Monday, January 09, 2006

Business Resolutions for the New Year

Business Resolutions for the New Year
By Christine Cube and Nathan Halverson

FAIRFIELD - Like it or not, a new year always comes with new beginnings.

Over the past week, many homes and businesses suffered as a result of the massive flooding that came with the dawn of 2006. Several likely are still tackling how to clean, mop up, wring out, dehumidify and salvage inventory.

For some businesses, it could take weeks for consumers to return.

Other businesses just might settle for drier quarters and start over.

Prior to the holidays, the Daily Republic asked dozens of local leaders and members of the business community to answer a few questions about their business philosophy.

The questions were simple:

-- What's your golden rule for success in business?

-- What's your business New Year's resolution?

-- Do you have a "lesson learned" or tough business decision/story that you can share?

The responses came in every form, fashion, shape and size. Some were lengthy; others decided to keep it short.

Our list includes the local chiropractor who dabbled for more than a dozen years in retail and other investments before returning complete focus to his love of medicine. It also includes the 26-year-old entrepreneur who started her own spa business four years ago and recently opened a second salon location, and the county supervisor who wants to help the county adopt a more business-like approach this year.
Here's what several business community members had to say about what keeps them on top.

Mark Hostler
Owner, Sir Speedy Printing

Golden rule: Treat customers and potential customers better than I would want to be treated.

Resolution: To continue to grow our printing and copying business and to expand our customer base for promotional and advertising specialties (a new market segment for us) and continue to support worthwhile causes in our community.

Lesson: In July 2005, we lost a very key employee due to her long commute from Elk Grove. Since we are a small business, any employee issues can really affect our daily operations. Losing this employee caused some apprehension due to the fact she had technical knowledge that most of us didn't have. After she left, our remaining employees truly raised the bar as far as cross-training and taking on new responsibilities were concerned. Through their hard work and dedication we were able to continue to grow our business and in fact we were able to purchase and move into our new downtown location.

Vimaa Patel
Owner, Green Valley Salon & Spa

Golden rule: Customer service is always first. If it wasn't for our customers, we wouldn't be here today. We consider their business to be very valuable to our business. If we have to go out of our way (for them), we do that.

Resolution: To help people feel more confident about themselves. The beauty industry is very demanding. It creates a lot of internal changes within people when they know they can change themselves - whether it's their hair or their skin.

Lesson: Everything has been so positive for us. We're very loyal. The products and service we sell - all our girls believe in it. There are a lot of businesses out there that don't believe in what they sell, but this comes totally from our heart.

Steve Lessler
The Lessler Group
Suisun City

Golden rule: To most definitely to build relationships and earn the trust of my customers and clients. Without trust, pack your bags and go home!

Resolution: To increase the value of representation by The Lessler Group for my clients as much as possible. Of course, that is my business resolution every year but one I do not take lightly and keep my eye on at all times. I am not currently trying to "grow" my business, just increase its value.

Lesson: The toughest business decision for 2005 was to turn down additional companies asking to become clients so that I can keep focused on the ones I already have. It's always nice to increase revenue but better to continue adding value to what I already have. There's only 24 hours in each day, you know!

Darrin Berardi
Berardi Chiropractic Clinic

Golden rule: W.E.I.T. (What Ever It Takes) I do what I have to do for my patients. In a nutshell - helping to navigate the health-care maze. Following up. Being a gatekeeper for their health care and referring out and consulting with other health-care professionals for second opinions and for issues that are out of my scope of practice. . . . I tell new patients that I'm here for their health - my job as I see it is to first ease their symptoms. Second, if they are missing work to get them back as quickly as possible and lastly, to get them back to their normal life and out of the office (feeling great of course).

Resolution: Continue to grow Berardi Chiropractic Clinic by another 25 percent - a level that will allow me to serve as many patients as possible without cutting into the level of care and time each individual patient deserves.

Lesson: Do what you do and do it good. Through the school of hard knocks, I learned this lesson all too well. Early on in my chiropractic practice, I diversified into a retail health food store in Vacaville. Between the office and the store, I was working seven days a week, over 90 hours a week. While the retail store continued to grow, my practice didn't. After 12 long years, I sold the retail store. With cash in my pocket and time on my hands, I tried another retail health food store in Fairfield at the same time I invested heavily in a laser clinic. A year and a half later after poor management of the laser clinic, the parent company went bankrupt and the retail health food store hadn't yet turned a profit. With cash reserves exhausted, it was time to regroup.

In June 2005, I closed the health food store, purchased Fairfield Chiropractic and incorporated the new practice into my existing practice. I rededicated myself to my practice my patients and made a promise to my family to stick with what I know and love - chiropractic!

Karin Moss
Director, Business Recruitment/Marketing
Vallejo Chamber of Commerce

Golden rule: I have the following African parable taped to the desk of my home office: "Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up knowing it must run faster than the fastest lion or be killed. Every morning a lion awakens knowing it must outrun the slowest gazelle or starve to death. It doesn't matter if you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up you better be running."

Resolution: Remember the 3 Rs . . . respect for self, respect for others and responsibility for your actions.

Lesson: I don't really have a specific tale of woe to tell about the lesson learned other than just a realization that it's important to cover one's bases. I'm a complete devotee of The Apprentice and believe that there are some good business lessons to be learned for everyone notwithstanding age or career level. Recently, I heard Donald Trump say, "Watch, listen and learn. You can't know it all by yourself. Anyone who thinks they do is destined for mediocrity."

Julie Kelly
Owner, Client Creators
Rio Vista

Golden rule: It sounds so simplistic, but I put my customers' success before my own. I take the time to listen to my customers' needs and concerns, and then I educate and work with them to create a marketing plan that gives them the best results for their specific goals.

Resolution: I will work smarter, not harder in achieving high quality service for my customers. In order to achieve this goal, I am going to increase my ability to serve my customer base through an interactive Web site.

Lesson: I've discovered that the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle has been critical to my success. Whenever indicated, I am up front about not being all things to all people and will refer customers to other professionals.

Intention is very important. Being myself and realizing that every time I go on a "sales call" that I'm really there to help my potential customers to be more successful. After aligning the mindset, everything just seems to go and flow much better. It's important to remember that others come first, once that's accomplished . . . all fears subside and whatever the outcome is, it's OK.

Now that I've been in business for a couple of years, my loyal customers are referring others to me, which is very validating and the best kind of business there is - it reaffirms that the service provided works and is appreciated.

Mike Reagan
Solano County Supervisor, District 5

Golden rule: The basics work - organizational discipline and innovation leads to excellence.

Resolution: My resolution is to get the County of Solano to adopt a more business-like approach. I'd like to define "profit" as our ability to produce a public benefit while strictly controlling overhead costs.

Lesson: Throughout my various business-related careers in the Air Force, I kept finding myself being assigned to organizations that had, to be polite, "lost their focus on customer service." As the young lieutenant, I just thought I was doing what needed to be done. You looked around at what was going on by collecting input from everybody involved, you came up with an out-of-the-box solution and then you worked tenaciously until it came to fruition. As I've progressed throughout my military, business and government service career, I've learned that approach is called leadership. I'm always amazed how employee pride in an organization grows so dramatically when they are empowered to correct the inefficiencies of their own bureaucratic processes and come up with better ways to do their jobs. The results of adopting their customer service building efforts always end up being more motivating than anything we could ever put in their paychecks.

Kevin Finger
Plant manager, Anheuser-Busch

Golden rule: Listen to employees. Value their ideas and input and make sure you have an effective employee suggestion program. I credit our employees with some of the best ideas we've implemented here in Fairfield. We regularly communicate our business objectives, so each and every Fairfield employee understands our business goals and his or her role in helping us meet those goals. That drives all of us to help find new ways to improve. Talking to employees is critical for any manager. Every day, I spend time with our plant employees in their work areas - it's the best way to really understand what is important to them, what makes them proud and what we can do to help them do their jobs even better.

Resolution: My resolution for 2006 is to continue to work together at the Fairfield brewery to better the surrounding community. We'll continue our efforts to recycle and pursue energy conservation through our own process improvements and capital investments. Most importantly, we'll continue to support our employees' efforts in the community - whether through volunteerism, leadership roles or other activities - so Solano County as a whole continues to benefit.

Lesson: This was an interesting and exciting year for us. We completed our modernization, which taught us that change can bring great things to our work environment. Modernization has enabled us to do so many new things, such as allowing us to produce a greater variety of packages. Appreciating change is a timely lesson for all of us as we encounter an ever-changing and challenging business environment. We look forward to seeing what 2006 brings!

Kevin Johnson
General manager, Hilton Garden Inn

Golden rule: Always try to exceed the guests' expectations rather than meet them.

Resolution: Every year, we try to improve on what we have accomplished the previous year and set our goals a little higher.

Lesson: I don't really have a lesson-type story. We have been very blessed this year.

Gary Tatum
President, Vacaville Chamber of Commerce

Golden rule: I believe "leadership" is sorely missing throughout the world, therefore, I attempt to strive toward applying the very best leadership skills I can muster. I don't believe there are many deep and dark secrets as to how to lead. However, I do believe it often takes a great deal of determination to remain on course which is coupled with the discipline and dedication to meet ones goals. Since we all have failures, I try very hard to make them learning experiences. My greatest teacher has been those failures. A person must admit them and move on toward the finish line. I have also found it is not the end results, or simply put, the goals that really make one truly successful, but the game itself is where the fun and hard work resides.

Resolution: To see the year through to 2007 and 2008 and 2009 and on and on and on. I don't yet believe in "retirement." I believe remaining active is key to longevity and happiness.

Lesson: Just the same as the ones in previous years. Don't take yourself too seriously, enjoy what your doing or get out of it. Listen more than you talk and never forget your beginnings and those that got you where you are.

Mike Ammann
President, Solano EDC

Golden rule: To continually build trusting relationships and deliver on your promises.

Resolution: To spend more time building relationships and networking for new business prospects within the Bay Area.

Lesson: Plan your work and work your plan but don't become impatient.

Sandy Person
Vice president, Solano EDC

Golden rule: I've learned that the easiest way for me to grow as a person is to surround myself with people smarter than I am.

Resolution: Surround myself with lots of smart people!

Chuck Eason
Director, Solano College SBDC

Golden rule: To be successful in business you need a business based on repeat customers. It is always much more expensive to market to a first-time customer than to retain an existing customer. Ideally, you want a business model that creates a residual income based on customers for life.

Resolution: Our business New Year's resolution is to focus on our core services of counseling entrepreneurs on how they can succeed in business. We only succeed if they succeed.

Lesson: This year I have seen many independent businesses close up due to competition from large chains or franchises. It is sometimes tough for the independent businesses to compete against the large chains or franchises that have the advantage of name recognition and familiarity. This may be due to human nature, since people tend to want consistency in their lives and feel most comfortable going to a place where they know exactly what they we be getting each and every time. One advantage small businesses will always have over large businesses is building relationships. Over the next five to 10 years, I think we are going to see the rise of relationship marketing as the primary means for small businesses to compete in the global marketplace.

Emily Low
Main Street Program Coordinator
Fairfield Downtown Association

Golden rule: Treat every customer the way you would want your grandmother to be treated.

Resolution: Visit every business owner in the district and convince the businesses in the borders of the district to participate as much as the retail businesses do.

Lesson: Watching and participating in the business world has taught me that new businesses can't have too little reserve. New business owners need to plan on cash back up to carry them at least a year without profit - enough for rent, utilities, inventory and advertising - so their every waking moment isn't spent worrying about how to pay the rent when sales don't take off like wildfire. A business has to be run like a business - not a hobby.

Patsy Van Ouwerkerk
President and CEO, Travis Credit Union

Golden rule: There are many golden rules I try to live up to. Certainly one is to treat everyone with respect and kindness and I try "to treat others the way I want to be treated" in both my business and personal relationships. Another golden rule is to do things right, and to do the right thing. I believe everyone can succeed is they understand what's expected of them and are supported when they try. Finally, I believe the enthusiasm for what I do is contagious. I want everyone to love their work as much as I do and I try to be a good role model.

Resolution: I have lots of them but perhaps the most important is to keep Travis Credit Union employees and managers focused on our mission to provide great service to our members and to help them achieve their financial goals. Because we have wonderful employees who truly care about our members, I imagine I'll be successful.

Lesson: When I was a senior vice president at a previous credit union, I made a recommendation to the board that the credit union become an owner in a new organization that would allow credit union members to conduct transactions at other credit unions' offices. I was a member of the committee charged with creating this organization and we'd spent months developing our business plan and working out all the operational and data processing details. The board members had so many questions and even though I was able to answer them all, they denied my recommendation. I was so disappointed. The board approved my recommendation the following month but I learned a good lesson about education and communications. I didn't spend enough time keeping the board members informed of the progress we were making. Although I'd had months to contemplate the decision I was asking them to make, they were faced with too much information and not enough time to absorb it all. Today, I try to educate the Travis board about issues before ever asking them to approve a recommendation. It was a good lesson learned.

Sandy Carson
Housing and Property Development Manager, Caminar Solano
Lead staff, Affordable Housing Coalition Solano County

Golden rule: Having great passion for what you do and true respect for those you work with is essential for success. Desire, dedication and determination in achieving the purpose of your business and/or line of work. Looking at challenges and obstacles as opportunities to build strength and gain knowledge.

Resolution: To reach higher, to give as much as I receive and to truly believe in all that I/we set out to accomplish. Building broader, stronger partnerships.

Lesson: Don't limit yourself. Take the opportunities that are presented to you and make the very most out of them. I was given the wonderful opportunity this past year to be the lead staff for the newly formed Affordable Housing Coalition in Solano County. I wasn't sure it was something I wanted to take on for various reasons. After careful consideration, I decided to accept the offer, and I am so pleased that I did. I have had the opportunity to work with some exceptional people, all working toward a great cause. We have just started and have all ready made great strides. The knowledge I continue to gain is insurmountable. The relationships I continue to develop, invaluable!

Nicole Lee
Marketing director, Wulff Electric

Golden rule: First and foremost, we believe in treating everyone, from employees to potential customers and existing customers with honesty and respect. We treat them the way we would want someone to treat one of our own family members.

Resolution: Some new businesses take two steps forward and one step backwards. Our New Year's resolution is to always take two steps forward and never take a step backward.

Lesson: One thing we have learned and value a lot are the Chamber of Commerce mixers. This is a great time to meet business owners and network. The benefits from the mixers are immeasurable. You get to talk with people from all different types of backgrounds, hear what has worked for them as well as what hasn't worked.

We have gotten referrals from just handing out or business cards to other business owners at the mixers. By being a member of the chamber of commerce, we have gotten a great deal of exposure to other business owners and because the chamber helps you get your name out in the community you get quite a bit of advertisement.

Reach Christine Cube at 427-6934 or Reach Nathan Halverson at 425-4646, ext. 267 or

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