News + Views

The Man in the Mirror


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



Business turns furiously on the work of individuals, especially when joined as one in single purpose to form organizations. With opportunity so evident in the model of individual accomplishment, what keeps us from finding this essential guise?

Kohl’s recent quarter decline in sales may be a case in point. It positioned itself with lower priced items and earlier access to seasonal clothing, but failed to support demand with adequate inventory. Did they only half-heartedly commit to their new market position, hedging against potential losses should it fail to produce the hoped for result? Or did they purpose to risk little in an effort to test the market, content to count success in the next quarters after securing the value in the new market approach? Which was the man in the mirror? Kohl’s revenues for the past quarter dropped 23 percent.

Today’s culture insists on easy everything—from food to solutions— but the complexities of modern business belie the simplification. Yet, underlying the most complex analyses are simple rules of behavior. We turn wants into needs. We need the things made standard by another’s having of them. We do what is expected of us, and not what is best for all—winded, as though seeing through a glass darkly.

Individuals are celebrated for just that; it’s what parents and teachers alike encourage in us through the learning process and life. Unique contributions, most often born of unique perspective, imagine things not seen clearly by others, things hidden in plain sight. It is no secret how to distinguish oneself—be different. If the difference works for most, a crowd gathers to celebrate it. Not all those given of genius are well liked—consider Steve Jobs. But unique contribution is a compelling art form.

How then do we encourage the real me in a world preoccupied with the Hollywood effect, this new reality the essential you?

Small business, notably Main Street shops, are the bread and butter of economies. The local exchange that is common to them provides more than 60 percent of jobs and an even larger portion of the GNP. The impetus in starting local shops is the enterprise ethic that characterizes the American psyche, the hope of financial independence, if only by the hard work and investment that is uniquely theirs. This unique expression combines the energy, desire, and the plasticity required to weather the vicissitudes of local markets. Those who survived the recent recession are a testimony to the tenacity necessary to successful enterprise models.

Small business owners are qualified by no less; they are a benchmark of the Protestant ethic, made famous by Max Weber in his celebrated book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Their decision to open for business is inextricably tied to their identity, their image of themselves, and not least their hope for a better future. Few make it big, but the failure rate seems to affect the search for identity and the accumulation of wealth almost not at all. In a good economy they start 50,000 new businesses a month in the U. S.

Even Alice saw the shenanigans of the King and Queen of Hearts as no more than a deck of cards before she woke up to reality. Pray the moral of the story is not lost on us as we look for the man in the mirror.

April 20, 2017 |

Jes’ Shoot ‘Em


ROI by Frank J. Rich






By Frank J. Rich


A quick trip to the atelier of the mind, the deepest corner, where processing occurs, might reveal the quick-trigger attitude of The Old West. A reactive habit, threats are paid in like currency. The mood of most finds what’s wrong with others, our towns, and the world. A quick-draw fever heats the blood if not good sense. The result, the fulminating ire of our protective urges, albeit absent the recovery that forms relationships.

If you’re finding the soliloquy above a bit angular, consider the opportunity in all things. Time with Springer, Montel, and Povich insinuates, and fans and closet clones homogenize, while thinking machines (robots) everywhere mark time for sapiens. People are people.

On a recent road trip, my wife and I listened to the whining on local talk shows from North Carolina to Georgia. The fascination was in hearing the most spectacular stories told by the mordant and abused of simple sense. We took to repeating what one commentator prophetically dispensed as the solution for this largely unhappy group of complainers. “Jes’ shoot ‘em,” he said, and we broke out laughing. Perhaps insensitive to the plight of those in need without awareness of it, we took fun as relief before finally switching to music and conversation. But nearly every time we touched this divining rod of American culture—the complainer—we broke into laughter.

So, what does this have to do with the marketplace? Is there really opportunity in all things or is the idea merely the Pollyanna of antipodal minds?

Assume the principle veridical. When we find opportunity in everything and everyone, what happens? When taking to the road we find reason for unkind behavior. Fair enough, the impatience of one may teach patience in another. The “teacher” notwithstanding, what’s taught is prescient, if not habit-forming. Parking fury has its own motivators, “me firstedness” not least, but what would the obverse side look like?

“Go ahead, take that space, I’ll wait, ask for your cart, return my own, carefully open my door and avoid scratching yours even if my neighbor does not, and count the small percentage effect on good neighborhood that informs a gentler approach.” What happens when we give instead of take, respond not react, calm anger not fuel it, liquidate expectations in favor of hope in another, and step expectantly into next moments looking for what’s “right with the world”?

The marketplace is teeming with salespeople. They perform the necessary (and honorable) job of informing their customers of the opportunity and value in their products and services. Most complain that there are “too many salespeople,” and wish they would go away—salespeople, who have happier and longer marriages, are emotionally more stable than the general population, raise well-adjusted children, and enjoy more hobbies (that balance life) than all other professions, according to studies that go back many years. Attorneys might wish for a similar profile, despite the large numbers of them and their “rabbit habit” of multiplying quickly.

People are to be enjoyed for many things, the things that qualify them uniquely. What do we say to a child who decides on a career in sales (are any really not in sales)? “Become the best salesperson you can be, and be happy with it”? Sound like something you’d say?

When a salesperson knocks at your door, tell him frankly of your interest, after learning of his purpose in calling on you. Try to find the human quality in the person, that which seeks to satisfy the same urging in all—the fulfillment of active engagement in meaningful work. Ask him to be as brief as possible in summarizing the “value” (to you) in his purpose and product/service, even asking if three minutes of your time is enough. Then listen, ask questions, and speak honestly of your interest. When he persists, as many will, remind him of your contract to spend just three minutes. Tell him why you would like to continue, as easily as you might tell him why you do not see opportunity in his offering. It is at this moment that you are equals—you have asked of him the same that he has asked of you. This “agreement” will work better to grow mutual respect and regard and prepare the two for a fair exchange.

If you have doubt of this, consider how America grew—by its penchant for commerce in a free market society. “Doing business without advertising (sales) is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you’re doing, but nobody else does.”


April 14, 2017 |

Just Like Me


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



Donald Trump is the president of the United States. As incredible (implausible, inconceivable) as this seemed before Election Day (see the ROI column by the same name), it happened. But how? It’s like imagining that Will Rogers, social commentator and political wit, might have been elected president in his day. The difference—Rogers was well liked! He poked fun at the establishment; Trump poked holes in it.

Both men meant to raise the public consciousness over issues confronting the nation. Rogers would say, “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” Trump took a different approach, one whose angular view made the rest of the world look cockeyed. This is, perhaps, the thing they had in common. Each saw ills and gathered a silent majority around his view of them. One more thing—they both had a knack for knowing just what the American people were feeling. No doubt, Rogers’ campaign would have been a “feeling” campaign, as Trump’s was in this last election.

Both men came from means, but found their places in the world more comfortable by aligning with the “everyday Joe.” They valued common sense and honest feelings and validated a “nation in need” in their respective lifetimes. Their personal dreams, one might say, were (in forming their worldviews) realized by an understanding of their unique contributions to their audience. Remarkably, each held sway over America to reach fulfillment, and each owed his success to his ability to measure the pulse of that very same audience. In a sense, each was entertainer while testing his unique brand, and each was sage in accumulating the results.

The lives of both of these men may suggest many things to us, no less than that you too, like the social satirist and the blue-collar billionaire, can achieve your greatest expectations and realize your personal dreams when closely aligned with the people whose support you need to achieve them.

Many say that we are a nation divided. The comment generally refers to the government, its two-party system, and those that line up behind them. Actually, it’s not so uncommon a position for the America we know and love. Except during wartime, Americans have been divided, at least skin deep, over the approach to solutions for the complex and great number of issues nations face. It’s the same for all nations. But for benevolent dictators, whose matriarchal or patriarchal oversight is the warm caring for their (subjects) citizens, such as Peisistratos, the progenitor of his breed, most rulers—either presidential or parliamentary—subsume the character of benevolence behind an eponymous shield that appears to be the same old government: by, for, and of the legislators.

Peisistratos ruled Greece on three different occasions, and was generally liked, and for good reason. He created a time of peace and prosperity for Athens, offering land and loans to the needy. Others followed—Ashoka the Great, Marcus Aurelius, Frederick II of Prussia, and many more. All owed their following and success to a single unifying ethic; they were motivated in ruling by a dedication to the betterment and welfare of their people.

While a two-party system, by design, means to manage the differences between members, especially in representative forms of government such as our democratic republic, toward consensus as an outcome, it is divisive by nature. When each acts as though it is more important to be “right” than to join in consensus, they are serving themselves and not the people. “For the good of the party” may be the revealing ethic that informs the electorate of a divided nation. Thought becomes behavior!

Few among those attacking the presidency, as though “throwing out the bum” were the style of this republic—the presumptive identity of a parliamentary system—have paused to consider that a nation of laws positions those who openly violate them in an effort to eviscerate or otherwise harm the president as felons under United States Code Title 18, Section 871. Its prototype is the English Treason Act 1351, which made it a crime to “compass or imagine” the death of the King. Many claim a desire to “kick him in the face” were they to meet the president. Most are expressing displeasure with his views and the striking difference from their own. The act is hardly the stuff of joining, rather, the frustration in a presidency that is not equal to their bidding.

Perhaps, more than any encouragement issued by politicians is the desire for a bipartisan legislature, a cohesive people, and benevolent leadership. JFK asked that we consider first what citizens might do “for your country.” It may be a well-worn wish, but as prodigious and righteous to act on. In this moment, “we” are “me.”

“Problems are common, but first among them is expecting otherwise and viewing problems as the problem. Few can hurdle this obstacle.” Anonymous

April 7, 2017 |

More Than Conversation…


ROI by Frank J. Rich






By Frank J. Rich



Spring sprucing-up is the preoccupation of the season. Countrywide, people are outdoors cleaning up the winter’s leftovers, prepping their gardens for flowers and vegetables, planting trees, and prioritizing repairs and construction projects that have waited for warmer climes. Not least in the math that surrounds homeowner projects is the contractor—the skilled workers that are everywhere as though their internal clocks were tied to the season. For this symphony of “busy bees” to make music, connections and communications are key. A successful exchange with them is “more than conversation.”

Contractors need to be apparent so that consumers can find them, and both sides must sharpen their communication skills to inform the best possible outcomes. (Find thousands of contractors in your PennySaver). While homeowners do well to understand their needs in simple and specific terms, which require time spent researching materials, suppliers, and job specifics (how to repave a driveway), contractors must be prepared to represent their craft and the methods of accomplishment with equal clarity. Absent these, almost all projects are likely to miss expectations—on both sides.


Measure value in quality terms, not price. Simply, the best product for the lowest price is the goal. That said, not all homeowners know how to do this, or they may not wish to participate in the process. “Just handle it” is often their point of view. This is a prescription for a poor outcome.

Quality is FREE! “Every penny you don’t spend on doing things wrong is ‘a penny saved.’” Quality always uses fewer people, is less expensive, and it’s faster. It begins before the job actually starts.

  1. Check reviews or references. A good contractor will have both upon request. Know what to ask of references, such as: did the contractor start on time, finish the project, return quickly to complete items undone, guarantee satisfaction (based in agreed upon work details)? Were they responsive—that is, easy to contact and quick to respond with customer-oriented “solutions”? Insist on knowing how many man-hours the job will take, then divide that by the quoted price of labor. If the rate is more than you want to pay, speak frankly to the contractor about it. You will have work to do in the future, which should encourage contractors to work with you on the price. Research the materials for excessive markup, and buy them yourself to save money. Contractors should not mark up materials beyond retail, since they typically get a 10-20 percent discount from suppliers.


  1. Oversight of the work is essential to a good outcome. Examine the work at milestones (at the end of your own workday) and write questions or change suggestions for discussion with contractors. They usually start their workday early, allowing you time to review yesterday’s work before heading to the office.
  1. Stick to the job description. It’s your agreement on “what, how and when” things are done. Agreement is the equalizer in the homeowners’ discussion with contractors. It gives them the right to address any issue noted or relating to the job description.

Have questions about how to do or think about most projects? Email your project and questions to me. The PennySaver shopper you are reading has a library of “How-Tos” for just this purpose. It has been helping small businesses and local residents grow healthy communities through commerce for 60 years.


Good outcomes start well. Begin your projects with an outline of the job (in writing) and the specifics of the “how and why” of your “build system.” This applies to landscapers digging a hole for planting or a roofer repairing winter damage. Managing expectations is Job 1!

Four quality practices make the difference between a great result and one that looks good but doesn’t last.

  1. Identifying anti-patterns, something that looks good in the beginning, but turns bad in the end, such as the choice of inferior materials or band-aid fixes. Work with homeowners to provide a quick fix on the promise to return in the future to perform a lasting solution. If a 30’ fix, offer it free as a goodwill gesture. This pays three times the dividends over time.
  1. Practicing amelioration patterns, how to go from a bad situation to a good one. Not everyone knows how to do this. Contractors need easily understood methods for correcting failed outcomes. Always strive to make things better.
  1. Refactoring, or changing the “build system” to extend its function and integrity for efficiency, reliability, and maintainability. Not every driveway paving is the same. The “build system” is the difference.
  1. Quality control proofing, something we did in math class. We proofed our work before turning it in. Testing the strength and angle of a new gutter system is an example. Ask customers to climb a ladder to watch water flowing nicely down the gutter to the drainpipe and view the secure mooring of each to the house.

Underscore high-quality craftsmanship and customer service at a price that values value. “We build value into every job, so the price is always in your favor.” Quality work lasts five times longer than cheap alternatives. A thorough description of the work invests the homeowner in the work and reveals your experience and understanding of it. Both build trust in a relationship. All relationships benefit from mutual trust, but like most things, trust is earned. Do this well and your “retention revenue model” grows. This means long-term customers that give you increased control of future projects, adding efficiency and profitability to all projects.


March 31, 2017 |

It’s You!


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



More than any other question is the one that defines each individual, each effort toward the achievement of the next planned goal—the simple definition of success. In advising others, we occupy sacred ground. How do we help without giving over to a simple expression of the way we are, as though our way is the answer for everyone who asks: What should I do with my life? Today, the most quoted answer is engineering, healthcare, or government. These are the high-growth areas. We must first, and foremost, take stock of who, in the most essential guise, is the asker.

Once a common understanding of this quality joins our thinking, we may ask the second essential question: How good do you want to be… at something? Same question in different words: How hard are you willing to work to achieve it? The answer helps to clear the way for the potential in the asker. We may all be “able to prepare” for the outcome we seek, but few are willing to do the work. The so-called work begins with a realistic self-assessment, the stuff that begins the process of self-esteem building. The last, though not least among its building blocks is “personal accomplishment.” Without these, one can only imagine a brighter future. The idea is more the “Hollywood Effect,” or the mistaken notion that if others, their apparent success as witness, can reach great heights, so can we. Unfortunately, one may only move from one place to another by taking individual steps. Some things we alone must accomplish. Good luck—where preparation and opportunity meet—may appear given of little personal effort, but the experienced would deny it.

The people you work with are the incredible resources necessary to a brighter future. When we invest ourselves in their success, and they do likewise, the results are astounding. Join with those that are going somewhere, with purpose, and for the good of all, and personal dreams come into focus. This is how one engages others and how many become the vehicle to personal dreams. This level of fulfillment is not only personal, but also delivers the energy that fuels collaborative work.

We gain fulfillment when actively engaged in meaningful work. When joined with others of the same mind, financial and corporate results soar. Organizations with strong financial results have employee engagement levels that are twice those with poor financial results. The numbers are similar for those organizations that have better customer experiences, which relate directly to the attitude of the organization’s most valuable resource—people.

The limbic system of the human brain informs much of how we feel about things and the decisions we make. Few elements of brain function provide more direction than this system to realize one’s personal aspirations. Although there is much to do in exercising the healthy use of it, the limbic system benefits greatly from an outside/inside view of the world. That is, how we see it as an extension of ourselves.

When one sees another living out a core value of the group or society, engagement jumps by double digits, according to studies. It is no wonder that the very powerful sense of belonging (to others) that is in each plays such a significant part in the achievement of life goals. Fulfillment may be just two levels above, but requires that we first grow a healthy model in addressing our sense of belonging. In the pursuit of our personal best, we must do a few simple things:

  1. Find Clarity: Know where you are going, how it feels to imagine it, and write it down. Thought becomes behavior. The simple act of acknowledgement begins the process called “knowing,” the total body immersion in the person you want to become.
  2. Commit to Action: Envision the steps along the way. Include the hard parts, such as a long educational commitment, or apprenticeship. Map out the sequence of events, and add the flexibility necessary to adjustments (not excuses) along the way.
  3. See Your Dreams Moving “Toward You”: See all things as puzzle pieces to your goals, as though each has purpose and fits well. Take a position as one who claims the things that happen daily as necessary to your ultimate goals. Watch them coming toward you.

We have little more important to do than to grow with every tick of the clock. We must be ready and available as growth opportunities arise. It is not only our desire to fulfill our personal dreams; it is also our birthright.


March 24, 2017 |

Winning the Customer, Part X


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



The most compelling attribute of receiving something from another is gratitude. It’s the sort of reciprocity that warms the heart and cements a good experience between people—no less buyer and seller.

“Thank you for your business and have a nice day” has become so automatic that it often loses its appeal by the lack of sincerity in the gesture. While minimally necessary to speak as customers leave (with or without) a purchase, the sentiment is worth a consideration of the ways to encourage customer retention by simple acts of sincere interest and kindness. Studies indicate that even a ten-cent item raised likeability in customers for product and service providers.

Created to find joy, when we find it, we respond in ways that create opportunity for those participating in the exchange that produces it. The “wow” on our lips when the expectation of good food at a restaurant is surprised by “great food,” is a common experience. We can’t wait for someone from the kitchen to ask us how we liked our choice. “Surprise” is a dopamine rush that excites interest and engagement when the surprise is a good one.

Surprise can turn reluctance into willingness, increasing interest in another or products and services offered. A pet store that gives away a “training dog clicker” for all those who are leaving the store, with or without a purchase, surprises customers with something of value. Add a one-page primer on how to use it, and its value increases. Offer a brightly colored red pencil to every customer that uses your deli and your brand enhances (and is remembered) every time they see the color red.

Send a plastic comb to every patron of your hair salon to thank them for the opportunity to brighten your day by their decision to use your salon. It works wonders. The surprise factor is priceless—and the brand enhancement with daily use of the comb might turn into a thousand dollars over the course of a year. Further, surprise follow-up gifts encourage a “customer of the third kind,” the one that becomes an extension of your marketing effort.

Wow one customer! Give a single customer a customer service experience so “off the charts” that they are compelled to tell family, friends, and social media followers the story for weeks and months to come. Word-of-mouth remains the best way to grow business—period.

If you are a landscaper preparing a spring look at a customer site—residential or commercial—surprise them with a lusciously appointed garden plant (with description), at no charge. Every time they walk past it, your brand grows, as does their appreciation for the gesture. Remember, a clean car drives better; at least in the mind of its owner. We naturally incline toward things that make us feel good, and those who surprise us with goodwill.

If your products ship, such as printed material, surprise your customer with a delivery before the expected date. Add a note that expresses your effort to offer service that outperforms expectations and watch your retention revenue grow.

Send a distant customer a coffee card for a refreshing treat. Stop in with something in hand when you’re in the area. Acts of kindness and sincere gratitude pay real dividends for those dedicated to a good customer relationship and a good customer experience,—the two most successful building blocks to a healthy retention revenue model.


March 17, 2017 |

Winning the Customer, Part IX


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



True representation of our positions is a minimum requirement in fruitful exchanges between people. For most, it requires that we confront our own reality. Each has one, but very few are prepared to look objectively at themselves or accept that an alternative view has merit worth consideration. Then, how do we help people grow their sense of historicity over the positions they take? Though helpful, the first response to another’s alternate views is a defensive rearguard action to prove one’s own.

When we approach a customer with an alternative view, a fruitful outcome follows efforts to see the other’s side of things first. It is difficult to do without first attempting to defend the other’s position. Only then might we understand the validity of another’s view of things.

A more objective exchange between buyer and seller benefits from a number of methods to “confront each with his own reality.” One such method is to present both the suggestion and the architecture of the model that differs from that of another—buyer or seller.

A sale occurs in every exchange between buyer and seller. It is either to accept the offer of one or the other. Salesperson and customer work hard at turning the result their way. The customer seldom wants to be sold, so sells the salesperson on the idea that what he’s selling is not needed. The salesperson hopes to convince the customer of the opposite. One always wins, and the sale made.

When we take an opposing position it typically has one of two results: it raises the other’s defenses, or raises the curiosity of the other and encourages creativity and objective problem solving in the process.

Salesperson: The influence of print advertising finds support by the way humans “relate” to things, through their senses.

Customer: Everybody is buying online. How can print help me sell my products to locals?

Salesperson: Let’s consider your view of online sales. You might see things differently after we discuss what you already know about consumers and how that can benefit you through print advertising.

Customer: I don’t know. Most people see the newspaper as a thing of the past.

Salesperson: Agreed. And most people also believe they’re going to wake in the morning to continue their lives. But many never see the light of the next day, despite this belief.

The point is that we all take things for granted, such as the idea that most sales happen online. The facts: only 25% of consumers buy online, and only 7% of total retail sales are converted on the Internet. Despite the success of, most people have a relationship with the things they buy, and that relationship is based on their analog senses—sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and feel. It’s why over 40% of Home Depot sales first seen online are purchased at the store. It is also why will open stores to show people how to use their enormous data technology to reach their own customers. They believe that a physical model of that process is more compelling than their very successful digital blueprint. Why? Relating to products physically develops a better understanding of them. Finally, did you know that there are many more newspapers across the nation than fifteen years ago? They are largely local papers that meet the demand for community news, while regional and national newspapers falter.

Customer: Hmnn, I never thought about it like that. How can print help draw customers to me?

Salesperson: Some say that your service is too complicated (i.e., cell phone service), but taking a self-effacing approach that admits the problem will warm customers to you and your solutions to this and other problems, creating a competitive advantage for you.

Reality necessitates support for it. It is not enough to make “mother and apple pie” claims. To reach the customer, to relate to his wants, needs, and habits, we must relate to them. This relating is more effective by an opportunity to objectively discuss the position of both sides. Studies conclude that it increases our resolve for better decision making and uses the vulnerability in frank and honest information to draw people together.

New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common. (John Locke)

March 10, 2017 |
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