The Owner’s Eye

The Owner’s Eye

After floods in across eastern Australia in 2011 wrought significant disruption to businesses we heard many stories of employees working without pay to assist their employers to clean up and restore businesses so they could begin trading again.

These types of situations are a heaven sent opportunity for employers to build on their relationship by reinforcing what I call “the owner’s eye”. An example of a TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) member who display the owner’s eye includes a junior assistant at a bakery taking a phone call /order after hours as they are about to walk out the door, because an owner would take that call – owners never clock off.

Another example of the owner’s eye occurred during my most amazing day in bakery retail, in 2011 on the Wednesday at the peak of the Brisbane floods. Together with my son, Tim, who runs one of my co-owned Brumby’s stores in the suburb of Kenmore, I got up early to see how our three stores in the Kenmore area were coping. I expected all three to be closed as the whole of Brisbane resembled the scene from the movie The Day After Tomorrow. The water was lapping the front door of the first store and the second store could not be accessed in a locked mall. We were amazed to find that the third store at Kenmore Plaza was the only store in the suburb open and trading (at 5.30am).

Even at this early hour there was a long queue of customers stretching into the car park. Although people had been advised over the radio and TV to stay at home, we found the bakers baking away furiously using drinking water from Neverfail bottles as the water mains to the suburb had been turned off. At the front of the store, two part-time casuals (the only TEAM members not cut off from the floods) were trying to cope with the demands from the stunned local community. One of these casuals, who was not rostered on, had driven past the store and gone in to investigate as something appeared to be wrong with so many people queuing. She telephoned the main hands-on franchisees partners Sid and Robyn Moo, who were totally cut off. She took the initiative and phoned everyone who might be available. What an owner’s eye!

As a postscript, my son and I spent the rest of the day keeping supplies up to the bakers by bringing flour and yeast from closed bakeries, restocking the fridge and serving customers. Most of the time, the store had almost no stock in the counters because of panic buying. People were waiting in line for the next batch of bread to emerge from the ovens. It was like the mid ’70s when hot bread shops were new and rare and people flocked to them to get bread straight out of the oven, we could not slice it as it was too hot. We gave away free samples of leftover Christmas fruit mince pies to those waiting in line for half an hour to keep their spirits up.

Having been involved in baking for more than 30 years, the concept of the owner’s eye best summarises what retail baking/ franchising success means to me. Franchising is about taking a known brand and system and putting it in the hands of owner/operators who become the business owners and therefore have a lot of “skin in the game”. Typically new franchisees move from roles where they are employees on a fixed salary to owner/operators whose livelihood is dependent on the profitability of their new business.

I find that salaried TEAM members are keen to participate in a profit share or bonus arrangement, but I am yet to meet a person who is prepared to go into the red and bear a salary cut when the business experiences losses. Understandably people on salary do not want to have their wages docked if their business is losing money. The franchisee/bakery owner however as the owner, can find themselves in this territory as the last thing to be paid when cash flow is tight is the owner’s wage. If a business is interrupted through floods and lack of insurance with losses incurred, these are borne by the owners. Once the business starts losing money and the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Business owners have to look for every possible way to increase revenue and reduce expenses to get the business back on track and into profitable territory. Wage earners are paid no matter what the environment, but the business owner with the owner’s eye has to make every possible effort to get the business performing profitably. The owner will work seven days a week, 10 hours a day, be polite and look after every customer, rotate the stock, up-sell, maintain product quality and maintain excellent service.

At the end of the month however there might be insufficient funds to pay themselves a wage. Business owners are prepared to take this risk and expose themselves on the downside as they are usually optimistic and confident of achieving independence and profitable returns that are greater than the fixed salary they may previously have taken for granted. The reality is that an owner cannot be there 24/7 and serve every customer. Therefore, they have to rely on their TEAM members to produce excellent products, create and maintain an excellent service environment. The most successful business owners try to get their TEAM members to act like them and to view the business through an owner’s eye.

Identify, recognise, reward, train and retain any TEAM member who has early stage “owners eye “in your store it will be the best investment you will ever make.

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