November 22, 2017

You’re the Boss Blog: Deciding How Important It Is for a Business to Grow

She Owns It

Portraits of women entrepreneurs.

Alexandra Mayzler: The company is growing -- but slowly.Earl Wilson/The New York Times Alexandra Mayzler: The company is growing — but slowly.

At the most recent meeting of the She Owns It business group, we talked about the challenges of growing a business.

Alexandra Mayzler, who owns Thinking Caps Group, said her growth concerns are different than they were three years ago. Back then, she said she feared growth because she wasn’t sure she could find the right infrastructure and employees. Now, she said, she feels confident about the company’s infrastructure. The Thinking Caps playbook, which she recently updated, covers everything from how to draft an e-mail to the principles that underlie what the company does.

She said she believes that, with the resources she’s created, she can now communicate her vision to new employees. “I’m not saying I’m perfect and I don’t have a lot to learn,” she said, “but there’s enough infrastructure and training and leadership in place that you should be able to succeed unless it’s just not a good fit.” Now, she said, she needs to work on making the right long-term hires — and putting more focus on growth.

In the last few years, Thinking Caps has branched into Princeton, N.J., and Texas, with locations in Austin, Dallas, and Houston. It has also added a service called Prepare for Launch, a program for college students. “The company has been growing every year, but not a significant amount,” Ms. Mayzler said. The growth she has achieved, she said, has been primarily organic.

“At a certain point that sort of slows to a crawl, and then you need to put both oars in the water,” said Beth Shaw, who owns YogaFit.

“That’s exactly where I am,” Ms. Mayzler said. “In the beginning, you have to go out there pounding the pavement, and then it got to a place where we got our sort of low-hanging fruit.” The company is still growing — but slowly. Ms. Mayzler acknowledged she hadn’t made a concerted effort: “The conversation that I had with myself yesterday was, Is that good enough?”

“If you’re a true entrepreneur, it’s rarely good enough,” Ms. Shaw said.

Ms. Mayzler agreed. She conceded that she thought briefly about taking it easy. “I was like, Oh, this is fun, I can just take the summer off, this will be great,” she said. But when she woke up the next day, she said she realized she wanted to see the company “grow to the next level.”

And she said she thinks she finally knows what needs to be done. Much of her uncertainty, she said, was the result of her lack of infrastructure and her struggles to hire the right employees. “Maybe I have to deal with the fact that that perfect person doesn’t exist,” she said. She added that she had also realized that she may have to get better at making her expectations known to her staff and then following through when they fail to live up to them.

Looking back on the last two years, she said she now realizes she vacillated between micromanaging and stepping back too much. “I need to be consistent,” she said. “And I need to not be afraid of telling people what I think should be done. And when I’m evaluating things and when I think they’re not going well, I need to not be like, ‘Okay, let’s hope for the best next month.’”

With the infrastructure in place and some management lessons learned, Ms. Mayzler said she plans to “go after the middle-hanging fruit” in a strategic way. “We need to stop resting on our laurels and we need to get out there, and get out there in an organized way,” she said. In considering each location, she said she realized she had merely “gone through the motions” of expanding the business in New York. She added that she now sees she wasn’t truly committed to the idea because she was letting management issues distract her.

“I can say to myself, Oh, we didn’t get major results this year, but I tried,” she said of her efforts in New York. “But if I’m honest with myself, I don’t really think I really tried.” So, while she continued to work 12-hour days and cross items off her to-do list — for example, by sending a certain number of e-mails seeking partnerships with organizations like the Y.M.C.A. or the Jewish Community Center — her heart wasn’t in it.

But this summer, she is making plans. “I’m going to start September actually having very concrete goals because this year I was very flexible with myself,” she said. “I can’t wait for the school year to begin so we can actually do it.”

“That’s a big shift for you, because you haven’t been sure for a very long time,” Ms. Shaw said.

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/08/growing-your-business-how-do-you-define-good-enough/?partner=rss&emc=rss

She Owns It: Surviving a Succession Without a Plan

She Owns It

Portraits of women entrepreneurs.

Susan Parker (left) and Erica Rosenfeld, owners of Bari Jay.Earl Wilson/The New York Times Susan Parker (left) and Erica Rosenfeld, owners of Bari Jay.

At the most recent meeting of the She Owns It business group, the owners discussed succession planning. The topic is of particular interest to Susan Parker, owner of Bari Jay. She and her sister, Erica Rosenfeld inherited Bari Jay from their father, Bruce Cohen, who had never created a formal succession plan. In fact, neither of his daughters knew he planned to leave the company to them. “Bari Jay equaled Bruce Cohen,” Ms. Parker said.

Mr. Cohen had been running the company solo for 30 years, following the sudden death of his partner. They had had a buy-sell agreement, and Mr. Cohen bought the company from his partner’s estate. At the time, Ms. Parker said, many in the garment industry thought Bari Jay would not be able to survive because Mr. Cohen had no experience handling the back office tasks that had been his partner’s responsibility. But he quickly got up to speed.

In September 2007, the unexpected happened again. “My father left work to go get lunch and no one ever heard from him again,” Ms. Parker said. He had a massive stroke in a Japanese restaurant, and was in a coma until his death eight and a half months later.

Just before Mr. Cohen’s stroke, Bari Jay had moved production overseas. Not wanting to manage the logistics, Mr. Cohen had hired someone to handle that aspect of the business. “That was the fortunate thing — that even though my father was the name and face of Bari Jay, there was somebody there who could pick up the pieces immediately,” Ms. Parker said.

Still, she said, few realized how dire the situation was. At the company, and around the garment industry, it was assumed Mr. Cohen would soon be back at work.

“Were you working for the company at the time?” asked Beth Shaw, who owns YogaFit.

“I wasn’t,” Ms. Parker said. With the exception of a stint in the company’s customer service department while she attended business school, Ms. Parker had never worked for Bari Jay.

Mr. Cohen died in May 2008. About four months later, following a court battle with their stepmother, a judge awarded the company to Ms. Parker and her sister, in accordance with their father’s will. “We basically had like a few days to go in and start running it,” she said.

“How was the company doing financially during the time your father was away from it?” Ms. Shaw asked.

“It was in the red,” Ms. Parker said.

And there were other problems. After learning they had inherited the company, Ms. Parker and her sister offered a partnership to the employee their father had hired to handle overseas production. “We figured the company can’t survive without him, we don’t know what we’re doing,” she said.

But the employee wasn’t interested in that arrangement. “He said, ‘I will not work with little girls,’” Ms. Parker said. Instead, he hoped to take over the company and run it himself. “It got so ugly, we ended up having to lock him out of the office with armed security guards and attorneys,” she said.

“So, you didn’t only inherit a company, you inherited a company with a lot of problems,” Ms. Shaw said.

“There was a lot of baggage,” Ms. Parker acknowledged. Once again, she said, “Rumor around the garment center was that Bari Jay would no longer exist.” But the company’s accountant chuckled over the gossip. “He said, ‘Don’t let that freak you out — 30 years ago I heard the same thing when your father had the company by himself,’” Ms. Parker said.

The rocky ownership transition was not exactly a succession plan, Ms. Parker said. Noting that her father’s mother had lived into her nineties, Ms. Parker said, “I think in his mind he really was going to live forever.” That was his succession plan.

Deirdre Lord, who owns the Megawatt Hour, pointed out that he had left the company to Ms. Parker and her sister simply because it was a good asset.

“It was a really good asset,” Ms. Parker said. “But he always said, ‘I don’t want you in the industry, the industry’s changing, it’s not a good place to be.’”

“What were you doing before you worked for Bari Jay?” Ms. Shaw asked.

“I was originally a financial adviser, I left to go get my M.B.A., and then I was at Merrill Lynch,” said Ms. Parker, who worked for the firm in private wealth management. “Then I retired to be a stay-at-home mom.”

“What was your sister doing?” Ms. Shaw asked.

“She was a celebrity and movie publicist who had left to go back to school for elementary education,” Ms. Parker replied.

In future posts, we’ll discuss how Ms. Parker’s plans for Bari Jay have been shaped by her experience.

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.


This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 3, 2013

A previous version of this post misspelled Erica Rosenfeld’s last name.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/25/surviving-a-succession-without-a-plan/?partner=rss&emc=rss

You’re the Boss Blog: Up for Discussion: Can Employees Be Rehabilitated?

She Owns It

Portraits of women entrepreneurs.

Susan Parker: Any benefits are temporary, at best.Earl Wilson/The New York Times Susan Parker: Any benefits are temporary, at best.

At a recent She Owns It business group meeting, the owners talked about the odds of rehabilitating an employee who isn’t working out. Susan Parker, who owns Bari Jay, started the discussion by explaining why she was focused on becoming better at ensuring she has the best possible employees.

In 2008, she and her sister Erica Rosenberg inherited the business — and its employees — from their father after his death. Under those circumstances, Ms. Parker explained, she did not, at least initially, have control over whether she had the right employees in the right roles.

Some of those employees had been with Bari Jay for 15 to 30 years. “You have loyalty to them,” she said. This loyalty extends even to employees who have been with the company for far shorter periods of time — to those who helped Ms. Parker and her sister during the difficult transition period. For this reason, she said, “Erica and I have really tried hard to rehabilitate people.” Ultimately, however, she said she had come to the realization: “You just can’t.”

Ms. Parker said she came to this realization — and many others — while reading “Who,” a book on hiring that her business coach recommended.

Deirdre Lord, who owns the Megawatt Hour, said she had also conducted lengthy rehabilitations throughout her career — and come to a similar conclusion. While nobody wants to be fired, she said, she has found that the person who is not working out is often relieved. “There is this sense of, ‘Oh, thank God, we can stop this charade,’” she said.

Beth Shaw, who owns YogaFit, asked a question: What do you do with an employee who is really good at the job itself but has a bad attitude? When dealing with someone who fits this description, she said, she gets tired of the defensive stance and pushback that she and other YogaFit employees confront when offering feedback or suggestions.

Ms. Lord pointed out that it sounded as if this employee was not actually good at the job.

“There has to be a cultural fit,” said Jessica Johnson, who owns Johnson Security Bureau.

“Exactly,” Ms. Lord said.

Ms. Johnson said the resistance to feedback was especially jarring given that Ms. Shaw runs a yoga company, and it was critical that yoga instructors gave feedback. “Even if that’s not your role, there’s a disconnect,” she said. “You’re going to be schizophrenic in your job.”

Alexandra Mayzler, who owns Thinking Caps Group, said her biggest struggle was over how detailed to be when describing job requirements to a new hire. For example, is it sufficient to say timeliness is essential? “To me, that means you get there five minutes early and you’re ready and you have a few minutes to prepare yourself,” Ms. Mayzler said. “For some people, it might mean that you run in on the minute, and some people think if you’re five minutes late, you’re actually on time.”

She also said that she did not want to judge employees unfairly if the problem was her own failure to be specific when explaining job requirements. She said she wondered whether rehabilitation sometimes became necessary because the employer was not clear from the start.

“One of the reasons that I rehabilitated in the past was that I thought, ‘This person’s three months into the job, they know something already,’” Ms. Shaw said. She said another reason was that as the owner of a yoga business, she always felt it was important to “try to bring out the best in people and see the good in them.” But, she added, the values of a “spiritual mission” may not be the same ones that work in business.

Ms. Parker said she had found that any benefits from rehabilitations were temporary, at best.

“That’s what most rehabilitations are, even in relationships,” Ms. Shaw said. “They will rehabilitate, and chances are in three months, most people go back to their old behavior.”

“It’s not that they’re rehabilitated, it’s that they’re performing differently,” Ms. Johnson said.

Ms. Mayzler repeated that her biggest struggle was over whether she should expect employees to share her standards, even if she had not specifically defined the ways in which they should perform their duties.

“It’s a big communication issue, and I think it’s balance,” Ms. Johnson said. “For us, timely might be being there 15 minutes before the meeting starts, but you don’t know how somebody else interprets that, and if you don’t have that discussion. …”

“But if you hire the right person, from the beginning, they should know that,” Ms. Parker said.

“Right, that’s the question,” Ms. Mayzler said.

“Yes, they should know,” Ms. Shaw agreed.

“You shouldn’t have to explain to somebody what timeliness means,” Ms. Parker said.

“I’m not just talking about timeliness, but everything,” Ms. Mayzler said.

Ms. Parker said the book “Who” had been an eye-opener for her. She said it made her realize, “If I hired the right person, I wouldn’t have to micromanage, and I wouldn’t have to explain everything.”

This discussion will continue in our next post. In the meantime, what has been your experience with attempts to rehabilitate employees?

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/24/up-for-discussion-can-employees-be-rehabilitated/?partner=rss&emc=rss

You’re the Boss Blog: Dealing With a Laid-Back Software Vendor

She Owns It

Portraits of women entrepreneurs.

In a post published last month, Susan Parker, a member of the She Owns It business group, shared some of her frustrations about working with a software vendor that didn’t seem to share her sense of urgency. Her company, Bari Jay, has been in the process of switching to new software for more than a year. During a recent conversation, Ms. Parker reviewed the status of the project, which was supposed to take three months, and she responded to reader comments on the earlier post.

No, Bari Jay has still not made the changeover. But Ms. Parker is cautiously optimistic. “We’re into the home stretch,” she said. Invoicing is the new system’s remaining sticking point, but at least the process of testing the invoicing function has begun — a sign of progress, she said.

She hopes the new software will be up and running by May. To try to ensure that the vendor picks up the pace, she has been holding daily huddles on the subject with her staff. And once or twice a week, during the huddle, Bari Jay calls the vendor to address issues that have arisen among the group. “This eliminates the he-said, she-said,” she explained.

Ms. Parker noted that the well-intentioned advice of some commenters reflected the erroneous impression that Bari Jay was attempting to create a fully customized system. For example, one commenter wrote, “I cannot fathom her business is so complex/unique that she needs completely custom software.” Ms. Parker couldn’t agree more, which is why she chose the software option she did, an off-the-shelf solution that is being partially customized for Bari Jay. “The majority of the system already existed,” she said.

Other suggestions might have been helpful had she followed them a year ago, Ms. Parker said. She noted that given the time that has elapsed, the amount of work already done, and the payments she’s made, Bari Jay is “way past the point” where it would make sense to — as one commenter put it — abandon this “unsuitable spouse at the altar.” As for withholding payments, it’s also too late for that, although Ms. Parker said she has certainly learned from that mistake.

She has tried issuing hard deadlines and checking references, as some commenters recommended. But, she said, the deadlines have so far proven ineffective. And though Ms. Parker grilled past references, she noted, “No one’s giving a reference unless it’s good.”

We’ll follow up to see whether Bari Jay’s software vendor delivers by May, as Ms. Parker now hopes.

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/15/dealing-with-a-laid-back-software-vendor/?partner=rss&emc=rss

You’re the Boss Blog: When Small Businesses Try to Attract Big Partners

She Owns It

Portraits of women entrepreneurs.

Alexandra Mayzler, owner of Thinking Caps TutoringEarl Wilson/The New York Times Alexandra Mayzler, owner of Thinking Caps Tutoring

Small-business owners often maximize their resources and extend their reach by teaming up with larger organizations. But to partner with a larger organization, they first have to get through to one. Alexandra Mayzler, who owns Thinking Caps Tutoring, is trying to do just that. She talked about the challenges of getting a foot in the door at the last She Owns It business group meeting.

To date, Thinking Caps has tutored students individually. But Ms. Mayzler is now planning to offer her study skills program in a class format as well. She’d like to begin by holding classes at organizations like the YMCA or the JCC. She’s also thought about working with large companies to offer classes to employees who are interested in learning how to help their children study. But finding “a human” to connect with at these organizations, she said, has been difficult.

“I don’t know if I’m approaching it incorrectly, maybe I’m not aggressive enough,” she said. “I understand that it takes forever to get back on this kind of stuff because there are layers of people but it’s just …”

“How to get into the organizations,” said Deirdre Lord, who owns the Megawatt Hour.

“The only other option is for us to set up shop and say, ‘Okay, we’re renting a classroom, here’s the classroom’ — just advertise it,” Ms. Mayzler said. But that’s expensive.

“I would think at least one of your clients would have some relationships at the JCC or Y,” Ms. Lord said. An introduction from the right person can make things so much easier, she added.

Jessica Johnson, who owns Johnson Security Bureau, said Ms. Mayzler needs “a superhero advocate that can go in and sit in the boardroom and say, ‘Look, we need to bring Thinking Caps on as a partner.’”

Ms. Mayzler considered this. “So identify those places and basically look for individuals on the board?” she asked.

“Look on the boards, go above the people that are in the actual locations,” Ms. Johnson said. “A board member can give you much more leverage and actually take you to the people that make the decisions.”

“That’s a good idea,” said Beth Shaw, who owns YogaFit.

“Let them advocate for you,” added Ms. Johnson. Ms. Lord agreed.

Ms. Mayzler wondered if she needed a dedicated person on staff to pursue these partnerships.

“You don’t even need that,” Ms. Johnson said. Instead, she suggested Ms. Mayzler make a plan and break it into manageable pieces. “Then it won’t seem so overwhelming,” she added. For example, if the Y is her target, she could give herself six months to win it.

“It takes a long time to win these big organizations, though, believe me,” Ms. Shaw said.

“Let me tell you, I grew my business 700 percent in the last three years — not on my own,” Ms. Johnson said. Rather, she said, “I had people advocating for me, like people that I don’t even know. They look at me, and they’re like, ‘I want to make you successful.’”

“Right,” Ms. Lord said.

“There’s a way that you can make this happen — sometimes all it takes is one person,” Ms. Johnson said. She recommended that Ms. Mayzler set aside five minutes every three days. One day, she might send a handwritten letter. Three days later, she could follow up with an e-mail. And three days after that, perhaps a phone call.

“I can’t imagine, based on who your clientele is, that someone isn’t friends with somebody on the board,” said Susan Parker, who owns Bari Jay.

“Yes, exactly!” said Ms. Lord. “You probably have champion parents, parents who are like, ‘Oh my gosh, what would we do without Thinking Caps?’” Ms. Lord suggested Ms. Mayzler call these parents, share Thinking Caps’ goals, and see if anyone is willing to make introductions.

Ms. Mayzler said that maybe the process would be easier if she just focused on one organization at a time.

“Or not one, but five,” Ms. Lord said.

“Somewhere between one and three — something that’s manageable,” Ms. Johnson said.

“Do more than one, though,” Ms. Parker said.

“Yes, definitely more than one,” Ms. Lord agreed.

“Because, if you put all your eggs in one basket, and it doesn’t happen, then you’re back to where you started,” said Ms. Parker.

“I just met with a guy who’s the director of all of the JCCs in North America,” Ms. Shaw said. She offered to introduce Ms. Mayzler to him.

“The JCCs, from what I understand, run very individual programs,” Ms. Parker said.

Still, Ms. Shaw said, the organization does have preferred vendors. At the very least, her contact might be able to point Ms. Mayzer in the right direction.

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/14/when-small-businesses-try-to-attract-big-partners/?partner=rss&emc=rss

You’re the Boss Blog: Business Owners Reflect on Small Victories

Beth Shaw: Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times Beth Shaw: “The unending desire to want to grow, grow, grow can derail you.”

She Owns It

Portraits of women entrepreneurs.

In my last post, She Owns It business group members looked back on what it took to survive 2012 and talked about their goals for the New Year. This post continues that conversation.

Deirdre Lord, who owns the Megawatt Hour, said her company has come a long way since it began operating in December 2011. Back then, it offered just one product to help its commercial and industrial clients manage, track, and forecast their energy usage and expenses. But Ms. Lord said the company learned more about its customers’ needs through conversations that provided important feedback. “It’s not one-size-fits-all,” she said. As a result, the company now offers three products.

She is also pleased that the Megawatt Hour identified sales channels that should help it get new customers more quickly. For example, it formed partnerships with energy consultants who will use the the company’s products with their clients. She estimated that the number of customers using the original product has tripled in the last year but believes that the insights she has gained about her customers and the improved ways of reaching them are ultimately more significant. “None of that existed a year ago,” she said.

Still, she acknowledged it’s hard to feel satisfied. “I always want to grow more quickly, and feel more confident that the business is going to take off,” she said.

“The unending desire to want to grow, grow, grow can derail you,” responded Beth Shaw, the group member who owns YogaFit. “I think that a lot of the challenges that I’ve personally gotten into have been because I tried so hard to grow my business in a way that maybe it’s just not supposed to grow — unless some V.C. company comes in and gives us a bunch of cash.”

Susan Parker, who owns dress manufacturer Bari Jay, stressed the importance of taking small steps. “I know that we all have these big goals in front of us and we want to get there,” she said, “but if you don’t celebrate the little accomplishments along the way, you’re not going to get to the big ones.”

“That is totally true,” Ms. Lord said.

“You’re going to get burned out,” Ms. Parker said.

Ms. Lord said she has gotten better at saying, “Look at where we are compared to even six or 10 months ago.”

“I’m really bad at acknowledging the good stuff because I’m a worrier by nature,” said Alexandra Mayzler, who owns Thinking Caps Tutoring. To help counteract that, she said she introduced pizza parties to recognize team members who are doing good work and also began complimenting them openly during huddles. These practices help her remember what has been accomplished. “You can get lost in the day-to-day,” she said.

Ms. Lord said she could relate to “the worrying part.” One of her biggest concerns is her products’ high degree of technical complexity, which requires her company to hire top technologists. In this market, she noted, they can find work anywhere. “We’re not Facebook, and everybody likes the social media platform, so it takes a unique individual,” she said.

Jessica Johnson, who owns Johnson Security Bureau, jumped in to say she wanted to revisit Ms. Shaw’s comment about growth. “One of the lessons I’ve learned this year is sometimes you can grow by subtraction.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do right now!” Ms. Shaw said.

“We’re always so busy thinking about what we need to add that we don’t think about what we need to get rid of so we can do better,” Ms. Johnson continued.

At previous meetings, Ms. Shaw discussed her plans to cut much of her company’s underperforming clothing line. “I really feel that by simplifying, the business will grow and I can get rid of dead weight,” she said. She said she wants to find a level at which she can maintain the business until the day when an investor or partner might enter the picture. For example, she said, YogaFit is discussing a partnership with a large athletic equipment company.

For now, she is focused on an office move. Although she still hasn’t sold YogaFit’s building in Torrance, Calif., she said she was about to sign a lease for a building in Los Angeles to house YogaFit’s training center, store, and staff. She has high hopes that the new space, which will have an open layout, will foster more collaboration and better communication among her staff.

“We have a real communication issue,” she said. One example: at one point, three staff members within the same department were working, in isolation, on the same sponsorship deal.

Ms. Shaw said she also recently realized that YogaFit was focusing too much on operations — and neglecting sales. It took “some months that were really down in revenue,” she said, to force her to recognize the issue. She said everyone in the company should be trained to be a sales representative, from customer-service employees to yoga trainers. And when her chief operating officer recently left the company, Ms. Shaw decided not to replace her. Instead, she hired a sales manager who will manage every employee except for those in the accounting department.

Reflecting on why sales hadn’t previously been a higher priority, Ms. Shaw said that, on some level, selling seemed to “go against the nature of the business.” She added, “We’re in the yoga industry, you can’t really be hard sell.” Still, she said, she now realizes that YogaFit can’t be no-sell either.

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/11/business-owners-reflect-on-small-victories-and-the-dangers-of-growth/?partner=rss&emc=rss

You’re the Boss Blog: After a Year, Business Group Members Discuss Their Progress

She Owns It

Portraits of women entrepreneurs.

About a year ago, the She Owns It business group began meeting with the goal of exploring the day-to-day challenges faced by four women who own and run companies. Since then, the group, which now has five members, has gathered regularly to discuss topics such as hiring and managing employees, health insurance, manufacturing, growing pains, and customer service.

Over time, the group’s composition has changed. Former member Carissa Reiniger left because lof scheduling conflicts. New members Deirdre Lord and Beth Shaw stepped in, joining veterans Jessica Johnson, Alexandra Mayzler, and Susan Parker.

The women’s businesses have also evolved. This post provides snapshots of three of the original businesses, and the two more recent additions.

Owner: Jessica Johnson.

Company: Johnson Security Bureau provides security services to government and commercial clients.

2011 Sales: $1 million-plus (up from $700,000 in 2010).

Employees: 100-plus (up from 60 in 2010).

The 50-year-old company was founded by Ms. Johnson’s grandparents. Last year, it increased both its annual sales and employee count. Ms. Johnson attributes this success to factors including a focus on customer service, more time spent on the hiring process, and expanding operations into New Jersey.

She recently said job creation had been her most important metric for measuring her company’s success. But looking ahead she said, “I may need to consider different metrics because my focus for 2012 isn’t as much on growth as it has been.” It has shifted to determining which business opportunities make the most sense for the company to pursue. The new metrics Ms. Johnson is considering include rates of employee turnover and sales closed.

Owner: Deirdre Lord.

Company: The Megawatt Hour is an online subscription service that helps commercial and industrial clients manage, track, and forecast their energy use and expenses.

2011 sales: The company, a start-up, began operating in December 2011 and had sales of $2,000 that month.

Employees: five.

For now Ms. Lord, who founded an earlier company and has an extensive background in the energy industry, is focused on building the business and continuing to tweak its products to meet the needs of customers and prospects. For example, after some experimentation, the Megawatt Hour is offering three service models: a transactional model for businesses that want to use the product only when they are about to make an energy-buying decision, and free and premium models that allow customers to monitor their ongoing energy use and costs. The company is also exploring various sales channels and recently started working with energy consultants who will offer the Megawatt Hour’s product to their clients. The product will be marketed with the consultant’s name and the information that it is “powered by the Megawatt Hour.”

Owner: Alexandra Mayzler.

Company: Thinking Caps Tutoring offers study-skills coaching, subject tutoring, and test preparation to middle- and high-school students.

2011 Sales: about $780,000 (up from about $700,000 in 2010).

Employees: five full-time, 45 part-time tutors (up from four full-time and 40 part-time tutors in 2010).

Ms. Mayzler started Thinking Caps from her dorm room at New York University in 2003. To determine how well the company is doing, she said she tracked the hours worked by her tutors, the number of client families, payables and revenue, looking for annual increases in all. By those measures Thinking Caps had a good year in 2011, she said. Additionally, after opening an office in Austin, Tex., last fall, Thinking Caps expanded into Houston in January of this year.

Owner: Susan Parker.

Company: Bari Jay manufactures and sells bridesmaid and prom dresses to retailers.

2011 Sales: $8.3 million (up from $7 million in 2010).

Employees: 17

Ms. Parker and her sister became co-presidents of their father’s business in 2008, following his death. With no garment industry experience, it was rough going initially for the sisters. But they sought guidance from some of their father’s longtime friends in the industry and managed to increase sales by 20 percent from 2009 to 2010. To determine how well Bari Jay is doing, Ms. Parker said she considered revenue, profit margins, and booked orders. Revenue and booked orders rose in 2011, and margins stayed about the same — as planned, she said. Still, there are challenges, most notably finding a way to keep up with orders and addressing production issues that arise partly from the increased cost of manufacturing dresses in China.

Owner: Beth Shaw.

Company: YogaFit trains yoga instructors, entering into exclusive partnerships with yoga studios and health club chains. It also hosts fitness conferences, teacher-training seminars and retreats.

2011 Sales: $4.4 million (up from $4.2 million in 2010).

Employees: 13 at company headquarters and 60 trainers (independent contractors).

Ms. Shaw, a former magazine advertising sales representative, founded the company in 1997, after becoming interested in yoga as a hobby. To measure YogaFit’s success, she said she looks at revenue. “I always want to beat the previous year,” she said. But sales are down since their high of $5 million in 2009, a fact Ms. Shaw attributes to factors including a more crowded market and the company’s unprofitable merchandising division, which is being trimmed. To get back on track, Ms. Shaw said she hired a chief operating officer who has “dramatically cut expenses” and added an experienced fitness industry marketer to her staff.

In future posts, the group will continue to discuss the realities of business ownership. Are there any issues you would like to see raised?

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/04/after-a-year-business-group-members-discuss-their-progress/?partner=rss&emc=rss

You’re the Boss Blog: A Dressmaker Tries to Deliver the Right Dress at the Right Price

She Owns It

Portraits of women entrepreneurs.

As she works to get a handle on pricing, Susan Parker, a member of our business group, weighs the competing interests of art and commerce. On the one hand, Ms. Parker, who owns the dressmaker Bari Jay, is thrilled with her creative designer and credits her with much of the company’s turnaround. The designer, Kristine Eikenbary, takes her inspiration from higher-end fashion. “Her designs are gorgeous,” said Ms. Parker.

But they are also expensive, thanks to more complicated elements that add fabric and labor costs. For example, a plain dress might require three yards of fabric, while a shirred or pleated one could take five or six — plus the added work required to create these features. On top of that, as a result of increased costs for raw materials, labor, and shipping, it’s getting more expensive to manufacture the dresses in China.

Hiring Ms. Eikenbary three years ago was a coup for Ms. Parker’s father, who spent a year wooing the designer before he became ill (he subsequently died, leaving the company to his daughters, Ms. Parker and her sister). In those three years, Bari Jay’s average retail dress price has risen to more than $200. “Two hundred seems to be the magical number,” said Ms. Parker. Many customers won’t pay more.

Despite Bari Jay’s growth — in 2010, annual sales increased 20 percent — many stores, especially in the Midwest, have dropped the company because of its prices. The slack has been taken up by increased sales to some of Bari Jay’s other retailers.

Ms. Parker said she wanted Ms. Eikenbary to keep doing what she does “because that’s what’s made us what we are.” But she also wants her to incorporate some simpler styles — even though designing simple can be complicated. “You almost feel that simple has been done in every way possible,” said Ms. Parker, presenting a challenge for Bari Jay’s creative designer.

“Does she understand the financial implications?” asked Jessica Johnson, a business group member who owns Johnson Security Bureau.

Ms. Parker said she did and was eager to make it work.

“But she’s creative, and that’s what drives her,” said Alexandra Mayzler, a business group member who owns Thinking Caps Tutoring.

“Right,” said Ms. Parker, who is starting to receive next season’s designs. When she opens the pictures, she said, she feels like she is “having a heart attack” and worries that Bari Jay won’t be able to produce the styles at prices the retailers will pay.

The company’s salespeople, who are on the front lines with retailers, tell Ms. Parker that it’s fine to have dresses that sell for $230 or $250 as long as other designs are available for $180 or $190. Bari Jay’s retailers  stock only sample sizes of each dress, so customers must order their size and wait for delivery regardless of which style they want. A store needs to carry only 12 Bari Jay styles to sell the entire line. “But if we have no dresses in the store, we just lost a Bari Jay sale,” said Ms. Parker.

“Could you do two lines, like Bari Jay and Bari Jay Plus?” asked Ms. Johnson.

Ms. Parker replied that they had considered that, but determined they would be unable to make a cheaper line. Any additional line would have to cost more.

And the rising cost of manufacturing in China will continue to be an issue, said Ms. Johnson.

“That’s my fear,” said Ms. Parker. She is unconvinced that a simple dress that costs less than $200 today will cost less than $200 next season. “I’m wondering at what point people say, ‘I don’t need a Bari Jay dress. I’m just going to go to David’s Bridal because their dresses are under $200,’” she said.

Ms. Mayzler pointed out that labor costs are rising worldwide as workers demand and receive fair pay. She speculated that rising costs must be an industrywide issue — one that Ms. Parker’s competitors are also facing.

That’s true, Ms. Parker said. However, some larger companies mass produce dresses and use cheaper fabric (a compromise Ms. Parker is unwilling to make). So while their prices are also rising, their dresses still cost much less than Bari Jay’s.

But you’re trying to attract a certain customer, said Ms. Mayzler. She added that, just as Thinking Caps provides more than “a body to warm the seat while your kid does homework,” Bari Jay is also special and should market its strengths as a maker of better-quality dresses.

Ms. Parker agreed — but only to a point. Yes, some stores do appreciate the value of a Bari Jay dress, and that’s why the company has been successful. But she worries that continued price increases could sharply limit Bari Jay’s growth potential.

“I think you have to decide what your goals are,” Ms. Mayzler said. She made an analogous decision, she said, when she chose not to offer lucrative test preparation classes, as opposed to the individual tutoring that distinguishes Thinking Caps. While the classes bring in more money per hour, Ms. Mayzler decided they didn’t fit her mission.

“The difference — or at least the way I perceive the difference — is you’re going after the end user,” Ms. Parker said. She explained that she might lose a sale to a girl who wants a Bari Jay prom dress but can’t get one because all the stores in her area have dropped the company.

“So it’s more opportunity costs,” said Ms. Johnson.

“If I don’t sell to one store, God knows how many sales I could potentially be losing,” Ms. Parker said. She added that she was not willing to consider selling directly to consumers through the company’s Web site because it would put her into competition with Bari Jay’s retailers.

We’ll check back with Ms. Parker and the other owners in future posts. In the meantime, what do you think of Bari Jay’s dilemma?

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=3fc1717d2d86f3ef8006c3904866c6cc

You’re the Boss Blog: Refusing to Compete on Price

She Owns It

Portraits of women entrepreneurs.

Jessica JohnsonSara Krulwich/The New York TimesJessica Johnson

Jessica Johnson knows she must continue to innovate if she wants her business, Johnson Security Bureau, to maintain its impressive growth rate in 2012. This year, the company’s annual sales have doubled — just as they did in 2010.

During the last meeting of our business group, Ms. Johnson talked about the continuing importance of differentiating Johnson Security and emphasizing customer service, not price. She had just returned from Building a High-Performing Minority Business, a program offered through Tuck Executive Education at Dartmouth, and said the experience had reinforced these priorities.

To differentiate itself with clients, who may use several security services, Ms. Johnson said her company focused on building relationships, understanding its clients’ different business models, and selling solutions, not security. She emphasized that there was a big difference. Often, clients will call and simply say they need a guard. Other security firms might reply, “This is how much we charge. When do you want the body there?” said Ms. Johnson. “But we ask more questions.”

Ms. Johnson has found that clients don’t always fully communicate their needs, which can go beyond having a “warm body” on site. For example, clients might reveal that a call was prompted by the theft of an employee’s purse. In that case, they may need a guard who can provide a higher level of customer service by remaining alert to who belongs on the premises. Another client may have a problem with graffiti that appears after hours and may need to install cameras.

“Do you install the cameras?” asked Susan Parker, a member of the business group who owns dress manufacturer BariJay.

“We don’t as of yet, but we’ll make a recommendation,” said Ms. Johnson.

“That’s why it’s a solution as opposed to just security,” said Alexandra Mayzler, the owner of Thinking Caps Tutoring.

Unlike many of its competitors, Johnson Security does not try to compete on price. Ms. Johnson said the company’s rates, which vary by service and client type, are toward the middle or high end of the spectrum. She finds that it is often not worth working with clients that want guards who are paid minimum wage. They don’t see the value in having a particularly attentive guard or someone who is able to manage a problem customer, she said.

When it comes to hiring, Ms. Johnson said that, as a small business, Johnson Security has an advantage. “We can really talk to our employees and understand what they want to do,” she said. Just because they didn’t have childhood dreams of becoming security guards doesn’t mean they can’t maximize their relationship with the company, she added.

Johnson Security tells its employees that they are expected to stay for at least a year, and that those who do well will be placed in situations that allow them to make more money. One employee worked as a security guard for six months before being promoted to data analyst, a position that involves collecting and analyzing a range of site-specific reports for clients, and helping Johnson Security track its use of resources, including uniforms and equipment. Another started as a guard and now holds a supervisory job that includes managing the employee review process.

In the last two years, Ms. Johnson said, the company has been able to increase its guards’ average pay rate. “We’ve gotten better at identifying quality clients and getting opportunities for our people to grow,” she said.

Ms. Johnson repeatedly emphasized the value of the executive education program she recently attended, which enabled her to work with Dartmouth business school professors on topics including strategy and implementation. As the meeting wrapped up, Ms. Mayzler expressed an interest in applying for a spot in the program — if she could find the time.

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=ca62d5c30968c8c2a007721bdaae815e

2 RIM Executives Are Fired for Disrupting a Flight

“RIM does not condone behavior that conflicts with applicable laws and employees are expected to act, at all times, with integrity and respect,” the company said in a statement.

The two executives, George Campbell, 45, and Paul A. Wilson, 38, pleaded guilty last week to mischief after an Air Canada flight was forced to turn around near the North Pole and then land in Vancouver, British Columbia. The men were given suspended sentences, placed on probation and each was ordered to pay the airline 35,878 Canadian dollars ($35,382) in restitution by a court in British Columbia.

After drinking heavily on a Toronto-to-Beijing flight, the two men became hostile and were ultimately restrained with plastic handcuffs by crew members and passengers. Neither of them is allowed to fly on Air Canada during their year of probation.

The firing was not the only personnel issue involving RIM on Monday. Citing statements from the police, The Jakarta Post reported that the head of RIM’s unit in Indonesia is now under investigation after a half-price promotion for a new BlackBerry handset led to a near riot that sent several shoppers to the hospital last month.

The newspaper said that the executive, Andrew Cobham, and three other people may face criminal charges of negligence. RIM declined to offer any information about Mr. Cobham, although an online résumé for an Indonesian business group that he advises suggests that Mr. Cobham is Canadian.

In its statement, RIM said that it was cooperating with police and was conducting an internal investigation of the incident, which offered the discounted phones to the first 1,000 buyers.

“We sincerely regret that many loyal customers experienced frustration and upset, and that some individuals suffered injuries,” the company said.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=6cf6f75857dbeba02702f75f5f98b36b