In the bricks-and-mortar world of retail, you no-doubt have heard a million times that it is all about location, location, location…right? Well – in the world of business, and life in general, the path to success is largely about RELATIONSHIPS.
I wasn’t always the smartest kid in class, or the most talented in any particular craft…but in the course of moving 13 times in my first 15 years of life, I found that I learned invaluable lessons about building relationships and “opening new doors”. And those lessons, as I found over time, could be applied in ANY environment – be it personal or business. So what exactly does that mean, you say?? Ok – fair question. Let me give an example from the early days of starting up grapevinehill.com (online discount footwear retailer):
[phone rings] …Uh, hello, grapvinehill.com – this is Mark speaking.
Joe: Yeah, this is Joe from TB Footwear returning your call.
Mark: Oh great – thank you for returning my call, Joe. I heard you were a hard man to track down, but I wanted to see if maybe you could carve out a few minutes to meet and see if there might be some opportunities for us to work together. Are you going to be in the office next week?
Joe: Next week? No…but, you’re going to be at “the show”, right?? Why don’t you swing by on Wednesday about 1pm and we can chat. I heard a little about you from Tony, and your story sounds interesting…
Mark: The show? [panic sets in as I realize I have no idea what he is talking about] Uh…OF COURSE I’LL BE THERE! Joe – I look forward to seeing you next Wednesday! [click]
Now there I was – sweat dripping off my brow – excited, yet completely baffled at the same time. “What show is he talking about??!!”, I screamed! My business partners and I scrambled feverishly to find out what he was referring to. After a short period of time Google-ing every footwear related show, we found the one that was next week. It was the WSA Show in Las Vegas…oh boy, VEGAS, here we come. We immediately booked our flights and found ourselves stumbling into a dirty room at the Flamingo to start our adventure. To make a long story short – I ended up meeting Joe a few days later. We had a long talk about business, our families and found that we had some unique ways that we could work together. The bond was built and then strengthened through business – I helped him by liquidating his slow moving inventory, and he helped me by supplying a strong brand name to my business and consistent/affordable supply. In the months and years to come, Joe became a strong advocate for my business and was always happy to introduce me to “friends” in the industry. By cultivating that one relationship – I was able to open doors with a dozen other brand designers that brought in $20+ million in sales for my little .com start up over the first couple of years. Some general rules:
- Be persistent. I had made several follow-ups through email and phone before hearing back from Joe. I was careful to respect him and his time. I sought out common interests – and more importantly common business goals that I thought would keep him interested in talking to an “unknown” like myself.
- Be genuine. NEVER be disingenuous – you will be exposed faster than a long-tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs! Take a genuine interest and make a concerted effort to find the win-win recipe for the relationship.
- Protect the relationship. Treat the relationship like precious GOLD. If the person you are dealing with feels like you truly have their best interests in mind, they will go out of their way to give you as much attention (and leads) as possible.
I applied this same approach in opening doors at hundreds of footwear companies as well as marketplaces such as eBay, Overstock, Buy, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and many other partners along the way – each one paying huge dividends by virtue of building relationships as a “go-to” source and partner. You will knock on dozens, if not hundreds, of doors. Some will not answer. Most will politely say, “Thanks, but we are not interested right now.” Sometimes – all it takes is ONE…and then ANOTHER…and ANOTHER…and ANOTHER! So keep knocking, and then treat each open door as a crop that will reap a huge harvest if you tend to it carefully and thoughtfully each day 🙂