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Bonus Episode: I Didn’t Appreciate It Until I Almost Lost It
Bonus Episode: I Didn’t Appreciate It Until I Almost Lost It

This week, in a special bonus episode, Greg Wittstock, founder of Aquascape, explains how he invented the backyard pond industry, how he improvised a business model, and how he almost lost it all. After failing at franchising, Wittstock decided to give away his pond building expertise and marketing to landscape contractors in what he calls “a franchise system without a franchise fee.” And it worked. Always candid to a fault, he recounts how the business shot to $59 million in annual sales, why it then stagnated for 10 years, and what he ultimately figured out about social media marketing. Plus: he also explains why his first rule of customer service is: Don't give them what they ask for. Give them what they want.

Fire Your Franchise Consultant

As listeners to this podcast know, Dana White has a remarkable array of opportunities before her, including company-owned hair salons, franchised salons, salons on military bases, hair products, and point-of-sale software. But, especially since the pandemic, Dana has struggled to get traction. This week, special guest Ami Kassar, an expert in small business finance, guides Dana through a discussion of how she might prioritize those opportunities and get them financed. Ami and Dana consider such questions as: What should she do first? Should she continue to pursue franchising, where she’s already sunk a lot of money? Or should she focus on opening company-owned salons at Fort Bragg and in Dallas? And should she be looking for an investor? If so, how important is it that she maintains control of the business? Or should she try for a bank loan? And if so, what kind of pitch is likely to impress a bank? As the conversation continues, a plan emerges.

The Early Warning Signs

“I see it, and I feel it,” Liz Picarazzi tells Shawn Busse and Jay Goltz this week in a conversation about the looming recession many are predicting. But Liz is not hunkering down. In fact, she has launched an ambitious marketing campaign that relies not on Google AdWords but on Google Alerts. She’s also taking some advice from Carey Smith, the founder of Big Ass Fans, that she didn’t want to hear when it was first proffered. Plus: How some owners trap themselves in miserable businesses. And Shawn, Jay, and Liz suggest regulations that need to die—with Jay going off on the way businesses are compelled to pay for unemployment insurance.

What Would Deming Say?

This week, Kelly Allan—a consultant who specializes in sharing the principles espoused by the late management guru W. Edwards Deming—returns to the podcast for a conversation with Paul Downs, Jay Goltz, and Laura Zander. After World War II, you may recall, Deming was sent to Japan, where he was largely credited with resuscitating the devastated economy. He of course went on to become tremendously influential here, too. And if you read his books or scan his “14 points” for management, it’s clear that many of his lessons are now widely accepted. But not all of them. For example, he encouraged business leaders not to set production quotas, not to hold people accountable—at least not without first holding the process accountable—and not to address employee performance and pay in the same conversation. Some of these issues came up in an episode that Paul, Jay, and Laura taped in December, which is why we decided to invite Kelly, who is chairman of the Advisory Council of the W. Edwards Deming Institute and has his own management consulting business, to join us. The goal was to see if we could figure out what Deming would tell Paul, Jay, and Laura, and whether the three owners would be open to his suggestions. Spoiler alert: Paul’s not really buying it.

Have You Looked at Your Employee Handbook Lately?

This week, Jay Goltz and Dana White talk about their employee handbooks. Do they take them seriously? Or is it just boilerplate? Has anything changed since the pandemic? Is the handbook the place to remind employees that they are hired at will and can be fired at any time with or without a reason? Are there issues that should not be addressed in the handbook? When was the last time they updated it? When was the last time they read it? “Me, personally?” responded Jay. “Actually picked it up and read it?” Yes, Jay, that’s the question. “Years.”

Never miss a 21 Hats Podcast episode
Does Firing People Ever Get Easier?

This week, Shawn Busse, Jay Goltz, and William Vanderbloemen discuss whether the old line about hiring slow and firing fast makes sense during a labor shortage. As William puts it, “What if you do have to hire fast? How do you do that? What if you do want to keep people even if you might have wanted to get rid of them before? How do you do that without ruining your culture?” Plus: How do you know it’s really time for someone to go? And what happens when employees share their salaries with each other? Anything good? And as we all binge watch the real life dramas about WeWork and Theranos, the question inevitably arises: Is it still okay to fake it until you make it? And if so, where do you draw the line?

My Deal Has Come Apart

This week, we start with an update of how 21 Hats has been doing since its sale brought new resources and new ambitions (Spoiler alert: It’s not going great!). Then, Dana White tells Shawn Busse and Jay Goltz about the progress she’s made on multiple fronts: attempting to sell franchises to revive her struggling Midtown Detroit location, to open new salons at Fort Bragg and in Dallas, and to secure financing. The owners discuss Dana’s financing options—venture capital, private equity, bank loan—assessing, in Shawn’s words, their “degrees of evil.” Plus: Shawn explains how his views on remote work have been evolving, and Jay explains why he’s tired of being called a tyrant (even though no one’s actually called him that).

The Anchor Price

This week, Shawn Busse, Paul Downs, and Liz Picarazzi talk pricing, specifically how they use an anchor price—the first number they offer prospective customers. Do they anchor low to avoid scaring anyone away? Or do they anchor high to disqualify unlikely buyers and to make the actual sale price feel more comfortable? Plus: Liz explains the remarkable, dream-come-true, my-product-in-Times Square PR gift she just received. Of course, this is entrepreneurship, so even when dreams come true, there tend to be complications. Liz’s business is getting a wave of publicity at a time when her fabricator in Shanghai has been locked down for almost four weeks. She’s talking to domestic fabricators as well, but they, too, will be dependent on raw materials that have to come from China. It’s a problem, she tells us.

Do You Really Want That Shiny Object?

This week, Laura Zander tells Shawn Busse and Jay Goltz about her eight-month roller coaster ride pursuing an acquisition. The deal would bring a new brand and profitable revenue at a reasonable price. To Laura, the creative challenge and opportunity are exciting—“really, really exciting”—but the financials are a concern. “Do I do this?” she asks. “Is it worth it?” And then there’s the broker, whose numbers don’t add up and who wants to collect his fee—including his piece of the earnout—immediately. Plus: Shawn explains how the rise of inexpensive design contractors forced his company to become a better business.

Do You Take Money off the Table?

This week, Shawn Busse, Paul Downs, and Jay Goltz discuss their philosophies about taking money off the table vs. reinvesting it in the business. Of course, you can’t take money off the table unless there’s money on the table. Paul tells us that he once calculated his average earnings for his first 22 years in business and they came to about $11 an hour. But he now expects to make more money in the next five years than he did in the previous 35. We also talk about content marketing, direct mail, and trade shows. Plus: Was the Paycheck Protection Program, despite the billions of dollars in fraud, a success?

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