Monday, June 10, 2024

Rethinking Systems

I absolutely need to get TSA PreCheck. I’ve been putting it off until I get my new address in Delaware after I officially move. It’ll happen soon, but until then I’m still relegated to the long line of regular people at airport security checkpoints. It’s fine. But, my goodness, TSA could truly use a consultant to improve their systems.

What drives me the most nuts is the total lack of communication in the lanes. It would be so simple to put up a sign on each lane clearly stating what comes out of bags and what stays in. One lane has you remove your bag of liquids while the other shouts at you to keep it in your carry-on. And one lane has you take your laptop out of its case while another has you take it out of your bag but leave it in its case, while yet another has you keep it all in your bag.

 

With no signage on each lane as to their specifications, passengers must wait until they’re within earshot of the TSA employee who is so frustrated with saying the same thing over and over again that they come off as very angry when they bellow, “laptops out!” If you ask, they snap at you as if you should know. If you don’t ask and get it wrong, they snap harder. It’s not a good system. The TSA team members are quite obviously frustrated with the shouting system and passengers are sucked of their joy be encountering said shouting TSA team members, when all it would take is a simple sign at the start of each lane outlining what should be done. This would save a ton of time too, as people could prepare ahead of time instead of waiting for the shout to then act, when people are backed up behind them.

 

And what’s the deal with airline boarding zones? Why do the window seat people always board last? Why does the back of the plane board last? Wouldn’t it save a ton of time and angst if they boarded from the back to the front, and from window to aisle?

 

Another passenger I was seated next to recently explained this to me: boarding is done by status, not logic or seat placement. Those with more miles or higher status board first. It’s an ego thing. Those people spend more money and therefore are treated better and get the prime choice of overhead bin space. It’s not efficient or logical, but simply marketing.

 

And I get this. I’m all about airline miles and I covet my diamond status with my preferred hotel chain. But when it comes to boarding, truly there must be a better way.

 

Simply dedicating an overhead bin space for each seat would do it. That’s your space and no one else can put their bag there, so it doesn’t matter what order you board in. Then, First Class and precious clients of the airline can enjoy more elbow room and air in the terminal, boarding last instead of first, and not have to sit in their seats on the plane for an extra half hour while they get whacked in the head by everyone’s backpack as they walk by to board behind them. Makes sense, right?

 

So, TSA, airlines, and the like, do yourselves and hire an efficiency consultant. Don’t assume that the way it is is the way it has to always be. There are simple solutions to these huge bottlenecks you’re experiencing and easy ways to vastly improve morale.

 

And to every other business out there, keep in mind that there’s often a better way. Hire a fresh set of eyes to look at your operations, dig into your financials, survey your clients and team members to find frustration points, and rethink systems to improve efficiency, morale, and the bottom line.

Marty Johnson is the Communication and Vision Coach at AYM High Consultants, a columnist, and an editor, producing the mail and business center industry's leading magazine, MBC Today. In 2023, he sold his popular and growing brand, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, and retired from shopkeeper life to focus on writing and coaching. Subscribe to his Ask Uncle Marty™ newsletter and read more at askunclemarty.com; follow him on socials @askunclemarty. #AskUncleMarty


Article written June 8, 2024, for co-publication on the askunclemarty.com and aymhigh.com blogs.

Difficult People

 

I’ve been writing a bit lately about “the bubble”—that place so many people exist in that’s closed off to so much that is going on around them. It’s been on my mind a lot and I guess I’m just still trying to sort out frustrations I’ve had with so many in my circles lately, and in our society as a whole, who have let the divisiveness of our current political and social climate creep into their lives in so many other areas, putting up walls of opinion instead of putting out hands of friendship.

In traveling a lot lately with my new post-retirement consulting career, I’ve found it fascinating to observe behavior and priorities in different parts of the country. So many people are stuck in their own zone and have no idea the richness that is out there in other zones. Because they don’t make an effort to get out of their bubble and open themselves up to the beauty surrounding them in the rest of the world, they close themselves off to so much abundance and joy that they could experience if they thought about others just as much as they thought about themselves.

I’ve been trying to get my thoughts together on this, frustrated with difficult people I encounter and try my best to navigate on a daily basis. Then recently, I stumbled upon Dealing with Difficult People by Roy Lilley. I’m only into it as far as the introductory chapters so far, but want to read more when I can. Even those first few chapters though capture how I feel much more concisely and thoughtfully than I could. So, I’d like to share some gems from them here, and follow them up with some thoughts of my own…

Gems from the first few chapters of Dealing with Difficult People by Roy Lilley:

  • The six most important words: I admit I made a mistake; The five most important words: You did a good job; The four most important words: What is your opinion?; The three most important words: Would you mind?; The two most important words: Thank you; The one most important words: We; The least important word: I
  • Nice people are not always like you. They will have different backgrounds, educations, life experiences, and perspectives. They will be motivated differently, think differently, and reason differently. But they still can be nice people.
  • Difficult people are most often selfish and inwardly-focused. For them, it’s all about them, so don’t let them get under your skin. The number one rule in dealing with difficult people is to not take it personally. This doesn’t mean you let a rude pig trample all over you, but it does mean you don’t have to get in a bare-knuckle fight.
  • How we treat each other is largely a product of how we feel about each other.
  • Difficult people are predictable people. They are stuck in their ways and all you have to do is maneuver around them, using your brain and not your emotions. 
  • Some difficult people can be hostile, aggressive, belligerent, and offensive—bullies and control freaks, of which there are three basic types: the Sherman tanks, the snipers, and the exploders.
    • The Sherman tanks come out charging. They are abusive, abrupt, intimidating, and overwhelming. They attack individual behaviors and personal characteristics. They bombard you with criticisms and arguments. They usually achieve their short-term objectives, but at the cost of eroded friendships and lost long-term relationships. They have a strong need to prove to others that their view of the world is right. They have a strong sense of how others should act, and they are not afraid to tell them about it.
    • The snipers prefer a more covered approach. They put up a front of friendliness from behind which they attack, often with pot-shots and veiled innuendos and not-so-subtle digs. They often make others look bad in order to try to make themselves look good. They pair their verbal missiles with covers of friendliness.
    • The exploders are characterized by fits of rage-fueled attacks and tantrums that seem barely under control. They react first in anger, followed by either blaming or suspicion.
  • Often, difficult people are complainers, moaners, and groaners, finding fault in everything. They rarely want to find a way to fix the problems they complain about.
  • Difficult people can be know-alls, with an overwhelming need to be recognized for their intellectual abilities. They can promote feelings of anger or resentment in others. They often suffer from lack of self-importance. They can be bullies and appear so certain that they are right that it seems pointless to argue.

And my thoughts from before and after reading the first bit of Roy’s book:

  • Difficult people are often ignorant people. They haven’t given themselves the gift of leaving their safe zone and understanding how the other half lives, thinks, loves, believes, perceives, worships, gives, creates, and exists.
  • Difficult people are often self-righteous people. They often wear the t-shirts and fly the flags and share the memes and post the missives to make it clear what they believe, thinking that blasting their beliefs to others is somehow helping others, when in fact it’s only furthering division. They are not inclusive in their thinking or outreach.  
  • Difficult people are often contentious people. They always want to argue and try to prove their point, even when they know they’re wrong.
  • Difficult people are often defensive people, especially when, deep down, they know they’ve made a mistake or said something they should regret. Instead of apologizing and being humble, they double down and over-share things that their confirmation bias tells them enforces their position.
  • Difficult people are often deflective people. They blame others for everything, living in a victim mindset. They put others down in order to make themselves feel better.
  • Difficult people are often closed-minded. They don’t want to hear what others think about a subject, already deciding in their minds that, in order for them to be right, everyone else must be wrong.
  • Difficult people often don’t accept gray areas. As I tried to dig into in my essay “Good-Neighborliness,” gray areas are essential to living a happy and peaceable life, but difficult people feel the need to define everything as black and white or right and wrong.

As I write this, I’m on a flight. And, as I often do, I’m observing people and their behaviors. Most people, per usual, are not difficult. In a big metal tube, humans have an incredible ability to forgo their usual personal space issues and exude kindness and empathy to their fellow passengers. But, not all…

The man next to me, currently covered from head to knee in a fleece blanket while his arm continuously rubs up against my own, despite me trying to sit as tightly centered as I can in my own seat, held up the entire plane because he didn’t prepare his carry-ons before boarding. He waited until he got to the seat before he had to get organized, open his suitcase, take out aforementioned fleece blanket, and then proceeded to store his suitcase in an overhead bin behind our seat instead of the one with room above it, guaranteeing more disruption when we de-plane and he must go backwards in the aisle while everyone else is trying to go forward.  

Difficult people come in all forms. Most are just simply selfish and/or quite self-unaware. They usually have no clear perception of how ignorant, self-righteous, contentious, defensive, deflective, and closed-minded they can be.

And, you know what? That’s life. That’s humanity. Difficult people will always exist. We can’t let them bring us down. We can’t pander to them, encourage their bad behaviors, or feed their nonsense. We absolutely must rise above, be as kind as we can but also not let ourselves go down the spiral of negativity that they’ve fallen into.

One of my favorite quotes is from Carlos Dominguez: "The only thing we can do about awful people is not be one of them." I'll substitute two words in there to have it say, "The best thing we can do about difficult people is not be one of them."






Marty Johnson is the Communication and Vision Coach at AYM High Consultants, a columnist, and an editor, producing the mail and business center industry's leading magazine, MBC Today. In 2023, he sold his popular and growing brand, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, and retired from shopkeeper life to focus on writing and coaching. Subscribe to his Ask Uncle Marty™ newsletter and read more at askunclemarty.com; follow him on socials @askunclemarty. #AskUncleMarty

Article written June 8, 2024, for co-publication on the askunclemarty.com and aymhigh.com blogs.


Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Going High When They Go Low


I had the great privilege this past weekend—Memorial Day weekend—of helping out at my old business, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office. As many of you know, I sold the business on January 1st of this year, but have continued helping as needed here and there for the past few months during an ownership transition period.

Since I founded the business in 2011, we’ve had a carrier franchise store on our same city block. That store and mine opened the same week, surprising each other, and our relationship has been…interesting…ever since. I’ve never viewed them as competition, as their model is total different than ours and the market is so great that we can each have ample space to do our own thing and grow alongside each other.

The original owners of that business were sometimes okay do deal with. They were often nice to my face, but on the back end we heard lots of scary stories from former team members of theirs, and we also did quite a bit of secret shopping and calling to find out that they were not kind in how they referred to our business, often telling people who inquired over the phone that they had to go elsewhere for the services we provided right around the corner. It was shady, but we took it as flattery because they were so obviously threatened by our presence. To be fair, there were six other independent shipping stores in the area at the time and five of the six ended up shuttering within a few years of us opening our doors—the sixth closing during the pandemic—so we must have been doing something right to gain market share! We did our thing and grew steadily in our lane.

That left just the carrier franchise store and us in town as retail shipping options, aside from the FedEx Office a few miles away and a few other non-threatening things like the Staples UPS counter and others. The carrier franchise store in our neighborhood was sold to new owners a few years ago and the new regime has been much more contentious and aggressive than the previous owners. They do business entirely differently than we do and their model is incredibly transactional while ours was always relationship-based. We wanted people to come back again and again and tell their friends, while they seemingly tried to get as much out of people on one visit as possible without caring if they returned or not. I don’t want to be so negative here, but this is something we heard over and over and over again by guests coming to our store with horror stories of how they were mistreated, disrespected, and gouged.

The old owners of the carrier franchise store were not the most organized or clean, but with the new owners that store looks like a bomb went off inside. It’s complete chaos with stuff piled everywhere—total disorganization. So, we’ve never ever thought of them as any sort of threat. Most people go there and leave immediately, then come to us raving about how much cleaner, neater, and kinder our store and staff are.

Under my ownership, we did our best, despite the animosity that was returned, to be respectful and good neighbors. I ran the neighborhood small business association for years and advocated for all businesses in our neighborhood, theirs included, and we sent people to their business multiple times per day with shipments that could only be processed there because of their exclusivity agreements with the carrier for whom they were a franchise store. We tried our best to be kind, even when they were often not; the new owners of my former business have kept the same mindset and have done their best to be respectful, good neighbors to that carrier franchise store as well.

All of this is to set the stage for what happened this past weekend while I was helping out…

There’s a 30-minute loading zone in front of Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, which I advocated for for years at City Hall and which we were so grateful for when it arrived. Consequently, I also advocated for a loading zone in front of the carrier franchise store around the corner, and they also received one. (You’re welcome, store!) It’s awesome when it works, but often it is filled up with people parking in it for much longer than 30 minutes as people know our city has a very small-staffed traffic enforcement department and an underfunded and understaffed police department, so chances of getting ticketed are very low. Nevertheless, our staff was always very aware of its importance and we tried to set an example of only using it for loading and unloading as it is intended and not for parking.

As our busiest weekend of the year—Cornell graduation weekend when all of the students move out en masse—falls on Memorial Day weekend, the loading zone is a bear. People park in it for days on end, knowing they won’t get ticketed, and it blocks access to our business during the time we need it the most for incoming and outgoing trucks for all of the hundreds of shipments and storage boxes we move in and out daily. This last weekend, during that confusion, there was a white BMW SUV parked in front of our store in the loading zone all weekend, solid. We called the police multiple times, but they never came. Then, on Monday, the busiest day of the year when we were going absolutely crazy, we looked out to find the carrier franchise store owner sitting in said white BMW SUV, sleeping! Yes, sleeping! So, the new owner of my store knocked on his window, woke him up, and asked him to please move because it’s not a parking spot and he was blocking our business. In response, the carrier franchise store owner barked back and told him “Don’t touch my car.” So, I went out and told the man how incredibly gross and disrespectful it was to be parked there, sleeping, and obviously intentionally right in front of our business to block access. It really was disgusting.

The cops never showed up, but the man eventually moved his car. It just completely blew us away. In a world where good-neighborliness is so important and needed, this piece of work has chosen aggressive contentiousness and blatant dishonesty as his modus operandi. It’s so sad—truly heartbreaking.

Because the new owner of my former business is a good soul and shares my mentality of Michelle Obama-ing the situation, going high when others go low, he will do his best to just let it go, keep doing his thing, and keep growing and blooming as he’s been so good at so far. In fact, on that Monday when the carrier franchise store owner had time to nap and play petty games trying to block our business from operating, our store broke every record we had—all time sales, all time customer count, and Memorial Day records all in one. Reading reviews online from the day, Uncle Marty's got only five-star positives while they got only one-star negatives. So, I guess that just goes to show how doing business the right way, being kind, and not letting other people’s nonsense affect you too much really is the key to success.

I shared a quote in my weekly Wednesday Wisdom social media message today that really sums it up, from an unknown author: “A flower does not think about competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.”

So, bloom, my friends. Be kind. Do good by others. Build your neighbors up. Give them space and, even if they get in yours, take the high road. Karma is real and you want to be on its good side.

 





Marty Johnson is the Communication and Vision Coach at AYM High Consultants, a columnist, and an editor, producing the mail and business center industry's leading magazine, MBC Today. In 2023, he sold his popular and growing brand, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, and retired from shopkeeper life to focus on writing and coaching. Subscribe to his Ask Uncle Marty™ newsletter and read more at askunclemarty.com; follow him on socials @askunclemarty. #AskUncleMarty

 

This article was co-published on the AYM High Consultants blog and on askunclemarty.com on May 29, 2024.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Foxwood Cottage

I named my home "Foxwood Cottage." It's nothing fancy—a small white painted brick home just outside the Ithaca, New York city limits in the Town of Dryden. I purchased it in 2018 so I could live closer to my business after spending my first seven years in business commuting an hour each way, six days a week.

Foxwood Cottage was built in 1950 and I'm quite sure the previous owners hadn't updated or decorated it much since they purchased it in 1960. All of the interior walls were obnoxious shades of what I can only describe as "electric pastel" blues, purples, pinks, and greens. The flooring was worn and dated, the garage was full of junk, and there was a mysterious red shed out back that was locked tight, which my coworkers soon nefariously nicknamed the "murder shed," because we had no idea what was inside it. (When we eventually broke into it, we made a big social media deal about it, similar to when Geraldo opened Al Capone's vaults, and also similarly with the let-down that there was nothing at all exciting inside.) The home had a lot of potential, but needed a lot of work.

 Over the years, I did what I could. But, as many of you can relate to, funds weren't abundant because I was reinvesting much of what I made back into my business, and, as a small business owner, time was even less abundant. I'm also not at all handy. Yes, I can build an intricate sculpture, crate, or display out of cardboard—blindfolded—but anything requiring a hammer or a saw is way beyond my skillset. So, much of what I did I had to hire out in small portions—a new roof through a contractor, a handyperson for small jobs, and even some young and hungry team members who did some interior painting for a few bucks and a pizza party.

If you've been following my story, you may know that I sold my business, Uncle Marty's Shipping Office, a few months ago. My then-manager was excited to take over ownership and I needed to move on to new and exciting opportunities in consulting, writing, and my growing editing business. Plus, the thought of semi-retiring at 44-years-old was very enticing (and, let me tell you, so far it's everything I dreamed it could be!) My next chapter will be in Delaware, closer to family whose needs for someone to be close by are increasing. So, once the business sale was finalized, my next move was to get Foxwood Cottage ready to list so I could make my move.

I reached out to Kelly, the Realtor® who sold me Foxwood Cottage in 2018 and someone who has become a dear friend of mine over the years. She has been incredibly kind and patient with me as I've taken her on many a wild goose chase while warehouse shopping to meet the growing storage needs of my business for the storage service we provide to our market, land shopping with the idea of putting up storage units to expand our storage offerings, and just a year or so ago my musings with moving into a condo. None of that panned out, as I ended up renting warehouse space and forgoing the condo and storage unit ideas, but nonetheless Kelly put up with all of the many, many searches and property visits I asked her to help with.

Kelly is an absolute pro. In the five-plus years I've known her, she's been featured on House Hunters whenever HGTV comes to the Ithaca area and needs a rockstar Realtor®, as well as taking over her whole real estate office and growing an incredible team under her leadership. And, even though Foxwood Cottage is small beans in the market she now works in, she was incredibly excited and gracious to take on my listing personally.

Kelly gave me great advice on timing, strategy, and what to do / what not to do to get Foxwood Cottage ready to list. She allowed me to write the copy (as a writer / editor who has obsessive compulsive tendencies, she knew I'd prefer to do that myself...with her guidance) and hired an incredibly talented photographer and videographer to do professional home photos. About 20 years ago, while living in New York City and doing visuals, display, and window design for the flagship Banana Republic store in Rockefeller Center, I also moonlighted as a high-end apartment stager, joining a team who would go into multi-million dollar apartments in Manhattan and Brooklyn, pulling appropriate furniture and décor from a staging warehouse and making the properties appealing to potential buyers. We always wanted to make them warm, depersonalized from the belongings that were previously inside them, and staged so that anyone could see themselves eating a meal or relaxing by the fireplace. So, I had a good idea of what needed to be done to Foxwood Cottage to get it ready: all personal photos came down, the table was set with wine glasses and fancy napkins, the main TV got moved from the living room to a cozy viewing nook in the sunroom, a gym area that I didn’t use nearly enough got expanded and polished, beds were impeccably made with towels in the guest rooms to allow viewers to imagine rental possibilities at Foxwood Cottage, toilet paper was folded into a hotel-like triangle at its end, all area rugs were washed and fluffed, the pantry and fridge were purged, fresh fruit was arranged in a bowl, the rusty mailbox pole got a fresh coat of paint, fresh flowers and a spring wreath graced the outside, and, of course, a tray of fresh pastries with tea napkins awaited all of the open house guests as they entered.

The listing went active last week. And today, less than four days on the market, Kelly presented me with seven offers; I accepted a cash offer at 20% above listing price! All being well, we'll close in early July and then at the end of August or early September my new townhome in Delaware will be finished and I can move in. In the interim, I'll be traveling, staying with family, and enjoying this new normal that I've come to embrace over the past five months of being retail store-free.

Why share all of this with you? It's because I want to drive home what can be possible with setting intentions, planning, staging, and trusting an expert for the things that you don't know about. If I hadn't seen the potential in Foxwood Cottage, made smart improvements without overinvesting, listened to my top-notch Realtor®, and timed the sale just right, I wouldn't have gotten so many offers. There are homes on my street that have been on the market for months, just sitting there, not staged, overpriced, and basically just kind of drab and unappealing. But not Foxwood Cottage. Foxwood Cottage was ready—an attractive, thoughtful, well-timed listing years in the making with the best team behind it.

I've been having a lot of discussions with clients and colleagues lately about exit strategy. Many are curious about how I sold my business and what I did to prepare. It's not something that will often happen by accident, but something that must be constantly thought of and worked toward. Just like with investing in a home and doing updates with the end goal of resale top-of-mind, so too is the case with a business. Systems, team member empowerment, lists, manuals, policies, and so much more add so much value to a business for when the time comes to eventually sell it. And isn't that the end goal of all of us who are or have been small business owners?

If you haven't yet, start working on your business and not so much in your business, as we hear so often touted at industry events. Start putting systems in place. Write things down. Make them pretty. Make the business attractive to a potential buyer. Market with intention. Brand with intention. Create a team that takes things off of your plate and is trusted to take on duties to grow clients, manage systems, and streamline processes. Trust them! Ask them to help you think about everything through fresh ideas and perspectives. Lean on their other-generation experience and mindsets to understand how to meet new markets and appeal to new people.

Anything is possible if you are intentional and goal-oriented. Don't leave it to chance. Yes, we hear about people who get very lucky when offers come in off the street to buy them out, but if you're serious about wanting to sell your business someday then start now with making smart choices to set it up for success. You can do it. I promise.





Marty Johnson is the Communication and Vision Coach at AYM High Consultants, a columnist, and an editor, producing the mail and business center industry's leading magazine, MBC Today. In 2023, he sold his popular and growing brand, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, and retired from shopkeeper life to focus on writing and coaching. Subscribe to his Ask Uncle Marty™ newsletter and read more at askunclemarty.com; follow him on socials @askunclemarty. #AskUncleMarty

This article was co-published on askunclemarty.com and on the aymhigh.com blog on May 9, 2024. It was originally written on May 1.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Who's on Your Bus?

 


AYM High Consultants coach Steve Merrick, in speaking at industry events for many decades as a coach and motivator from the ’90s to present day, often asks audience members, “Who’s on your bus?” It’s impactful. His coaching often focuses on the team players who you network with, on whom you can call when needed for different areas of expertise.

The concept of “Who’s on your bus?” comes from Jim Collins’ bestseller business leadership book, Good to Great, which we highly, highly recommend. In this video clip, Jim explains the “Who’s on your bus?” concept a little more:

Recently, Fahim had an experience that reminded him starkly about the importance of having the right people on his team…

We’ve all clicked on the wrong site from time to time, and Fahim recently, in trying to get some artwork together for a client, followed a Google rabbit hole onto a shady free-to-print site that accidentally downloaded a virus to one of the Island Ship Center (ISC) stations. Within minutes, Fahim took a picture of the virus results and sent them to Aaron, the IT consultant who Fahim and the ISC family have a relationship with.

Within 15 minutes, Aaron had remotely accessed the ISC computers, removed the virus, and everything was back to normal. So much time and energy and expense would have been wasted if Fahim didn’t have the right person at the right time to help with the situation. Aaron was on Fahim’s bus, and because of that a potentially disastrous situation was averted.

Your bus doesn’t only consist of your colleagues, contractors, vendors, and external team, but in so many more ways it also consists of your immediate team—coworkers, colleagues, and business partners. How you treat your team, how you source, vet, and mold the right people to join your team, and how you groom your team to take on more and more leadership roles to take more and more off your plate is essential.

Marty recently sold his business, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, to his then-manager, Clark, and Clark’s fiancé, Codey Noel. Clark had been with Marty for five years before buying him out; Clark’s sister, Aleah, was Marty’s first long-term team member, followed soon after by Clark, their brother, Callum, and their mom, Julie. Family friends also joined the team as well as Ryan, the husband of Clark’s third sibling, Emma. Though not related to Marty by blood, together they truly made Uncle Marty’s a family business…and the culture of the enterprise reflected that intention.

Marty chose to not call his staff “employees,” but rather “team members” and “coworkers” (and, often, his “work kids.”) This vernacular was chosen on purpose to empower each coworker to feel truly like they were part of the family business they created, and most of the growth that the business saw over the 12 and a half years that Marty was at the helm can be attributed to the team that guided it together. As a result, Clark felt so invested and saw so much potential that he wanted to fully take over.

In just under five months since the business sale, Clark and Codey Noel have broken many of Marty’s records, have a second Uncle Marty’s location scheduled to open in June, and are even in talks with a new office complex to open a third location in 2025! The sale was a win-win-win: win for Marty to be able to semi-retire and focus on coaching and writing; win for Clark and Codey Noel to take over a growing business with huge potential; and a win for the business to have fresh, young blood taking the reins and guiding it to significantly more growth, profit, and community involvement.

Fahim and his wife, business partner, best friend, and the president to his vice presidency, Seema, also have done an amazing job in selecting and sculpting a team. However, like any worthwhile endeavor, it took time. There were a lot of very hard lessons learned along the way and some very difficult choices that had to be made in letting the wrong people go in order to attract and cultivate the right people. It’s an ongoing process, as it always will be with any growing business, but right now their team is top-notch, A-plus, dream team material. Seema and Fahim don’t call their staff “employees” either, but rather they refer to them as the “ISC Family.” And that simple language shift reflects in the cohesion and vestment that the ISC Family members wear proudly on their purple sleeves.

ISC’s current manager, Jasmine, has been a godsend. She didn’t come from the print, shipping, mail, and business center industry. Her background is in sustainability, and the skills and perspective she brought to ISC were invaluable. Her attitude is outstanding, her investment in the business is superlative, and her empowerment as Chief Experience Officer (which they chose to title her instead of the less-exciting title of “Manager”) has made a huge impact on the business. Just as Marty’s team came from outside of the industry, so has most of Seema and Fahim’s team.

We often coach at AYM High to “Hire the smile and train the skills,” which is an adage hammered into Marty by his parents, Cindy and Dub, from their nearly 20-year stint as outstanding industry leaders and owners of a three-store chain of Pack & Mail stores in the ‘90s and ‘00s. Attitude trumps skills any day of the week. We’d much rather see someone who treats guests with kindness and patience than a know-it-all with a snarky demeanor any day of the week.

Your attitude as a business owner or manager is also of the upmost importance. What you say and what you do has to be in sync. Authenticity, realness, and words-actions symbiosis is imperative. When it’s not in sync, everything suffers. You absolutely must be the best example to your team and coworkers if you want them to work, lead, and treat guests and clients with integrity, honesty, and…above all…smiles, smiles, smiles!

Chad Gono, CEO of Regal Plastics and a LinkedIn influencer Fahim follows, recently posted a photo with a sign that reads, “I used to think people only switched jobs for money. Now I realize people are looking for respect and a healthy environment!” To that, we say #Truth!

Fahim journals daily and every now and then will share his journal entry with Marty for encouragement and inspiration. While a journal is personal, Marty convinced Fahim to allow him to share a recent journal entry in this article with all of you, as it’s so pertinent to the point we’re trying to make. While not intended to be made public, we hope that the following entry from Fahim’s journal from April 8, 2024 will be inspirational to you and give you a little glimpse into what’s at the heart of someone who leads with empathy, respect, collaboration, and gratitude:


“Today was the day of the solar eclipse, an event that last took place in Buffalo / Niagara Falls 125 years ago! Similar to that time, today’s event was eclipsed by cloudy skies. However, the event was magnificent nonetheless. For 10 minutes, the day changed to night in front of our eyes, the temperature dropped, and the majesty of creation was visible for all to see, as the moon covered the sun 99.32%! And then, just as quickly it had come, the event was over, the light returned, and ironically the sun shone brighter than before the eclipse, since the clouds also vanished with the passing of the moon. How symbolic was this event to our lives, I thought. For those who try to be the sunlight for others, we get eclipsed by dark events and forces in our lives, seeming to have lost our own light. But, if we just wait out those moments with persistent patience, our light can actually pierce through, and shine brighter than before, allowing us to make an even greater impact on the lives of others. You see, we don’t lose by giving our light to others, rather we gain even more light. Such is the law of the sun, the universe, and the land. So, give off your light to everyone, and know that some may try to eclipse you, only to allow you to shine brighter than before. When we swim upstream, trying to force our muscles to work harder, we develop quicker than when we swim with the current.” #FahimFix

(And, yes, Fahim signs many of his personal journal entries with his own hashtag, #FahimFix.)

The seatmates on your bus need to be invited. Your coworkers, team members, business family members, close colleagues, vendors, and, yes, your mentors and coaches, need to be chosen with intention. Don’t give seats to those who choose negativity, who constantly complain, and who prefer to always be victimized and cast blame instead of rising above, taking responsibility, helping others get through touch challenges, and becoming better. Give seats to those whose light shines bright and not to those who eclipse others’ lights. Invite busmates who know that clouds pass and the sun is always behind them, no matter what.

Please, think hard about who’s on your bus, then do some seat-shifting to put the right people in the right places. Who can you depend on to help grow your business? Who can you call in an unexpected situation who has the experience, knowledge, and ability to help? Who has the positive, rise-above, meet-the-challenge-and-then-overcome-it attitude and bright light to shine that you’ll give those special seats next to you to? Choose with intention. And don’t be afraid to stop the bus and let someone off who’s not filling their seat properly. Only then can the bust move forward with precision and drive to get you to a destination better than you could have imagined.

We hope you’ll save us a seat.



Fahim Mojawalla is the Motivation and Mission Lead at AYM High Consultants. He loves what he does and would love to show you how to make 21st century sales and marketing easy, simply by being authentic, appreciative, respectful, responsive, empathetic, collaborative, and all-around awesome. Along with his wife Seema, he is an effervescent co-owner of Island Ship Center, the Spa of Shipping. #FahimFix

 



Marty Johnson is the Communication and Vision Coach at AYM High Consultants, a columnist, and an editor, producing the mail and business center industry's leading magazine, MBC Today. In 2023, he sold his popular and growing brand, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, and retired from shopkeeper life to focus on writing and coaching. Subscribe to his free Ask Uncle Marty™ newsletter and read more at askunclemarty.com; follow him on socials @askunclemarty. #AskUncleMarty

 

Article co-published at aymhigh.com and askunclemarty.com on April 25, 2024.




Saturday, April 13, 2024

Wednesday Evenings with Gary

Gary’s obituary calls him a “renaissance man,” and I couldn’t think of a better description for that smart, funny, eclectic, and entirely odd and quirky 85-year-old friend of mine.

Gary was a brilliant painter, musician, scientist, arborist, cook, gardener, and part-time philosopher. He worked for many years in the chemistry department at Cornell and, together with his wife of nearly 61 years, Florence, built a beautiful home in the forest all by hand, all by themselves. They filled that home with violins that Gary built and/or refurbished and brilliant paintings of local waterfalls and scenery that he meticulously created, surrounded it with gardens that they both cared for, and filled it with a family that they loved dearly.

I’ve known Florence and Gary almost my whole life, as family friends and as part of the same church fellowship. And for many years now, I’ve lived in the same town as them and have been meeting with them on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. On Sundays we usually have a larger group, but for our Wednesday evening Bible studies it’s usually just a few of us—sometimes four, often three, and not too rarely just me and Gary; Florence has been quite ill for years and not often able to participate in our time together much anymore, so she just listens in from her bed when she’s able.

My Wednesday evenings with Gary have been such a treat, and there’s something special I’ve really come to appreciate about the times when it was just him and me together studying a chapter. He had a very active, imaginative, and creative mind, yet got so simple and so sincere when he spoke about things spiritual. No matter what story we read or what topic we studied, Gary would often find a way to bring it back to the basics: childlike love and having a good spirit.

Gary loved Galatians 5 and the bits about the characteristics of the fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience (or longsuffering / forbearance), kindness, generosity (or goodness), faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (or temperance)—those qualities that come when God’s spirit is in control in someone’s life, overruling the less desirable qualities of our human nature. Gary would bring it back to those nine simple things again and again, often looking for those key themes in any chapter we were reading to try to identify what he felt he should be focusing on. He would often say that he thought about these “fruits,” as he called them, not because he felt he had them all, but because he knew he needed more of each.

Gary also loved Matthew 5, 6, and 7, which is where Jesus gave the famous sermon on the mount. He would often say that “if that’s the only part of scripture we have, it’s all we need.” And that’s so true. He’d talk about how often Jesus used the example of children and the importance of having a childlike trust and a childlike love. It wasn’t uncommon for Gary to tear up, genuinely so sincere and forthright, when he’d talk about this. He was honest in his deep desire to simplify his love and increase his trust.

Gary had plenty of opinions, ideas, and idiosyncrasies, and I think it’s safe to say that he—just like any of us who are indeed very human—wasn’t entirely perfect. But the Gary I got to know and love, especially the last few years as he cared for Florence after her strokes and through her growing dementia and expanding need for outside caregivers, became increasingly soft, gentle, loving, and caring. For a long, long time before Florence got sick, Gary would sleep outside in a tree house. It was just one of the odd things that made him special. But, since her needs increased, he did something he didn’t like to do—sleep indoors—and he did it willingly because he knew that’s where he was needed. I think that speaks volumes about who Gary was, deep in his heart.

This past Wednesday, I was on my way out the door to head to Gary’s for our regular Wednesday evening study when I got a call that they had just found Gary sitting in his favorite chair, lifeless. I had been texting with Gary earlier that morning and all seemed well, and his son had checked on him in the early afternoon and Gary was joking around and in good spirits. But, between shifts of Florence’s caregivers, Gary must have sat down in his chair and, just like that, checked out. What a way to go!

Gary’s funeral is Tuesday. Hopefully that gathering of friends and family will be an honor to the good buddy many of us had in that odd, quirky, wonderful old man. Then Wednesday will come the next day, and it’ll be different. I’m sure that, wherever Wednesday evenings find me from now on, Gary’s memory will be ever present.

https://www.ness-sibley.com/obituary/VGary-Davenport

Friday, April 12, 2024

Firing a Client

Ugh. The thought of firing a client makes you cringe, doesn’t it? At least, if you’re a conflict avoider like I am, it’s a very unpleasant situation to find yourself in. But, it occasionally is necessary.

I’ve only had to do this a handful of times, and I admit I let it go way too far before I pulled the trigger. But you know what? As my dear friend Fahim says, you often have to “say no so you can grow.” Hanging on to those who are a drain and not a boost does harm, both to you and to them. It harms you by sucking away your time, energy, and zest, and it harms them by leading them on, hand-feeding them, and not allowing them to leave the nest and make it on their own.

This world is full of takers—those people who want as much as they can get for free without putting in the investment of time or resources that others put in for the same thing. And the world is also full of abusers—those people who feel that they can treat others disrespectfully or as if they were less-than in order to make themselves feel more important. Takers and abusers should never be pandered to, because in doing so you just reinforce their bad behaviors. Takers can sometimes be given a little more grace in hopes that they’ll eventually see value and become a client, however abusers must not be tolerated and need to be fired. Immediately.

Firing a client is like ripping off a bandage—painful, but necessary. One of our clients recently had to do this to someone who had been verbally abusive to their staff over an issue that wasn’t actually an issue, and they put their foot down. They told that person point blank that they’re no longer permitted to do business at their establishment, as mistreatment and abuse of their staff will absolutely not be tolerated. I applauded this! It’s so important to set a standard and to not let those who feel that they can get away with that type of behavior.

Please note that, when firing a client, just like when firing a team member, you need to be very clear with the reason why you’re doing it. It needs to be done with cause and not because of a simple ideological disagreement, personality clash, or other non-threatening reason. I want to be very clear that I believe wholeheartedly in businesses who have an inclusive, welcoming, love-all, serve-all mission. But when a client is being mean and that meanness crosses over into abuse, then my goodness you need to protect your staff and your business and get rid of that client. In doing so, be sure to outline the cause, be specific, and be very clear that you’re well within your rights to cut them off because of it.

Sometimes firing—or at least putting up a firm boundary—can and should be more gentle, especially in the case of takers…and especially especially in the case where those takers may not realize that they’re being takers. At AYM High Consultants, we’ve been recently having some discussions on how we make sure we honor our dedicated, paying clients with our best resources and time. While we want to do our best to accept outreach from others and potential clients and those who just book an initial 30-minute call but don’t go further, our managing partners find themselves fielding inquiries and one-off questions most of the day from those who seem to want free advice but not commit to our full coaching. So, we had to come up with a kind, polite response to let them know that we had to limit that contact unless they wanted to sign up. Here’s what we came up with:

Thank you so much for reaching out. We must respect our clients who have subscribed to our Monthly Accountability Package and above by reserving our time and resources for their outreach. We'd love it if you would join them so we can assist you further! Please check out https://www.aymhigh.com/packages to see all of our offerings and how we can best be your partner in success.

We’re not outright firing those people, as we do hope they’ll come on board as true clients and see the value in doing so. Instead, we’re protecting those who have put their hard-earned resources into an investment with our coaching, and in turn are finding themselves growing their businesses exponentially and covering that wise investment again and again. It’s our responsibility—as limited humans with limited time and limited patience—to be very careful with those resources, giving them to those who appreciate and value it the most.

Knowing your worth and your value is so important. We coach people at AYM High all the time about this very basic concept and guide them to pricing strategies so they don’t sell themselves short. So many people—and I’ve been here so often, learning from much experience—consistently and gravely undervalue their time and expertise. If you are a professional, an expert, a specialist, or someone with knowledge, skill, and information that’s unique and specialized, then you have tremendous value.

It's your right and responsibility to put up boundaries for clients who are being takers, and to outright fire—with cause—those clients who are being abusive. It’s not fun, but it’s important. Your peace of mind after it’s done will be well worth it.

 

Marty Johnson is the Communication and Vision Coach at AYM High Consultants, a columnist, and an editor, producing the mail and business center industry's leading magazine, MBC Today. In 2023, he sold his popular and growing brand, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, and retired from shopkeeper life to focus on writing and coaching. Subscribe to his Ask Uncle Marty™ newsletter and read more at askunclemarty.com; follow him on socials @askunclemarty. #AskUncleMarty

This article was co-published on the AYM High Consultants blog and on askunclemarty.com on April 12, 2024.


Thursday, April 11, 2024

One of Those Days

 


When it rains, it pours…

Have you ever had “one of those days?” You know, the ones where, right from the start, everything just seems off. Those are the day when, if bad news is going to come, it’s going to come in droves; when coffee is guaranteed to not only spill, but to stain your white shirt; when you’ll stub your toe on the coffee table you walk by just fine any other day; when your cat will leave you a gift that you’ll somehow step on perfectly on target in the dark; when you can’t find that document that you know you were looking at just the other day; when you just want to get back in bed and start over again.

I’m in the middle of one of those days right now. So far, I’m still spill-free (though, anyone who knows me knows that even just a normal day spill-free is a stretch for me, so I’m sure that’ll change any moment) and haven’t stubbed my toe…yet. Sparing you the gory details, let’s just say that, so far, today has been a doozy.

We often hear that our character is built just as much by our reactions as it is by our actions, and I believe that to be very true. Yet, our reactions are often much harder to control than our actions. It’s situations that come up—storms, trials, hardships, tragedies, surprises, or so many other things—that test us. If you want to get spiritual, it’s the fire that purifies us, as is a concept of many prominent faiths. The road of life is not smooth cruising, nor is it intended to be, but rather it’s the obstacles, roadblocks, speedbumps, detours, and traffic jams we encounter along the way that, as cliché as it sounds, “build character” and give us the experience, training, development, muscles, and scars that give us value and allow us to find that gold that’s deep inside everyone.

We all have “one of those days” from time to time. They’re not fun, but I believe they’re good for us. The tragedy of those days would be if we didn’t learn from them or grow alongside them. So, after the bursts of expletives are over, the tears are shed, the anxiety peaks, and the heart stops racing, when you do have a day that’s unpleasant, do yourself a favor and take a moment alone to debrief after it’s done so you don’t miss the little golden nuggets that just may have come to the surface during the upheaval.

So, today, as I sort through the muck of the day, I need to remember that this is polishing muck. This is a mud bath. This is going to make me appreciate good things more and have more patience when things don’t work out as planned; this trains my adaptivity muscles and prepares my pivoting neurons; this strengthens my resolve and reminds me, once again, of the big picture and what is really ultimately important.

Tomorrow will be a good day!

 

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Marty Johnson is the Communication and Vision Coach at AYM High Consultants, a columnist, and an editor, producing the mail and business center industry's leading magazine, MBC Today. In 2023, he sold his popular and growing brand, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, and retired from shopkeeper life to focus on writing and coaching. Subscribe to his Ask Uncle Marty™ newsletter and read more at askunclemarty.com; follow him on socials @askunclemarty. #AskUncleMarty


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This article was co-published on the AYM High Consultants blog and on askunclemarty.com on April 11, 2024.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Dumpster Delight

Here’s a sentence I didn’t imagine myself writing: I just had the most delightful experience with a dumpster!

As I’ve mentioned recently, I’m in the process of getting my house ready to list. Part of that process includes the need for a dumpster for some renovation scrap, as well as to purge some accumulations from many years in the shipping and storage business that have piled up in my garage.

A few years ago, I had to rent a dumpster for another project. I shopped around and came across a company that blew its competitor out of the water on price—nearly half of what the big go-to garbage conglomerate in our area was charging. So, I went with Bellisario. I remember it being a very good experience and that they were very easy to work with, so for this current dumpster rental I went back to them.

Let me tell you, this time I was not only impressed by a very good experience, but it’s safe to say I was quite surprised and delighted by the ease, rates, and overall positive vibes I got from renting a big metal box. My colleague, friend, and mentor Fahim has a tagline in his mission that he aims to “make the mundane extraordinary,” and I feel like Bellisario must share that same directive.

The Bellisario website was so easy to use and book a dumpster, with clear options, fair and up-front pricing, and an outlined process that makes even the most dumpster-unfamiliar people feel comfortable. After booking, a few days later I got a call at a reasonable morning 10 a.m. hour (something so important, yet often so overlooked by early-morning businesses like those in the construction field tend to be) from the most chipper person I think I’ve ever received a call from, telling me he was outside with the dumpster and just wanted to be sure he placed it in the spot I preferred it to be in. I was home, so I went outside to wave at the driver as he dropped the dumpster exactly on target, considering easy of loading and back panel opening, and couldn’t help but keep a ridiculous grin on my face because of the overarching joy that this dumpster deliverer shared. Is it weird to say that I’m thoroughly looking forward to filling it up this week? To top it off, the dumpster is like super new and super clean; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dumpster in such great shape!

Being a small business owner for many years, I believe strongly in supporting local when possible, as well as uplifting those companies whose service and fairness is top-notch. So, I just must share how pleased I am with Bellisario. This likely is my last Ithaca-area dumpster rental, but for any of my friends still in the Finger Lakes region, if you ever need to haul away some trash, please give them a shot. You will be both surprised and delighted.

And for those who are wondering what the secret sauce is in business, as is a question I get asked a lot in my coaching, it's really quite simple. Take my friend Fahim's advice and "make the mundane extraordinary." Surprise and delight your guests and clients with an experience that they will not just enjoy, but they'll want to share with others. Do your best...and then some. Go above and beyond. Provide more value than expected. Be relationship-oriented and not focused on one-and-done transactions. With that, you can join the ranks of Bellisario in finding huge success...and sleeping soundly at night, knowing that in your little area you're making a big difference, putting positivity into a world that so desperately needs it, and being a very good neighbor.

Marty Johnson is the Communication and Vision Coach at AYM High Consultants, a columnist, and an editor, producing the mail and business center industry's leading magazine, MBC Today. In 2023, he sold his popular and growing brand, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, and retired from shopkeeper life to focus on writing and coaching. Subscribe to his Ask Uncle Marty™ newsletter and read more at askunclemarty.com; follow him on socials @askunclemarty. #AskUncleMarty

This article was co-published on the AYM High blog and askunclemarty.com on April 2, 2024.