Four of the Cape Region's successful business owners offered concrete tips and hard-earned advice to a sold-out crowd of entrepreneurs, would-be entrepreneurs and support-agency representatives during a recent "How to Succeed in Business" panel discussion
Restaurateurs Matt Haley and Susan Wood, web guru Shaun Tyndall and home builder Chris Schell talked about the elements of success, starting with the importance of hiring and inspiring excellent employees.
Matt Haley says the key is to pay top wages in a low-wage industry – and then expect adherence to strict company rules. He has a no-nonsense policy on things like drinking, drugs and cell phone use at work.
A former drug addict who now owns nine restaurants throughout the region, Haley has a history of success and philanthropy that have made him a regional icon.
He said the kind of people he doesn’t want don't even apply because of his rules. On the other hand, parents see his restaurants as a safe place for their kids to work. At the executive level, a core group of managers also receive top pay and sensitivity to their lifestyles. His goal, he says, is “to make 98 percent of people happy to come to work.”
He also said to ensure quality service, hire nice people. “You can't turn a mean person into a nice one,” he said.
Cultured Pearl owner Susan Wood cautioned listeners at the May 8 panel discussion to hire workers who plan to stick around. “It's very expensive to train people,” she said. “So don't hire other entrepreneurs.
It's important to determine why people want to work for you, she said. Once you believe in an employee, respect them and show them you appreciate them, she added.
Wood said she prefers bonus pay to raises because they more accurately reflect the business's cash position and they don't lock an owner into a future expense unrelated to sales.
Another common theme was appreciation for the community support they all say they have received, especially in their early years when most were struggling.
Shaun Tyndall said it was help from Dogfish Head Brewery that helped him get started. A 15th generation Sussex countian and founder of web design firm Inclind, Tyndall said his company now devotes about 18 percent of its time giving back to the community.
Haley recalled launching his first restaurant just as the nation experienced the attack on the World Trade Center. Business plummeted and cash tightened to the point that suppliers had to wait 60, 90 and sometimes 120 days to get paid. “And people kept selling to me,” said Haley, still sounding astonished and grateful.
Publicity and high rankings in travel publications in the second summer ignited his success and spawned other Haley restaurants, a consulting company and a caterer. Haley said together they once made Matt Haley Companies the fifth fastest growing private restaurant group nationwide.
In 1993, Wood pioneered sushi in Rehoboth Beach, opening the Cultured Pearl. She has since expanded her venture at a larger location on Rehoboth Avenue with related retail boutiques that benefit from the Pearl's high-end image. Where Haley's rags-to-riches story reads like a fairy tale, Wood epitomizes a start-up entrepreneur battling in the trenches. Despite the Pearl's polished exterior, she candidly described the mistakes, failures, anxiety and struggles behind the restaurant's success.
Her core message was to go all in, and then work as hard as it takes to avoid losing it. Stretch capital by doing everything you can yourself, and shop shrewdly for infrastructure. The Pearl's original equipment was bought at auction for half price, though it was almost new, she said.
“If you are borrowing money to do something you can do, you are wasting money,” she said.
Which is not to say she disapproves of borrowing. Spend within your means, she said. "When you borrow, pay it back. If you lose your credit, you lose everything.”
Speaking to women business owners, Wood recommended taking a shot at self-employment before having children or after children go to college – a lesson she learned the hard way.
Tyndall bootstrapped a completely different business type than the restauranteurs. He now employs 10 highly paid, carefully selected technology experts and business executives from top universities. The result is a small gem with a national footprint, a company he says recognizes strategic errors quickly and pivots instantly to capitalize on new opportunities. He says he arrived at this model by failing and taking too long to do it.
In 1999, as Haley was opening his first restaurant, 18-year-old Tyndall was a one-man web design guru operating out of his college dorm room. The market was mushrooming and to the newbie entrepreneur, the path to success seemed obvious – more business, more people, more money. Seven years later, he said, his business had grown to 15 people and was falling apart.
“I now believe that failing is part of the success process,” he said. “Find success through failure.”
He also suggested entrepreneurs mitigate risk whenever possible.
Chris Schell, president and CEO of Schell Brothers, Delaware's largest home builder, offered this tip to entrepreneurs: Branding is more powerful than marketing. It lasts longer.
“I believe companies that succeed the most are those that have a purpose beyond money,” he said.”A company driven by a higher purpose will almost always succeed.”
Schell left a partner position with a Wall Street hedge fund because he was miserable. He thinks that's because hedge funds are only about money. When he moved to Rehoboth to start his new company, he identified his purpose as happiness; not just for himself, but for customers and employees.
Now happiness is in their mission statement, ads, blogs, website, model homes and those enigmatic billboards along Delaware highways.
Held at the Sussex County Association of Realtors Conference Center in Georgetown, the event was organized by the Greater Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by WSFS Bank, the Small Business Administration's Service Corps of Retired Executives and the Greater Georgetown Chamber of Commerce.
Karen S. Duffield, the chamber's executive director, said similar programs are planned.
Keys to success
Learn from failure
Deliver the best
Brand your business
Identify a purpose beyond money
Develop and stick to an objective plan
Listen to and learn from others
React quickly to capitalize on opportunities
Ensure bad ideas fail fast
Don't borrow for something you can do yourself.