Mark My Words—May, 2017

By Mark Lipton,

  Filed under: Departments, Mark My Words

Contributing Writer

The Rich and the Bald

If asking me for money is a sign of love, then I have no doubt whatsoever just how much my 19-year-old daughter loves me! She’s proven that love every day since she got home from freshman year! For me though, I wish love were measured in room cleaning or laundry folding; it would feel a lot better to be so loved!

Having a teenager back in the house for the summer has me thinking about more than just “how much is it going to cost me?” We have already started our summer-long conversation about her plans for the coming sophomore year. I have always been a big fan of lots of planning and I’m happy to see that she has embraced that family trait.

I’ve written before about how much planning I like to do. I have short terms plans: changing a store around or changing out some displays. I have long-term plans: adding a sales rep or a whole new line fit into that category. How your business operates and what changes you need to bring over the coming months and years, if you want to continue to grow and stay competitive, are crucial details. Whether you have one store or 20, if you want good decision making that leads to good outcomes, you need to plan. But the plans you make, the specific road maps that guide your day-to-day actions, are only as good as your larger vision for your life, your stores and even your life after your stores.

I have always been a daydreamer. My mother would say I’m contemplative: my girlfriend would say I’m spacey and “tune out.” They’re both right, I guess. But I like to have a vision for my life and where I would like it to go so that I can properly plan for what steps I can take to create that vision. I regularly leave time in my day for contemplation: that vision-building quiet time where I can sit, think, and dream about where is my life going. It’s during those quiet moments that I challenge myself to recognize what steps I can take that will lead to my vision for my life becoming a reality.

At some point, all of us are going to want out of our lives as independent paint retailers. Whether you have one store or 50, whether the paint business has made you rich or made you bald, your time to exit will come. As independent paint retailers though, there is not a fluid and liquid market for our stores. It’s not like you can say “I’m going to sell my stores and retire next week” and have a reasonable expectation that it will all work out just right. Too few people coming in as independent retailers means fewer buyers, which likely means lower prices for the owner on the way out. Without a vision of how you are going to get out and years—or even decades—designing the road that leads to that vision, it’s going to be harder than you think to find a chair when the music stops playing.

I am considering hiring two sales reps at the moment. Lets see how this plays out—I only have two stores so this would be a major step and investment. But hiring two reps is about more than just trying to grow my business. It’s part of a long-range exit plan for me that starts with a vision: it will be easier to sell my business (for a price that I like) to someone who intimately knows and understands my business, than it will be to an outsider!

If I do my job right (meaning execute this plan well), maybe one of these new hires becomes the person I sell my business to when retirement age comes? I will consider all the factors as I interview: their age versus mine, how they answer questions about their goals, and how they see their lives going will all color my thinking at decision time. Two other times in my career I’ve hired employees with the intention of at some point transitioning my business to them. Obviously that plan didn’t work either time. Still though…a well executed plan that fails, teaches you more than no plan at all!

They say a goal without a plan is just a wish! I don’t like to count on wishes coming true, so I like to have both: a vision for where I want to go and also a detailed plan that, if executed well, will get me there! I have been stopping at the ATM more on the way home since my daughter got home from school because just hoping to get out of my stores at retirement age is about as wise as not having cash handy when my daughter walks in the room.

Mark Lipton is the 4th generation owner of Tremont Paint in New York City as well as a consultant to the coatings industry.