Network or Seclusion: To Share or Not to Share (Part 1)

Diana Vollmer |

Examining benefits, risks of opening up about own drycleaning operation

SAN FRANCISCO — Many dry cleaners keep their operational details private and don’t readily share with others. This may lead to a cozy comfort zone or to a feeling of isolation and loneliness.

In light of the positive networking opportunities available in various conferences like NCA/DLI 5 Star Brainstorming and the upcoming Clean Show, let’s examine the benefits and risks of an owner of a dry cleaner being willing to open up to other cleaners in an effort to improve their own operation.

For most CEOs, it really is lonely at the top. The isolation may be self-induced or created by being surrounded with a management team that fears making waves, so just goes with the flow of the current direction. Either way, the distance from the daily realities of the business and the outside can result at best in loneliness and at worst total separation from the innovations and information that are necessary for the continued health of the company.

As the number of cleaners has fallen in North America (and globally), how many cleaners have you known that closed down while they were active in their associations or their owner peer management bureaus?

Comparisons of industrywide results contrasted with the results of companies that network consistently show that networkers have better results, especially in profit performance, where it really counts for the enterprise. The reasons may be numerous, including that better operators self-select into sharing opportunities, but the correlation is real.

Of course there are degrees of sharing, which will be explored later.

First, let’s examine the rewards of sharing information with a network, before following with the risks so the two can be weighed from an informed perspective.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Methods for Management is fully engaged in the business of consulting and particularly in facilitating non-competing owner peer management groups. However, there are multiple consultants of this type available inside and outside of the industry, and your associations all offer valuable networking opportunities as well.

REWARDS OF NETWORKING

The comfort of knowing that others are facing the same challenges and opportunities that you encounter provides the encouragement to move forward. A network of peers relieves the stress of facing every decision and obstacle alone in the isolation of a small-business owner, entrepreneurial environment.

Knowledge is power, and sharing knowledge empowers the entire group to capitalize on opportunities and to overcome obstacles.

Reviewing actual results and comparing them against the group averages and benchmarks opens the discussion on how the benchmark companies achieved their better results and higher profits. Sharing the various approaches to a process or procedure can help fine-tune implementation to improve efficiencies and profits. Someone who is successful with a project and is doing something well can provide a route to that success with the precision and refinement of real-time GPS versus an historical, possibly outdated road map.

This insider information can lead to success in less time and to a lower expenditure of resources invested in a slow and costly process of reinventing the wheel through trial and error.

When the question is cutting-edge innovation, group members can each test different innovations and share the results so they don’t all have to invest in trying all the options. They individually may choose to reinvent the wheel on a unique opportunity as a test for the benefit of their own company and also for the group, and then mutually capitalize on each other’s successes by copying the lucrative test results.

The ensuing savings of time and capital can result in more discretionary time, better life balance, and better family and social relationships.

In summary, this process of sharing can provide:

  • Exchange of new ideas and methods (both what has worked and what has not)
  • Management tools for improved effectiveness and profitability
  • Detailed operational knowledge
  • Group operating average, benchmarks, and best practices
  • Analysis of variances in results
  • Motivation and encouragement to improve
  • A framework for development
  • Peer support and advice
  • Accountability
  • Management development and coaching for both owners and their teams
  • Identification of trends early in the life cycle
  • Objective identification of strengths and weaknesses
  • Recommendations for your implementation from supportive peers
  • Peer camaraderie and interaction
  • A disciplined framework in which to address your interests, concerns and results

Degrees of sharing can range from simple socializing at industry meetings with little or no detailed operational information discussed to intermediate involvement that comes from brainstorming at conferences, either local, national or international. Moving further along the continuum, there are ongoing management groups that meet regularly to share and analyze operational results in a non-competing group environment, wherein the members work together like informal boards of directors for each other.

Whatever the level of networking, participants are positive in their feedback about the benefits gained.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!

About the author

Diana Vollmer

Methods for Management (MFM) Inc.

Managing Director

Diana Vollmer is managing director of Methods for Management (MFM) Inc., a consultancy specializing in drycleaning businesses. You may contact her at dvollmer@mfmi.com, 415-577-6544.

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