I blogged earlier about best-selling business books trumpeting rapid growth schemes rather than sustainable performance. Building a successful business is a real challenge; growing it is another, different challenge. And then there is the challenge of maintaining excellence over the long haul.
My work as a gear engineer has required several relocations, and sometimes my wife and I wonder about what happened to places we used to frequent. Recently things worked out for us to drive through an area we moved from 29 years ago — and last visited 28 years ago. I am happy to report the communities seem to have thrived — with lots of new roads, buildings, and recreational activities.
The highlight of our tour was a favorite custard stand from all those years ago. (For those unfamiliar with custard, think the best ice cream ever and double it.) It hasn’t become a regional or national chain, just a single location at a busy, much modified intersection in the middle of town. The parking lot is a bit bigger and there is a nice outdoor seating area now. Behind the counter is another generation of well-trained, friendly young teens. And the custard is everything we remembered it to be.
I have to admire the owners for having a vision, creating it, and keeping it going over a long period of time. That intersection was probably rebuilt several times over the years, with great disruption to their business. Forty years of dealing with minimum wage help? Imagine all the schedule shuffles for dances and football games!
Then I think about my many friends in the gear business. Some of you have enjoyed leadership with the same sort of vision and determination to keep going — no matter what the challenges. Others have, unfortunately, been unable to persevere through the difficulties of a changing marketplace.
No one writes books about maintaining a business. There are no talk show appearances for people who keep family businesses going, paying good wages for interesting work — despite the business cycle.
But maybe we can learn a few things from them anyway.