When I tell people that I'm in the ice cream business, here's what happens: they usually get a big smile on their faces and they say something about how much they love Cold Stone Creamery, and how great it must be to work in such a fun business. And I always smile in return and say something like, "Yes, it is, and I'm glad you love Cold Stone."
I mean every word of it. Working in the ice cream business is great. But make no mistake -- it is still a business and it is still work. The minute any of us, either at Creamery Headquarters or in our stores, forget that fact, it will be the instant we lose our perspective on the realities of what it takes to stay successful. And that goes for any franchising professional, whether he or she is in the pizza business or the dry-cleaning business. We are all in business, and with it come the good times and the challenging ones.
The good times are easy, so I don't have to say much about how to manage your business when everything is going your way. You already know that when you're on a roll, you take a few jumpers from behind the three point line. But let me add one piece of advice: while you're racking up that double-digit lead, just be sure you're prepared for the cold streak that can hit in the third quarter.
I've watched and played enough basketball and have experienced enough in business since the beginning of Cold Stone to know the value of preparedness. But what exactly is preparedness? For me, it's been a set of five fundamentals that make a good team great -- and can get you through anything. Here's what I mean:
Fundamental 1: Have a solid vision
Take time, if you haven't already, to lay out a solid vision for where you want to go and how you plan to get there. Do it while times are good, so that you'll be prepared should times get tough. A purpose, a direction, and a path will keep you on course when you'll be tempted to stray. And it's easiest to stray when times are tough.
Fundamental 2: Have people who "can"
When you face tough times, having people who actually possess the capacity to turn things around is imperative. In fact, your best chance of renewed success comes from a great team that understands the challenge, has faced difficulties before, and has experience making the tough decisions.
Fundamental 3: Know where you stand, really
If you know where you want to go and you have great people who are willing to put in the hard work of turning things around, then you need a realistic picture of where you're starting from. I'm always amazed by business owners who say they don't know if their companies are profitable or if they are selling more this year than last. When it comes to turnarounds, you have to establish a current benchmark, set your goal to rise above it, and act fast.
Fundamental 4: Stick to your values
They say everyone has high integrity when their integrity has yet to be tested. In tough times, you'll discover your true character, and so will your team. Set a good example by sticking to your values. It may hurt in the short term, but your customers and employees will admire and support you when you lead by example. One of Cold Stone's core values -- do the right thing -- is like a guiding light for us when it comes to tough decisions.
Fundamental 5: Communicate with everyone
Is there anything more crucial? That goes for the message as well as the communication systems you have in place. At Cold Stone, we have an extensive communication system that enables open and honest two-way communication. It includes things like monthly conference calls with our franchisee National Advisory Board, an intranet, and a direct line to anyone in the company. Our systems are tried and true and already in place for the good times and the bad.
Tough times are challenging, but they can be impossible if you aren't prepared for them. And let's face it -- no one can really be entirely prepared. But everyone can own up to the fact that tough times can happen in any business. So right now, recognize that you won't always be on a hot streak. And not every project is a slam dunk. Recognize that there will come a time when you'll be glad you practiced the fundamentals.