Thursday, September 08, 2011

Seminar Idea

I am getting the urge to put together an entrepreneurial seminar. This would be either a one or two day lecture program for people who want to start their own business or wish to improve their existing business.

I am still working out the details, but I have a general idea of what I want to do. First, it would be held in the theater. I have great conference space for large and small groups. It would have to be classy, which means actual course materials, take home spreadsheet templates and lunch provided.

The seminar would cover as much real content as I could come up with. This is in contrast to the "Wealth" seminars that have a bunch of big name speakers and even more low level speakers who want to sell your their DVDs. Most of the content coming out of those programs is useless hype. I want my seminar to contain specific, useful information.

Of course, I need to figure out how much to charge for the program.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Concession Menu Boards

Since opening Zeus, I have been really unhappy with my concession menus. Yes, I did put in six 42" screens. They are lined up and mounted at the right height. (Getting them at the right height had more to do with luck than skill. I just guessed at the height.)

I started out with a text board and ran everything on powerpoint. The menus are on two screens and repeated 3 times. Yes, the menus were easy to read, but they lacked that certain kick that would make them interesting. I had changed the backgrounds to something with columns, but it still didn't work.

So over the past couple of days, I have been taking pictures of all my menu items and reworking the menus. Here is the the end result:

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Quality Sells

Since opening Zeus Digital Theaters last October, I have been put to the test on my beliefs that quality sells. When I designed the theater, I made the leg room of every seat to be 12" greater than any other theater in the area. In addition, I put in stadium seating, rocker leather chairs, a great sound and projection system and expensive carpet.

The carpet, in my mind is the most important feature of the lobby. It isn't the huge columns or even the nice furniture. The carpet is something that you see and feel constantly. If the carpet isn't clean, you will notice it. Heaven forbid the carpet is sticky (which can happen in a theater).

A huge portion of my quality proposal to my guests actually is in the carpet. So it is no wonder that I will spend better than $15,000 this year in cleaning and maintenance on the carpet.

Another big part of our quality is the bathrooms. A smelly bathroom, regardless of how clean it is can kill your theater. A dirty bathroom that doesn't stink is just as bad. Some national chains get their baths cleaned every night by an outside crew. I have my regular staff clean the baths every 30 minutes. It makes all the difference.

Finally, the concept that quality sells is shown in how a nice theater performs, even at a higher ticket price, compared to a run down theater. We have a theater nearby that charges $7 for every show. We run our prices at $8-$13 with the average ticket price just below $10. So if the price was "elastic", then a lower price should mean greater attendance. Right? Wrong! Our theater does anywhere from 20-30 times the revenue of the lower priced theater. Price is not everything. Quality is what really matters.

The challenge is keeping the quality up. That means constant maintenance and improvement. Painters should touch up every 6 months. Carpets get professionally scrubbed every 90 days. Broken seats are fixed immediately.

To steal the old tag line: Quality is Job One!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

My List of Business Startups

It's no secret that the economy is in tough shape. Locally, we enjoy a 6% unemployment rate, which compared to the national rate of 9.1% is pretty good. However, the fact remains that opportunity is hard to come by today.

Of course, everyone would love to have some big company roll in and put in a shiny new manufacturing plant which would employ thousands of people at a livable wage. However, the odds of that happening are slim to none. Real job growth will have to come from the little start-ups. I would rather have 100 companies start up that employ 10 people each over 1 company that employs 1,000 people.

Of course, not everyone is suited to go out and start up a dot-com or other tech company. Access to capital, knowledge of the technology and realistic chances of success push those types of businesses into the realm of impossible for most of us.

Instead, I say there are real needs in the local market that could be satisfied by someone who just puts one foot in front of the other. Below are my favorite first-time startup businesses with the estimated investment required. Feel free to use them all you wish.

Under $500 Investment
Pressure Washing 

Go buy a nice pressure washer, print up some good looking fliers and business cards, then hit the street. Look for the houses that face the South. That means their back decks face the North. What happens when you have wood that never gets direct sunlight? That's right! Mold and mildew. People are more than happy to pay someone a reasonable rate ($100-$200) so they don't have to deal with it.

Under $1,000 Investment
E-Bay Consignment Store

I am a pretty tech savy guy, but I hate selling stuff on E-Bay. In fact, I have a whole bunch of stuff I would happily sell if it weren't for the hassle. To sell on E-Bay, you need an account with E-Bay and an account with Pay-Pal. You need to take lots of pictures and write up the description. You then need to answer questions from buyers, watch the bidding, collect them money and ship the product. That's too much for most people to go through.

However, if someone would get off their butt and provide this as a service, they would do well. The secret is to make it easy. That means pickup service for the seller. Full service on getting the thing sold, shipped and paid for. Once the sale is done, you simply collect your fee and send the remaining amount to the seller. Do a good job and they will open up more stuff for you to sell. There is no need for a storefront since you would be picking the stuff up. Eventually, you might add a store front or better yet, set up a drop off location at the local UPS Store.

Under $500 
Lunch Delivery Service

I work long hours and often forget to eat. Wouldn't it be great if I had a website I could pop onto that had the menu's of all the restaurants in the area where I could select what I wanted and have it delivered to me? Simple business idea. You charge a fee for delivery, collect tips and build from there. The secret is to treat each of your clients like they are staying at the Four Seasons. That means getting them to accept your text messages with simple decisions such as "Good Morning Mr. Hayes, would you like Chinese or your usual Mexican lunch today?"

Under $500
Personal Servant

I know this sounds like a crap job, but hear me out. In everyone community there are people who are too busy to handle the little things. These people would love to have someone run errands for them, but don't have  enough work to keep a full time assistant occupied. Plus they don't want to have to deal with all the hassle involved in hiring someone.

Along you come with a cool service: Personal Servant. You or one of your employees would be available to take the car to get the oil changed, pick up the dry cleaning, shop for groceries, or whatever is needed. You would be paid and tipped according to an hourly rate. Even if this remains just you doing it, it sure beats sitting around waiting to find a job or working fast food.

To get started, you would simply need a nice looking polo shirt with your logo, a box of business cards, and some fliers. Hit the street and find some clients who would fit your profile. They are out there and would be more than happy to hand off the mundane items to you.

I know, these business ideas sound like a job. They are just that. That's the whole idea. You need to start with something that doesn't take a huge amount of money. If you treat these like real businesses with good record keeping, marketing, operational improvements, etc. you will quickly find them growing into something more.

One of my earliest businesses was just me doing desktop publishing for other people such as the PennySaver and others. The benefit is that I eventually had several clients. The more clients you have, the more secure your income stream. Face it, the normal job is not very secure.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Blog Back Up & Running

I am finally getting my blog back up and running again.

Since we last spoke, I have completely changed around my businesses. First, I shut down Black Bear Title. It made sense give the crappy housing environment. It fell into the "don't try to go against the current unless you are a salmon" rule.

Then I sold RentQuick. RentQuick had been my baby since I opened it in 1998. However, my focus was shifting to Zeus Digital Theaters and I knew I would not have much time for RentQuick anymore. This one fell under the "you can only stare at one thing at a time" rule.

So now I have Zeus up and running. We just had a great summer. July was way above my target numbers and we are hitting on all cylinders. We had a run of big block buster movies that brought out all kinds of new guests. I am still tweaking the business a little, but I expect it to be fairly stable going into next year and beyond. Not too bad for a startup in the middle of a global financial meltdown.

That brings us up to date pretty well.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Need for Focus

As my regular readers (all 3 of them) know, I have a few businesses. Over the past 6 months, since opening Zeus Digital Theaters, I have been working crazy hours. My day starts around 8 or 9 and I get home sometimes after midnight. Most of that time is spent in the theater working on details, details, details. When I opened Zeus last October, I had Hayes Investments, DeWitt Crossing, BlackBear Title and on my plate.

In November, I shuttered BlackBear Title since I knew I wouldn't be able to "push a rope uphill" in the current housing market. Just last week I sold, a company I started 13 years ago. RentQuick needs a full time owner and I could not longer spend proper amount of time on it.

So as of right now, I have Zeus, Hayes Investments and DeWitt Crossing left. This feels about right.

Once you start one business, you find it easy to start another. Some businesses grow by expanding their market. However, as an entrepreneur, there is an urge to create new businesses to diversify the income streams. So after a few years, many active entrepreneurs end up with a group of small businesses. I am here to tell you that, for me, is the wrong approach.

To be successful, you must have focus. With multiple businesses, you cannot be focussed. There just aren't enough hours in the day. Also, as we age, we lose some of the vigor we all have when we are young. I don't consider this slowing down. Instead, I see it as expanding in a single direction.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Finest Man I Ever Knew

On Saturday, we buried my Father-in-Law, James R. Jewett. He was just shy of 80 years old. He was a farmer all his life. He has a 400-acre farm in Madison County, Virginia where he grew corn, soybeans, and barley. For decades he also had dairy cows.

Saturday was both a difficult day and a wonderful day. I had known him for 22 years and considered him a friend and mentor. When he would visit, he and I would ride around in my truck and look at various projects I had going on. He was always supportive.

After all the guests had left and just the family remained, I marveled at the bonds and quality of the family he left behind. We were happy to report that of all his kids and grandchildren, there was not a single black sheep. In fact, they are all excellent people. I am honored to be a part of the family.

The most poignant moment was during the service when the Reverend stated that Jim Jewett was "the finest man I ever knew". Not many people can honestly have that said about them. He was in fact the finest man any of us ever knew.

The very best part of the whole thing is that he was buried on his farm that he loved. To make matters even better, it looks as if his son and grandson will continue to farm the land and keep it whole.

I will miss Jim Jewett terribly. He was the finest man I ever knew.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Unfounded Economic Predictions

As I watch all the "experts" predict everything from the price of oil to the growth of the economy, I am reminded of how often they are wrong. In June, 2008, the experts predicted that oil was going to hit $200/barrel. Six months later it was around $35. In 2001, the experts predicted the Dow Jones Industrials to hit 20,000. It is still in the11k to 12k range today.

As it turns out, you don't have to be right to make predictions. In fact, you can just blurt out some outrageous statement in the hopes that it will turn out that way and you will be hailed at a seer. So in my hopes of meeting Oprah (and her subsequently buying me a car), I thought I would make some wild predictions as well. It is important to put these things down in writing so there is proof that I made the prediction beforehand. Then if it comes true, I can hit pay-dirt.

1. China will have a civil war and drop back behind Japan in terms of GDP.
2. Osama Bin Laden will be found hiding in a Super 8 in Ohio watching pay-per-view wrestling.
3. The price of gold will drop below $1,000/oz. as the economy recovers.
4. Upon the death of Fidel Castro, a huge influx of American investments will turn the country into a Caribbean Vegas.
5. The next bubble will be in apartment construction.
6. 3D Televisions will not sell well. In 2013, they will cease to make them.
7. Apple Computer will buy Microsoft.
8. Microsoft will accidentally buy a part of itself that it already owns.
9. Out of the Middle East turmoil, a true leader will emerge who focuses on ending hunger and suffering of his people.
10. We will find a path to cold fusion which will change the political dynamics of the world much the same way that finding oil in the Saudi Desert did 70 years ago.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

If I Were To Write A Book

First, I don't presume to be able to write a book. I don't have the dedication to finish a writing project of that size. Furthermore, I am not so full of myself that I would think that in writing a business book, anyone would want to read it. Of the thousands of business books written each year, only a few are worthwhile. There is a reason for that: business books are dull.

To do a good business book you almost have to make it a simple story such as Who Moved My Cheese or something like that. Most business books sit unsold in warehouses.

However, if I were to write a business book, I would say the following:

1. Entrepreneurship is not something you can just pickup when you are laid off. You need to prepare for years to get it right. Many think the road to riches lies with their first business. It doesn't with the exception of a just a few businesses, it isn't until the 2nd or 3rd do you actually make money. Just because you did well as a manager in a big company, doesn't mean you have the tools to start up a small business.

2. The ability to raise capital is huge. If you cannot raise debt or equity financing, you will starve for cash quickly.

3. If you cannot sell, you shouldn't try to be an entrepreneur. Selling helps with raising capital, getting customers, hiring good employees, and leading others. I would put selling at the top of the list for a startup business. Of all my businesses, the biggest issue has always been revenue growth. Handling costs, employees, government red tape or even product delivery is easy by comparison.

4. Whatever your business plan says, you are wrong. I have yet to see a business plan be right. Period. Costs are always higher and revenues are always lower. Never trust what your numbers are until they are real.

5. Listen to others, but believe in yourself. You will hear every expert in the world tell you that you can or cannot do something. Of course, they are nowhere  to be found when the chips are down. Listen to them and add it to your base of knowledge, but ultimately you need to depend on yourself and what you believe. Don't let them talk you into or out of doing something.

6. Nothing pays off like hard work. If you think that owning your own business involves a lot of free time and traveling, think again. You will need to do more work for less pay than any of your employees, at least at the beginning. After the business is successful, you will have plenty of time for relaxing. But don't go into this thing thinking you can have weekends and evenings off.

7. Once  you get the business running right, your next job will be to get yourself out of the day-to-day business. If you are stuck in the day to day running of the business one year after starting, then you aren't doing your job right. Ultimately, you should be replaced by employees.

8. Finally, once you are successful, you should stay paranoid. Success breeds complacency. Staying paranoid keeps you sharp and increases your energy.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Supporting The People of Egypt

The events over the past couple of days in Egypt create a huge problem for the United States. The Obama Administration wants to be able to come out for the will of the people against a dictator, but at the same time want to support that dictator because it benefits the US in their efforts on the Middle East Peace Process with regard to Israel.

So what to do? We want to support freedom and democracy. But what happens when that democracy results in an Islamic Republic (such as Iran) or an anti-Israeli government such as Hamas in occupied Palestine? The simple fact is that the will of the people does not always result in a pro-American government.

Personally, I think we should stay out of it and allow the chips to fall where they may. We made mistakes with Iran in the 70's that haunt us today. Our support for the Shah of Iran resulted in the takeover of the US Embassy and to a lesser extent the rise of Iraq and the Iran/Iraq war.

Possible outcomes may result in coming to arms over the Suez Canal or even an eventual shooting war between Israel and her neighbors. Of course, those are worst case scenarios. Hopefully, a moderate government will emerge from Egypt. Only time will tell.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Finally something to talk about

This past week, the Chinese President visited the White House for a state dinner. It has brought up understandable concerns over the rise of China and what that means for the US.

It is estimated that by 2025 or 2030, China will overtake the United States as the largest economy in the world. The US surpassed Great Britain in 1877 as the largest country in the world. Ever since, the foam finger industry has been going strong making "We're Number 1" foam fingers. America has enjoyed a long run as the strongest and richest country in the world. Losing that number one spot will be tough to our national psyche, however, we should actually start to question what we have done to earn that number one spot.

We American's have been riding the wave of previous successes for a while. The real question should be, "What have we done lately?"

There is no doubt that China is hungry and ambitious. But just how ambitious are we as a nation? Most of what we do now is respond to problems. No longer are we racing to the moon, learning to fly, creating new inventions, or building the big dams. It doesn't mean we are dumber than our ancestors. It does mean we are not as ambitious as they were. Our hunger has been calmed by plenty of food, loads of leisure and comfort. We don't take the risks we once did largely because we have so much to lose or we have too much stuff already and don't need to go higher.

I was visited by a man this week who wants to build his own business. He is about 40 and makes good money working for someone else. After a very long talk, I realized he won't actually follow his dream because he is comfortable now. He won't take a risk for something bigger because what he has now is good enough.

Multiply that across an entire generation and you will see why we Americans have a problem. In order to grow as a country, we must take risk. But individuals don't need or want to take that risk for the possibility of something big.

The missing element is ambition. You cannot teach it. Either you hunger to achieve something or you don't. It is tough to act hungry when your belly is already full. I don't know what the answer is to this dilemma. Of course, we will all point the finger at someone else for America's decline in the world. Luckily, there will be a huge supply of foam fingers to fill the demand.