A Christmas Revelation

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By: Guest Author, Lorac

While I waited for my ride in the relative comfort and warmth of the historic building’s entry hall, the woman opposite me caught my eye. She stood outside, in the cave of a cold, stone entryway of the shabbier, old building across the street. The icy, unrelenting wind roared around her, swirling up her summer-weight, lavender print, ruffled muumuu revealing mismatched white athletic socks, one edged with a wide band of Christmas red, and the other with Buffalo Bills blue. Only a top button secured her dingy grey jacket, which had long lost its puffy, insulated warmth. Her size did not allow for complete closure of the coat, so she gripped the edges together over her ample chest with her bare cold-cramped, right hand. She covered her straight, grey hair with a bright red, plaid neck scarf, looped securely under her chin against the biting icy gusts. Her left arm held a faux alligator purse which held treasures known only to her … and which she frequently inspected.

My first instinct was to feel sorry this woman. Then, I started to wonder about her. Who was she? How old is she? (Since I am approaching my golden years, I always wonder if a person I meet is younger, or if I am. I have acquired this quirk as a new senior.). On I reflected … where was she going? Is she waiting for someone? What is her life like? What WAS her life like? Is she happy? Is she excited about the coming holiday season? Did she fuss before a mirror to get dressed for this outing?

As I mused, she suddenly turned and opened the streaked glass and tarnished copper door, flashing the bright, silver reflective Nike symbols on her white sneakers as she crossed the threshold into the lobby of the building. I was disappointed to see her leave without any more clues to enlighten my imaginings about her. No sooner did that thought cross my mind when she re-appeared, now with a small change purse in her left hand. With her stiff right hand, she pulled out what appeared to be a large coin, a quarter, perhaps, and flashed it to a young man who crossed the street toward her … possibly a friend. She called a greeting, smiled broadly, revealing a few missing teeth, and spoke a few words to him. Unfortunately, I could not hear what they said from the cocoon of my warm refuge filled with inviting restaurant smells and Christmas music. I could see, however, that he responded; then they both laughed, and he went on his way. She stepped back inside again, only to once again re-appear, this time stuffing something into her side pocket and gripping her change purse close to her chest. She smiled and chatted to yet another passer-by, and I realized that she seemed quite content to “hold court” in this archway. Perhaps these individuals were part of her social circle inside that forbidding (to me) old building.

I noticed heavy drapery from another era in the windows of the building, which served as a hotel of sorts. Perhaps one of the rooms I spotted a few floors up was hers, or a gathering spot for chats, bingo, and games with her family of friends. Perhaps she left this refuge to wait for a bus to take her to a long-awaited destination – a Christmas party, possibly, with a hot, nourishing lunch, treats, candy, and gifts in gaily-wrapped packaging tied with festive bows. I do not know. I can only hope it is so.

I will never see her again, or have the answers to my questions. Nevertheless, this I do know. This woman, shabby and down on her luck, at least in my eyes, has her purpose here on earth, just as we all do. Was she one of those classic Christmas Angels that you read about this time of year, who was earning her wings, like Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life? Did God send her to stand in front of me to make me aware of the fact that His children come in all sizes, shapes, and from all lifestyles? Did she appear to make me, and perhaps you, determine to make better the lives of the people she represented?

I know what the experience did for me … it gave me a call to action. Perhaps this story will strike a chord with you and you will make something fabulous happen for those less fortunate. After all, Christmas and Hanukkah are the seasons of miracles. Three rich and powerful kings traveled, guided only by a star and a yearning, to worship a newborn baby in a stable, hoping he was the promised Messiah – and he was; and an ancient lamp burned, miraculously, for 8 days on one day’s worth of oil. Our current miracle may have happened on a frigid and blustery day in Downtown Buffalo. What do you think? Oh, listen, I think I hear a bell tinkling somewhere … do you think our lady has earned her wings?

 

About Lorac:

Our newest guest blogger, Lorac, has been writing since the 80’s when life turned uninteresting. To release the boredom, Lorac dashed off a trilogy of stories and took them to the owner of the local newspaper in their small tourist ski town in the northeast. He liked them. Lorac got the job. Over the years, writings by Lorac became a fixture as the town grew exponentially into the now famous Ellicottville, New York, home to Holiday Valley which has ranked in the top five ski towns in the north east for many years.

Lorac has created tourist materials for the town, and created an annual parade in the middle of winter, on a state highway, at night, which might give you a view into the personality of our blogger. Lorac has managed one of Ellicottville’s top restaurants, written for the top quality Buffalo Magazine through its lifetime, is a part time lay preacher, was involved with establishing the first hospice in the Buffalo NY. area, was one of the first in Buffalo to hold a NYS certified EMT card, and helped to establish the first FAST (First Aid Simulation Team) in NYS.

Lorac says there’s a funny dog story attached to this one. Perhaps we’ll read it someday. One of this writer’s favorite positions was with the Seneca Nation of Indians as a Project Manager in charge of procuring doctors and other medical personnel for the Nation’s two health centers, which involved developing, scripting a first ever video of the Seneca Nation while being taught the ancient Seneca language by one of their revered elders. A parent of 3, grandparent of 4 (tot to teen), Lorac enjoys writing, gardening, DYI projects, cooking, the smell of sawdust, chocolate, fried chicken and gasoline, and is, naturally, a voracious reader.

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The Power of Passion

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Passion is key to professional success. Without passion, you have nothing worth waking up for and heading into the office to build. A successful business begins with finding something you can throw yourself and your heart into.

When you work passionately with affecting change as your goal, the bottom line will follow.  A passion-based business always has at its core meeting your target market’s need.

Ask The Questions

In order to meet a need, you must first identify it. This process may take time because you cannot meet a need in a void. You need to get into the minds of your target market to understand fully what they need and how they’ll use it.

You cannot sit in an ivory tower, brainstorm what “they” want, and put it out there. The trick is for you to figure out how to discover what “they” need and make that happen. Do this by asking questions, listening to the answers, and then building your business around that gap. Fill the void.

Create your products or round out your concept based on what is missing in the marketplace. Ask yourself:

  • Are you building something to appease an individual, or is it a solitary offering?
  • Is it intended for a patient and a doctor or is it a patient and caregivers (family/friends)?
  • Is your product one that already exists, yet you feel you have a “better mousetrap” to offer?
  • Will your product/service speak to multiple generations? If so, do you need revisions within your product/concept in order to make it that much better of a fit?

Listen to the Answers

Of course beyond asking the questions is listening to the answers. Listen without bias, without editing, and with an open heart. When you listen this way, you’ll be able to push your passion through to fruition in a way that will be well received by those you intend to serve most.

When you’ve begun from a passionate position, asked the right questions, listened to the answers, and responded with a product or service that fills a void, you’re well on the way to securing buy-in from customers and investors alike.

Confirm Buy-in

Always confirm buy-in from your target market by reaching out to early adopters and brand advocates. What do these customers need to know about your business in order to feel comfortable parting with their money? Ask them what they need to ensure their commitment? Today’s savvy consumers are bombarded with purchase options and need assurance your product or service is perfect for them. Having social proof in the form of devoted customers gives that buying confidence.

Whether it’s a new product line in fashion or food, rebranding your existing business, conceptualizing new ways to connect patients to healthcare providers, or something as lofty as launching a bank, having a successful product or service is all about bringing your passion to fruition. You’ll do that through asking and listening and acting in a way that fills a marketplace void and meets your target market’s needs.

So, here’s to passion-based projects and affecting change! Here’s to business done in a way that shifts the power from the bottom line to the bottom of your consumer’s hearts.

Work With Us

Bringing in an objective and unbiased researcher will help you as you get started on your new, or existing, passion-based business. Let us help you with market research, ensuring you’ll ask the right questions, really listen to the answers, and be able to appropriately interpret and implement the results.

 

Guest Blog: How Do You Start a Bank?

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By Beth Alexander, Private Banker and Communications Director of CapStar Bank

With an ongoing 30-year career in banking, Claire Tucker had a terrific job as state president of a growing bank, doing what she loved and knew well. Then one day in 2007, she got a call from an old friend, a former bank president she had worked with nearly a decade earlier at First American Bank. He had an unusual proposition: Let’s start a bank.

That would mean giving up her secure current job in the upper echelon of her institution and starting to work on…a dream.

The idea for a new bank was confirmed by market research conducted to determine whether middle Tennessee really needed another bank. The research found that while very large institutions were well-served by large banks and mom-and-pops were getting the attention they needed from small community banks, there was a lack of service to the businesses in the middle—mid-size businesses and family businesses that were growing or going through transitions that required both expertise and patient listening on the part of a financial banking partner. This resonated with Claire: She believed it and believed she could sell it.

Working with her old banking friend, the future chairman of the board, they raised more than $88 million in the fall of 2007 from nearly 300 mostly local investors, people who, they hoped, would open accounts and generate buzz about the new bank, CapStar. At that time, the Dow hit an all-time high of 14,164, and prime rate stood at 7.75%.

They worked with the bank’s new board to develop an ambitious but realistic five-year plan and began hiring experts, many of whom came from the core of successful people behind First American, to build the bank—crafting its lending policies, purchasing the latest bank software, building a culture of hard work and a strong team. One of their outside-the-box decisions: hiring me, a magazine editor, to join their sales force of highly experience bankers. Scary? Yes. And exciting. During those early sales meetings before the bank opened, I had a hard time visualizing exactly how it all would come together. But our leadership team was brilliant, far-sighted and working every hour to be prepared for the day when the Fed would issue the letter that allowed us to open.

CapStar opened on July 14, 2008, between the meltdown of Bear Stearns and the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, followed the next day by the AIG bailout. By then, prime rate had dipped to 5.0% and only five months later, it sank to 3.25% where it has stayed ever since. On December 16, for the first time in history, the Fed lowered its benchmark interest rate to zero. Did I say it was scary before? What kind of chutzpa did it take to open a bank in this environment? While it seemed as if we were walking a tightrope, our timing was serendipitous. All around us, other banks experienced the softening of their loan portfolios, while we had a clean balance sheet and the capacity to lend. Because of this, CapStar was also an attractive option to those who wanted to take their gains out of the market.

Now I understand what happens when a bank is born. Claire never lost her cool or her sense of humor; she never let us lose sight of the mission to meet the needs of those underserved mid-size businesses, their executives and their workforces. CapStar adopted the tagline, We’re Listening, to reflect our single minded intent to deliver on exactly what the customer needs to fulfill a financial goal—not simply to offer a product but to find a tailored solution.

Within three years, we were operating at a profit, and today CapStar is one of only two billion-dollar banks in the country out of the more than 70 that opened in 2008. In the past seven years, we’ve purchased and integrated a terrific bank in Sumner County along with a mortgage division and added financial planning to our menu of services.

Because of Claire’s leadership and that of the other leaders around her, I’m surrounded by colleagues at every level who are not bound by a 40-hour work week. We’re available to our customers at night and on weekends, and I consider my customers and my coworkers friends. They’re also my inspiration to get a little more done each day, wherever it’s needed. We all perform whatever task is necessary to get the job done for the customer and, as a team, for each other.

It is an inspiration to work with our President and Chief Executive Officer Claire Tucker every day—a woman who is always 100 percent engaged, personally attentive and wise in many ways, not just banking, although that is no small thing. Claire says she’s a late-blooming entrepreneur, but though she may have come late to the start-up party, her years of experience, the respect she wields in the community and her personal integrity give each of us a standard to aspire to every day. I can’t imagine a more effective model for leadership.

And if any of us ever need anything from our CEO, she’s listening.

 

Market/Consumer Research: It’s Not Rocket Science—or Is It?

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What exactly is rocket science anyway?

Rocket science, according to the uber-on-point Wikipedia (insert slight sarcasm and skepticism here), is based on the following: theoretical physics, such as fluid dynamics for aerodynamics or the equations of motion for flight dynamics.

That’s some pretty heady stuff, if you ask me. Rocket science is dictated by established principles, with a strong emphasis on gravity, lift, and drag. You can’t get much more concrete than rocket science; not much wiggle room when you’re talking about things falling from the sky.

But, rocket science is also largely based on empirical data, which makes new discoveries by using the senses to make observations through experiments.

So, you see, market and consumer research IS rocket science after all!

The quantitative part of market/consumer research is the analytical side, featuring the stats and numbers.

But the empirical side of market/consumer research is largely about experimentation and observation.

Take, for example, a project I have in front of me right now.

Entrepreneur A comes to me with Product Concept B. The entrepreneurial world is quite different than corporate America. The entrepreneur often doesn’t have a team or a budget that allows for multiple views into the same quandary to determine the who, what, whys, and whereas.

In partnering with Advocate Market Research Bureau, the entrepreneur will benefit from my outside perspective. I, as a market and consumer researcher, will experiment with various methodologies to gain insight beyond the traditional focus groups or panel studies.

The key here is experimentation. I’ll answer my clients’ questions by matching the most appropriate, timely and cost effective methodologies possible. For example:

  • How do I gather from my client’s potential target the necessary information to move the product along?
    • Do I implement multiple city studies conducting 3 or more focus groups in each location in order to understand what is needed and potential product redesigns?
    • Do I launch a nationwide quantitative study to capture a ‘measurable’ read and really hone in on their target market?
    • Do I host casual gatherings in a park; is this a product that talks to the environment or use of free time, children or dog walking?
    • Do I gather people in an art museum and talk about the importance of culture in our schools or how people choose to fund various non-profits?
    • Do I entertain small groups around cocktails and appetizers and discuss their favorite designers and handbags?
    • Do I streamline the quantitative portion of the study to still capture a representative and statistically significant sample but limit the completes which while it won’t allow me multiple cuts of the data for analysis will certainly give me a true view of the intended target?

Observation is key to market and consumer research especially when we’re talking about qualitative research. After I’ve experimented with the methodologies and chosen the setting for my observations, I must note what happens. Some of the things I’m looking for include:

  • How do people interact with the product; is it intuitive, is it an obvious solution to something in their lives, is it confusing, is it too much function and not enough form or too much form and no function?
  • How do people respond to questions; are they combative, are they guarded, are they open, are they forthcoming?
  • What makes a consumer tick? What pulls at their heartstrings?
  • What does the consumer focus on and what do they dismiss?

So, yes, I do believe that market and consumer research is, indeed, rocket science.

Both are based upon the hard sciences with their established principles, statistical analysis, and concrete facts.

But they are also empirically based on experimentation and observation.

While I would be hard pressed to call myself a rocket scientist—even though it is now obvious I have more in common with them than I originally thought—I am thankful to be a market and consumer researcher.

I use both hard facts and soft science to give my clients a better understanding of the marketplace, and a confirmation (or redirection) of a concept or product.

But it’s in offering clients an accurate assessment of the end consumer’s motivation that really sets us market and consumer researchers worlds apart from the rocket scientists.

Guest Blog: It’s All About Passion!

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By Gina Butler, Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Gigi’s Cupcakes

Im passionate about baking and that allowed me to found Gigis Cupcakes. My entire family loved to cook and bake, so I grew up around it. My Aunt Bennie owned a bakery and catering business and I would spend summers with her. I’d help her bake, cater events, and read her cake decorating books. I loved to bake and had a passion for it at an early age, but my dream was to be a country singer. In 1994, I packed up and moved to Nashville with less than $500 in my pocket. I decided to pursue a country music career instead of going to college. During the day, I operated my small cleaning business and at night, I would sing at the bars and honky tonks near music row. In my early thirties, I realized that my music career was unlikely to take off so I decided to focus entirely on my cleaning business. A few years went by and then my brother called me while I was cleaning a home and told me that he had waited in line at a cupcake bakery in New York for hours. He said, “Your cupcakes are better than these. You should open up a bakery.” I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and decided to go for it. I opened my first cupcake shop in February 2008 with only $33 left in my bank account. Now, seven years later and against the odds, Gigi’s Cupcakes has grown to be the largest cupcake franchise company in the nation. We just opened our first international location in early 2015 in South Korea and hope to continue to expand in other countries. summer4-600x660I think back fondly on those summer afternoons with Aunt Bennie, who is now part of the Gigi’s team, working on product development in the kitchen with me. We have over 300 recipes at Gigi’s Cupcakes and many of them have a rich personal family history originating from my grandmother, great aunts, my mother and other relatives, many of whom are bakers.

Im passionate about my company and how we do business, so when the opportunity to be on Undercover Boss came along, it was an easy YES! It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I just couldn’t turn it down. We were one of the few small companies that they have ever highlighted. I had to do it and I’m so glad I did.

People often ask me what I was most surprised by during my experience. Two things that surprised me most were: 1) I was surprised by how many passionate and wonderful people work for us. It’s not just a job to them, they truly care about the business and the brand. 2) I was also surprised that we were consistently inconsistent. We didn’t have the exact same procedures from one store to the next. I knew we needed to address that immediately. The experience greatly benefited us! We learned a lot during my journey and we haven’t been the same since. Filming Undercover Boss was a gift that I will always be grateful for.

Market Research: Your Road Map to Business Success

 

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I’m guessing you’d never dream of taking a cross-country road trip without first deciding upon a destination. Once you determine your destination you would then check online for directions and chart your general course, right? You’d also make plans to periodically consult the map app on your phone as you traveled, and you would determine the best places to stop along the way for gas, meals and places to stay. What does this have to do with market research you ask? Well, everything.

Failing to utilize market research for your business is like taking off on a road trip with no idea where you’re going, how you’ll get there, or where you’ll need to stop along the way to re-adjust. Good market and consumer research offers valuable insights and guidance for successful growth, regardless of a business’ age or stage. Let’s take a look.

  • Young Business/New Ideas

If your business endeavor is in its infancy, it’s important that you figure out its actual viability.

Using research at this stage helps you explore and uncover important aspects of establishing a new business or idea. It can help you anticipate the future so that you can set goals and chart a course for growth.

For the earliest of ideas, qualitative research (such as focus groups) will best assess the market for its reception to your idea. If your concept is a little more fleshed out, then quantitative research (such as online or phone surveys) would work well, too. Quantitative research can help identify your most receptive target audience by gauging market interest and potential. You’ll also assess the scalability of your idea when you determine if it’s highly niched or has a more broad appeal.

If you have a new idea, business, or concept — validate it with research.

  • Adolescent Business/Ready to Launch Product

Launching a new product or product line? Are you testing a new concept, or re-branding your business? Then you need to know how your brand is both perceived and received in the current marketplace.

Using research at this stage can build upon what you’ve learned in the first phase of research and help you strengthen your brand image. Qualitative research will allow you to test your marketing in front of a “live” audience. This provides valuable feedback for making final tweaks to the product, solidifying brand direction, and confirming the best marketing path.

If you’re ready to launch a new product or concept, or simply rebrand — confirm it with research.

  • Grown-up Business/Established Brand

If your business is a household name with a catalog of favorite products, don’t get too comfortable. How are you keeping up with evolving marketplace trends? How do you create and keep loyal clients?

Using research at this stage helps you monitor customer perception and satisfaction, marketplace changes, and purchasing behaviors.

Qualitative research allows you to hear the emotion behind your brand and look for line extensions. It also gives you the opportunity to talk to both satisfied and unsatisfied customers to discover insights that will heighten brand awareness and accelerate product innovation. Quantitative research can also be used to keep a close eye on your business and watch trends in the marketplace.

If you have an established brand—refine it with research.

So who needs research? You do! Research is the road map you need to arrive at your desired destination—a thriving business—successfully.

Guest Blog: Culture Trumps Strategy

unnamed By Sarah Schleicher Princehorn, Business Performance Advisor, Insperity

In my role, I sit down with at least 10-12 business executives every month to learn about their business. I’ve always been fascinated by the entrepreneurial mind—a person who typically risks just about everything to pour their heart and soul into an idea, with the hope that it will take off – but no certainty.

I’ve had this position for three years, but recently the way I listen to executives has undergone a dramatic shift. In January, I went through a personal crisis and instead of penalizing me for letting my personal life affect my professional persona; my company chose to INVEST in me.

I was given the month of January off to focus on my family and myself. While every company has to honor the regulations of FMLA, what Insperity did for me is unheard of.

I explained my situation to our Community Involvement team via an electronic application. I explained that over the course of the previous six months, I’d had two surgeries and been hit hard with a bout of postpartum depression. I felt like I was falling apart.

Within 24 hours, I’d been put in touch with a third-party non-profit organization, scanned over copies of all our bills for not only the month of January, but also for February, and checks were en route to my home via FedEx. My husband and I were both stunned. We were both shocked and humbled that my employer would take care of me in such a manner.

When I returned to work mid-February, I came back with a changed attitude. Obviously my work performance had been affected by my post-partum depression, but the change was much deeper than that. I was altered fundamentally, in how I interacted with the executives and in every conversation I had with them about their people.

I am now a firm believer that Culture Trumps Strategy every day of the week. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what your company is all about. I can speak from personal experience that creating a culture of support and value for your employees is well worth the investment.

As an executive, it is your role to strategize and develop a plan of action that will achieve your revenue goals, growth plans, etc. for the future. There is only one way to act on those goals- through your people. Hence it’s vital to implement a solid people strategy. Personally, although I considered myself a highly engaged employee before my leave of absence, I discovered that I had uncovered an entire new level of effort. This is known as discretionary effort- management didn’t need to ask me to put in extra effort; it came naturally and willingly. The investment Insperity made in me had not only a professional impact, but also at home; having witnessed my experience, my husband is now Insperity’s biggest fan.