This Summer, Be Like Magic Johnson

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When I was a teenager, my dad decided to have a weekend parking lot sale at one of his carpet stores one summer weekend. It was a lot of work, lugging those heavy rolls of carpets out of the store and then setting them up in the parking lot. Not surprisingly, dad didn’t want to have to have all of the carpet hauled back in the store each night, so he hired my friend Seth and I to guard the goods, starting around 9:00 pm each night, for three nights.

So Seth and I parked my Firebird in the lot and tried to stay awake each night. It was a bit of a fool’s errand, for two reasons:

  • First, thinking that we two scrawny, middle class, suburban high schoolers could somehow ward off thieves seasoned enough to haul away giant, heavy rolls of carpet in the dead of night was, let’s just say, not that smart.
  • Second, armed with just our six pack of Dr. Pepper, and package Red Vines, there would be little we could actually do should something happen.

So we tried to stay awake all night, each night, unsuccessfully, but luckily nothing was stolen. We were, of course, completely exhausted by Monday morning. And the sale? An utter failure. Who buys carpet just because they happened to see it stacked in a parking lot? Not one of dad’s best ideas.

A sidewalk or parking lot sale seems like a good idea because it draws attention to your place of business, and that is always good. But there are a few things to be careful of:

  • Theft. Especially if what you are displaying outside is smaller than a roll of carpet, shrinkage is a legitimate concern.
  • Brand problems: Most small business people use sidewalk sales to try and move product that hasn’t sold otherwise. If, by having the sale you attract new people to your store, and then what they find there are the dregs of your inventory, that isn’t good.

The point is, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

If you want to experiment with some new ideas this summer, let me suggest a few others:

1. Perform a SWOT analysis: I was recently speaking at the Sage Summit, where I got to hear one of my basketball – and business – heroes, Magic Johnson, speak. Magic said that twice a year, he performs a SWOT analysis of himself as the CEO, and his businesses:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities, and
  • Threats

If you have some extra time this summer, then SWOT away!

2. Plan for the fall: Once the kids go back to school and everyone emerges from their August slumber, business generally picks up but by then it’s too late to strategically think and plan. Now though is the perfect time.

Watch a couple of marketing webinars, read a business book, follow some new blogs. The point is, come up with some new ideas and then create a plan for implementing them.

3. Get out of the office! According to Yahoo, “Last year we reported on a survey that revealed nearly half of small business owners did not have time to take a summer vacation . . . and most of those who did have time said they would work while away.”

That is not getting with the program. The program is that you are in business for yourself because, among other reasons, you wanted to be the boss. Well, what if your boss didn’t give you any time off, what would you do? Complain or quit, that’s what.

So be a good boss and give yourself a break, literally (and while you’re at it, don’t ask your kid to protect your six-figure inventory at 3:00 a.m.)

Today’s Tip: Looking to start a business and reduce the risk of failure? Then I highly recommend The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. In it, Ries explains that the traditional startup model of the visionary with a big idea who takes the idea to market come hell or high-water is incredibly flawed. Instead, he shows you how to test small, listen to customers, learn, refine your idea, and only then roll it out. Steve says check it out.