Has Your Business Become Excellent at Being Mediocre?

by Kyle Clapham
Shawn Headshot Accountant

Many institutions and businesses in our country have become excellent at being mediocre. It’s a mindset—one the remodeling industry suffers from as well. Whether at a burger joint, a registry of motor vehicles or a lumberyard, we all expect and tolerate poor service because it has become the norm.

If you have the guts to speak up about a mediocre employee or mediocre business responsible for poor service, you may even find yourself being personally attacked. In effect, many business owners and employees seem to be more concerned about protecting or defending their mediocrity than they are about getting away from it.

Just One Example

In the remodeling industry, this sad reality hit me when I called the office of a remodeler in my marketplace to speak with the owner. The office manager who answered the phone was rude and not very helpful. Rather than take my message for the owner, she actually told me I would need to call back.

Later, when I shared my experience with the business owner, he told me he knew she was that way. Then, in my opinion, he rationalized the mediocrity of his business and that employee, saying something to the effect of needing to tolerate certain things because “you know how hard it is to find good staff.”

The silver lining of this experience was that his business was definitely not competition. His business had settled into mediocrity and, as a result, so did his margins. When your business is mediocre, you quickly become a commodity contractor selling on price. However, the opposite is true: When your business demands and delivers great service, it stands above the crowd. The right customers will pay more to avoid mediocre.

Don’t Risk Tolerating Relative Success

If you have convinced yourself that your business isn’t really all that bad when compared to other dysfunctional businesses—they are worse off than yours—that is a very bad sign. More than likely it means your business is mediocre and it will, thus, never achieve its potential. Being less bad is not good.

Rather than judge your business on relative success, you should judge it based on absolute success. Again, this requires planning but also requires establishing metrics against which you—and anyone else who reads your business plan—can measure whether the plan is working and actually leading you toward predefined success.

Keep in mind that being better off than you used to be might not be a great place to be either. Consider this analogy: If your business is 10 feet under water and drowning, but the improvements you make get you to 2 feet below the surface, your business is still going to drown. Of course all the improvements help, as long as those improvements are part of a bigger, measurable plan to get the head of your business above the surface.

Luck Has Very Little to Do With It

Many remodelers, after observing other businesses better than their own, often assume another business’ success is due to some form of luck. I say luck has very little to do with success.

Early in my career I found and read the book titled, “Lucky or Smart,” by Bo Peabody. The short, straight-forward book shared many great insights for entrepreneurs. Two stick out for me. The first is that you need to be smart enough to know when you have been lucky, and lucky enough to know when you have been smart. Once you figure out this difference, you can become smart enough to purposely put yourself in positions where luck pays off.

The second was that the world is full of ordinary people and odd people. If you hire only ordinary people, your business will likely be ordinary. Peabody points out that ordinary people get B’s but odd people get A’s because they are typically smarter and think differently. Rather than rely on being lucky, be smart: Hire the odd people who are smarter than you.

Some Words of Wisdom

Back when I was a new business owner, someone imparted to me a powerful truth: Customers may not always remember you or what you did, but they sure will remember how you made them feel. Too many remodelers believe that if the miter joints are perfect and the project turns out looking great, in the end they have achieved success and their customer will be happy. I disagree.

For customers, it’s the experience that matters. If they remodel a kitchen, they will most likely feel more appreciated and valued by a quality experience than just having a nice kitchen. In the sales process, I always asked consumers why they were not working with the same remodeler who performed their last project.

More times than not they would share that the end result was OK, but living through the experience was awful. Doing great work may be expected by all consumers, but those who want a great experience are the customers who know it costs more if they expect good customer service.

If you are already providing great customer service, be sure you have the confidence to charge for it—and don’t wait to do it. When I once gave a client their final bill, they thanked me for another great job. It was then that they told me they noticed I had raised my prices. Wondering what might happen next, I cautiously and anxiously answered back that I had indeed raised the prices. Then they said, “Well, we were wondering when you were finally going to do so.”

McCadden is a speaker, business trainer, columnist and award-winning remodeler with more than 35 years of experience. He can be reached at shawnmccadden.com.

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