Wednesday, October 26, 2016

My Buddy Lewis

I want to take a minute to tell you about my buddy, Lewis Howes.

I discovered Lewis's The School of Greatness podcast about a year ago and I haven't missed an episode since. I've written about what he's shared before, and my good friend Fahim--fully aware of my dedication to Greatness--gifted me The School of Greatness book in hardcover when we were together a few months ago at the 2016 Retail Shippers Expo.

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and some hosts are more genuine than others. You can tell by the intonation, intention, and intensity in someone's voice whether they believe what they're saying, and whether they're hosting just as an acting gig or because they genuinely have something they want to share with the world. And Lewis is unquestionably genuine.

Lewis interviews two different people each week--business leaders, health and wellness gurus, celebrities, entrepreneurs, visionaries, and regular folks like us--and digs deep to uncover their intentions and reasons for being. At the end of the week, Lewis shares a Five Minute Friday thought to give everyone a little boost.

The caliber of guests that Lewis welcomes is amazing. Many of the Greatness visitors are not (yet) household names, but what they bring and share is fascinating. And then many are indeed household names, and the depth of character that Lewis is able to uncover in their interviews sometimes shocks even them! Then occasionally--rarely--a guest will come on and share an attitude that may be a little uncomfortable to listen to, and Lewis shows amazing talent, grace, heart, and discretion in how he reacts to and treats those individuals. I always learn something--usually more about myself than the guest he's talking with.

Why is Lewis on my mind today? Because, of his 222,000+ Instagram followers, he stumbled upon my feed this afternoon, liked a few of my posts, and even took a minute to give me a ":)" comment. I am absolutely honored! (And I may have screen capped those notifications, excitedly texted Fahim, jumped up and down a bit, and squealed … just a little.)

I've set a goal: be on The School of Greatness podcast. This isn't going to happen right away, but it's not a pie-in-the-sky either. I'm just getting started gathering my portfolio of things I've shared over the years on different blogs and publications, and am excited to post that content--both new and from the archives--now on Ask Uncle Marty™. I have a lot to share, a lot to say, and a lot to discover; I know I'll be able to bring value through my quest to find awesomeness.

Now go subscribe to The School of Greatness … and enjoy!

#LewisHowes #SchoolofGreatness #Podcast #AskUncleMarty

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Dress for Success

We're all familiar with the term dress for success. But what does that phrase really mean? 

Does it mean we need to wear a perfectly tailored power suit every day? In many industries, likely that's not the answer … and it's certainly not practical.

Dressing is much more than what we wear. Dressing is the total package--how we appear, how we present ourselves, and how we carry ourselves.

To dress for success, you must adorn yourself with professionalism. And you must hire and retain a staff that behaves professionally. This includes having a respectful demeanor, using respectful language, and being able to communicate clearly. It doesn't mean having all the answers, but it does mean that you're able and willing to find the answer.

My friend Annie reminds me often that, "You're never fully dressed without a smile." And Albert Schweitzer said, "Success isn't the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success." This is a profoundly simple truth! So another essential element of dressing for success is putting on a positive attitude every day.

Then, of course, what we physically wear is indeed a big part of dressing for success. In the corporate world, a common saying is, "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have." You need to carry yourself as if you're already successful … and part of that is not looking like a slouch. This is why we often harp on store uniforms. If you look at the top stores in our industry, they all have a uniformed, professional, and happy staff.

And what about how our business is dressed? How does it appear? Is it in uniform? Is it smiling? Yes, stores wear uniforms and give off happy vibes just as much as staff. Look at your four walls and see if they represent your brand in color, crispness, and cleanliness just as your staff's uniforms do. When someone walks through your door, are they greeted by a pleasant atmosphere--as if the store is smiling at them--or are they walking into a cloud of blah?

Everyone wants to be successful, yet the definition of that success varies between individuals. But everyone does want success in some form or another. In our industry, perhaps many of us interpret success as having a profitable business, caring for our family, and making a difference and positive impact in our community.

Dress yourself for success, and be an example to your staff. Then watch what happens.

#Aesthetics #DressforSuccess #AskUncleMarty


Originally published on the AMBC blog on June 21, 2016.

Getting Too Comfortable

Aah, comfort.

Comfort can be delightful. The highlight of my day is going home, putting on my jammies, and snuggling up with a big fluffy blanket … especially now, as nights are becoming crisper and autumn moves in to upstate New York. When we're comfortable, we can rest, relax, and recharge. Our minds and bodies need this, and I am indubitably a superfan. But sometimes comfort can go too far, and we get too comfortable.

The border between being comfortable and being too comfortable is vague and blurry. Sometimes we cross the line and don't realize it until we're deep into the wrong zone. When we become too comfortable, we become lethargic. Our energy levels decrease, and we start ignoring anything that's not essential. We procrastinate. We make no improvements. Our homes and health go downhill because we just don't have the umph to get things done. We start becoming blind to what's right in front of us. We choose to hit snooze instead of getting up and getting active. Our diets get junky and our looks get sloppy; we stop caring.

The struggle between comfortable and too comfortable is just as real in business it is in our personal lives. When we're too comfortable in business, we ignore what needs to be updated and changed to meet a changing market. We miss opportunities, either because we're not paying attention or because they seem like too much work. We become shortsighted, focusing on necessary daily survival but not taking the time to actively meet challenges that are just over the horizon. We become reactive, not proactive. We let our power naps turn into comas; we fall asleep, and the world passes us by.

So what do we do to break the spiral and get back on a forward track of growth? It's the same in our personal lives as well as in our businesses: we become active again. We make resolutions to not hit snooze, but rather get up, get active, and get our blood flowing every day. We find a buddy to keep us on track, encourage us, and kick us in the pants from time to time. We get out and get a change of scenery, so when we come back we can see things with fresh eyes. And we ask those we trust for their own fresh eyes on our situation, to make suggestions and give us a necessary shot of reality.

We must make a concerted effort to break the cycle of lethargy … especially in our businesses. We must force ourselves to make the uncomfortable changes that are necessary to move us forward. We must grow, and not get lost in the flow.

We must wake up.

#Growth #WakeUp #AskUncleMarty


Originally published on the AMBC blog on September 27, 2016.

Make a Little Change

I just moved my desk.

It wasn't an earth shaking, ground breaking, overwhelming undertaking. In fact, the total distance traveled for my Ikea stainless steel-topped buddy was less than 10 feet. But the move has made me very, very happy.

Before, my desk was facing a wall--stuck somewhere between my printing center and packing area. It was in the middle of my store, making it so I had to crane my neck to watch what was going on at the front door and front counter. When my eyes needed to take a break from my laptop screen, I'd look up and stare at the big FedEx calendar on the wall--lovely, but seeing those days flying by and deadlines approaching did little to help my anxiety levels.

But now my desk is in the back of my store, facing forward, giving me an uncraned all-seeing perspective on my shop. From my new perch, when I need a break from my screen I look up and see my whole store--my little kingdom--and it makes me proud. When I spin my wheels, as I often do, I can reset my mind by getting a glimpse of the big picture; I can analytically see things that I want to focus on, and realize a little better when my time has been tunneled into some fruitless endeavor.

This seemingly inconsequential desk move has gotten me a little bit unstuck. And so I want everyone to consider making a similar little change. In doing so, your perspective will shift, your vision will focus and refocus, and your intentions, productivity, and mood all just may improve.

Maybe your little change isn't a desk move. Maybe it's a moving your workstations. Maybe it's cleaning out that neglected corner of your shop, or that cubby that you avoid at all costs. Maybe it's switching roles with an employee for a few hours and seeing things from their vantage point, and they from yours. Or maybe it's simply taking five teeny minutes every couple of hours to walk outside, catch your breath, and reset.

Sometimes making a little change makes a big difference. Try it.

#Change #ShakeThingsUp #AskUncleMarty


Originally published on the AMBC blog on October 18, 2016.

Friday the 21st

Friday was "one of those days" at Uncle Marty’s.

One of my biggest printing customers—one of Cornell’s largest departments—submitted a nearly 3000-page color printing request on Thursday afternoon. It was a good job, involving different sizes of paper that needed to be folded, trimmed, and collated into packets. Their deadline was Friday at noon.

My main high speed printer was running continuously Thursday afternoon and evening. As the final section was finishing, I noticed that the prints looked like they were dirty; they looked like they were on a darker stock, even though they weren’t, and had progressively gotten darker. I called my printer service contractor right away, but had to leave a message because it was after hours. I couldn’t use about half of what we had printed.

Thursday night I tossed and turned, trying to figure out how I could fix this. Maybe the printer would be better in the morning and I could reprint the tainted, tinted pages. Maybe the printer contractor would get my message and show up early make it all better. Maybe my customer could extend their deadline a bit to give me time to reprint everything once the printer was fixed. Or maybe I'd have to comp my customer and present them with sub-standard quality. The latter choice seemed the most likely, though the thought of it nauseated my obsessive, perfectionist brain. I got to the shop early on Friday morning, hoping for a miracle. But instead I found … a flood.

I've had three other floods in the past five years, so this made flood number four. We had had considerable rain overnight, and those millions of raindrops must have decided that my store seemed like a nice place to hang out. The whole back of the store, from my desk to the back hallway, was soaked.

I've learned from my three previous floods to not keep anything important or irreplaceable on the floor. I now have risers, pallets, and slabs all throughout my storage area to keep things dry. Thankfully, all I lost this time was some coffee packs and scrap cardboard. But I had a soggy store … again.

After I left a message for the maintenance department at the company that I rent my space from, I called the printer contractor again to see when the technician would arrive. The company hadn't received my message the night before, but the person I spoke with assured me she'd send someone to my store as soon as possible.

Then the kids started showing up. I hadn't had a chance to check my calendar for the day yet, and totally forgot that I had scheduled a team of students to come in to help me with a focus group for my impending rebranding. I need strong millennial feedback and opinions on my new colors, logo, hashtag, and layout before I finalize them, and so here came a group of eager students, ready to talk branding with me. I felt horrible turning them away, trying to explain in my flustration that it just wouldn't be possible that morning. Many of the students offered to stay and help, but I decided that I just needed to be alone.

I decided to try printing again, wondering if cooling down overnight helped my printer any. And it did! The prints looked almost OK. So, I reprinted the last half of the job—in reverse, so in case the problem came back the worst pages from the night before would be replaced by the best pages of the reprint. And indeed, by the end of the reprint the pages were starting to darken again. Regardless, somehow—all alone, with wet feet, waiting on every customer—I managed to pull together a finished product that my customer was pleased with when they came to pick up a little before noon.

In the meantime, maintenance people started trudging through my store, splashing through the back as they went, and assessed the situation. It took them a while to find the source of the water, but they eventually determined that someone had put a bucket on a drain spout from my roof to collect rain water or something. But that filled up and the water all spilled down along the side of my building and started coming through my wall. So, maintenance got their big vacuums and spent the day sucking up water.

Then my credit card processor went down, and stayed down for most of the day. The company said it had to do with my local ISP conflicting with the processor's system or something. I'm still unclear on the details. Anyway, I figured out that I could work around the issue by switching networks, though when I did that it made my internal network of computers and printers not function properly. So, each time I had to run a card, I had to switch the network over and then switch back afterward. In itself, this would have been a huge pain. But somehow, on Friday, it seemed perfectly normal; it seemed to make sense that it would happen then.

At 3pm, the printer technician finally showed up. He wasn’t in a rush whatsoever. I told him I had a couple of emergency calls placed at this point, but he said he only received a standard request and didn't realize it was a priority. He replaced the drum, and got my printer back to normal in a jiffy.

Friday was tough. There were moments when all I wanted to was go into the bathroom, shut the door, and scream. But I couldn't do that because the bathroom had been completely torn up by the maintenance staff in their efforts to find the source of the water! The ceiling tiles were taken down, insulation bits strewn everywhere, and the floor covered in some sort of dusty, filmy, icky mud. Yuck.

Now it's Tuesday. The bathroom is still destroyed. The areas that maintenance didn't get to in the carpet on Friday are starting to become musty and stink. Someone’s here now to shampoo the carpet and do a special mildew treatment, which of course meant that we had to haul everything out of the back room and into the vacant store next door. I’m glad I wore boots today. I miss my new little office nook, now vacated just a week after I made it. But I’ll be back in it again soon, with clean and fresh smelling carpet.

So why am I telling you all of this? Maybe I just need to vent. Maybe I want you to understand, though I write a lot about looking at the bright side, staying upbeat, providing uncompromisingly stellar customer service, blah, blah, blah, that some days just totally suck. Sometimes it takes every ounce of your being to smile through the chaos and put the customer first. And sometimes we don’t always succeed at that. But when we do, it’s often possible to make more progress on rainy days than on any other.

There were moments on Friday when I just had to laugh at the situation. After all, I've had worse days. I've had much worse days. At times I took a step back and looked around my store—at the water, at the crew cleaning in the back, at the pile of 1500 scrapped color prints, at the cables all over the place for my network switcheroos, and at my disheveled reflection—and realized that I was doing my dang best; I was freakin’ rocking it!

As Dick Van Dyke often reminds us, sometimes you just have to put on a happy face. Sometimes you have to make your own sunshine.

#Flood #OneofThoseDays #RiseAbove #Flustration #AskUncleMarty


Originally published on the AMBC blog on October 25, 2016.