Saturday, October 21, 2023

The Power of Relationship-Based Business

I want to share the editorial letter I wrote for the November / December 2021 edition of MBC Today (volume 23 issue 6). Following it, I'll share an article that was published in the same edition that I co-wrote with my dear friends and colleagues, Seema and Fahim. This is the article referenced in one of the Ask Uncle Marty letters that I shared in yesterday's from-the-archives post.

The message of relationship-based business practices is something Seema, Fahim, and I have been pushing in our coaching and consulting for years, and something that we've been also promoting heavily through our work with the non-profit AMBC (Association of Mail & Business Centers) for which all three of us are all former board members; Fahim and I are also former board chairs, currently serving as official advisors to the board and ex officio Director of Motivation and Director of Communication, respectively).


Letter From the Editor


"What if the only things we woke up with tomorrow
were the things we expressed gratitude for today?"

Dear Readers,

I've seen and heard the above quote mentioned a few times in different places and different iterations, but can't find where it was first said. Most recently, I read a version of it in Jim Kwik's book, Limitless, which Fahim recommended in a recent issue of MBC Today. Regardless of its origin or exact phrasing, the quote has power. Gratitude is so important. Gratitude reminds us of what truly has value.

Speaking of gratitude, Thanksgiving will be here before we know it, and then the holiday rush will be in full swing. Are you ready for it? I've been connected to this industry for over 30 years, with plenty of holiday shipping seasons under my belt, and I have a gut feeling that this year will be entirely unique. I don't know exactly what to expect (other than to expect the unexpected), but I do know that it's essential that we get ready early and make it the best it can possibly be!

One of the best holiday preparation tips I've heard this year is to order early. Get the supplies you'll need to make it through the holiday shipping rush in hand as soon as possible. With supply chain issues all over the news and their effects very real on our own pending back orders, sourcing frustrations, and feelings of still-in-this-pandemic angst, there's a very good chance that ordering at what you in other years may think is a normal time will in fact be ordering too late. Make sure you have enough thermal labels, receipt paper rolls, tape, boxes, bags, and bubblepack in back stock before the bustling busy season begins.

Send your business's holiday cards as soon as possible so your clients and contacts know you're thinking of them. Decorate early. Blast those festive tunes. Brighten your neighborhood with sparkly displays and colorful lights and spread holiday cheer in your stores with warmth, kindness, and abundant gratitude.

Thank your guests and clients for their loyalty and support through the past nearly two years of trying times. Thank your teams for continuously doing their best to show up and work with you, despite what challenges they may be facing at home or school. Thank your family and friends for their patience with you as you've navigated recent uncertainty. And thank yourself for not giving up, but instead buckling down, pivoting, and growing through it all.

Please enjoy this issue of MBC Today. It's chock full of important articles, reminders, ideas, and stories that speak to gratitude and the relationship-based business model that we push at AMBC. We remain so grateful for all those who submit content, and for all of you who take the time to read this publication cover to cover...and then implement what you've gleaned from it in your businesses and lives.

As this is the November / December MBC Today issue, per tradition we'll be mailing it not only to all of our current AMBC Members, but also as a special gift to all of AMBC's contacts, including former members, prospective members, and friends of our non-profit organization. If you're getting this magazine only once per year, please visit and check out the benefits of membership, then log in to see your current membership status. We sometimes find that folks who get our eblasts and follow our social posts may not realize that they're not actually current AMBC Members and are missing out on so many of the other benefits of membership, including the other five issues of MBC Today that we send out each year. If you have trouble, email and Kim or Brad will get you set up.

I'm really excited to see all of you in Memphis next June! It's been so long since we've been able to have an in-person event and we're gearing up to make AMBC's Meetup in Memphis an outstanding four days of awesomeness, networking, education, and enjoyment. There are so many new AMBC Members to meet and so many old friends to catch up with. I can't wait!

With care and gratitude,


The Power of Relationship-Based Business

by Seema Mojawalla, Fahim Mojawalla, and Marty Johnson
Earlier this fall, on Boss’s Day, Seema, Fahim, and Marty met for a long-overdue dinner. It was the first time the trio had all been together since the pandemic hit and, as they feasted on dish after dish of amazing Turkish food, they talked about their families, friends, businesses, teams, challenges, hopes, and opportunities. As the evening went on, and as their conversations often tend to do, they focused on what they agree to be the be-all, end-all key to their entrepreneurial successes and future growth: a relationship-based business model.
The opposite of relationship-based business is transactional-based business. This is exactly what it sounds like: maximizing the dollar you’re able to get out of someone before they eventually go somewhere else, or, perhaps less cynically, simply seeing each person who comes through your doors as a customer—a transaction, a number, or someone whose name you don’t need to remember because you really don’t care how their experience was or what they say, think, or do next. While the transactional-based business model is all too common and might lead to temporary financial gain for some, it’s not sustainable for the long run. It’s also not going to provide the true success—as in going to bed content that you’ve done the right thing and made a positive impact—that a relationship-based business model will.
Seema, Fahim, and Marty have been teaching and preaching a relationship-based business model for years in their coaching, in their writing, in their classes, in industry forums, and with their teams. Growing the right relationships is essential to thriving in the 21st century business world. So important, in fact, that they wanted to highlight the message once again with some examples from their own experience to show just how valuable positive relationships are.
Schenectady, Scotland, and a Singer
This past summer, an energetic retired couple walked into Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office toting a heavy antique Singer sewing machine. They had just driven almost three hours across Upstate New York to get to Ithaca from Schenectady, based solely on a recommendation from a friend of theirs that Uncle Marty’s was going to give them the best service and packing expertise that they could find anywhere. The Singer machine was very important to them and needed to be packed as safely as possible, then shipped to their daughter in Scotland.
When they arrived and told the Uncle Marty’s team that they had come so far for their service, the team was incredibly touched. And amazed. And humbled. And frankly flabbergasted! Of course, the team did their absolute best packing job on it and the couple’s daughter in Scotland was thrilled when she got it safe and sound. Do you know who recommended Uncle Marty’s to that couple? It was Marty’s former competitor, Joanne.
The word “competitor” is used to give some context, but that term really doesn’t apply in this situation. Before Joanne retired and left the industry last year, she and Marty were more compatriots than competitors. Joanne owned an independent shipping store in the same town, just about a mile away from Uncle Marty’s, and their businesses indeed overlapped on a number of core services. They gave each other space, tried to respect each other’s core strengths and territories, and through it all knew they could count on each other for a little boost, advice, recommendation, or—in a pinch—a bag of peanuts. They never bad-mouthed or attacked one another, and instead built a mutually beneficial relationship. When she retired, Joanne recommended Uncle Marty’s to her friends, family, and clients. It was an outstanding act of grace and kindness, and Marty will be grateful for the snowball effect of that mass endorsement for years to come. And, of course, for telling her friends from Schenectady the best way to get their Singer to Scotland.
Customers Guests
Seema and Fahim don’t allow bad words to be spoken at their store. They don’t use them in their own conversations, they don’t allow their team to use them, and they try their best to limit their guests from using them. It’s a simple choice that makes the environment at their business, Island Ship Center (ISC) in Grand Island, New York, a more positive, inclusive, non-offensive, and welcoming place. Do you know what one of the most-banned bad words at ISC is? It’s the word “customer.” And why is that a bad word? Well, “customer” refers to a transaction—an exchange of money for goods or services with not much deeper value to the interaction or relationship than that.
Instead of “customer,” the ISC family uses the word “guest,” because a guest is someone you invite, welcome, appreciate, go out of your way to accommodate, and try to get to know. A guest is someone you value and want to show your gratitude for. A guest understands that they’re in someone else’s space, and their behavior reflects that understanding just as the ISC family’s behavior reflects the understanding that guests are to be welcomed at ISC just as they’d be welcomed at anyone’s home, with warmth and smiles.
Another word choice that Seema and Fahim make is that team members at ISC are referred to as members of the “ISC family,” not just “employees” or “team members.” It’s another simple vernacular shift that makes a huge difference in individuals’ feelings of value and worth, and in others’ understanding of what type of relationships are important in their company culture.
Rosie’s Wonders
Marty met Rosie at a gift show a number of years ago. She had a booth selling her delightful line of greeting cards, Rosie’s Wonders. Marty loved her line and ordered a small tabletop display, picking out his favorite styles to sell at his shop. The quality of the cards was great and he thought they’d appeal to his market, adding more flavor to his catered, hand-selected mix of unique and hard-to-find greeting cards that Uncle Marty’s has become well known for.
In very short order, the display and cards arrived…and they did quite well. Eventually, when they dwindled on the display, the remnants were mixed into Marty’s big wall of cards so that the floor space in his small shop could be freed up for another new line, continuing the cycle of change and fresh product that is essential to any retail operation.
Rosie’s Wonders and Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office’s business accounts followed each other on Instagram, and every now and then a like would pop up between the two. It was a relationship of appreciation that was established years ago and continues to this day. Then, this past summer, Rosie sent a hand-written postcard (of her own design, of course, and consistent with her distinctive brand), checking in, saying hi, expressing genuine, heartfelt gratitude for that now-years-ago initial order, and offering a discount code in case Marty wanted to do a reorder.
Marty was so impressed! What a shining example of relationship-based business! Of course, he hopped right onto and placed an order for more styles, appreciating some of the new designs Rosie recently released. Right away, Rosie sent a note of thanks for that order and the cards arrived in just a few days—accompanied by an Instagram post sharing with both her and Marty’s audiences that they had been shipped, which Marty reciprocated with a post after they were received.
Border Blocks and Buffalo Bills
Like most businesses, Island Ship Center (ISC) was dramatically affected by the pandemic. Being seven minutes from the Canadian border, ISC has many mailboxes (virtual and physical) for their Canadian guests. Fahim, Seema, and their entire team have personal relationships with every mailbox holder at ISC; they even purchased a separate iPhone in January 2021 to keep in touch with every mailbox and package holding guest via text message, making it easy to connect and follow up with their needs. As a result, they’ve seen an increase in their international shipping (specifically to Canada) by 35% in the past year; many clients who were frequenting other businesses for their mailbox needs switched to ISC’s mailbox and package holding services based on this relationship model and ISC’s service flexibility.
Many U.S.-based clients rely on Seema and Fahim's shipping services based solely on their reputation for excellence and their social media presence, which concentrates on their relationships with clients and their team. One such guest is Sandy from South Carolina, a delightful woman who was originally from Buffalo and had moved to the south to retire. She is a devout Buffalo Bills fan and even has a coveted, signed Jim Kelly football as part of her treasures. When she visited her son recently in the Buffalo area, she picked up all her Buffalo Bills belongings and brought them to Island Ship Center, refusing to take them with her on the plane. She knew that Fahim and Seema would pack and ship her items to her home in South Carolina safely and with much care. When the items arrived, she texted them with glee, “Everything arrived safely, and a day before I was expecting them. You are the best. Thank you so much!” 
Happy feelings like this are what is created from a relationship-based business—one that prides itself on empathy and collaboration. In the end, the transactions are also much greater! ISC is growing its print, mailbox, packing and shipping model gracefully and regularly every month as a result of focusing on guest-centric relationships. 
Cut Out Negativity
Positive relationships are essential, but keep in mind that some people just aren’t going to be your people...and that’s okay. There are jerks, egomaniacs, and all kinds of unkind, selfish people in this world. While you can’t always avoid them completely, you don’t have to give them any more of your time, effort, or emotion than absolutely necessary.
There are times when forming a positive relationship will just be flat-out impossible, and occasionally positive relationships can turn sour. If you find a connection you have with a person, business, or organization has become something that drains you, hurts you, breaks your trust, goes against your code of ethics, or stresses you out too much, do your best to cut it off and let it be.
Since 2017, Marty, Fahim, and Seema have met up in Toronto each fall to attend a summit—a multi-national gathering of entrepreneurs, business leaders, thought provokers, artists, authors, and influencers. There, they’ve learned from amazing minds like Lisa Nichols, Elizabeth Gilbert, Daymond John, Haben Girma, Lewis Howes, Jim Kwik, Simon Sinek, Seth Godin, and dozens of other speakers and attendees. They’ve taken countless pages of notes and applied lessons learned to their personal lives and businesses many times over. The summit has always been a favorite event of theirs and something they valued so much that they upgraded their registrations for the 2020 event.
When the 2020 summit was postponed until 2021, and then again until 2022, eventually landing on a weekend when the trio could not attend, it became apparent that something within the organization that hosts the summit had changed. Not only had the re-rescheduled summit been moved to a difficult weekend when many people would not be free, but there was now a strict no-refunds policy on prepaid registrations for attendees who could not make the new date.
It was a shocking policy. Whether the event’s hosting organization changed hands or they just had a dramatic shift in mindset and heart is unclear. But whatever the cause, the organization had clearly taken a major wrong turn from a relationship-based business model to a transactional-based one, and that was not only unacceptable, but went against the principles Marty, Fahim, and Seema had so gainfully gleaned from the positive, forthright speakers the summit had hosted in years past. Disappointed, the trio had to write it off, unfollow, unfriend, and unsubscribe from the organization…and just let it be.
In Summary
Relationships are found in all areas of business. We build them with our coworkers and teams, with our suppliers, with our carriers, with our drivers, with our communities, with our fellow entrepreneurs, with our neighbors, and with our clients and guests. Like most good things, relationships often start simply with a smile, a kind word, a show of faith, or a little encouragement. Once established, they may take some care to nurture, require a little more effort to build, and then come full circle when they get to the point of trust, advocacy, and genuine care for each other’s best interests. Really, it all boils down to the golden rule: treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself. With this simple formula, you have nowhere to go but up.
Volumes could be written with countless examples of how time and effort invested in forging positive relationships can lead to significant business growth. It’s something Seema, Fahim, and Marty see every single day, without fail. Extra care for a neighbor shipping a piece of artwork can lead to an auction client from whom you bill nearly six figures annually. Upbeat participation in some committees at City Hall can lead to winning a printing bid for the entire gamut of city officials’ business cards, and eventually the municipality’s banners, signs, and custom stationery. Doing your best on a small printing job for one university department’s administrator can open the door to being the go-to printing and shipping solution for dozens of other departments, and eventually earning the business of the university president herself.
There are a number of ingredients to successful positive relationships, including respect, empathy, understanding, trust, and gratitude. Each ingredient is very important; when one is missing, the formula isn’t complete and the magic isn’t wholly there. When you start frequently hearing things like “I hear you’re the place to come to” and “I couldn’t get over how many five-star reviews your business has” and when you start receiving thank you cards and emails from clients and guests who are just so impressed by the experience they had that they had to express their gratitude, then you know you have the magic. This is the sweet spot. This is when a business is on its way to becoming a true success.

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