“This is what I always envisioned,” Jason remarked over lunch. Surrounded by a carefully assembled team of diverse and creative thinkers, specialists, expert managers, and business partners all chatting about how to best serve customers. For any small business leader coming up with a business strategy or putting together a business plan, having a clear vision is key. Jason always envisioned building a phenomenal team, through a great leadership team, that would elevate the guest experience at Sudsies, a dry-cleaning powerhouse he founded 26 years ago.
When building any organization, Jason states “you have to have the end goal in mind, from the beginning”. It also must be a long term and big vision because along the way there are going to be a lot of challenges in achieving the audacious goal. If that long-term vision is big enough, attracting buy-in from your team becomes relatively straightforward. The organization becomes a magnet, attracting the right people for the right roles, allowing you to foster a growth environment where people buy-in larger than their position and contribute to making the vision a reality. The bigger the vision and the more the buy-in, the more likely the team, as a unit, will push through challenges by transforming them into opportunities. This is the Jason Loeb operational foundation of how to build a new business as a team. This is how all his companies make success happen.
Jason emphasizes that, as the leader, “you have to believe in your vision because if you’re going to ensure that you get buy-in from others joining the team, you’re going to have to be confident in the fact that the team members themselves not only believe in the vision but that they know that you believe in the vision as well”. Positive energy, optimism, and growth mindsets tend to be infectious. As Giorgio Armani stated, “The secret is to remain true to your aesthetic vision, so that people can see that you really believe passionately in what you are doing. That way, they can relate to your style. At the same time, you experiment – you try new things.” This corporate commitment to vision is what allowed Armani, as a brand, to combine ethics with aesthetics so that their style could be used to express enduring principles and it is also what allows Sudsies to employ a synergetic through-line to connect VIGs (very important guests) to their people, their process, and their results.
Jason’s championing of a once in a lifetime service, at every touch point, is the backbone of this synergy between guest experience, branding, quality assurance, team and company culture, and consistency. His all-encompassing, “big picture thinking” and clear vision is the glue that holds everything together and the substance that makes up the immense strength of that glue is his meticulous attention to the smallest of details: in garments, in service, in small business, in operations, in individuals, in communities, and in society. Jason’s vision is the blueprint that set the stage for excellence (that emotionally resonates across the board) at Sudsies, to be achieved through operational engineering.
When it comes to buy-in, operational engineering in outlining a big long-term vision, prioritizing partnerships, and integrating systems with inclusivity in mind are all critical. If you are inviting others to join you in your business journey, then they will require a blueprint of what that journey looks like. They will be secure in the knowledge that you have plotted a course and that you have a plan. Buying into the vision becomes less risky and most importantly, worth it. You bring an ease to the conversation and the endeavor in showcasing that you’ve thoroughly considered the industry you are venturing into, your end goal, potential obstacles along the way, or aspects and elements of the business that can prove to be competitive advantages. At Sudsies, the operations were pre-planned and structured to be competitive through an engineered and streamlined efficiency that would not only better serve the work and the team but especially the guest and their perception of the services.
This can be seen in Sudsies’ implementation of an ADM (automatic dry-cleaning machine) for convenient drop off, bar-coding tagging for smooth organization and less mistakes, real time tracking and communications to guests through the Giulietta machine, and impeccable mobile services in the custom routes driven and in-depth knowledge given from the Sudsies drivers. It’s a team effort, from top to bottom, and everyone’s bought into the same vision and painting with the same brush. The cohesive buy-in is what makes the operation work but the fact that it is coupled with a propensity for constant and never-ending improvement is what makes the operation excel. Jason is always questioning, how can this be made even better, what is missing, what would be greater? His focus is always on improving the service and the experience for people (his team and his very important guests). It is easier for a vision to be bought into when the leader not only a blueprint at the beginning had, but it is also known that he is constantly adjusting it and building upon it to make it even greater.
The culture at Sudsies is one that is filled with an orchestra of emotions (joy, pride, gratitude, excitement, mindfulness, respect, love, passion, optimism, and desire). All of these positive emotions are showcased in the individual stories of each friendly employee, and it is a pattern that repeats. When speaking of the orchestra that is Sudsies and the conductor that is Jason, time and time again, the employees (industry experts themselves, with decades of experience) light up. Passion and courage in their eyes, they are bought in. More than that (if you are someone looking in from the outside), you are filled with a bit of envy and jealousy which bolsters your own enthusiasm to want to buy-in and be a part of the family. That’s what great cultures do. You end up feeling like you are missing out or left behind when you are not a part of them. They inspire, attract, retain, and grow great talent and even better human beings. The words “infectious” and “contagious” are often used and not just referring to a 2021 pandemic. They come to mind, whenever you see a great culture and when it comes to Sudsies, this is the vibe and the energy, but what exactly do these terms signal?
What they signal is a culture that is “undeniable”, one that is “too tempting” to resist. As a small business, your culture will be the vehicle with which you achieve your success, and it is this success and its associated results and symptoms that make you an industry leader. Culture, when done right, builds momentum. It gives thrust and it gives meaning to the endeavor. As Jason states, “a lot of people in life take more than they give and a lot of people are uncomfortable in receiving, but there is no better feeling in the world than giving”. Your business culture is what you give to your employees and what you receive from your employees, when in mirroring you, they give it back to you. It’s a feedback loop.
If you want it to, the culture of your business can be a protective garment with which you wrap up your people, branches, and operations so that enthusiasm and productivity endures. A great culture can serve as an umbrella, that shields your business from the tough times, when it pours and thunders across your industry landscape. It can make all the difference in you making it across the finish line, as you stay the course. Culture inspires and when the winds howl, what’s the look you want to see in your employee’s eyes… is it passion and courage?
How you define your culture and the words you choose to embody your brand will dictate the philosophy and the creed that you and your employees live by. For Sudsies and Jason, it is “we are in the people business” and “your clothes will love us”. It is a philosophy and a creed that are put into action with consistency, effortless ease, and sophistication. As Vera Wang once said, in an HBR interview, “I also look for an affinity and an understanding of what I do, my brand, and my sense of style. It’s important for every company that their employees feel that way.”
Three Takeaway for Small Business owners:
- In business strategy or in the forming of a business plan, vision is the key. Have the end goal in mind but be open to adjusting, along the way, to arrive at your ultimate destination. Airline pilots make many minor and major adjustments in their flight path, from point A to point B, due to some predictable and many unpredictable headwinds. Although you won’t always know what obstacles or market conditions, you’ll face 100% of the time (no matter the extent of the preparation), your vision will help you. Being able to keep your long-term vision in mind, when facing unexpected challenges, helps you to put short term obstacles into perspective so you’ll be less likely to react emotionally in the moment. Your vision is your why and when you have your why, you’ll know exactly how to act and what courses of actions to take, in the face of adversity, that continue to support your mission and your vision.
- Learn to compartmentalize the departments of your business, so you don’t miss out on any critical elements or components but be synergetic in your execution, so that the departments run as effectively as they can be run, as a single unit. At Sudsies, the compartments of the business are all accounted for. Jason is aware of the guest facing component of the business as well as the back of house operations. having an awareness of these two elements of the business as two distinct components is what, in execution, allows for Jason to have an Operations Manager and a Guest Experience Manager at each and every location but it is running the business, and its various components as a single unit in synergetic harmony that allows for each location to have a friendly and welcoming mom and pop store front feel. In fact, it is not unusual, for guests to be given a tour of the operational journey that their garments go on. This methodology is a cornerstone in engineering, whether for operations, or otherwise; pull the pieces and components apart (of, in thise case, the business), see what you are working with and what the various elements are, and put it all back together again as a single unit. Like a giant puzzle with a piece that is missing or a part that doesn’t fit, you’ll immediately know what the action to take is because you’ve gone through this mental exercise to see clearly under the hood of the engine that is your business.
- Vision and Operational Engineering are one thing, but communication is everything. How do you communicate amongst your team, what channels do you have open so that your leadership and team can communicate with you, how do you shift through communications of various urgencies, what is your response time, and are you actively listening to what the people around you are really saying so that you can communicate with them impactfully when it matters most? Communication is all around us. Miscommunication is as well. Always be conscientious of who your audience is (when you are communicating), know the intent of your message before you begin to speak, and always be cognitive of how you are speaking and how you are being received while you are communicating. It can be with a partner, with a guest, with a client, or with a team member and it can be spoken, written, visual, or inferred but realize that human beings are (like a business) always speaking volumes and what is being said or received is always of the utmost importance at truly connecting at the core of what matters most: being of service.