Vote in my poll: What is the greatest threat to the economy’s recovery?

I created a new poll on LinkedIn: What is the greatest threat to the economy’s recovery? (The preceeding poll name is a hyperlink to the poll.)

You must be connected to me on LinkedIn to vote. If you’re not on LinkedIn, I urge you to join for free. If you’re on LinkedIn but are not connected to me, send me a request and I will link to you.

Thank you.


Stand out through branding

Branding may be only one of many factors you must make when launching a business, but it’s a crucial decision. It identifies you, your products/services and your philosophy to customers, hopefully making you stand out from the competition. And it protects your ideas from copycats.

You may build your entire business around a handful of ideas. For example, three men recently launched an independent restaurant in Athens, TN. Their restaurant, Tracks, is located in a former Central Park restaurant (for those not familiar with Central Park, this regional chain uses small, drive-through buildings with no internal seating). Tracks is owned by Shane Smith, a banker and Athens politician; Randy Dunlop, a successful Domino’s pizza franchise owner; and Eric Walker, a former high school assistant football coach.

Tracks serves hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken nuggets and milk shakes. Tracks’ owners said they came up with the name after a lengthy brainstorming session. Eric said the use of a railroad track logo is easily recognizable. The hot dog and hamburger toppings are referred to as “cargo.” The owners are thinking of pain

ting railroad tracks on the driveway, and are thinking of using a person dressed as a train engineer to wave at passing traffic.

Before opening Tracks, these business partners made a decision to create a theme around the restaurant’s name. That’s a great way to stand out from competitors.

The owners have also made an effort to stand out in other ways. Randy said since the restaurant could not compete with a cheap menu, he and his partners decided to compete on quality: The hotdogs are all-beef, Black Angus, and milk shakes use real milk from a regional diary that’s based in Athens. And the owners decided to give hiring preference to people who had been laid off, putting back to work more than a dozen people who had been laid off in an area that has a higher-than-average unemployment rate.

So, branding includes more than a name and words: It can bring in what products you offer and how you reach out to the community.

Photo by Anthony Dake

Tracks menu, photo by Anthony Dake

Don’t wait for a disaster to plan for one

Volcanoes. Floods. Oil spills.

Don’t wait for a disaster to happen before you start planning on how to deal with such an occurrence.

A volcanic eruption may sound like a far-fetched scenario from a bad movie, but the Eyjafjallajkull volcano in Iceland continues to throw a monkey wrench into the global business scene. The volcano continues to erupt and has closed airports throughout the United Kingdom. Travelers who were in Europe or were planning to fly to Europe around the time of the April 14 eruption were stranded for up to a week without plans for shelter, food or alternative transportation. My MBA group was in Prague at the time, and we were fortunate to be able to our stay at the four-star hotel we had been staying at – with the hotel giving us a good rate. But thousands of travelers were not so fortunate.

Nashville’s residents have been doing an admirable job of recovering from the aftermath of the historic spring flooding that swamped the city. The people and businesses pulled together and began helping one another even before the government began to get involved. Other areas of the South were damaged by flooding and tornadoes.

The Gulf oil spill drew more media attention than the deadly Southern storms. Containment and cleanup efforts continue, but the ecological damage has been done.

Whether or not your business handles a potentially toxic material like crude oil or handles public safety like an airline, planning for disasters is a prudent precaution. Insurance isn’t the only way to prepare for the worst. It makes sense to pay the extra money to back up your invaluable data and store it off-site with a business that specializes in such things. You may want to consider having a back-up generator, water and non-perishable food supplies.

Geography can be a factor in planning for disasters: A business in Oklahoma would want to have an action plan for dealing with a tornado, while a company in Florida would need a plan for dealing with a hurricane. Such plans should include contact information for all personnel and ways to streamline the decision-making process.

You may not be expecting to have to deal with a disaster, but that’s the thing about disasters – they’re unexpected. Try to live by the Boy Scouts motto – Be prepared.

You can buy publicity like that

A restaurant that hadn’t advertised with my newspaper in a long time recently began advertising again through a coupon campaign. Two of the coupons promised a free buffet if you bought a 99 cent soft drink.

Not surprisingly, the campaign seems to be a hit. I redeemed one of the coupons Monday, and the cashier said people had lined up outside the restaurant on Sunday with those coupons.

Obviously the restaurant is losing money. You may ask how can the restaurant lose money this way? The restaurant is basically treating its losses on the food inventory as a promotional expense to draw new customers in.

One downside of dropping prices is you attract disloyal customers. You may be drawing new people into your store/restaurant hoping to enlarge your client base, but not all of them will return at future dates. These disloyal customers will run to your cheaper competitors when your price discount ends. Also, if you drop prices too often or too dramatically, you run a large risk of customers always expecting you to offer very low prices. That can be death on some brands.

This restaurant’s gamble on price discounting illustrates the difficulty in setting prices, whether you’re selling a meal or an automobile.

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