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  • Mark Mulcahy

1000 Little Things


"Mastering the art of resilience does much more than restore you to who you once thought you were. Rather, you emerge from the experience transformed into a truer expression of who you were really meant to be." -Carol Orsborn


Sometimes life throws things at us and we find out just how resilient we are. If there has been any year that has shown us how to be resilient or transformed us into who we were meant to be, it has been this one. Like many of us, I learned to love, hate, grow tired of and - finally - embrace the power of virtual connections. Like many of us, I learned to adapt in ways that I had never even considered. Like many of us, I came up with new ideas on how to run my business. Like many of us, I struggled to find my footing and ended up putting a plank across the quicksand to stand and see how to move forward. Like many of us, I did see ahead - though I’m still figuring it out every day. For me, it was doing a group of workshops on burnout with Carolee Colter for the NCG and INFRA, a seminar on Retail Resilience with Brittany Baird at Provender, leading the opening reception for this year’s Provender conference with my Flavor Foundations partner Sam Vandegrift, and deciding to become part of the Columinate IGM program that got me through and allowed me to see how resilient I could be. But mostly, I learned to listen. When I took on the role of Interim General Manager at a Co-op in western Massachusetts to help them rebuild staff morale, new systems, and grow sales in preparation for the hiring of their new permanent GM, I took a leap and trusted my instincts and years of experience to tackle something I had never done before - again, just like many of you have had to do this year. So I packed up my pickup truck, drove and camped my way cross-country, and landed in Williamstown at the Wild Oats Co-op. The Co-op had been facing declining sales before the pandemic, and the staff had been disempowered for years but still remained strong in their love for their store. So often as leaders we dive in and try to do everything ourselves - to tackle all of the big issues we are faced with, and to right the ship. This time, however, I listened to the wisdom of the crew - who had been sailing for years, and had already been navigating the troubled waters of the pandemic. After working with the team for a couple weeks, I created a program called 1000 Little Things where I asked each team member to write any idea that would make their job - or someone else’s job - better or easier, on post-it paper in two areas of the back room. At first it took a little coaxing, where I’d say “go write that down” if they threw out an idea while I was bagging groceries or merchandising an endcap. Then, over the next 6 weeks, the papers filled up quickly - from the smallest of things like “can we have price guns that don’t jam?”, or “can we fix the receiving door so that it doesn’t blow open in the winter?”, to larger projects like “can we fix the roof so we don’t have to put buckets all over the store when it rains?”

Every week, we brought the list to our management team meeting and decided how these things could get accomplished and who would be responsible for them. The post-its stayed stuck on the wall by my desk as a reminder about the task at hand. We weren’t always successful, and not every idea was completed - but I can tell you that we solved a lot of issues and raised morale considerably just by listening to the staff. In the end we implemented over 100 staff-submitted ideas to improve efficiency, workflow, and the general work environment with the “1000 Little Things” program, and grew total net store sales by 16.84% compared with the same period last year (July 1st - October 8th). Total store weekend income increased 20.2% over the same time period last year with a 3-day weekend sale program we built together as a management team - a difference of $116,738.34. We tackled a lot of big issues while I was there - from EIDL loans, empowering the staff, rebuilding accountability, and growing sales in an uncertain economy, to a complete reorganization of the business - but none of it could have been accomplished without the resilience of the team and the simple act of listening. Often it seems like it’s the biggest problems that hold us back or keep us from reaching our goals, and yet often we find it’s just 1000 little things.

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