Category Archives: Sustainability

I was The Gar-repairman!

 By Jeff Bowman

For the past 10 years or so, at dusk on a Tuesday evening I would assume a different identity and travel the streets of my neighborhood in search of repairable items that people had discarded at the end of their driveways, to be hauled away by garbage trucks the next day. Several people knew my secret identity, and have kept it very quiet over the years, however, I will now reveal myself as “The Gar-repairman”

I didn’t do it for profit, quite the opposite; I did it for community service. I am somewhat handy, and electrically inclined.  I enjoy taking things apart to see how they work. Several years ago it occurred to me that those who aren’t good with their hands, or had no knowledge of the inner workings of gears and motors, would simply discard an item and purchase new rather than attempting what was often an easy fix.  The “throw-away” consumer. Those who fully believe in the theory of manufacturing’s planned obsolescence policy. If it breaks it is cheaper and easier to repurchase than to fix. For many years I fought that notion.

I would travel the streets in my unmarked vehicle (so as not to give away my identity), and peruse the piles on the curb. If I saw an item that I thought I could fix, I would casually stop, jump out of the car, grab it and stuff it back in the car and make a quick getaway. Sometimes my son would join me to make it quicker.  We called them “the drive bys”.  Lamps, fans and shop vacs were my specialties, but occasionally I would snag whipper snippers or leaf blowers and other small appliances. A tangled nylon string in the base of the cutter, a cut or worn electrical cord, a fan blade that simply needed cleaning and a drop of oil, a faulty switch or a cracked cover, were common problems and easily fixed at little or no cost using parts from items I couldn’t safely fix.

Now what do I need with all this repaired stuff you might be asking yourself?  I didn’t have a need for it, so every few weeks I would load the car up again with fixed items and drop them off at local charitable organizations, who could sell them and use the money for their very worthy community programs. It was like an in kind donation. (I often received odd looks when I would drop off   3 of the same item)

Times have changed. I don’t have as much time now as I used to, I am purging stuff in my house (donating) and stepping back from my Gar-repairman persona. Today, I believe some products are being made to expire a week after the warranty runs out, cheap plastic has replaced harder, sturdier materials in housings and gears and items that used to be an easy fix are truly not worth repairing now. I will continue to support local charities in other ways because they need the support in this economy, however my days of lurking in the dark for items of interest are over. To those who kept my identity a secret thanks!  To those who yelled at me from their windows on “garbage eve”, your discards went to a worthy cause.

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Filed under Environmental, Jeff Bowman, Manufacturing, No-for-Profit, Sustainability

Spring bulbs can still flower

By Stephen Rhodes

Jeff’s scavenger hunt got me thinking about spring, and the seasonal reboot that tales place once the sun stays in place for any length of time.

By now, you know if your marketing plan is working. Are you happy with the results? If you are, great, keep it up. If not, you need to take a look at the key metrics that you use to measure success. It’s only the second quarter and there is plenty of time to change the trend line.

First, examine your expectations. Were they realistic? Have market conditions put your plan in jeopardy? Has your competitors stepped up their game? Have your customers responded favourably to changes you may have introduced – price increase, new products, improved customer service?

Failure in business often comes from a dogged persistence to stick to a plan that isn’t working. Smart business people are adaptable and open to change.

Smart business people also have their finger on the pulse of their business and have a set of indicators that help them measure success. You need to understand and monitor the metrics that are important to your business.

If one of your goals is to develop new customers and your marketing tools are not getting your message to the people you want to reach, change the tools.

Talk to your customers. Sometimes we get so caught up in the advances of marketing through media darlings like Facebook and Twitter that we forget the old-fashioned telephone can put us in touch with a customer instantly.

There is no shame in adjusting your goals midstream.

If your goal is to drive the top line, revenue, and you have invested heavily to do that, you need to look at what’s working and what isn’t and refocus the investment. If the goal is to protect the bottom line, then you might have to adjust expenses. Hopefully, in any kind of investment in your business, you provided for a reasonable length of time to allow for growth, part of your strategic approach to building your business.

The point here is that there is lots of time to adjust your plan. With a little care and attention, the bulbs you plant this spring will still flower.

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Filed under Communications, Customer Service, Managing, Marketing, Networking, Sales, social capital, Stephen Rhodes, Sustainability

Sales and Charitable Fundraising

By Jeff Bowman

CBC News recently reported that “Charities paid $762M to private fundraisers”.  The number struck me as relatively insignificant given the fact that annual fundraising accounts for about $2.8 billion and over the time period that the report covered (5 years) the fundraising dollar value was over $8.2 billion.

The significant facts lay deeper in the story, where cases are outlined where fundraising costs were 75% and more of the funds raised, in fact some cost more than the donations brought in. Our government has rules governing fundraising activities (what don’t they have rules governing?) The rules say that 35% is a good measurement to use when comparing costs to revenue, and quite frankly, I agree. Consider that of 85,000 registered charities in Canada, only 651, less than 1 percent used external fundraisers.  The other 99% either used volunteers, internal employees or some variation, usually citing the high cost of external assistance as their reason for not using professionals.

In the world of sales we measure the value of an expert salesperson along the same lines, with revenue generation, potential development, building long term relationships and goodwill as items on the scorecard, all weighted against the cost of his or her services. It is not uncommon for companies to look to sales people to generate 2 or 3 times their cost in returned revenue. Say for instance a salesperson brings in $250,000.00 in revenue, not sales, hard dollars that go to the bank.  In doing so they are raising the reputation of the company, which in turn promotes long- term relationships, encourages client referrals and ensures future sales, sustainability. I think you would agree that compensation of $82,000.00 would be fair, considering the company is getting a 66% return for their investment.

The real comparison lies in the numbers of companies that don’t believe a skilled salesperson is worth the money they would have to spend. They scrimp and save, and make do with inadequate sales agents, pay them far below what they are worth, create targets too high and in turn decrease the commissionable compensation, and then are quite surprised when they bolt for the competition.

It is true, money doesn’t grow on trees.

Revenue, whether it is not for profit donations or B2B and B2C, profits  has to be earned, and it is the trained professionals that go out and earn it. When I speak to leaders of small and large companies, I hear the same song time and again “we can’t afford to pay a good salesperson”.  The “ afford” and “pay” mindset has to be relinquished in favour of viewing the money spent as an investment in generating revenue.  If a salesperson is not generating multiple times their compensation then there is either a problem with the territory, the skills of the salesperson or the mix of base and commission to drive performance.

If I told you that an investment of $30.00 right now will return $100.00 by the end of the year, and continue to pay dividends for years to come would you give me the money? (You’d have more money to give to charities then!)

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Filed under Jeff Bowman, not-for-profit, Sales, social capital, Sustainability

Turn up the Speakers

By Jeff Bowman

We all learn using a variety of different methods – seeing, hearing, reading  – however a great number of people have self enforced sensory deprivation when it comes to increasing their own knowledge base with regards to their business.

I took the opportunity recently to see two very good speakers in Toronto and another in Oakville who spoke on pertinent business and social issues.  As a speaker and trainer for the past 20 years, I thoroughly enjoy watching others present and seeing how their message is delivered and received by the audience.  There are always interesting tidbits that I record and add to my own arsenal.

Too often we are overwhelmed by our daily tasks to indulge in a little self-improvement. I found in the past few years that my time was extremely limited, so I would listen to informative CDs in my car.  Call me old-fashioned, but I still visit the library to source these materials. But when there is an opportunity to attend a live event with a choice of speakers in the same venue, I try to make the time to attend. Rarely am I disappointed with the presentations.

The first speaker I saw was Ken Wong who spoke in-depth about the dollars spent on marketing versus the return that is recognized.  Ken also touched on strategies that companies adopt during recessionary periods and their overall contribution to the success or demise of that organization. Interesting stuff from my perspective! The line that I relate to best is that companies need to understand “that there is a whole new generation of hippies coming” referring to the green and environmental generation.

Next up was Simon Sinek who encouraged us all to ask ourselves “Why” we do what we do. The message was simple and to the point – do what inspires you.  There was a great deal of the presentation that I took to heart.

Finally, I was able to hear Justin Trudeau speak about the youth of today, their trials and tribulations and the need for them to feel appreciated and understood. He spoke passionately about getting Canadians involved, because being involved is the only way to shape the future. That included businesses who need to take a leadership role in training and development of our youth.

The learning curve never stops. Our thought processes need to be fed regularly whether it be through activities, relaxation, reading or in my case listening to people with new and innovative ideas. The value of attending educational events is immeasurable, and employers should be encouraging their employees to seek out and participate in such events. Even an old dog can learn a new trick.

What was the last engagement you attended?

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Filed under Communications, Environmental, Jeff Bowman, Marketing, Sustainability

Working from a Clean Slate

By Jeff Bowman

As I travelled through Scotland, it became very obvious that the Scots were experts at making the most out of the least. It is a business lesson worthy of note.

I often speak about the importance of looking for opportunities for your product or service outside the usual suspects.  An example would be a wood mill producing wood for building.  For years the shavings were discarded, and now there is a strong demand for the shavings to produce chip boards, wood pellets for burning and even animal bedding.  It is maximizing the sales and usage opportunity of your goods.

Long have I heard the stories about the Scots being “frugal”.I have a different slant on it.  They are intelligent users of their resources, and have been way ahead of the “reduce and reuse” curve that we are just getting a handle on now.

I asked a local business person in Glasgow why the roads were barely wide enough for two cars on the outskirts of the city. His response was simple and to the point, “ land is precious and roads cost money, if cars can pass what else do they need”. He is absolutely correct.

As I looked around, it was all around me. All the taxis were the same make, more compact to make travelling on the tight roads easier and safer, and repairs were simplified due to them having the same parts.  Many of the buildings looked centuries old even in newer sections of town.  They build them like that because they have an abundance of granite, and want continuity with the older buildings in the city. The older buildings, some hundreds of years old were obviously built to last.

One product really caught my attention.  The vast majority of roofs were slate tiled.  Where we use metal, asphalt shingle or cedar shakes, they use a much heavier natural material taken directly from quarries all over Scotland. In some cases these roofs last hundreds of years. In cases where repairs are required, slate is recycled from other buildings that have been removed or disassembled with the stones being saved for other new projects.  Not only were the slate tiles on buildings, but the exact same slate tiles appeared in many different places throughout my trip. They were placemats in one of the older hotels.  I ate off slate tiles in a popular Scottish pub. Souvenir shops had slate tile calendars.  Some of the public washrooms used them on the counters, and I can’t tell you how many places used the same slate tiles for floor tiles.

If there was another use for these rectangular tiles, I couldn’t think of it.  Not only have they maximized the usage of a particular manufactured product that they mine the raw materials for themselves, they have methods of reusing it as well. Even the chips from the cutting process are used in garden beds for decorative purposes.

Call the Scots frugal if you must, I prefer to think of them as people make the most of what they have and look for ways to gather value out of everything they do. Buildings that last hundreds of years, roofs that don’t need replacing every 20 years, and a myriad of uses for a single product from a single manufacturing process.  That’s just plain smart.

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Filed under Environmental, Invention, Jeff Bowman, Manufacturing, Sustainability