Growing a plantFor an entrepreneur, a new business is like a blank canvas to an artist, a vineyard to a winemaker, or a farmer’s market to a chef.  We feel the electric crackle of potential in our fingertips and are filled with hope and possibility.  At the same time, there is an apprehension that comes from understanding that the difference between success and failure in business is as subtle as the difference between good art and bad, good wine and bad, and good food and bad.  The ingredients and creation process may be identical, and yet the end result is made perfect or spoiled entirely by the slightest variation.

Creative people in all professions often find themselves blocked – staring at a blank canvas or a cupboard of spices – and uncertain where to begin.  Many small business owners stand thoughtfully in the peaceful silence of their operations long after work has ceased.  We pour over sales and financial reports late into the night, searching for the strategy that will transform possibility into reality.  “I know I have the right idea, but something is missing . . .”

On New Year’s Day, I stood with my wife in the silence of the Naperville store and contemplated Adagio’s first three months in the brick-and-mortar tea retail business.  There are a myriad of things remaining to be done.  We opened as a shining example of the 80/20 rule.  Everything (packaging, product collection, marketing, merchandising, and store design) feels 80% done.

I’m at peace with the reality that I’ll never be perfectly satisfied, and that hunger for perfection is probably a good thing.  At the same time, it’s hard to rest knowing that things could be “better,” and “better” will most certainly increase sales.  We’re not yet doing all we can.

At the same time, perfect packaging, products, marketing, merchandising, and store design are only ingredients.  Mastery of each of these will not lead to success.

The secret sauce of profitability is people.

tea storePeople buy from people, are served by people, and build relationships with people.  The best brand and marketing story will appear nothing more than slick and shallow marketing if the people behind it are not authentic.  The most perfectly designed and merchandised store will fail to resonate with the customer if the eyes of the person behind the counter are dead and uninterested.  The greatest works of screen, stage, or orchestra fall flat unless they are performed with passion.

Consider the small, underfunded, poorly located, and poorly merchandised independent retailer that becomes part of the fabric of the community through customer service and relationship building.  People buy from people, are inspired by people, and believe in people.

Honestly, it’s easier to perfect the tangible components of the retail operation than to perfect the way we serve and interact with customers.  I must admit that over the past few months, as we’ve opened two stores, I’ve been far too consumed with the pieces and have not spent enough time with the people.

The truth is we have some really amazing people on our team, and they’ve done a great job.  We have some excellent leaders.  In fact, there are a few tea consultants who could probably do everything wrong from a traditional sales standpoint and the customers would still love them and buy whatever they recommend – not that they are doing anything wrong, just that they are amazing, warm, and genuine people with a contagious passion for life.  Our service is probably also a good example of the 80/20 rule.  We do a very good job much of the time, but we’re not yet maximizing each opportunity with every customer.  Not everyone on the team shares my passion for tea and for Adagio – yet.

This process of end-of-the-year / start-of-the-year reflection has been a good reminder for me.  Everything else aside, if not everyone on the team is excited about the product and the company, I certainly can’t expect the customer to get excited.

For anyone else out there searching for the secret sauce of profitability, I would encourage you to examine your team.  Do they believe in you?  In your product?  In your business?  Can they tell that you believe in and care about them?