If you have a traditional small business and have been stuck in a rut with regards to performance, you’ll enjoy this read below. Jamie Gerdsen has provided a manual for keeping your small business from becoming one of those “undead” companies out there. Check out this entertaining interview by reading on…
Q: Jamie, what inspired you to write Zombies Ate My Business: How To Keep Your Traditional Business From Becoming One Of The Undead?
A: I want to be the voice of reason, culture, and innovation for traditional / Main Street businesses. As CEO of Apollo Home in Cincinnati, I noticed that year in and year out, the employees at my company were the same, the services we offered were the same, the products we installed were the same, and the customers we served were the same.
With so much sameness, you can see how it’s easy to get lulled into a comforting routine. Before you know it, your whole business is, well, kind of zombie-like. I wanted to write this book to help other companies so they can avoid becoming one of the walking dead.
Q: Could you give us a quick high-level summary of your background?
A: As CEO of Apollo Home in Cincinnati, I completed changed the culture of my company resulting in growth, customers served, and employees hired. I am a noted speaker and author, and have held leadership positions within the Entrepreneur’s Organization. I am in demand on service boards, and have been part of Forty Under 40, and Leadership Cincinnati; I am also a 2 time finalist for EY entrepreneur of the year. Apollo has been named one of the best places to work three years in a row by the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Q: Delving into your book now, who would benefit most from your book?
A: I define traditional / Main Street businesses as mainstay enterprises: dry cleaners, auto parts supply stores, gas stations, HVAC companies, florists, bakeries, bagel stores, plumbers, delis, etc. You get the idea.
Q: You have a chapter titled “Becoming a Zombie Hunter”. Can you explain exactly why this chapter is an important one to read?
A: Becoming a zombie hunter is one of the most important executive tasks – and this chapter explains why. The old days, when workers showed up on time and gave everything they had, have now gone the way of Nehru jackets and parachute pants. Having a strong work ethic means different things to different people. For me, a strong work ethic is nothing short of giving a job your all – or as an athlete might say, “leaving it all on the field.”
But for too many employees, it means simply showing up for work, socializing over coffee, and then settling into the important stuff: Facebook, Twitter feeds, etc.
Everyone wants to work in an office environment where the individual isn’t a slave to the job and has plenty of freedom to interact with the world outside the office. I get that. I even agree with it to a point.
While the new, more enlightened work environment is designed to make employees happier and more productive, it has also become an ideal hiding place for zombies. They blend in.
That’s why a business owner’s job – as a zombie hunter – is to identify them and weed them out. Cull the nonproductive ones from the herd. Each person who isn’t being productive is sucking the life out of the business. The more zombies a business has, the more dead weight the business is forced to carry.
Q: Can you quickly describe one of the more amusing stories in the book?
A: Last fall, I had a raccoon in my attic. I could hear him roaming around all night. Now, I’m not afraid of much, but I had no desire to tangle with this raccoon. So the next morning, I Googled “Pest Removal.” Since I didn’t know any of these companies, I called the first one on the list.
I got voicemail. “Leave a message; we’ll get back to you.” Great. When? I’m in kind of a hurry here.
Second name on the list, second call. Voicemail again: “Sorry we’re not in right now, but if this is an emergency call this number.” I immediately called that number and it rang and rang. Fifty rings. No one picked up. So much for emergency service.
Third name, third call. Got a live person. I was thrilled. She listened to my problem, commiserated with me, but had no idea when one of their crews might be able to trap my raccoon.
Fourth name, fourth call. A man – sounded like he was on his cell phone – answered. Sure enough, he’d taken the call in his truck. I explained my problem. He summarized what he’d do to deal with my raccoon, let me know his fee was $150, and said he could be at my house in forty minutes.
Of course, I hired him. He’d made it easy for me to buy. Bricks-and-mortar businesses are the same way. Some make it easy for you to do business with them while others seem to do everything possible to drive you away. You can have the best product and the best people, but if the customer experience is lousy, people will take their business elsewhere.
Q: What are the other important elements, messages, or takeaways of your book that you’d like readers to know they will benefit from?
A: I would like readers to know that the information in this book will help them succeed in business if they want to do any of these things:
- Keep a growing traditional business growing.
- Help a mature traditional business grow instead of sliding into decline.
- Reverse the fortunes of a declining traditional business and start it growing again.
- Being able to identify your current situation and instituting a common language to talk about it is a first step in crafting a solution. Once you have that, the next steps become easier. That’s important, because I want this to be understandable and encouraging. I don’t want to make it as complicated as directions for assembling a bicycle. Let’s take these steps one at a time.
Q: Give us an interesting fun fact about your book or the research you conducted for your book.
A: I learned a lot of what I know when I bought Apollo, an HVAC company in Cincinnati, from my father. I bought the company as the business was cresting. On the business life cycle, Apollo was a plateaued mature business, trending slightly toward decline. The biggest difference between the Apollo of today and the Apollo of years past is that we made a pilgrimage and drank from the fountain of youth. Thanks to that magic elixir, this is not an old company any more, stuck in its ways and unwilling to change. This is now a young company that believes it can fanatically deliver a better core experience and that is constantly looking on how we can improve how we serve our customers.
Q: Where can people find out more about you and/or your book?
A: For more information about me, and / or my book, Zombies Ate My Business: How To Keep Your Traditional Business From Becoming One Of The Undead, please visit JamieGerdsen.com.
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