Posts filed under ‘General’
At the New York Kids Club, almost all of my employees are young — proud, badge-wearing members of Generation Y. Gen-Y is very unique, in that praise is something which is lavished upon their young, impressionable egos. Praise is applied liberally and repeated as needed, all day, everyday. Consequently, praise is something that young people have come to expect (and deserve, when they perform well!).
Without trying to carbon date myself here, my own Gen-X was much more reserved in terms of praise. No news meant good news. So I, like many other Gen-X employers, had to learn how to interact and inspire my young Gen. Y team members. And expecting them to conform to my own “generation standards” was, as I have found, counterproductive. As I always say: in business, you have to be the river, not the rock. I realized very early on with the NY Kids Club that I needed to show the young people I work with that I can be savvy; I can be flexible enough to adapt to their needs. Nothing makes a business happier than happy employees!
Some time ago, I noticed when working with Gen-Y specimens that if I mentioned the traditional term “annual-review,” almost all bright eyes would immediately glaze over, as if to say: “Seriously? I only get a shot at a raise once a year?” To Gen-Y, a year is like a decade, and the term “annual review” is completely antiquated. And so that got me thinking…how could I do better for them?
Then, I realized: These young people, many of whom have just graduated college or are currently pursuing graduate degrees, are used to receiving feedback on their performances on a regular basis. That’s the structure they have been brought up with throughout their entire scholastic careers. I had to find some way to keep up that continuity and comfort zone, while still treating new team members with the respect they deserve as young, responsible adults.
And so the solution to this predicament emerged quite organically in the form of Semester End Reports; a report card, New-York-Kids-Club style! In this “report card,” we include marks for ten distinct categories which fall into three “grades”: Below Expectations, Meets Expectations and Exceeds Expectations.
Any grade that falls into the category of “Meeting Expectations” is accompanied by a comment from the employee’s direct supervisor, and a plan of action on how s/he can expect to move into the Exceeds Expectations category. Each “Meets Expectations” also has a dollar-amount raise attached to it, which really gets the fires going in young people — after all, dollar signs speak loud-and-clear to everyone! An employee’s “grades” determine the percentage raise which they are entitled to. So then the message on the airwaves becomes: Keep up your GPA and you will definitely get that scholarship.
With the program we have implemented, it becomes up to the individual to test their own drive and ambition. We are happy to give our employees as many opportunities to score raises as possible. That’s why we issue these Semester End Reports three times a year — Fall, Spring and Summer — consistent with the scholastic year. We give our employees every chance to determine their own destinies at the company, and we also let them do the math as to how much more money they could potentially be earning!
If someone Exceeds Expectations in every single category, s/he is eligible for a promotion to a salaried managerial position, with paid vacation and all the other perks that come along with joining the management team.
Funnily enough, someone recently asked me: “Doesn’t it get expensive when you have all these great, young, energetic people seizing the opportunities you offer to keep making more and more money?”
In truth, in the age we live in–fast times, fast changes, fast lives–I am thrilled to see people at the Kids Club gain earning power and climb up the ranks, because it means they have been with us for a while. Many people in their twenties change professions at the turn of a dime. The age of slaving away for twenty years until you earn your gold watch is gone. We want to give young people every chance for growth that we can. Be good to us, and we’ll be good to you. We can be “the river.” Flow with us downstream, and we will take you to some amazing new places.
In my view, tightening the purse strings on the consumer’s part doesn’t automatically have to mean the kiss of death for business owners. What the current economic downturn does mean for business owners, large and small, is that they may find themselves under increased pressure to retain their current clientele. Slashing prices is one way to stay competitive in the game when clients are forced to tighten up their own spending budgets. ADDED VALUE is the route I personally prefer to take at the New York Kids Club; giving clients MORE during times when they have LESS spending flexibility.
Last week, I sent out a newsletter to all of our New York Kids Club families, for the sole purpose of relating understanding and compassion to them, on behalf of myself and my team. I also detailed what savings and added value packages the New York Kids Club is offering throughout the Fall and Winter.
The response to my letter was immediate and tremendous. We received an overwhelming outpouring of support from New York Kids Club families — letters thanking us for facing the problem head-on; expressing gratitude that we are doing what we can to treat our clients with care and respect; letting us know that they value the efforts we are putting forth; assuring us that with the added value we are providing, they will be able to stay on with the Kids club, despite the economic ebb.
Above all, based on the incredible response we received, it gave me such great pride to realize that the New York Kids Club, a successful business, nevertheless still remains true to its core values. One of our main objectives at the New York Kids Club has always been to foster a community within our clientele. To see that component of the original vision come alive right before my eyes – to be able to draw upon the strength of an entire community that bands together in better times and worse – truly inspires me.
In the weeks leading up to the Grand Opening of my very first New York Kids Club location, I had stuck floor-to-ceiling signs up in the windows of our new space that read: “New York Kids Club Coming Soon!” But I knew that wouldn’t be enough to generate a buzz in the neighborhood. It was the first location, so no one could be expected to even know who we were, let alone to be excited about us!
So I had to find other ways of generating publicity. I enlisted the help of my brother and several others, and I set a personal goal for myself: I was going to tell 50 people a day about the New York Kids Club, in any setting, it didn’t matter. 50 people a day.
“Psst!” I whispered to the lady next to me in the checkout line. “Did you hear about that new place opening on 87th Street? It’s called the New York Kids Club, and they offer all these great classes for kids!”
“Psst! The New York Kids Club is coming, and they’ve got wonderful teachers and the space is just terrific!”
I told the man in Harry’s Shoe Store. I told the lady at the nail salon. I told people on the playground. People at the meat counter. People at the street fairs. People on the bus.
I talked up a storm. I handed out flyers and pamphlets. I fielded questions. I struck up random conversations. I told and sold the New York Kids Club on anyone willing to listen to me. Short of shouting from the rooftops or renting a blimp, I was EVERYWHERE.
And I don’t feel that I was secretive about it or that I was operating in stealth. I was fully prepared for people to ask me, “How do you know about the Kids Club?” And I was going to say, “I started it. I’m the Founder.”
But funnily enough, no one asked me.
Then the calls started coming. The NY Kids Club didn’t even have a phone system yet, only an answering machine. I would listen to the messages and return the calls. I gave the spiel and sold it hard. I took pre-orders. I swiped credit cards. I filled the classes.
Come Opening Day, the New York Kids Club had generated enough revenue to cover all costs of the construction which had gone into preparing the space. It was an incredible relief to know that I had survived the mine field of getting my business up and running.
I never underestimate the power of advertising or the power of internet marketing. I am a full advocate of jumping on the bandwagon and adapting to new marketing platforms. But I firmly believe that the best, certainly the most personal form of reaching out to customers has always been – and always will be – by word of mouth. And not only is it possibly the best form of advertising, but it’s also FREE!
Now I should mention that it’s not all wine and roses. There is a definite downside to setting ablaze the type of wildfire that spreads by word of mouth. But that’s another story, for another day.
I have a very good friend who is an accomplished concert pianist. She once told me that she never pushes her two children into the music world, because she feels that if they do find their way into music, it needs to be their own decision, by their own accord. She won’t even teach them!
In listening to my friend’s perspective, two things grew abundantly clear: One, my friend holds a wonderfully kind and understanding approach to what some may consider a very “sensitive” parenting issue. And two, I realized that I AM THE COMPLETE AND UTTER POLAR OPPOSITE.
I am always pushing my four children into business, and I am not afraid to admit it! But before I get myself written off as the “pushy-mom” stereotype, I would like to clarify that I do draw a very distinct line between “advising” and “investing” in my children’s business ventures.
I won’t lie. The day they came to me about opening their First Lemonade Stand, I could hardly contain my excitement. We sat down to discuss the idea, and worked together to draw up a rough business plan.
“Location is key,” I told them. “Where do you plan to open your stand?”
“Duhh,” came the reply, “in front of the house of course!”
I argued that we live on a quiet side street in New York. How much profitable patronage could they expect to attract with such low visibility? After huddled discussion, the four of them concluded that 86th Street at the entrance to Central Park was prime real estate. I agreed.
“Cool!” they exclaimed. “Let’s go!”
I shook my head. “Nope, there are a few more steps we have to go through first.”
Next, we discussed products. There were a number of things they wanted to sell – lemonade, rice krispy treats, brownies, cookies. I convinced them to start out with two main products, both for inventory purposes and in the interest of maintaining top-shelf quality. Appeal gradually to customers, build interest before expanding. They decided on lemonade and cookies to start.
“Great! Let’s get started!” they said.
And I shook my head again. “Have you guys considered that you are going to need an investor?”
At this, my children just stared at me, bewildered. I wanted to laugh but I instead played it cool. “No, this is really important. You aren’t allowed to use my stuff. This is my kitchen and these are my ingredients, and I am not selling them to you, nor am I giving them to you. NOTHING and NO THING can be taken from this house, so someone has got to get to the store.”
A moment of silence passed, after which my children nominated me as their sole major investor. I politely declined. They went to their father and asked him to invest, an offer which he politely declined. “I am not fond of high-risk ventures,” he cited as his reasoning. “I do not feel that there is enough of a track record here to merit such a substantial investment.”
My disgruntled children finally found an investor in their young, hip uncle, who immediately said he would loan them the money – interest free.
With a budget in tow and supplies on the way, they defined their roles – cooking, manning the booth, advertising – their workflow, and a timetable.
“Now,” I said, “you’re ready.”
In a very short period of time, they had racked up $140 plus in profits, and The First Lemonade Stand went on to be a profitable first venture. I also took great pride as a mother and as an entrepreneur that I had been able to provide a good Business 101 course for them.
The final lesson in this series came to light in an organic fashion. 3 out of 5 buyers would ask the kids at their stand what the money was for. Was it for the Cancer Society? The Red Cross? Their college funds, perhaps?
When they asked me how to reply to such a question, I said, “Just be honest. Our family believes strongly in charitable causes. But this money is for you, and don’t be ashamed to say so. Money is great. And it’s NOT a dirty word!”
Some people think that “money” is a dirty word. I don’t think it’s a dirty word at all. In fact, I think that the word itself, as well as the full scope of its meaning, is quite nice.
When people ask me, “Why did you start The New York Kids Club?” it is always a very complex and yet a very simple answer. Essentially, I started it for the same reason anyone starts a business: to make money.
I say complex as well as simple, because I consider it an incredible bonus that I happen to be passionate about my work. I adore children (my own four and everyone else’s too!) and my work brings me a great sense of fulfillment and joy. But just because I love my work doesn’t mean I’m willing to go bankrupt over it. In my view, passion on-the-job is great. But profitable passion is better.
Welcome to my personal blog. Here you will find my musings on business, female entrepreneurship and practical parenting tips, as well as the latest news on developments at the New York Kids Club. The only thing you probably won’t find on this blog is sugar-coating.
Now let’s get down to business!