Doing the Small Things Well


(Photo: ©

Howard Scott |

PEMBROKE, Mass. — Are you frustrated? Has the business got you down? Are you tired of dealing with the same old complaints?

Do you think your employees are taking advantage of you behind your back? Do you feel like not coming into work sometimes? Do you dream of doing something else, anything else?

Yes, it’s a tough business and a down market, so your feelings aren’t unwarranted. Doing 15% less volume than you did two years ago makes it harder to see the possibilities of progress. Moreover, it is no fun to see profit evaporate, when it was a solid percentage for years and years.

So, what are you going to do about it? You can feel sorry for yourself and complain whenever anybody will listen. But another approach—the half-full glass way—is to take pleasure in doing small things well. This changes your focus, allows you to concentrate on specific tasks, and enables you to arrive at a Zen-like mental state.

What small things am I talking about? Every day, as a worker/manager, you perform small miracles.

  • You finessed a dispute between presser and inspector by establishing a set of guidelines.
  • You placated an angry customer by explaining how the mistake occurred and assuring her that it would not happen again.
  • You settled a billing dispute with a vendor by going back several months and discovering how the billing was done differently.
  • You argued successfully for property abatement by assembling neighbors’ data and articulating your case before assessors.
  • You successfully tracked down a customer’s order at a subcontractor by searching out his records.

Certainly these are small victories, but you are to be congratulated because you’ve come through. Take pleasure in these accomplishments.

Second, you’re providing a needed service to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people in your community. Every person who walks into your store depends on you to make his or her outfits look like new, or at least well cared for.

When a customer tries on a dress and remembers the mustard stain that you removed, she may reflect on how reliably you’ve cleaned her clothes for the last decade. The customer who is complimented on his suit may make a mental note of how you have helped him become a sharp dresser. The youngster who really loves her special-occasion winter coat yells, “There’s our drycleaner!” every time her mother drives her by your store.

So, people have grown to depend on you. That makes you a community resource. Your pay for this is not great, and no one approaches you on the street saying, “Ah, my wardrobe hero.” Still, this status should give you some small pleasure that you are a part of so many people’s lives. You are a piece of the fabric of local society.

Third, you are running a business. Perhaps not a business that grows into a giant corporation. And perhaps not one that allows you to retire at 56. But it is a business with a plant, a front counter, employees, vendors and suppliers.

Only about 7% of Americans are small-business owners. The rest of us fit into organizations and receive wages for being obedient, loyal, company people. Many of us would trade places with you. After all, being your own boss is the American dream, a tradition that has been an important factor in our country being one of the most powerful economies in the world.

Every check you write, every invoice you pay and every payroll you meet spreads the flow of commerce and greases the wheels of capitalism. Because of you, our society can continue to maintain the highest standard of living in the world.

Finally, as an employer, you play an important role in the lives of your staff. You provide them—at least to some extent—with their living standard. But even more, although they wouldn’t like to say so, you give them a sense of their worth.

Whether pressing, cleaning, staffing the counter, driving or inspecting, these tasks need to be done correctly for the business to continue. No matter how humble the skills or how low-paying the position, all jobs take effort, concentration and knowledge. No layman would presume to come into a drycleaning plant and take the presser’s job. So, every staffer has within grasp the seeds of self-worth.

This self-value may not be apparent sometimes. Not too many of your staffers come into work and say “Thank you” for employing them. Few staffers will ever comment on the pride in their workmanship. Rather, they might complain about work conditions, demand raises, or even threaten to quit. So, it is hard to see that employees need their work as much as you need them. But the truth is, without work, their lives would be less substantial. And they have you to thank for being employed.

So, when things get you down, take pleasure in doing small things well. This attitude will enable you to face every day with renewed enthusiasm. In these hard times, it might be the best coping mechanism available.

About the author

Howard Scott

Industry Writer and Drycleaning Consultant

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant. He welcomes questions and comments and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359; by calling 781-293-9027; or via e-mail at



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