Students walked into Midwest Entrepreneurs class today surprised to find the classroom’s chalkboard full of writing. What filled the seldom-used board was a long listing of business “to dos” and tips for success written by our guest speaker, John “Beefy” Huston of Huston Landscaping. Writing on a chalkboard is not the only surprisingly old-fashioned thing that Mr. Huston does. The case can be made that doing business what might be called “the old-fashioned way”—and, as a result, providing pleasant surprises to customers—is the overriding success factor for his Berwick, IL-based entrepreneurial enterprise.
For Mr. Huston “the old-fashioned way” includes doing seemingly little things right; showing up on time, keeping promises, sending handwritten “thank you” notes to customers, returning phone calls, being involved with and being seen at community events, and letting customers know if he is going to be even five minutes late. While all of this seems like common sense to most people, rest assured that many businesses fail to fully realize the value of doing the seemingly little things right and have, as a result, come to neglect them. Not Beefy Huston. He realizes that these little things are not little at all. Instead, they help satisfy customers, get repeat business and loyalty, and lead to positive word-of-mouth communication and referrals (i.e., new customers to turn into more satisfied and, eventually, loyal customers).
Another key issue addressed in class today was that being an entrepreneur—being your own boss—means that you can, if you wish, set your schedule and control your business to fit your lifestyle. Many have questioned Beefy as to why he does not either significantly expand his landscaping business or go into related lines of business. He chooses to keep his volume of business—and number of employees and inventory of equipment and personal stress level—at its present manageable size where he can be personally involved and provide the best possible service to his clients. And, he has free time to do what he wants when he wants. This may sound odd—even reckless and irresponsible—in the “world of big business” but it works well for Beefy and he would have things no other way. Perhaps this is another “old-fashioned” approach to business that has made him such a success.
Finally, Mr. Huston demonstrated today that “old-fashioned common sense” with regard to spending money, controlling costs, and managing cash flow is very important in a relatively high-cost-of-doing-business endeavor such as landscaping. He mentioned that he owns several buildings, has five trucks and four trailers, and keeps a sizable inventory of bulky materials (e.g., rocks, dirt, and mulch) on hand (which then costs a lot of gas/money to transport). He also mentioned that he has owned 25 business vehicles since he started the business in 1995. Yes, this all costs a lot of money. But Beefy plays every angle and seems to cut costs to the bone and make the most out of just about every other penny he invests in the business. Large among the expenses he abhors and avoids is interest. When he cannot pay something off up front in cash, he pays off the borrowed amount as soon as possible.
When you think of John “Beefy” Huston, think of “old-fashioned common sense.” Also think of premier customer service and doing the job right. Think, ultimately, of entrepreneurial success.
Have a nice weekend.
See you Tuesday for a presentation from local McDonald’s owner/operator Mike Luna.