I have absolutely no doubt people are placed into our lives to give us a different perspective or meaning on who we are or maybe who we thought we were. Some will teach us a lesson we are afraid of learning while others will make us take note of a simple thought and find a solution when we are not sure what to do next.
One of the greatest pieces of advice I learned was from my first landlord, Mike Hogan. As a pillar in our community, some got along with him while others didn’t and he was certainly okay with that. Ever since I was a child, I knew of him only as the man who lived in the gated mansion at the top of the hill. Coming from a lower-middle class family, I had a mixture of being in awe and being petrified by just hearing his name in a conversation. So, the day I had to walk into his office that first time, I didn’t know if I’d be accepted or eaten alive. I had my speech all written out and I tried to be steady as I talked and negotiated potential terms. This was it. There was no back-up plan for me. Tara Plaza was where I wanted to be because this was where I had the best memories of shopping as I was growing up. I felt like Absolutely Her and I belonged in that plaza to make those same imprints on other lives as well. Mr. Hogan intimidated the heck out of me, and I am sure in those first meetings he probably thought my business would not make it past the first six months. Luckily for me (in so many ways), his first instinct of this quiet and shy would-be store owner was wrong as he gave me the chance.
Over time, the intimidation dissipated, and he became my friend of mutual respect and our meetings ended with hugs instead of handshakes. As the 40th anniversary of the plaza approached, I realized I never learned the story of how he created it, if there was one. We invited him to our association meeting and asked the question. In the telling of its history, he gave us some simple, yet powerful advice I still use today. You see, when he was starting out as a real estate developer back in the early 60’s, he built a housing development that sits behind our stores. Back during that time, it was the place to live as they were fresh and modern in their design and the housing market was booming for this area of Papillion. The houses sold and families moved in, but there was a problem.
The issue was in the lesson he then gave us. “Find out what the people want and give it to them.” That simple statement was the beginning of Tara Plaza. Sure, he built places for these families to call home, but they were having to leave our city and drive for a few miles just for basic necessities. There wasn’t anything close by to get everything they needed for their families and their new homes. As any good business owner would do, he listened to their problems and set out to solve them. Soon, right there in their neighborhood, was all they needed. One strip mall held it all - grocery, hardware, craft, clothing and drug stores along with a restaurant and more. He built it for his community.
It’s not a lesson I have ever taken lightly. Learning what others need is a key component to building a successful business, especially now. Over the past years, there were times I came up with, what I thought, were incredible ideas for Absolutely Her and more recently, AngieKaye. Some took off like crazy, while others just seemed to fizzle out quickly. As I look back on them, the ones that I created based on the needs of my customers and employees were great success stories. Those that just stayed stagnant or died off were those ideas I thought were wanted, but in reality, didn’t solve a problem for anyone, it just sounded good.
Where are you today? Are you building what serves your dreams or are you creating a business to make the lives of those around you easier? Think about that for a minute. Because here’s the deal, and I’m sure you know this, but this is a friendly reminder: in today’s new normal, anyone can shop anywhere. If I need absolutely anything, I can go online and buy it with the click of a button. But is that really fulfilling the needs of YOUR customers?
I’d bet anything that in today’s world, it isn’t the quick click your customers need as they’ve been staying home for the past months. I know I don’t. I’m looking for my safe places again. Those stores where I walk in and they know me. Where I walk in and they ask about my family. Where I walk in and I can feel the anxiety rush out of my body in an instant. But that’s just me – that’s what I’d tell you if you asked.
What would your clients or your employees tell you? Create a quick 10-question survey in Survey Monkey, ask questions on Facebook or ask your customers and employees directly. But most importantly, don’t be afraid to actively listen between the lines of casual conversations you’re having day-to-day, for they can give you tremendous insight. Because a random story you hear today may just set you up for success tomorrow.