Orange You Glad?

I modified this Dilbert cartoon to express my feelings about work (with regard to the last couple of weeks). If you think you understand it then you’re most likely part of the problem.

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The SHOT Show. Why Do We Go?

Once a year Blade HQ heads out to Las Vegas to attend the SHOT show. Our goal: Fuel “Operation Grow & Dominate.” We’re on quest for new products, a mission to strengthen existing relationships and a crusade to excel (it took me awhile to come up with all that stuff).

Personally I think going to the show is pretty grueling. It’s non stop walking and talking, wheeling and dealing and wining and dining. None of that is stuff that I’m particularly good at and sometimes I get the impression that I may even be in the way (as well as another owner who won’t be named at this time). We have people attending the show who are much more qualified to handle this stuff. So why do we keep going?

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Sure…something about the atmosphere is Vegas is exciting.  And hanging out with coworkers is definitely fun. Perhaps it’s a misguided attempt to show we’ve still got “it.” Confession time: It’s the sandwiches. I was upfront with everyone volunteering that I was “going just to get a lobster sandwich” (found at Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio). In a strange twist of fate Jim was also going for a sandwich. Specifically to mock an incredibly oversized club at the Carnagie Deli (he mocked it by finishing the entire thing).

Thanks Vegas! We’ll see you next year.

 

 

Playing Ostrich at Work (An Egg-citing Day!)

I have been feeling a little stressed out at work this month (the whole year thus far). We have some ambitious goals and that means there’s a lot to get done. I’m pretty sure time is moving faster than it used to and that means we have to work harder and smarter. But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy… so we work hard and play hard (hope there are enough adages here for everyone). Seriously though- we try and make work a fun place. Stuck in a rut? Do something crazy. We ate an egg. A big egg.

The backstory is weird and complicated. Tim, Adam and I had discussed getting a pet penguin. Somehow that segued into trying to get a penguin egg from a zoo. And that turned into a conversation about eating eggs. What would a penguin egg taste like? Turns out you can’t really get a penguin egg, but you can get an Ostrich egg. Before I knew it Tim had a “small” ostrich egg on it’s way to the HQ.

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For the record a “small” ostrich egg is huge. It’s the equivalent of 24 chicken eggs. This is only the second time I have had the pleasure of holding an egg this big. Since it was chilly out we wheeled our grill over to warehouse three (no active inventory) and commence the cooking indoors. First we fried up some bacon (sadly from the common pig and not the hippo bacon we longed for).  We then spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out how to hack into the egg. After a failed (and smelly) Dremmel attempt we poked holes in both sides of the egg and used an air compressor to force the yolk and white out. It sort of worked…

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… but eventually Adam had to give the egg mouth to shell (it’s really all about the seal). With the contents in the skillet we one step closer to our goal of eating a not-chicken egg. It took awhile to get the egg cooked up but it smelled good and, aside from a texture difference, looked like the scrambled eggs we all know and love. This is the plate I scooped for myself (probably about 4 chicken eggs worth). No turning back.

Size aside, there are definite difference between ostrich and chicken eggs. I’d describe both the texture and taste as “regular eggs infused with grit” (as in grits that one might eat in the south). While the egg was good I’m not sure I’d ever eat them in lieu of chicken eggs given the taste difference and price (they are not cheap). We took the cooked egg around work and forced it onto anyone we could find. Horizons were broadened. Hearts were warmed. And ostrich was shared. Thanks to Adam’s efforts next week we’ll be eating a swan egg.

And that’s how you run a company. With protein.

The People on the Bus Go Round and Round

In his book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins explains how important it is to have the right people on the bus. I’ve always thought this is a great metaphor for any group – obviously one where members are selected –  trying to accomplish an objective: a symphony, a relay team and, of course, a business team. Over the years I have thought a lot about the people on the bus.

Periodically in my company people hop off the bus and people get on. Sometimes we’re very sad to see people leave, sometimes we’re relieved. And occasionally we look at each other and ask “How did that guy get on here in the first place?” I’m always surprised at how difficult it is to determine the level of dysfunction in an active element. It’s only once certain people leave that it becomes clear they were not helping the business and, in fact, that they were harming it.

It is not my intent to pick on anyone who is no longer with us, regardless of the reason. I wish no one any ill-will (well, okay, I confess that I enjoy the idea of karma). That being said…

Recently we went through a substantial change in our company and removed two entire departments for various conduct-related offenses. Some of these people had been with our company for many years. One of the big concerns we had, prior to taking action, was the effect it would have on our operation. The contribution of these individuals with regard to our overall effectiveness seemed substantial.

Yes, we definitely struggled for awhile- we were down half a dozen members of our team. However, even with our reduced workforce people stepped up and we were able to accomplish the same amount of work as before. We changed some of our operating methods, restructured the departments and hired a smaller but more focused team to replace those we had let go. In the end things ran much better than before. And as we retrospectively analyse the previous team and department operations I’ve come to recognize several employee attitudes that diminish effectiveness and undermine company efficiency.

1. Laziness: Employees may not realize how easy it is to spot laziness. It sticks out like a sore thumb. Laziness, as I see it, is decision to withhold your best effort. Sometimes it’s easier to overlook laziness if the offender is charismatic, excellent at some job aspects or isn’t always lazy. But seriously- if you think you’re getting away with something guess again. Laziness, as I’m defining it here, diminishes effectiveness and, in the worst case, is almost the same as theft. If you’re lazy you don’t belong on the bus.

2. Entitlement: We have had our fair share of people come through our company who nurture a sort of “you owe me” attitude. They perceive an injustice in the system because they feel that somehow they have less. One example of this “injustice” might be a company owner’s nice car. If you consider that someone created the business, took that risk and associated stress, invested their money, time, emotional, energy, worked one hundred hour plus weeks and sacrificed for years and years… if you consider everything then maybe it’s not a big deal that person drives an expensive car. But if you have an attitude of entitlement then you perceive the car as a manifestation of greed. You feel that wealth is being withheld from you instead of realizing that the wealth is, in fact, being shared with you. An entitlement attitude – in any setting – always creates a negative experience. If you feel entitled to be on the bus then you don’t deserve to be there (even if you’re the owner).

3. I Know Better: Time and time again we’ve seen a visceral reaction when we are unable (or sometimes unwilling) to implement ideas proposed by employees who “know better.” One employee really sticks out in my mind. After this individual left we discovered a letter he had written (on his work computer) outlining everything wrong with our company. He was certain that, after only working for us for a few months, he understood our company better than we did. He incorrectly identified instances of favoritism, proposed promoting many employees who are now no longer with us (for various reasons listed here), misunderstood business policies, practices and even predicted the demise of our company. This employee gave us zero credit for the things that we had accomplished and had no faith in the company leadership. I believe that part of the “I Know Better” attitude is rooted in unwarranted mistrust. If you suspect the motivation for action is always negative it’s akin to wearing blinders. Ultimately if you really know better then you’ll know to hop off the bus.

4. “Awesomeitis”: Occasionally we’ll interact with someone who thinks they’re amazing and that without them the company would dry up and blow away. Typically this attitude is present in conjunction with many of the others noted here. Awesomeitis is used to conceal laziness. It is used to justify entitlement. It fuels the “I know better” attitude. We have had people threaten to quit with the belief that our company will be crippled. Ex-employees tell mutual friends that they were essentially “running everything.” Spouses wonder how “idiots” like us stay in business without their significant other at the “helm.” The truth of the matter is this: In every case where someone infected with awesomeitis has left, the company has been better off. There is simply no room on the bus for people with an inflated sense of their importance.

5. Pleasers: Sometimes an employee who wants to make you happy (at least to your face) can cause serious business issues. When an employee tells you what you want to hear in lieu of what you need to hear that mean that facts are being skewed or omitted.  “Everything is good!” The result is that you think things are under control when they aren’t. An unhappy employee gets unhappier, inadequate systems become overwhelmed and, in the worst case, you make important decisions based off of misinformation. When you run a business it’s critical that you know the factual state of things and pleasers aren’t able to present them. Additionally, pleasers tend to please everyone. If the owner hates something then the pleasers hate it. If a coworker hates the owner then the pleasers hate the owner too Such duplicitous actions only cause rifts, bad feelings and help to cultivate the aforementioned mistrust. Do you really want to please everyone?  Then escort yourself off the bus.

Okay, okay- so having the right people on the bus is important – more than important. Sure, sometimes it seems like having a couple of the wrong people on the bus isn’t a big deal and it feels good to have the bus full. But experience has taught me over and over that the wrong people get you to the wrong place. The difficulty – for us anyway – often lies in identifying the offenders while they are still seated. I imagine it’s something we will perpetually have to work on. In the meantime we have overhauled our hiring practices and we systematically screen for attitude elements that can destroy the culture and effectiveness of our company. The bottom line: A company is only as good as the team behind it. Make your team great. Get the right people on board, put them in the right spot (that’s important too) and you will get where you want to go even if you don’t know the final destination.

The ideas shared here are not comprehensive or definitive by any means. I’m open to the idea that I’m being unfair. I’ve always told people that if they don’t enjoy working for my company they can leave- no hard feelings. They can go start their own company and run it however they’d like. I wish them all the success in the world because their success does not diminish mine (and vice versa). But show me a successful company with employees heavily infected by any or all of the five attitudes I’ve listed here. Can’t find one? Didn’t think so.

A Business Story

Bob had an orange stand. Each week Bob was able to get 100 oranges and at the end of the week he had sold 100 hundred oranges. Bob was happy. Bob’s customers were very helpful and offered him business advice. Bob decided to hire a dancing cowboy to promote his oranges. His customers loved the cowboy! At the end of the next week Bob had sold 100 oranges and then he had to pay the cowboy. One day a man came to the orange stand and told Bob that he wanted a grapefruit. Bob told the man that they only sold oranges. The man said that the cowboy had given him a grapefruit on his last visit. Bob decided to sell grapefruits. Bob had an orange and grapefruit stand with a dancing cowboy. Each week Bob was able to get 90 oranges and 10 grapefruits and at the end of the week Bob had sold 90 oranges and 4 grapefruits and then he had to pay the cowboy. Bob was working harder than ever and making less money. Bob’s customers were very helpful and offered him more business advice. They told Bob to take pictures of all the oranges to help them decide which one they wanted to buy. Bob spent all week taking pictures while the cowboy danced. Bob was very tired. That week Bob was able to get 90 oranges and 10 grapefruits and at the end of the week Bob had sold 70 oranges and 2 grapefruits because he didn’t have time to run his stand. Then he had to pay the cowboy. Bob died poor, tired and unhappy. The End.

Notes: I wrote this story after “fighting” with some some members of a knife forum. Quite a few people were livid that my company doesn’t take pictures of each individual wood handled knife we sell. From their point of view I suppose it makes sense- since each piece of wood is different they want to see exactly what they’re getting. But if I sell every wood handled knife I can get as things stand why would I want to incur the expense of photographing them all? The assumptions people make about my business (i.e. the reasons that we do things a certain way) are often perplexing and almost always incorrect.  If I did some of the things they suggest I’d quickly be out of business. In any event, forum fighting easily makes my top ten “most frustrating things in the world” list.

Website Evolution

We launched Blade HQ back in March of 2004. The design was simple, but so were the times.

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Screen Shot from 2004

They say that the only constant is change. I think most people fear change to one degree or another- I know I do. When we change something important and we change it in a dramatic way it can be frightening. Back in 2007 we redesigned our Blade HQ website (maintaining many of the original elements) and have used that design for nearly the last six years.

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Screen Shot from 2007

Over time the 2007 template evolved but, again, the change has been minimal.

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Screen Shot from 2013

At the beginning of this year we undertook a massive website redesign. We wanted something that could accommodate all of the planned feature additions, something that would allow us to diversity our product offerings more effectively and something that would carry us for another six years. It was time to move away from our roots and we strove for a more elevated and contemporary design.

Last week we launched our new Blade HQ website. I think it’s safe to say that everyone at Blade HQ was a little nervous but overall customer reaction has been very positive. There are still adjustments to make, tweaks to implement and problems to address but overall I’m incredibly pleased with how things turned out. I’m very proud of of everyone here at the HQ who helped make this vision a reality.

Screen Shot from Sept 11, 2013

Screen Shot from Sept 10, 2013

If you get a chance please browse the website and let me know what you think! I’d be curious to hear any constructive feedback, positive or negative. We are currently in an A/B test period so if you don’t get the newest version you can simply erase your cookies and try again.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

– George Bernard Shaw

January 1, 2014 Update:

Even our redesign has evolved. After reviewing data and customer feedback we decided our homepage as was too large and wasn’t driving traffic to the correct destinations. We modified the homepage to bring the fold higher and give customers more direct access to popular categories. I’ve posted the result below.

Screen shot from the end of 2013

Screen Shot from the end of 2013

Blade HQ’s New Retail Store & Other Progress

The Store

Growth at the BHQ has been pretty phenomenal. As I mentioned in a previous post we acquired the building next door and divided it into an upstairs and downstairs. Below is the transformation of the downstairs space into our new retail store:

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Drywall

Painting

Carpet & Lightning

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Display Cases

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We hired two new store front employees (three total) to help handle the massive local crowds.

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Ready to go!

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We had our grand opening on March 29th, 2013. We hosted a ton of fun events, gave away mountains of prizes, fed massive throngs of attendees and had an incredible time. blade-hq-grand-opening-3

Spliced HDMI Cable

When we were installing the television in the storefront the HDMI cable got broken (the end was ripped off). Guess what? You can buy a new identical cable and splice the end on! It’s not easy (or pretty), but it does work.

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Counters and Cabinets

More people means we need more storage. We added a counter and cabinets in our conference room (upstairs) and more of them in our break room (downstairs). I don’t even know why I’m including this…

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Video Studio & Expanded Break Room

Working on a video studio (upstairs) and expanded downstairs break room.

The (mostly) finished results. Lots more room for our YouTube magic and relaxation (work hard, play hard).

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Customer Service Migration

With the old storefront now empty we migrated the customer service department. It’s a much better location (quieter) for talking on the phone.

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Order Fulfillment & Machine Shop

We have really streamlined our order fulfillment process. The new layout is super functional and looks great.

We have also expanded into some light manufacturing and have acquired a few tables worth of tools. What are we doing with them? Wait and see…

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There’s always something going on at the HQ. Next up we are going to migrate the product department to the old customer service location.We also have to start finishing the upstairs over the store front (space for the  IT, HR and accounting departments) and prepping our new overflow warehouse and fabrication plant. The work never ends. Seriously, it’s just one project after another. We grow, shift, expand, renovate, reorganize and are in a constant state of controlled chaos. I wouldn’t have it any other way.