Business initiatives can be risky, but don't let fear of failure stop you trying
Q: I thought about taking several new initiatives in the business over the years, but always worried that things would go wrong. I subsequently have found that my competitors run with the very same ideas and succeed with them and then we find ourselves following in their footsteps, instead of leading the way. How can I be brave enough to try new things?
A: When I look back on my career in Superquinn, I have to admit to making many blunders. But that is not a bad thing. For any successful business in today's environment, you really have to take some chances if you are to stay ahead of your competitors. You always need to weigh up the pros and cons for trying something new but if you have a fighting chance of succeeding, then you also have to take risks.
I can remember many years ago getting very excited in Canada about a "bulk food" concept I saw. The retailer there, Loblaw's, had bulk containers of lots of different foods with no packaging on them e.g. cereals, soup, etc. Customers would get a container and fill up the amount they needed which was subsequently weighed and priced up. This offered customers enormous savings. I was so excited about the idea that I sent a number of the Superquinn team back to Canada so that we could understand the concept correctly and implement it in one of our stores. We spent lots of time developing the new concept and rather excitedly re-launched our new concept. We thought it was a great idea and we were able to reduce prices significantly. However, our customers rejected the idea. There was one fatal flaw in our plans: it was perceived as unhygienic by customers so our plan was quickly abandoned.
Every business must innovate, must challenge themselves and must challenge their consumers. You will not succeed if you simply wait for others to lead and then you follow.
The secret is to put as much planning into the process as possible and then take the risk. You won't succeed in every single situation but you will have more successes than if you do nothing.
Q I am 25 years old and running a business together with my parents. I have gone to college and the plan was I would work in another country but have had to return due to problems in the business. The problem is, I don't have the experience that my parents have and staff can see this and I am finding it hard to assert myself in the business.
A There may well be several issues underpinning the problem you describe. First of all, it is never an ideal situation with two generations of the family in the one business. While it can work well from time to time, it can also be highly problematic if the roles within the family are not clearly set out. At the end of the day it can be confusing for staff if they have several bosses, and, of course, they will naturally gravitate towards your parents as they have known them for years.
It may be wise to agree clear areas of responsibility within the business so that everyone has a clear role and staff know who to go when certain situations arise.
Also you seem to lack confidence in your own role and while it would have been ideal if you had been able to go away and work with another business elsewhere to gain more experience, it is unlikely, from what you describe, that that is going to happen in the short term. But there are several practical things you can do.
Find other businesses in the same market as you and see if will they accept you to work with them in short bursts, e.g. a week at a time, which would allow you to work with other business owners and get experience as well as their views on best practice, etc.
There are also several excellent college programmes that will help you build skills and which won't take up massive amounts of your time. Search out what is appropriate for your business and sign up for a programme running for a minimum of one year. That will give you access to great academic learning's and you will be surrounded by your peers from industry which will add to the learning experience.
Finally, you need to give yourself more credit for the experience you have and be confident of your role within the business. From reading your email, it would seem that you have a vast amount of knowledge, but you are slow to use it and perhaps over-rely on your parents.