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Earlier this week I had the opportunity to listen to Laura Zander co-founder of Jimmy Beans Wool speak on entrepreneurial success. Jimmy Beans Wool is primarily a web commerce company (with one retail store in Reno), which sells yarn along with its more recent product line addition of fabrics. When you think of a company that mainly sells yarn, you don’t typically think innovation. Yet Laura and her husband Doug have been very innovative in how they have grown their business in ten years from nothing to a $7 million company. The KOLO video below describes a little bit about their successful business model:

Of all Laura’s tips for business success, the one that stood out the most to me was her philosophy of having the brand continually pop up in unexpected places. Since it is estimated 1 in 4 women in the U.S. know how to knit, Laura recognized this gave the company a huge reach offering endless possibilities for branding partnerships. These branding partnerships represented first mover advantages for Jimmy Beans Wool.

Here are a few of the brand’s unexpected partnerships:

The Emmy’s: As part of their strategy of going where no other yarn company has gone before, Jimmy Beans Wool were able to negotiate to have a swag suite at the Emmy’s. As part of the event the Jimmy Beans Wool team even got to teach stars how to knit. After the event Laura capitalized on the opportunity sending press releases with titles such as “Hollywood Hunks Turn to Knitting” and calling magazines relentlessly to create a buzz. The approach worked and Redbook magazine ran a story on the company.

U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA): More recently Jimmy Beans Wool have teamed up with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association as their official and first ever yarn, knitting and crochet supplier. Beyond giving the brand great exposure, the partnership makes sense when you think of all the warm beanies, sweaters, scarves etc. the skiers and snowboarders need. The partnership doesn’t stop there either as Laura also recognizes that there is an opportunity to market their yarn products to family members of the ski and snowboard teams.

The Heart Truth: The heart truth is a non-profit campaign by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and sponsoring corporations to increase women’s awareness of heart disease. You’ve probably seen the campaign’s red dress symbol on diet coke cans. Laura chose to get involved in the campaign not only to give back but also to add credibility to Jimmy Beans Wool. The other sponsoring partners are huge corporations including Coca Cola, AOL, CVS and Johnson & Johnson among others. By being a part of a campaign supported by such large corporations, Jimmy Beans Wool can use this to their advantage to appear bigger than they actually are to win future business deals. Jimmy Beans Wool have set up a campaign site for the cause called Stitch Red to enlist the help of yarn retailers, manufacturers and their customers to increase heart disease awareness. The company has created products related to this cause and in June Laura is releasing her first book called “Knit Red.” Knit Red contains 30 red garments and accessories donated by celebrity designers who share their tips for staying healthy and preventing heart disease.

Laura’s future dream partnerships include the Today Show, and having knitting kits on Virgin Airlines. As the company’s tag line says there really are “Endless Possibilities” for where this company could take yarn.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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With gas prices continuing to increase, it’s hard to imagine being able to travel hundreds of miles on any form of transportation for just $1.50. Yet such a concept is the reality for customers of megabus.com in the east coast, southeast and mid west regions of the U.S.

I first came across Megabus about 8 years ago as a college student studying at the University of Edinburgh. Back then I would take Megabus to Glasgow for shopping trips for £1 each way. Typically with booking fees this worked out as the equivalent of just under $5 for what was approximately a 100 mile round trip. The company’s double-decker buses had plenty of space and while I found the train to be more efficient time-wise for long distance trips to London, the Megabus ticket price for advance travel was hard to beat.

In recent years Megabus owned by the British Stagecoach group has entered the U.S. and Canadian markets offering fares as low as $1 one way plus a $0.50 booking fee. The buses are clean and a lot more appealing in an attempt to readdress the seedy image many Americans have of bus travel. Each bus has wi-fi, power outlets at each seat, flat screen TVs showing movies, panoramic windows and it’s a green way to travel.

Megabus’ business model works by using a yield management model to incrementally increase ticket prices as the departure date nears. This business is reliant on numbers and like Southwest the people booking last-minute pay more, to offset the customers with discounted tickets. In addition Megabus has extremely low overhead. All bookings are made online eliminating ticket agent staffing. Furthermore, Megabus does not have its own terminals, picking up passengers on city streets.

Megabus rethought bus transportation in order to achieve success in a mature industry. Last year Bloomberg Businessweek did a feature on the company entitled “The Megabus Effect” stating that bus travel is now the fastest growing way to travel in the U.S. The article also stated that Megabus had 2010 revenues of approximately $100 million and is continuing to grow.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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My first blog post illustrated the importance of daring to change in order to avoid organizational inertia. In that first post I highlighted a retailer I had grown up with in the UK: Woolworth’s. Once a household name, Woolworth’s failed to reinvent itself until it was too late. In this blog post I wanted to share 5 ways high performance companies rethink and reinvent their strategies before revenues from their current strategies start to decline.

  1. They invest in new capabilities: High performance organizations start developing new capabilities, before they lose their competitive advantage from their current ones. Apple is a great example of this.
  2. They focus on talent acquisition and retention: In this economy many companies have become complacent and lazy assuming that their employees can’t go anywhere. While this may be true for your mediocre employees, talent always has options and sooner or later may be gone. High performance companies continually focus on retaining and developing surplus talent that can help drive the business forward in the long-term.
  3. They continually scan the market: High performers don’t rest on their laurels, continually scanning the environment for new ideas in order to identify untapped consumer needs and improve their economic outlook.  Like Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers says, (shameless plug for husband’s hometown team), you are either getting better or you are getting worse, you never stay the same.
  4. They Innovate: High performance companies are risk takers who are not afraid of change. Successful managers recognize that the real risk is in not innovating, becoming stagnant and collapsing.  These businesses have an internal environment that fosters creative thinking, and executives in these companies recognize that new progressive ideas can come from anywhere in the organization not just the C-suite.  As a result employees are empowered by knowing that they have a role to play in shaping the company’s future success.
  5. They are agile: Today’s high performing businesses have agile organizational structures in order to be able to adapt fast to the increasingly unpredictable ever-changing business environment and take advantage of sudden market opportunities.

What do you think? Feel free to add to my list of characteristics of high performance companies in the comments section below. 

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Earlier this week I had the opportunity to listen to John Farahi speak on business success. John Farahi is the CEO of Monarch Casino & Resort Inc. who own and operate the Atlantis Casino Resort in Reno, NV. In spite of the tough economy and declining casino industry, Monarch Casino & Resort Inc. is growing. Here are John’s tips for business success: 

Opportunity can be anywhere

When John Farahi’s father David first moved to the U.S. from Iran in 1970 he began looking for a business. When he was told of the Golden Door Motel (the original site of the Atlantis Casino Resort) in Reno, NV he initially dismissed it saying:

‘I did not come to the U.S. to go to Reno, NV, I’m not interested.’

Some how he was persuaded to take a look and realized that there was actually a lot of opportunity to be had in the hospitality industry in Reno, NV.

Surround yourself with honest & successful people

Distancing oneself from people with issues is another of Farahi’s recommendations. He encourages entrepreneurs starting out to approach people who have experienced success in your desired industry and to ask question after question to learn from them.

Don’t give up

John and his brothers took over the Golden Door Motel in 1976. The motel struggled in its early years and the brothers found themselves doing every job in the resort, to try to turn the business around.

Later when trying to build the Atlantis Casino Resort, the brothers had to fight the city of Reno in court to get casino-zoning laws changed. Financing was also extremely challenging and the brothers became accustomed to hearing ‘no’ a lot. John says that in business there are always obstacles to overcome and you can never hit every mark perfectly. Thus it is important to be tenacious, work hard and not give up when you encounter hurdles.

Do your homework

In Fall 2011, Monarch Casino & Resort, Inc. began the process of acquiring Black Hawk Casino in Colorado from Riviera Holdings Corporation. Prior to this acquisition the company had spent five years researching the area, looking at every property in their industry, evaluating restaurants, what the market was missing and what resources would be needed to get the property up to par. Once the acquisition is complete the company will evaluate every employee at the resort in order to build a good team.

What was good yesterday may not be tomorrow

John Farahi talked about the importance of being willing to continually change and take risks. In 1993 when Monarch Casino & Resort, Inc. looked to go public, many people thought they were making a crazy decision. However, after many rejections they succeeded in going public, raising enough funds to build the Atlantis’ second tower.

Today the company has starting making moves into the Internet gaming industry, which may offer the opportunity for future joint ventures. Farahi believes that being a brick and mortar company will enable them to offer better customer incentives (such as resort stays) relative to what Internet gaming companies can offer.

What tips would you give new entrepreneurs on how to be successful in business? Please share in the comments section below.

Photo Credit: Ken Lund

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This week’s edition (February 20th – 26th) of Bloomberg Business Week contained an article titled (in the print edition) ‘Would You Like Fries With that Title Policy?’ The article reported on the purchase of O’Charley’s casual dining chain by Fidelity National. On February 6, 2012 the title company agreed to purchase O’Charley’s 340 restaurants for approximately $221 million in cash.

Diversification into unrelated markets is not a new business concept, however it is unusual in the current economic environment. Given the economy in recent years many U.S. businesses have been very cautious with growth strategies even in related markets. While growth in general is risky, to attempt to grow through diversifying into unrelated markets has even more risks attached.

The purchase will provide Fidelity National access to three new restaurant brands: O’Charley’s, Stoney River and Ninety-Nine. The later two of the three brands are thriving, however the O’Charley’s brand has struggled in recent years to differentiate itself from other casual dining establishments. Thus the biggest challenge Fidelity National will face is how to turn around O’Charley’s. As Bob Goldin, executive vice president at Technomic, a food industry research and consulting company acknowledges:

“O’Charley’s has been a leaky bucket for years, I don’t know if there’s a miracle worker who could turn this thing around.”

Strategy expert Richard Lynch in his Strategy textbook says that when an organization moves into unrelated markets, it faces the risk of operating in areas where its knowledge of key success factors is extremely limited. However, in the case of Fidelity National its knowledge of the restaurant industry is not as limited as you would initially suspect. The company actually entered the restaurant industry in 2009 forming American Blue Ribbon Holdings in order to invest in two restaurant chains: Baker’s Square and Village Inn. In 2010, Fidelity National bought Ohio-based casual dining chain Max & Erma’s out of bankruptcy; adding it to American Blue Ribbon Holdings.

Fidelity National justifies such expansion as a way to grow and spread their risk across different markets. The company has a dominant share of the title market and little leverage to further expand in this market due to antitrust regulations. The restaurant market by contrast is very scalable with an indefinable amount of growth potential. Adding O’Charley’s to American Blue Ribbon Holdings has substantial cost benefits for the company, particularly in regards to economies of scale on the supply side. As Fidelity National’s Chairman William Foley explains:

“We have been seeking an investment in a larger, scalable, strategic restaurant operating company to complement our successful investment in American Blue Ribbons.”

Richard Lynch acknowledges that organizations can be successful through unrelated diversification if the holding company managing the venture uses strict but clear financial controls. Time will tell if Fidelity National’s purchase of O’Charley’s was a smart move and if they can turn the brand into a success that they could possibly sell for profit. Since the company also holds minority stakes in HR/Payroll system Ceridian and automobile alternator and starter maker Remy International. One thing is almost certain: Fidelity is unlikely to stop investing outside their core business any time soon.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons user: Cloudbound

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There is an Irish folklore from the 5th century, which tells the story of how St. Bridget negotiated with St. Patrick to allow women to propose to men on February 29th. Her argument was that since February 29th had no legal status, traditions should have no status on this day either. Today leap day is not just about folklore and can represent a great opportunity for businesses to create innovative marketing strategies to attract their customer’s attention.

While not suitable for all types of businesses, many restaurants, hotels, theme parks, car sales companies, radio and TV stations and others are taking advantage of this one in a 1461-day opportunity. Organizations of all sizes can take advantage of leap day by offering sales promotions such as 29% off, flash sales, discounts, coupons, contests, birthday offers for leaplings and other promotions.

Below are some examples of my favorite 2012 innovative leap day campaigns:

Honda’s “2012 CR-V Leap Year Contest”

Honda has created a leap year themed advertising campaign to promote the 2012 CR-V.

Honda’s website for this campaign enables people to create lists of goals they hope to achieve before they take the next major leap in their life. To inspire you to get your list started, Honda is hosting a contest where all lists submitted will be judged on their activity, variety and feasibility. The grand prizewinner will win a 2012 Honda CR-V and free gas for a year.

Disney Theme Parks: “One More Disney Day”

My favorite of all the leap day campaigns is one more Disney day. On February 29th for the first time ever both the Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, FL and the Disneyland Park in Anaheim, CA will be open for 24 hours.

The campaign’s big question: What would you do if you had one more Disney day?

If I had one more Disney day I would head to the Walt Disney World Resort and relive some of my memories from my days on Disney’s Cultural Representative Program. I would head to the Disney Studios and ride Rock n’ Rollercoaster and Tower of Terror, before heading to Epcot’s World Showcase to walk around my old workplace and buy some overpriced but delicious British chocolate. I would then head to Animal Kingdom to ride Expedition Everest and watch the Lion King show. Once the other three parks were due to close I would head over to the Magic Kingdom where I would stay until the early hours of the morning hitting all the mountain rides and watching the incredible 3D Mickey’s Philharmagic.

Also on leap day Disney will be offering free “one more Disney day” mouse ears to the first 2000 visitors at both Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. In addition, there’s a sweepstake to win a trip to either resort but as you can probably tell I would really like to win so I’m not going to share the details, though they are really easy to find!

Anabella Hotel’s “29 $29 rooms” 

Located in Anaheim, CA the Anabella hotel were quick to react to Disney’s “one more Disney day” announcement by creating a complementary offer. Through their Twitter and Facebook accounts the hotel offered 29 $29 rooms for the night of 02/29, which went on sale at 10 a.m. on February 7th. The Anabella hotel’s leveraging of their social media platforms, helped make their promotion a big success. All 29 rooms sold out in less than 15 minutes.

WIRK Radio: “Take Leapers to Lunch”

Southern Florida’s country radio station 107.9 WIRK has offered to take anyone whose birthday is on February 29th to lunch at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse on leap day (a cap may be imposed at some point). Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in North Palm Beach will open specially for this lunch. No doubt the radio station will include this event in their broadcast and this promotion seems ideal for radio or TV stations.

So what do you think? Could your business take advantage of leap day by creating an innovative marketing campaign? Share your thoughts below.

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In recent months I have read several articles on progressive companies who offer unlimited paid vacation time to their knowledge workers. Companies who have initiated this policy require that employees get their work done on time and depending on the role find someone to cover them while they are away.

I am sure this concept may send more traditionally minded individuals into a frenzy of questioning how a company would get anything done? Wouldn’t workers take advantage and take too much time off? But for those companies that have tried it, it seems to be working very well for the following reasons:

  • Increased Retention: employees feel more appreciated when their organization cares enough to allow them this flexibility. Essentially this approach allows employees to find a work-life balance as WeddingWire acknowledge:

‘Vacations are important and we want you to have a life so our vacation policy is simple: take what you need. The concept allows for life to happen and as long as you get your work done, you can take what ever time you need, when you need it.’

  • After introducing unlimited paid vacation, retention at MeetingMatrix International was 100%. Interestingly, a tax services firm called Ryan, introduced unlimited paid vacation after receiving a resignation letter from a rising star. Since their policy change they have seen a significant reduction in voluntary turnover.
  • Productivity: as many of us have observed in the workplace, sitting at a desk from 8-5 does not necessarily equate with optimum productivity. Flexible working practices shift the focus from hours spent at work to what work is actually done. Under the unlimited time off approach employees are evaluated based on meeting job objectives and deadlines.
  • Save Money: this may surprise the cynics but this approach could actually save employers the time and money they currently spend on tracking sick and vacation time.
  • Recruit The Best Candidates: people notice when you combine a good culture with exemplary employee benefits. Being an MBA student word definitely gets around among my classmates on who the best organizations to work for are and benefits definitely factor into these analyses.
  • Treats Employees As Adults: this approach offers employees the flexibility to come and go without explaining every move. By showing that you trust your employees to take responsibility for ensuring they still get their work done; you empower them to perform. Indeed if you don’t trust your employees, you really need to examine if you have hired the right people.
  • It’s Not Just For Big Organizations: while some of the organizations that offer this policy are large, such as Netflix, other smaller organizations such as Red Frog Events, and WeddingWire have had success with this approach.

Overall the concept of unlimited paid vacation is very attractive, particularly from an employee standpoint, however caution is needed. Care needs to be taken by employers to ensure particularly in workaholic cultures that reverse psychology doesn’t kick in and that employees don’t feel manipulated into not taking time off.

So what do you think? Would this work at your organization? And do any businesses in the Reno/Tahoe area already offer this?


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In recent years sustainability has been covered in the business press as an issue that should merit serious business consideration. However, in spite of its extensive media support many business leaders continue to dismiss sustainability as too expensive and under interpret it’s meaning as ‘going green’.

The more I read about sustainability the more apparent it becomes to me what an opportunity this could be for smart businesses if leveraged strategically. Wirtenberg, Harmon and Fairfield (2010) describe sustainability as a company’s ability to achieve its goals and increase long-term shareholder value by integrating economic, environmental and social opportunities into its business strategies to ensure the continued success and strength of the organization for future generations.

Sustainability is much more than going green. In actuality many businesses are already inadvertently adhering to sustainable approaches through their community involvement, recycling and flexible work practices. What a sustainability initiative does is to tie together all these disparate activities into a strategic objective.

Here are five reasons why organizations should consider sustainability initiatives:

1. Enhance brand image
Organizations that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability can leverage this strategic objective to enhance their image with their customers, suppliers, employees, the media and other stakeholders. Sustainability can also be incorporated into marketing efforts as Patagonia has demonstrated through their commitment to sustainability throughout their supply chain.

2. Improve talent acquisition
Many people, particularly my generation (y) aspire to work for organizations that are socially responsible and that they can be proud to represent. A SHRM report demonstrated that a sustainable corporate image could help organizations to attract the best applicants and greater engage current employees.

3. Maintain a competitive edge
Depending upon your organization’s competitive environment sustainability can help prevent losing sustainable focused customers to competitors and or differentiate your organization from the competition. In industries where sustainability initiatives have barely been embraced, opportunities exist for organizations to achieve short-term competitive advantage from being the first mover.

4. Stay ahead of regulations
It is expected that the future will bring increased regulations in regards to sustainability. By getting started now your business can move up the learning curve, becoming better prepared for future legislative changes.

5. Save money
In addition to potential energy cost savings, sustainability initiatives can enable organizations to become eligible for government financial incentives, including subsidies, tax credits, tax exemptions and low-interest loan programs. The federally funded extensive DSIRE database details federal, state and local government incentive programs for organizations of all sizes pursuing sustainable initiatives.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Growing up in England, I remember being 13 years old and using the earnings from my newspaper delivery route to go shopping for the latest top 40 CD at Woolworth’s.  At the time, Woolworth’s was one of the UK’s best-known retailers, having opened its first store in 1909.  The company’s product categories included entertainment, home goods, children’s toys and clothing, and confectionary.  The company had over 800 stores in the UK and a Woolworth’s store could be found in almost every British town.  I am no longer living in the UK and unfortunately, I’m not the only one.  In January 2009, just short of its 100th birthday Woolworth’s closed its doors in one of the biggest company collapses in British business history.

There were many different reasons cited for Woolworth’s UK collapse, which collectively demonstrate a business that had failed to adapt their business model to the changed 21st century environment. Woolworth’s made a classic mistake that many other organizations make. They were complacent and assumed their past successes would continue into the future.

A Harvard Business Review Article (from July – August 2011) ‘Adaptability: The New Competitive Advantage,’ by Martin Reeves and Mike Deimler addresses how today’s complex changing business world requires organizations to adapt in order to survive and thrive. Reeves and Deimler assert that traditional business approaches assume a relatively stable and predictable world, which is clearly no longer the case. The 21st century business needs to be good at scanning the environment, learning new things and trying out these new ideas not just in terms of product and service innovation, but also in regards to their business model, processes and strategies (Reeves and Deimler).

The purpose for my blog is to explore forward thinking and innovative business approaches, to encourage business leaders to reconsider traditional business practices and to consider incorporating new creative approaches to leadership and the work environment. Business is continually changing and as Woolworth’s, Borders, Circuit City and many others have demonstrated, there is no guarantee that approaches that have been successful in the past will continue to be effective in the future.

Photo Credit: Staffordshire Newsletter

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