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Working Long Hours

What Time is It, Anyway?

Working in the family store; Seems that there are few children that escape the experience of working in the family business. The story has been told that I enjoyed working in Grandpa Brown's general store. It was said that the thrill for me was to assemble things. Aunt Jean tells me that I always worked in the backroom because Grandpa did not want customers to see that some youngster, was the one putting together the toys.

The memory of having worked for my parents in their stores goes back to the fourth grade. It started with sewing up the bags of feed, and then painting the counters when my Dad decided it was time to remodel the store. That was back in the mid 1960's. There were the many valuable lessons that were learned in the 1970's as I moved to Florida to work in the family business. Dad made sure that I started at the bottom of the "company ladder" so that I learned as many lessons as possible.

During the last ten years that my parents were in business, I worked for them in the store that I later owned. There was many an occasion when we sat together in our weekly management meeting where I registered the complaint about the number of hours that I was working.

In this discussion held one June morning, I mentioned that there was a meeting of the trustees of our church held on the second Tuesday night of each month. There had been nine meetings since the beginning of the school year, and I had missed 4 of them. Missing the meetings was not due to my being scheduled to work on the sales floor that evening, but was due to unforeseen problems in the store. The situation would be that someone was sick and would not be in, or there was a sale circular order that was not completed, and was due by the next morning.

Looking back at the situation, not only did I feel that it was our family standing alone in our efforts to build a business, but I realized that we did not have our employees working on our side. Most of them only had jobs, and worked their eight hours before gladly going home.

Tuesday evenings and this meeting were only an example. In my thinking, this happened too often on any of the five other evenings as well.

My complaint was about the number of hours that were worked and how unpredictable they were. There was an expression of disappointment that the store was in control of my life, and that we, as family ownership, were unable to get on top of this situation.

Going to trade shows today, that same type of remark is heard occasionally. Whether the individual is in their 20's, 30's, 40's, or 50's, someone has noted a similar situation and experience. It does seem to be heard more frequently with a multi-generation business.

When the shoe was on the other foot, as the saying goes, there was no longer anyone to complain to, or anyone to attempt to put the blame on. But, when I was the owner, I still worked long hours.

From the amount of work that was done at the store, and at home, a calculation would probably show that during certain times of the year, I worked as many or more hours than I did in the 1980's. So, why is it that when you are the boss, you don't seem to mind as much?

Partially, because of the ownership, partially because the hours were a bit more predictable, but some of it was because we had justified to ourselves the need for whatever the project was at hand.

These extra hours were there primarily, by choice. The choice that we made was an intentional decision and vocal announcement. We stated that we would always work to make our store one of the best. We would keep our store as a source of pride for ourselves and for our customers.

In attempting to convey that idea to our supervisors and team members (employees), we found that they had joined together as a team. In doing so, we had lightened the responsibility that fell on one person.

Examples of this occurred when we were decorating the store on Thanksgiving Eve. We were near completion as we closed that night. When we arrived on Friday morning, the Christmas decorations were completed because one team member decided to come to the store on Thanksgiving day to complete the project. It seems that his family meal was late in the afternoon, and he had some time available during Thursday morning.

There was the evening that the phone rang at home late one night. Another team member was calling from the store to ask where some supplies were stored. It seems that he was there over two hours after we closed because he wanted the display completed. And a final example, when a third employee called the store on his day off, expressing his excitement in a report about the discount stores that he had just completed reading. A sales representative from one of our wholesalers had presented the report to us the day before, and our team member wanted us to be prepared for the eventual opening of a new competitor in our town.

Surely, every owner or manager would agree that building a team of dedicated team members is a very important step in an effort to have a profitable store.

Somewhere in this arrangement we had managed to add to our staff, several individuals that were doing the types of tasks that we used to do. That sense of ownership had spread. Of course, we couldn't leave it so that only our supervisors are out there working the additional or odd hours. Just like all of our family pitched in for projects, we found ourselves working along side these individuals to complete the task. Not every time, but enough times to show the common interest in our success.

Our general rule was that we all worked only five days each week. And, that everyone take at least two weeks vacation. That was designed so that our team members would not get burnt out. We did not eliminate all the extra hours, but we think we had a better grip on them as we were able to have the personal time that each person should have.

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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