“If young people love it then it’s the future.” E-commerce becomes a mandate for contractors.

ecommerce global earth internet world word


The World Economic Forum at Davos is underway.  This morning a panel of experts including Jack Ma spoke about the importance of e-commerce in small businesses.  His remarks forecasted the e-commerce future–one in which smart contractors will be viable and thriving because of their e-commerce capabilities.  To be even more clear: e-commerce is a mandate and the next small business accelerant.

Contractors are often reluctant to accept the idea that e-commerce is feasible.  It’s time to let go of doubts or skepticisms.  E-commerce is happening.  The question a contractor needs to be asking is: “What are the implications if I sit this one out?” or “What will my life look like if a manufacturer sells products directly to the consumer?”  As Jack Ma put it, “If we cross our arms e-commerce is going to belong only to the Big Guys.”  

Consider the fact that in 2016 Amazon accounted for 53% of on-line retailing.  Or that Alibaba generated 750 BILLION dollars in revenue in 2017.  While Toys ‘R Us announces additional store closures and Nordstrom is downgraded because of their worst financial performance since 1972, a 29 Filipino woman named Theresa Fernandez-Ruiz builds Rags2Riches as a way to help community artisans sell low-cost products around the world.  Theresa Fernandez-Ruiz made the Forbes 30 under 30 list last year.

“Imagine if the barriers to doing business aren’t there.” — Theresa Fernandez-Ruiz

Everyday contractors deal with the clunky process of generating leads, dispatching sales people, service technicians, calling customers, following-up, installing equipment, servicing equipment, repeat, repeat, repeat.  E-commerce simplifies many of the traditional customer service and sales processes.  And while the applied side of the industry will be resilient to tectonic shifts contractors who want to capture an early advantage should take heed: Business as usual isn’t going to last forever.

“E-commerce is going to replace traditional ways of doing business.” — Jack Ma

There is a generational shift happening as well as a shift in the ways consumers rely on e-commerce to simplify their lives without a middle-man.  People in their 20’s and 30’s are buying homes and making home improvements.  They are digital natives and will be so forever.  Raised on e-commerce platforms, many view the traditional purchase process as a nuisance.  Contractors should use e-commerce to increase accessibility and ease-of-use among these buyers.  Equally important is the fact that e-commerce is a perfect growth engine for small businesses who can act nimbly, monetize their web platforms, and create an entirely new level of consumer engagement in order to capture a broader audience.

“This (e-commerce) is for young people and small businesses.  If young people love it then it’s the future.” — Jack Ma

All of this–e-commerce, the internet of things, direct-to-consumer selling–it’s all daunting.  But it’s here and any contractor who wants an advantage in the market should quickly move in this direction.  It challenges all of the traditional talking points, from quality control to workmanship, to the necessity of a sales team, to the manufacturing of equipment itself.  But have these talking points really worked?  Have they really been so earth shattering that they cannot be rewritten or in some cases abandoned?  Most likely  the contracting industry is going to learn how to layer these stories within their e-commerce platforms.  People want quality products, a low-hassle experience, and a price-to-value ratio that makes sense.  Ma’s closing remarks at Davos provide a snapshot of this new world:

“In the future there won’t be ‘Made in the USA’ or ‘Made in China.’  There will only be ‘Made on the internet.’

Empathy, Listening, and the Small Business Roller Coaster.

life of an entreprenuer

Very few B2B professionals that I’ve worked with have owned a business.  It matters in that this inexperience may truncate an understanding of the volatility inherent in small business.  As Phil Knight wrote, “For an entrepreneur every day is a crisis.”  That’s an important thing to keep in mind.  It should change the way you sell.  When you ask for a customer’s time you’re asking them to not do something else–and there’s a cost associated with that detraction.  Talk a whole lot less.   Listen for understanding and respect that their agenda (stay alive and grow) may be different from yours (buy my products).  Don’t ask glib questions.  Ask well-prepared questions and take excellent notes.  Follow through like your life depended on it and honor 100% your commitments.  Don’t show up empty-handed to a meeting.  Swag does not a meeting make.  Share provocative content that improves their business in some way.  Be incredibly easy to do business with.  Learn how your customers make money.  Thicken your value by deepening your empathy and improving the quality of your engagement.  Go on the roller coaster ride with them instead of standing on the sidelines.  That may not having anything to do with features, functions, or benefits.  But it will eventually.

In-N-Out Burger Beats Google (and nearly everyone else)


The apotheosis of burger meals.  The double double with fries and a medium drink.  Costs you about seven bucks.  Simple ingredients, simple philosophy: Great food + great people = Great results (total sales in 2016 estimated between 640mm and 700mm).  This year In-n-Out Burger was rated the 4th best place to work in 2018.  Only Facebook, Bain & Co., and Boston Consulting were higher on the list.  It beat Google (who has a regular series of happiness meditations, free food, and insane salaries).  It beat all the heavy-hitters.  The closest fast food competitor on the list is Chick-fil-A which landed at #72.  Here’s the complete list of results:


In-n-Out practices Richard Branson’s philosophy: “Clients do not come first.  Employees come first.  If you take care of your employees they will take care of your clients.”  Here’s how In-n-Out takes care of its employees (and what the service industry can learn):

  1.  Progress.  Build a workforce of managers.  The right type of employees won’t chop onions forever.  In-n-Out looks for and hires people who want to improve personally and professionally.  That means that they’ve had to create and design career paths for their employees.  80% of their managers began at the bottom of their ladder.  Moreover, people are less likely to leave a company if they know there is a path–advancement.  The opportunity to advance is a form of hope.  Hope is fuel.
  2. Compensation.  From the very beginning In-n-Out has always prided itself on taking care of its employees in terms of above-average compensation and job security. In an industry in which a significant number of employees live at the poverty line In-n-Out understands a simple fact: Well compensated employees can pay their bills, save a little, are happier and loyal.  Moreover, progress and compensation are joined at the hip.  In-n-Out managers are reported to earn six figure incomes.
  3. Flexible Scheduling and Benefits.  From day care to co-parenting plans to second jobs, In-n-Out is known as a company that works with employees to find  schedule that accommodates their other demands.  According to Glassdoor this is one of the most appreciated benefits.  They also offer a 401K, profit sharing, paid vacations and free meals.
  4. Organizational Expectations.  In-n-Out clearly defines their dress codes, customer service expectations, food handling, and the enthusiastic customer-centric attitude that has kept the company profitably expanding for over 50 years.  Do them expertly and a person can have a rewarding career with In-n-Out for a very long time.  A set of standards that are relative leaves a company’s brand open for interpretation (and aren’t really standards at all).

You may be reading this and thinking “My company does ALL of those things!”  It’s true that the service industry can offer a nice career to a person.  This is something that we keep a very well hidden secret.  We talk about a shortage of great employees but don’t hold ourselves accountable enough.  In order to make the trades attractive and deliver world-class service we have to start asking ourselves:  Am I hiring people that want a career or am I hiring people who need a job?  Am I building a workforce of managers?  Do my employees understand the performance expectations required to advance?  Am I profitable enough to pay above average wages?  Are there non-traditional benefits that I should be considering?  Are my customer service standards set clearly communicated, modeled, and reinforced or do I tolerate certain deviances?  Does my team know the purpose of my business (the real one, the deep one, the one that isn’t cliched)?

In-n-Out is the 4th best place to work in The United States.  It’s a family company that understands a simple truth: The quality of your Customer service is a reflection of how your employees feel about working for you.  That’s In-n-Out Burger’s secret sauce.


Podcast #8: Pat Minegar, The Obi Wan Kenobi of the HVAC industry.


Pat Minegar is the owner of A-1 Heating in Boise, Idaho.  Pat is a thoughtful and wise business owner.  In this podcast Pat shares his experience developing high-performing teams, leadership, and mentoring sales managers.  It’s a great interview and I hope you enjoy it!

Episode 7: Patrick Somers on Discipline, Professionalism, Leadership

Patrick Somers is the General Manager with The General Air Conditioning & Plumbing in Palm Desert, CA.  He and his team exemplify professionalism.  Moreover, Patrick and his team are always looking farther down the road for the next competitive advantage.  It’s a terrific podcast and I hope you enjoy it.  Lot’s to learn.  Thanks Patrick!





Jack Welch wrote them.  Mark Zuckerberg wrote one every day for 365 days in 2014. Doug Conant wrote 30,000 and set the standard (https://hbr.org/2011/02/secrets-of-positive-feedback).  Donna Hyland, Frank Blake, Dan Cathy (of course), Tom Peters, and many others write them.  Thank you notes.  Simple, thoughtful thank you notes.

Employees feel strongly about this simple act of gratitude.  According to a survey funded by the John Templeton Foundation, “90% of employees said a grateful boss was likely to be more successful.”  It feels good to be recognized.  It feels even better to be appreciated and valued.  Moreover, thank you notes can build trust and trust is an economic driver.  As Conant proved during his tenure with Campbell’s Soup, inspiring trust was the foundation of a successful 10 year turnaround.

Emails and text messages are impersonal, can be easily misinterpreted, and are easily disregarded.  But an envelope.  A nice paper envelope with personal stationary inside.  The handwriting, ink, and the time it takes to write something kind . . . it seems like those hardly exist any more.  Perhaps emojis have killed the need to write “Job well done.”

As we head toward Turkey-Geddon let’s remember that it doesn’t take a lot to put a smile on a person’s face, inspire a colleague, or thank a client.  Paper, pen, a few quiet minutes to compose a sincere note.  In the middle of all the impersonal communications a thank you note creates a uniquely personal connection.

From my family to yours, have a great Thanksgiving,


Private Label: The Millennial Preference?


I’ll never forget my first pair of Nikes.  My mom will back me up on this.  It was a big deal.  Those shoes were clean.  The shoes made me feel cool (and trust me I wasn’t cool).  But it meant something else: My family could afford them.  Those shoes were as much a socio-economic symbol as anything else.  That was my generation.  Branding was about cleaner, faster, shinier, whiter.  Conspicuous consumption was the end game (perhaps best hyperbolized in Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho) and certainly caused the “greed is good” gaffs that promulgated my generation’s consumer identity.

There is a sea change happening.  51% of millennial buyers have no preference between generics/private labels and national brands.  For example, the company Brandless sells high quality generic products at an intentionally low price point.  Everything Brandless sells is less than three dollars.  Status be damned, their strategy is to connect with a millennial buyer who is underwhelmed by Mad Men branding tactics.  Good product, fair price, no spin.  As millennial buyers begin to take front and center in the market Brandless may very well be on to something that the home service industry should consider: Private labelling in order to broaden reach and appeal among younger home owners.

Generic and/or private label product sales are exploding among millennial buyers.  According to research conducted by the Nielsen group private label sales grew by 4.6% over prior year in the retail clothing segment–a 2.2 billion dollar improvement.  The Private Label Manufacturing Association reports a 10.5% increase over prior year in the food and home goods market.  Amazon Basics, Whole Foods 365 private label products–two examples of aggressive private label strategies that are succeeding.  The German grocer store Aldi is opening locations across the United States.  Aldi is built on the private label concept and offers a “double guarantee” on these products (new product + money back).  Millennials will shop there and, like Brandless, walk away feeling like they haven’t been forced to choose between quality and price point.

From a traditional branding perspective engaging millennials means re-evaluating the efficacy of traditional branding strategies.  As Jeff Fromm notes, “We’re in the early states of consumers controlling the sales cycle.”  Millennial buyers–hyper connected, having lived through a post-2008 economy–want to participate in the research and purchase process.  They’re skeptical of manufactured promises in as much as they’re skeptical of stock photos.  More than half of millennials want benefits and a fair price.

From a contractors perspective this growing affinity toward generics and private label products may start a movement toward private label home service products and equipment.  51% of millennials would likely buy an air conditioner labelled “Cool” and a furnace simply labelled “Cozy” providing that the performance benefits were not seriously degraded and the price point was acceptable.

There’s a brilliant scene in Mad Men in which Don Draper says, “People buy things because it makes them feel good.”  As generic and private label sales start to explode it’s important to note that what makes people, genders, and generations feel good are radically different.  Turns out that smart millennial buyers feel good about saving money without compromising quality while participating in the sales cycle.  Private label products may be just what they’re looking for in their homes.

Episode 5 – Robbi Anthony

Happy Friday podcast listeners!  This is a great episode: I interview my friend Robbi Anthony.  Robbi is the owner of FireDove Technology.  Robbi built my website and shares a ton of relevant web and digital advice.  We had a terrific time recording this and I hope you enjoy it.  As always, thank you for listening.

Take care,  Matt

Canlis 2017. Amazing.


My unabashed respect for this restaurant continues.  I wrote about Canlis a few years ago after the Missus and I visited for the first time.  It was the best meal I’d ever eaten.  It epitomized “the best reality.”  Returning last month I hoped that it would be just as perfect (which is about the only word that I can think of when it comes to eating–nay, experiencing–Canlis because the beautiful and invisible architecture that they’ve erected quietly guides you through an evening that is transformative and escapist).

To me, the previous visit had been about the incredible customer experience that Canlis has and continues to somehow improve.  The details, the service, the cohesion, the way that we felt immediately easy and welcome.  The food was incredible but the service is what I remembered.  This time the food and wine eclipsed it all…

We ordered the pre fix menu.  Heidi ordered the standard wine course and I requested the sommeliers pairings.  9 courses–nuanced, graceful, challenging, new, provocative, arresting, subtle, rich, soft, sequenced.  I’m running out of adjectives but the design and crafting and delivery were out of this world.  And here’s what blows my mind about that evening: I felt like I was eating the chef’s thought process about how he wanted us too feel or react.  It was like the kitchen was sending an embedded message in each course.  At some point I literally said “I think he wants us to taste the sea…” or “This is a taste of loamy verdant earth.”  Somewhere between an oyster and a transparent slice of A5 beef we all just stopped talking and let the food do it for us.  That sounds bizarre but it all sung beautifully.  It is the best meal I’ve ever eaten.

“To be or not to be.”  There’s a difference between doing and being.  There are places that “do” food (“We do steaks” or “We do fish”).  There aren’t that many places that be-come extraordinary.  Doing is perfunctory.  Being is a matter of choice.  Doing is rote.  Being is inspired.  To me, Canlis is being the spirit of invention and hospitality that results in the remarkable.

Again, thank you Canlis.  Thank you for the memories and the macaroons.