margin efficiency, which we call its selling motion. Do not get caught up in having to work at a certain margin, it is meaningless. Every item has its magic price. Everything sells eventually, but what sells the best? Good instincts with good numbers lead to good judgment. Without good instincts AND good numbers, we are compromised.
78. The Art of Buying
The foundation of our buying strategy is based on knowing what our customers want, but the art of buying is based on knowing our suppliers.
79. Inventory Turns
In an industry that has an average of 40% margin, there will be a change of 1 inventory turn for every 5% change in margin. For example:
If your margin is 40% and you enjoy 4 turns per year [ME=160], you will find that your turns will go to 6 per year if your margin drops to 30% [ME=180]. This would prove a better return. Furthermore, if your margin dropped to 20%, your turns would increase to 8 [ME=160], this would not be better than the return at 30% with 6 turns [ME=180]. Your inventory is expensive, make the most of it, keep it working, keep it turning!
80. Customer Retrieval, Associated Sales, and Goodwill
When talking about margin you must not only consider turns, but customer retrieval, associated sales, and goodwill as well. The lower your margin – the greater the customer retrieval. The better your value, the more likely your customer is to buy other items. The greater the value – the more likely the word will spread. Repeat business and word of mouth advertising are essential to a retailer’s success. For example:
If you are in Disney World you may buy a T-shirt for $30, but you are not going to go back there and buy more unless you have to. It is not a good value. You may go to a store and buy a particular item that you really want, but if it is not a value, how likely are you to buy something else. Whereas, in a store that has a great deal going – you are more likely to buy more, come back again, and most importantly, tell everyone about it. Here’s a guide to measure the possible impact of different pricing:
The Magic Price
gen•ius n. extraordinary intellectual and creative power.
81. Criteria for lowering a price.
If the new price is at a lower margin, does the increase in volume make up for the loss of gross profit? If there is still a loss in gross profit after test #1, does the increase in associated sales make up for the remaining loss of gross profit? And finally, if there is still a loss of profit, does the customer retrieval and word of mouth make it worthwhile? This is seen as an advertising cost. For example:
When we decided to lower the price of our Outback Jeans way back in the ‘90’s from $29.90 to $19.90, we first looked at the increase in volume to see if it made up for the loss of gross profit. Since the gross profit per jean was going from $16 to $6, we would need an increase in sales of 2.7 times [16/6]. Fortunately, our sales more than tripled.
Next, we looked at associated sales. Our average associated sale with a pair of jeans was $10 [with a gross profit of $3]. This means that our actual gross profit per total sale was not $16 but rather $19, and it went down to $9, not $6. Therefore, our necessary increase in sales only needed to be 2.1 times. The bonus in this scenario was that associated sales per purchase actually went up because everyone had more left to spend and it made everything appear to be a better value. Not to mention the word of mouth. The news of great jeans at $19 spread a lot faster than jeans at $29.
82. Value, Performance, and Confidence
We’ve talked about the Advantage ‘Magic’ and how that is our #1 product. What makes the Advantage ‘Magic’ is the value, performance, and confidence we provide our customers. Some stores provide value, some provide performance, and some try to provide confidence, but no one provides all three like the Advantage – it’s ‘Magic’.
83. A Triple Threat
Our value in technology integration is the best in America because we have the lowest everyday prices on the highest quality product, system architecture, and services available. The performance of our deliverables is enhanced because we are the most informative and concerned conduit to the customer. We satisfy needs. The confidence our customers have in us has earned us our remarkable reputation in large part because of the commitment we have made to Lifetime Service. The combination of all three is unbeatable.
84. Understand, Believe, and Sell
So, now that you know why we are ‘Magic,’ do you understand it? Do you believe it? And, most importantly, can you sell it?
85. You are here by choice.
This is a free association of men and women who are dedicated to building the Advantage Co’s future. It is a future filled with career and annuity opportunities. I hope that each and every one of you is able to reap the benefits of our extraordinary effort and success. If you do not understand that you are part of this building process, then you miss the point of your employment. Please do not think you are here for some specific task other than our growth and prosperity.
86. Advantage ‘Magic’
Your job as a builder truly is to deliver the Advantage ‘ Magic’ 24 hours a day. You are the Advantage [and so are our customers]. You are where the rubber meets the road. That’s just the way it is. No matter what we say, the fact of the matter is that you define us 24 hours a day. Once you are part of the Advantage Co, you come to define us with every action, with every word, with every success, every gesture, every consideration, every act of kindness, every act of deceit, every complaint, every encouragement, every smile, every bit of misery, every achievement, and with every failure to recognize what it’s all about. We are what you make us. Make us a great place to build a future, and we will be. Make us a miserable place to work, and that’s what we will be. The inmates run the yard. When it is all said and done – it’s up to you.
87. Maximum Performance Value
We all have Inherent Performance Capabilities. In fact, our products, services, facilities, suppliers, and even our customers all have Inherent Performance Capabilities. It’s our job to recognize them, access them, and maximize them. Keep it in mind – especially all of the Inherent Performance Capabilities of our customers. Their ability to refer other customers to us is their #1 and most important Inherent Performance Capability. It’s up to you to recognize it, access it, and maximize it. The sale is not even close to being done until they refer us. What they can purchase from us is nothing compared to the business their enthusiastic referral can mean to us.
Audio Al’s Sales Process
sat•is•fy n. to gratify or fulfill a need or desire.
88. 85% Closing Rate
This is the original sales strategy of the Stereo Advantage. It is timeless. It is the foundation of our success.
“What are you doing here?” This is not something you usually ask a customer, you know why they are here! They are here because they are shopping for something we sell. How often does a customer come up to you and ask, “why are you here?” Not very often; they know why you’re here – to help them get what they want.
First impressions are the most important. Take a walk in the customer’s shoes. How do they want to be treated? What are they looking for? Let them know right off the bat that they came to the right place. Have the shop neat and clean. Be attentive and make sure the displays work perfectly. Be informed about the product you’re are selling. Make them confident.
You can’t fake it. Respect is defined as deferential or high regard. Remember that a customer can smell bullshit because they’re sniffing for it. Respect starts with humility. Your arrogance is your biggest hurdle. You are not here to dazzle the customer with your knowledge. Dazzle them with your concern. Arrogance and ignorance are the two greatest sins.
To ‘extrapolate’ means to infer unknown information from known information. Here’s where you earn your keep. Ask what they have and what they need. You need to get information first, not give it.
If you know your product and know your customer, and if you’ve established confidence while demonstrating respect, you should have no problem establishing your credibility. The customer knows he has choices. He needs a recommendation. You are the professional, act like one. Do the right thing. Never recommend anything unless you think it is right for their needs.
Remember, people don’t buy our products, they buy how they imagine using them makes them feel. So, make them feel good. Let the customer know they made the right choice. Reinforce it after they pay. The time you spend with the customer after the sale shows that you care about more than just making a sale. Stick with them to their car if necessary.
7. The Seminal Sale
Respect, confidence, concern, and knowledge all help you plant the seed for a future sale, but it’s up to you to give the customer a vision of the possibilities. Be fun and make sure the customer is going to tell everyone they know that there is only one place to shop – the Stereo Advantage!
in•cen•tive n. something, such as a reward, that induces action.
89. Regular Pay
At the Advantage Co, we pay people to turn intention into reality. We have both hourly and salaried personnel. Hourly personnel are paid a minimum of $7.25 per hour and time and a half for any hours over 40. This is their regular rate of pay. Salaried personnel are paid a minimum salary for specifically stated managerial responsibilities. They are paid a wage commensurate with the level of responsibility accepted by that individual. We endeavor to create an environment where your efforts will be rewarded according to the criteria for success I have set down.
All bonuses, vacation time, and disability benefits are forfeited upon termination of employment.
90. Fundamental and Functional Responsibilities
At the Advantage, everyone, as a merchant, has fundamental and functional responsibilities. If the Advantage was a car, its fundamental responsibility would be to provide reliable transportation, all parts would be working towards that goal, but each part would have a functional responsibility: The brakes, transmission, engine, etc. would all have different functions, yet, all would be working in unison towards the desired result.
91. Fundamental Responsibilities
The fundamental responsibilities provide the foundation of our character, behavior, and performance. The following criteria define your fundamental responsibilities and are used in your evaluation:
a. Honesty and Integrity
Be honest with others and true to yourself. Understand what is accepted at the Advantage, and what is not. You help set the standards under which we will operate, make them the highest possible. It is better to do the right thing than to do things right.
b. Loyalty and Enthusiasm
You must want to belong to the Advantage Nation, and show it. You must understand that you are responsible for results, and that it will take an extra effort to do your job well. We do what needs to be done, which sometimes calls for extra hours, particularly at Christmas.
c. Concern and Respect
You must have concern and respect for the customer, the Advantage, and your co-workers. The customer is our first priority. Everyone affects this relationship, you must make it positive. You must also really care about the viability and growth of our business. Recognize, seize, and build opportunity. You must care about and respect the people you work with.
d. Appearance and Preparation
Are you presenting yourself properly? Do you know what your responsibilities are? Do you have an understanding of the resources necessary for ‘Delivery Time’?
e. Information and Improvement
Are you informed about what is going on in the business and your area of expertise? Are you up on competitive information? Are you reading and learning, trying to improve? Get better or bitter, the choice is yours. It is your job to stay informed and keep me informed. Ignorance is no excuse. Be inquisitive.
How well are you getting it done? Are you making the Advantage a better place? Are you delivering the goods at the moment of truth? Are you part of the ‘Magic’?
92. Business is a popularity contest.
I want to be more popular than the competition. You can’t ignore the needs of people and expect to be popular. You may say, “I do my job,” but I think you may not understand your job. It’s fundamental. I want our customers excited by every point of contact with our company. It’s that simple.
We have not done our job until they refer us with enthusiasm. We will always rely on word-of-mouth advertising to build our business, so let’s be great at it. We must be certain the word-of-mouth of every customer is nothing short of enthusiastic. When I look at a customer in our store, I can’t help but think about how many more times they are going to go shopping during the rest of their life. I see a 35 year old woman and I figure she’s good for at least 2 fashion shopping trips per week for the next 40 years. That’s 4,000 fashion shopping trips. I want the lion’s share for TW&Co. I am focused on making certain that I not only encourage her to continue shopping enthusiastically with us, I am also cognizant of how important it is to encourage her to recommend us to all of her friends. 20 friends at 4,000 shopping trips each means 80,000 potential shopping visits for TW&Co – and that means success!
93. Sam Walton. ‘There is only one boss: the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company, from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else!’
op•por•tu•ni•ty n. a favorable or advantageous circumstance.
94. The Advantage Co. is an equal employment opportunity employer.
The Advantage Co. does not discriminate against employees or job applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, age, national origin, disability, veteran status, or any other status or condition protected by applicable state laws, except where bona fide occupational qualification applies.
95. The Advantage Co. will:
Recruit, hire, train, and promote persons in all job titles without regard to race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin, handicap, veteran status, or any other status or condition protected by applicable state law, except where a bona fide occupational qualification applies.
Insure that all personnel actions such as initial consideration for employment, job placement, compensation, benefits, promotions, transfers, layoffs, return from layoff, training, professional development opportunities, discipline, termination, and social and recreation programs will be administered without regard to race, color, religion, gender, age, national origin, disability, veteran status, or any other status or condition protected by applicable state laws, except where bona fide occupational qualification applies. If any employee has a suggestion, problem, or complaint with regard to equal employment, he/she should contact Tracy Allen at  866-6425.
All Advantage employees have a right to be free from sexual harassment. The Advantage does not tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace. All employees have the right to work in a professional environment in which they are treated with respect and dignity. At The Advantage Co, sexual harassment, whether verbal, physical, or environmental, is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. All employees must avoid any action or conduct which could be viewed as sexual harassment.
For purposes of this policy, sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome or unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and any other verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature when submission to or rejection of this conduct by an individual is used as a factor in decisions affecting hiring, evaluation, retention, promotion, or other aspects of employment or when this conduct could reasonably interfere with an individual’s employment or creates an intimidating or hostile work environment.
Examples of situations which may be sexual harassment include, but are not limited to: unwanted sexual advances, demands for sexual favors in exchange for favorable treatment or continued employment, verbal conduct, such as derogatory slurs, or physical conduct that is sexually harassing in nature.
The Advantage Co encourages employees to report sexual harassment complaints immediately so that we may respond rapidly and take appropriate action. Any employee who believes he/she has been sexually harassed by anyone, including supervisors, co-workers, or visitors, must bring the complaint to the attention of responsible company officials. You may confidentially report sexual harassment to any member of the Grievance Committee, Tracy Allen at  866-6425, or your supervisor. If the complaint involves the employee’s supervisor, the employee may go to another supervisor to file a complaint.
All complaints of sexual harassment will be properly investigated and special privacy safeguards will be applied in the handling of all complaints. The Advantage Co will not reveal the names of participants, the facts of an investigation, or any written information regarding an investigation to anyone not involved in the investigation, and will reveal to those involved the minimum information necessary in order to investigate thoroughly and effectively. If The Advantage Co finds that sexual harassment has occurred, the harasser will be subject to appropriate instructive and/or disciplinary procedures to remedy all violations of this policy.
96. The Grievance Committee
At The Advantage Co, we have established different groups to prepare and guide us as we move forward. The Grievance Committee has been created to improve interpersonal working relationships at our company. This committee has proven to be extremely effective and the more you use it, the better it gets. If you have a problem with someone or something, we want the opportunity to right the wrong. Step up and be heard [or blame yourself]. The Grievance Committee meets on a regular basis and will also meet if a situation arises.
97. The Payroll Review Board
We established the Payroll Review Board in 1993 to provide all employees with a venue for information and discussion of all pay and benefit opportunities.
in•for•ma•tion n. knowledge derived from study or experience.
All full-time employees are entitled to a one (1) week paid vacation after one (1) year of employment. After three (3) years of full-time employment, employees are entitled to one (1) week paid and one (1) week unpaid vacation, for a total of two (2) weeks vacation. After five (5) years of full-time employment, employees are entitled to a total of two (2) weeks paid vacation. The second week of vacation may not be taken within three (3) months of the first vacation period and no vacations are allowed during the blackout period.
Blackout periods are as follows: Spring Break [March – April], Tent Sale, Back to School, and Christmas Holiday [November 10th – January 10th] selling seasons. A vacation request form must be filled out and approved by your supervisor. Vacation time may not be accrued from one year to the next. Use it or lose it.
99. Disability and Maternity Leave
All employees who cannot work due to a non-job related disability are covered under the company provided, short-term disability insurance program, if they meet the eligibility requirements of the New York State Disability Benefits Law.
A company maternity plan is available after one (1) year of full-time employment and entitles qualified employees up to eight (8) weeks paid leave, based on 50% of the eligible employees’ average weekly wage (for the last eight weeks previous to the leave) up to a specified maximum amount. For more information please contact Tracy Allen at  866-6425.
100. Health Insurance
Independent Health is available to employees. Coverage is available to employees thirty (30) days after hire. Employees are responsible for monthly premium payments for the first year of full-time employment. After one (1) year of full-time employment the Advantage Co will provide the following contributions toward premium payments on the Independent Health program. The company will contribute 10% to the cost of coverage each consecutive year of full-time employment. The company’s contribution is based on the Independent Health single rate. After 10 years of full-time employment, both single and family coverage on the Independent Health plan are paid up to a predetermined maximum allotment.
101. Dental Plan
Dental coverage is provided and is available thirty (30) days after date of hire. The monthly premium of this plan is the responsibility of the employee and will be paid through a predetermined weekly payroll deduction.
102. Vision and Eye Care Plan. This arrangement is similar to the Dental Plan.
In the event that an employee leaves the Advantage Co and they are enrolled in the company’s group health insurance plan, the employee may stay on the plan for up to 18 months (or 29 months if they are disabled at the time of departure from the company) through the provisions of COBRA. Employees assume responsibility for monthly premiums on COBRA. Non-payment of a monthly premium will result in cancellation of the coverage. For more information contact Tracy Allen at  866-6425.
104. 401k Plan
A 401K retirement plan is available to all employees who have been employed for one year, at a minimum of 1000 hours, and are at least 21 years of age. Once an employee is eligible to join the plan, they may contribute 1 to 15% of their gross pay (pretax) into the plan and the company will provide a match of 25% of the first 4% contributed by the employee. For complete information, contact Tracy Allen at  866-6425.
105. Family and Medical Leave Act
FMLA is a federally mandated unpaid leave, available to eligible employees for qualifying events. Employees become eligible to apply for a leave of this nature after completing 12 months and 1250 hours of employment. Contact Tracy Allen at  866-6425 for a complete explanation of FMLA.
ca•ve•at n. a warning or caution. caveat emptor n. buyer beware.
106. Employee Purchases
Employees may purchase inventoried consumer products for their own personal use, at the Company’s ‘computer’ cost. The courtesy request form must be filled out and signed by a specifically designated manager.
107. Dress Code
All employees must wear an Advantage Co t-shirt or authorized alternative, and pants or shorts must be a solid color khaki or blue jean only. No cargo pants, cut-offs or ripped shorts are allowed. Sweatpants or leggings are not permissible. All employees must wear a full-coverage shoe, no sandals are allowed.
All employees must be clean showered and clean shaven everyday. All employees must keep their hair [facial and otherwise] neat and clean. No excessive jewelry, makeup, perfume, or cologne is permitted. No visible body piercings allowed except for earrings on women. Tattoos must be covered at all times.
108. Change is inevitable. It is inevitable that new personnel policies will need to be written from time to time and old policies will need to be revised. We reserve the right to make those changes without notice.
This Handbook has been prepared as a guide to being a merchant, nothing in the Handbook should be construed as a contract of employment. The Handbook is not intended to cover all situations that may arise. Should you need further information or clarification on the Handbook please contact Tracy Allen at  866-6425
110. “At-Will” Employment
All employees of the Advantage Co must understand that employment here is ‘at-will’, that is, that either The Advantage Co or the employee may terminate the employment at any time without cause or advance notice. There are no express or implied agreements contrary to this ‘at-will’ relationship.
111. No Solicitation Policy for Email/Internet Access, and Company Notice Boards.
Solicitation by one employee of another employee is prohibited while either is on work time. The distribution of literature by employees in work areas is prohibited. Trespassing, solicitation, or distribution of literature by non-employees on these premises is also prohibited.
The e-mail and information systems of the Advantage Co and its affiliated businesses are not to be used in a way that may be disruptive, offensive to others, or harmful to morale. The Advantage Co prohibits the display or transmission of sexually explicit images, messages, or cartoons, or any transmission or use of e-mail communications that contain ethnic slurs, racial epithets, or anything that may be construed as harassment or disparagement of others based on their race, national origin, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, religious or political beliefs.
In general, employees should use the information systems for company business only. The e-mail and information systems may not be used to solicit or proselytize others for commercial ventures, religious or political causes, outside organizations or other non-job-related solicitations. Failure to adhere to this policy may constitute grounds for termination of employment.
112. Policy on Participation and Cooperation in Investigations and Searches.
Any employee involved in an investigation of any problems, is obligated to cooperate with the authorities that are conducting the investigation. The Advantage Co and its affiliated businesses reserve the right to inspect all company property, including, but not limited to, desks, file cabinets, computer files and discs, storage areas, and vehicles, and all personal property brought on to the company premises including, but not limited to, brief cases, purses, and knapsacks. Consequently, employees should not have any expectation of privacy with respect to company property or premises or personal belongings brought onto company premises or any communications. The purpose of this policy is to ensure that the Advantage Co can effectively investigate any problem, including technological issues with a computer system, and complaints of wrongdoing or to protect the interests of the Advantage Co.
Tony’s Reading List
er•u•dite adj. marked by deep, extensive learning; scholarly.
113. More Will Durant‘
If you think there is no greater one than you in the circle to which life narrows you, then make friends of genius in the past; for a penny you can buy their counsel, and listen familiarly to their speech, and mould yourself in the clear air which runs about them. It is an error to suppose that books have no influence; it is a slow influence, like flowing water carving out a canyon, but it tells more and more with every year; and no one can pass an hour a day in the society of sages and heroes without being lifted up a notch or two by the company he has kept. There is no excuse for being small when we can sit at table with Napoleon, or walk with Whitman, or have midnight suppers with Frederick and Voltaire.’
114. The Reading Program
You can learn by reading, hard to believe, I know, but trust me on this one. Talk to the giants of history. Talk to the experts. How? Just pick up their books – and read them. Read six significant books on any subject and you will be well armed for success. Try it.
Read six books on being a merchant and see what happens. As with any difficult subject, the first couple of books will be hard to comprehend, the next couple will make sense, and then the next few you will finally read with a critical eye.
If you are eligible, and you want to participate in the Advantage Global Resources Book of the Month Club, you will be required to read a book at least every quarter. I suggest a book a month, and there are rewards for knocking off one a month. Tracy Allen oversees the program.
Here’s how the Book of the Month Reward Program works:
Every month you read a book beyond the required book every quarter, you will receive a .5% pay raise. And if you read three books in the quarter, it will earn you a .5% pay raise for all three books. This means you can earn a 6% pay raise every year no matter what just by reading a book a month. This is quite the benefit when you throw in how much you will gain by actually reading a book a month.
Every quarter that you do not read one of the suggested books, you will receive a 1% pay cut. Read no books for the year, and you will receive a 4% pay cut, and, what’s worse, you will miss out on the enlightenment that you would have gained. Sad.
115. Life is a journey, not a guided tour.
However, I do recognize and embrace the fundamental rules of business set down by the business gods thousands of years ago, and truly I believe we can not be successful if we do not address these fundamentals.
Over the years I have researched, read, written about, and embodied these fundamentals. I believe in my Root Philosophy. I believe in the merchant harvest. Below is a short reading guide to what I have learned. The books on this list all have one thing in common – their clarity. For me, the search for clarity is where knowledge begins:
The One Minute Manager – build loyal employees [we’re all managers].
The One Minute Salesperson – build a sales strategy and loyal customers.
The Art of War – build a competitive strategy and win. By defining a winning strategy, Sun Tzu’s classic book about waging war emerges as one of the great strategical essays of all time.
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
What Sun Tzu is to war, Niccolo is to politics – hardcore and undeniable.
Direct Marketing by George Duncan
And what Niccolo is to politics, George Duncan is to marketing. It is pure and unadulterated. You should also read Claude Hopkins’ Scientific Advertising. “Nobody, at any level, should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times” — David Ogilvy
Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive: Outsell, Outmanage, Outmotivate, and Outnegotiate Your Competition by Harvey Mackay
Harvey has a way about him. He likes to throw in a little fluff, so I apologize for his hubris in advance, but there is no denying that he gets to the crux of the selling dynamic better than anyone else.
Built to Last – build a Core Ideology and a business that lasts.
One Page Management – how to communicate with each other.
Finance & Accounting for Non-Financial Managers – handling your finances.
The Mansions of Philosophy – Will Durant’s nourishment for the mind.
An Incomplete Education – the basics for a well-rounded education.
Siddhartha – Hermann Hesse’s great little story for the soul.
Lapsing Into a Comma: A Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print – and How to Avoid Them by Bill Walsh
No matter what you do in life, you will need to express yourself persuasively if you want to be effective or, at the very least, taken seriously. Although you may have the Tweeter lingo down pat, it may help if you learn how to actually write skillfully. Improper punctuation, spelling, and syntax always compromise the most well-intentioned and sometimes brilliant thoughts.
The Essential Drucker by Peter Drucker
One of the reasons I haven’t written a complete business book is because I would have a hard time being more eloquent or precise than Peter Drucker. I am including a few excerpts from this compilation because you really can’t be in business without reading and understanding the basic premise he illustrates. He defines the purpose of business and management better than anyone before him or since.
Here’s what Peter Drucker said:
Definition of a Business
It is the definition of a business that it exists for the sake of economic performance. In all other institutions — hospital, church, university, or medical services — economic considerations are a restraint. In business, economic performance is the rationale and purpose. Business management, therefore, must always, in every decision and action, put economic performance first. It can justify its existence and its authority only by the economic results it produces. Business management has failed if it does not produce economic results. It has failed if it does not supply goods and services desired by the consumer at a price the consumer is willing to pay. It has failed if it does not improve, or at least maintain, the wealth-producing capacity of the economic resources entrusted to it. And this means responsibility for profitability.
The Purpose of a Business
A company can make a social contribution only if it is highly profitable. To know what a business is, we have to start with its purpose. Its purpose must lie outside of the business itself. In fact, it must lie in society since a business enterprise is an organ of society. There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer. In every case, it is business action that creates the customer. It is the customer who determines what a business is. It is the customer alone whose willingness to pay for a good or for a service converts economic resources into wealth, things into goods. What the customer buys and considers value is never just a product. It is always a utility, that is, what a product or service does for him. Because its purpose is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two — and only these two — basic functions: innovation and marketing.
The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself. The business does not ask, What do we want to sell? It asks, What does the customer want to buy? It does not say, This is what our product or service does. It says, These are the satisfactions the customer looks for, values, and needs. The business defines its goal as the satisfaction of customer needs. It demands that business bases its reward on its contribution to the customer.
Values and Goals
Every enterprise requires a commitment to common goals and shared values. Without such commitment there is no enterprise; there is only a mob. It must be built on communication and on individual responsibility. The enterprise must have simple, clear, and unifying objectives. The mission of the organization has to be clear enough and big enough to provide a common vision. The goals that embody it have to be clear, public, and constantly reaffirmed. Management’s first job is to think through, set, and exemplify those objectives, values, and goals.
Defining the purpose and mission of the business is difficult, painful, and risky. But it alone enables a business to set objectives, to develop strategies, to concentrate its resources, and to go to work. It alone enables a business to be managed for performance. The basic definitions of the business, and of its purpose and mission, have to be translated into objectives. Otherwise, they remain insights, good intentions, and brilliant epigrams that never become an achievement. Objectives must be derived from “ what our business is, what it will be, and what it should be.” They are not abstractions. They are the action commitments through which the mission of a business is to be carried out and the standards against which performance is to be measured. Objectives, in other words, represent the fundamental strategy of a business. Objectives are the basis for work and assignments. They determine the structure of the business, the key activities that must be discharged, and, above all, the allocation of people to tasks. Objectives are the foundation for designing both the structure of the business and the work of individual units and individual managers. Objectives are always needed in all key areas. The area without specific objectives will be neglected. Unless we determine what will be measured and what the yardstick of measurement in an area will be, the area itself will not be seen. Objectives, therefore, have to be set in these eight key areas: Marketing, Innovation, Productivity, Physical Resources, Profitability, Financial Resources, Human Resources, and Social Responsibility.
Management and Personnel
Management has to be accountable for performance. Management exists for the sake of the institution’s results. It has to start with the intended results and has to organize the resources of the institution to attain these results. A manager’s job should be based on a task to be performed in order to attain the company’s objectives… the manager should be directed and controlled by the objectives of performance rather than by his boss.
A business enterprise (or any other institution) has only one true resource: people. It succeeds by making human resources productive. It accomplishes its goals through work. To make work productive is, therefore, an essential function. Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant. This is what organization is all about, and it is the reason that management is the critical, determining factor.
Growth. Management must also enable the enterprise and each of its members to grow and develop as needs and opportunities change. Every enterprise is a learning and teaching institution. Training and development must be built into it on all levels — training and development that never stop.
If you are interested in reading any of the books listed above, please contact Tracy Allen at  866-6425.
116. Don’t stop short. There are no traffic jams when you go the extra mile.
117. Take advantage of all of our resources. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
118. Guaranteed. Extra effort does not guarantee success, but a lack of effort guarantees failure.
119. True or False?
People do what you inspect not what you expect.
People born round don’t die square.
The future is uncertain and the end is always near.
You either kick ass or kiss ass.
Every choice has a consequence.
Chaos is the bedrock of both our success and frustration. We are not looking for control, we are looking for understanding and execution. We do not need managers, we need leaders.
Chance makes a plaything of a man’s life.
We stand between two worlds – one dead, the other hardly born, and our fate is chaos for a generation.
Evolution ceased to be physical, it became social, survival came not by individual power, but by group coherence and ability.
Time. It is what you are investing. It is your most valuable resource. Don’t waste it.
It’s not where you come from, but where you’re going that counts.
You don’t sell what you like, you like what you sell.
It’s never too late to enjoy the gift of life.
120. In conclusion: This job [and life, for that matter] is what you make of it.
There are happy people and there are miserable people, that’s just the way it is. There are people who choose to come to work every day with a smile on their face, and then there are people that choose to be miserable. It is a choice. I choose to be around enthusiastic people. Call me crazy, but misery just sucks the life out of me.
It is not my job to convince you to help me build our future, it is your job to convince me you are the right person for the job. Somehow the wires often get crossed on this one. Basically, it is my responsibility to provide the resources that will enable our success. It is your job to get it done successfully. A good effort is merely a busy way of doing nothing.
Be big, be a builder.