We celebrated the 25th year of Team Mates with a big party last month. I invited all of our local customers, many of our suppliers and some colleagues within the ASI industry. I enticed them with the promise of my homemade wine, some fabulous barbecue and the chance to embroider their own shirt. The embroidery theme won the day.
We came up with the ‘learn the art of embroidery’ concept at our 20th anniversary party. We felt that this would give our customers a better idea of the skills involved in decorating a piece of apparel and we also wanted a chance to introduce customers to the staff at Team Mates.
A lot of people compliment me on Team Mates’ success. My answer is that it is the people involved in this company that make it a success. It is also our customers and suppliers. It is not ‘my’ company. I just work here.
I spent several years as a consultant to small businesses. It was not glamorous or fun, at least in my experience. The first instruction that every owner gave me was to ‘make the company pay them back’. It was always the same. In each case, the owner felt that his or her investment of time, labor and money entitled them to a big return and that whatever they were getting was not enough to justify the years of work. I only lasted about five years as a consultant. I got tired of telling owners that they were wrong.
A business is a living, breathing entity. It reflects its owners and as it grows, it is transformed by the employees. It changes and adapts if it is going to survive. It stagnates if attention is drawn from it. If an owner demands that the business provide more cash than is actually generated, by, say, pulling out what might be considered a fair return on all those years of investment, the business will die. The personality of a business, often confused with its 'culture' is affected by every single person who comes into contact with it.
The owner of a successful small business understands this personality. The business is capable of growth because there is ample credit and cash available. More importantly, there is an openness and friendliness that welcomes customers and suppliers alike. The employees work at it with energy. The owner and managers and staff communicate.
Several years ago, I asked our staff to help define what Team Mates is. Yes, we do embroidery. My questions related to what we are. Does Team Mates have a good personality? How do our employees view the company and what can we do to make it better? What effect does a good customer have on our business and what happens when we have a poor customer?
The result was that we defined our relationship with the rest of the world. We identified our ideal customers and suppliers. We created a model for them and then actively sought them out. Internally, we helped our employees define their relationship with the company as a whole.
The process worked. Team Mates transformed into a better company, at least in our employees' eyes. No, I am not a believer in having all of us sit around and do meditation. I do not look at any of this in some sort of New Age way. We did these things in order to create our business in a way that reflected the people who work here and at the same time, allowed us to build a business plan that we actually fit. Yes, growth, sales and profitability are part of the plan. The definition part, though, is done with the goal of actually building a business that retains employees, takes less risk and builds long-lasting relationships with customers, suppliers and staff.
The end result, for me, was to discover something important about me and about Team Mates. I work for the company. I took risks and worked hard at the beginning. At the end of the day, though, I did not make this business. Our employees did that. Our customers did that. People who walked by and noticed the company name did that. Our suppliers helped us out.
I know that while it would be nice to get rich from all of this, it is not going to happen. At the same time, and at very least, I have a place to work that rewards me with a little bit of money and a lot of satisfaction in knowing that I work with a really great group of people. When we had our party, I wanted our customers to meet our employees. I wanted them to talk, to get to know each other. What better way to demonstrate that it isn’t just me showing the face of the company. The attitude and dedication runs all the way through. I think that we got the message across.