Polling the Experts: Business Owners
In Fall 2019, we asked alumni business owners to respond to the following:
Starting a business is hard, but staying in business is harder. If offering advice to future business owners, what would you identify as one significant practice, strategy or core value in your business that you think is key to your ongoing success?
“Show respect and gratitude to your employees. Never reprimand them in front of others, do not be quick to judge mistakes (listen to their explanation first), be nice to them yet firm when needed, and have an open-door policy where you are willing to listen to them (they may not want to complain but need someone to listen to them vent). ALWAYS be thankful to them. Say ‘thanks’ at the end of the day, tell them how much you appreciate their efforts and thank them for working at this company.”
- Todd Szada, owner/operator (M.B.A., ’02) SERVPRO of SW Waukesha County and SERVPRO Jefferson County/Oconomowoc, a fire and water clean-up and restoration company that also offers mold remediation, deodorization services and asbestos abatement (Wisconsin)
“We are a service-based business in a field where delivering consistent results for our clients can be challenging. In the photo organization field, clients have a wide variety of requests for their photos, videos, memorabilia and important documents. Some requests have really pulled us away from our core business. One practice that we’ve implemented is ensuring that the service we are performing is standard, easily replicated and documented in a policy. Once a business has good procedures in place, it is much easier to grow and scale. One of my best pieces of advice is to spend the time early to create your policy and procedure manual and update routinely.”
Mollie Bartelt, co-founder (M.S. Health Administration, ’98) Pixologie, services for people to organize, digitize and foreverize their photos, videos, film and important documents and memorabilia (Southeastern Wisconsin)
“Starting a business is an adrenaline rush. Let that rush pass and focus on what you are offering. My most important strategy is remaining honest. Don't mess with your vendors or customers; they are your lifeblood and they can ruin your reputation in a heartbeat. If you can't provide a service or product, be honest about it. You will gain more respect and customer referrals because of that.”
Susan Corkum, owner (B.F.A. Art, ’76) Purloin Studio, art, books and coffee, featuring more than 60 artisans who specialize in a wide variety of mediums (Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin)
"The customer experience is everything in a small business. Every customer has a story. Listen to that story and use it to improve the product you've designed for their enjoyment."
Andre Lewis, founder/operator (B.A. Computer Studies, ’04) Plum Lounge, a sophisticated and intimate lounge experience in the heart of the Cathedral Square neighborhood (Milwaukee)
“Where and how you focus your resources is critical to longevity in business. Given the fact that every company has a finite budget and resources, there are key practices that I feel are critical to long-term company health. A company cannot lose focus on its core product or service and must ensure they do it well, or the competitors will. While focus is critical, business owners must always stay on top of trends impacting their market. You must identify if and how the changing trends could impact your market access, sales and, most importantly, your profitability.”
Tim Ogden, principal, co-founder (B.S. Business Administration, ’08) Elite Properties, Inc., property management (Greater Milwaukee)
“Follow through—this is a critical piece for earning respect not only from customers but your employees. Your word is the key to trust and trust is paramount to maintaining quality connections and relationships. Your work environment will deteriorate swiftly if your employees do not experience your follow through. Your customers will go elsewhere if you are not delivering what you promise.”
Shannon (O’Connell) Trenholme, owner (M.B.A., ’05) Rocket Baby Bakery, a premium neighborhood bakery serving artisan breads, pastries, sandwiches and soups, all made in house fresh daily (Wauwatosa, Wisconsin)