steve duross - craftsman. artisan. entrepreneur. musings on running and growing a small business

finding a place among the tribe

daunting. that would be my best approximation of the holiday season. as with any retail business, if you're doing your job, things get hectic. producing the product only serves to enhance the frantic nature of the experience. whatever one might think of the holiday season, it gives us a chance to catch up. an opportunity for which we are truly grateful.

i read somewhere that expectations only lead to resentment. well that's pretty glass half empty, but sometimes accurate. i create large expectations. within the brand. within our staff. within my family. i create large expectations within myself. at times this leads me to resentment. i know it does with some of the people around me. it simply cannot be helped. a by-product of demanding greatness. i sometimes wonder what my world would be like if i only cared about the bottom line. i guess we will never know.

recently i was chatting with my sister. a pas de deux of unsaid things that only siblings can deftly accomplish. as she danced around the idea, for the umpteenth time, of how her growing family (marriages, grandchildren, etc.) meant that everyone should curb their expectations about gathering the original core family at the holidays, i perfectly mirrored these sentiments until i swayed in the direction that this new paradigm left me free to pursue... how annoying. never wanting to lapse into the assumed role of odd-uncle-in-the-corner, i choose, as ever, to simply be free to do as i please. it's not that i don't love my family, i just don't wish to be undefined. or worse, allow them to define me. i fit into this tribe, but not easily. maybe if someone else in my family actually wanted to discuss the final four on this season's drag race finale... but no, that's never going to happen. i like to believe that with our business, having the profound opportunity to know so many people in an intimate way gives me license to show up in the world the way that i do. most likely not but a guy can still dream. it is on the rarest occasion that i find myself lonely, and though i thoroughly enjoy my solitude, most of my days are filled with an abundance of wonderful and interesting people.

recently i have been mourning the loss of a friend. something i feel more keenly than i would have expected. the thing is, i am standing in this moment trying to make sense of what's left and the world around me keeps moving as if nothing has occurred. sarah stays in the moment with me. silently strong. reminding me that whatever i am feeling is natural. with sarah i am never alone.

2016 is a year on which i will not look back upon with undiluted pleasure. a year that proved my spine is made of steel (some will say my heart too but that will be proven an unworthy epithet in the years to come). i learned that i can bend in gale force winds that blow unmercifully without breaking, that possessions rarely matter, that the only love worth giving is without expectation and that resentment belongs to those who simply cannot meet the measure. i learned that politics is rhetoric, that rhetoric is stupid and that pragmatism is my only way forward. i learned that to dream is not enough. a plan is required. and another, and another, and another. i also learned that you can still get mono at fifty-four (so so tired).

my tribe may be small but my tent is quite large. finding my place is a part of my journey. this is who i have always been and shall ever be, and as long as i have my strength and my health, anything is possible for the future

our fate is not always written in the stars

In one week, Yelp will be flying me to their high-tech headquarters in San Francisco for Coast-to-Coast: Community Powered Progress. This event, now in year two, brings together local business leaders from all over North America for discussions about what makes a great business tick. Last year I was honored to represent duross & langel as one of Yelp’s top 100 businesses. This year I've been invited to join the 21 member National Advisor Alliance that will present and lead discussions to a new group of the nation's 100 business leaders. That I have the opportunity to connect with other business owners, to share a bit more about myself, about my business journey is an amazing experience. It means a great deal to me to be a part of this year's Yelp event.

My topic? Hiring Talent and Creating Culture. Preparing to lead a group session on Tuesday, I am acutely aware that I have a short amount of time to draw out the participants into a general conversation. As you might imagine, I've given this a good deal of thought.

Like me, many business owners opened a venture based on a particular talent, passion or need. Any amount of success in our field changes the basic nature of our daily lives. Often we can become overwhelmed by the need to achieve while attempting to cope with the thousand little details of running a small business. What we feel, what we perceive, eventually becomes our reality. Staff success is ultimately a question of how and where they fit in to the dynamic. Do we as business owners make room for staff to make a difference? Allowing for mistakes and successes? What exactly are we willing to give up in order to receive more of what we lack? Effective communication, the art of responsibility, best use of time, efforts of empowerment. Rather than over-share, I want to draw the groups out about their thoughts, views and accomplishments. My job, as I see it, is to get the ball rolling and then facilitate the discussion. If successful, I will be walking away with new perspectives of my own and the opportunity to learn something I may not even know that I am seeking.

People have a variety of thoughts about review sites. Not least of all Yelp. Though we did not interact with the duross & langel Yelp site for almost ten years, we have known the joy of continuously holding a top five spot in Yelp's Philadelphia Shopping block. I tell you this because I believe it is important to note that though we were well rated, we did nothing to garner our position within the algorithm. It was the good will of our customers who love our store that gave us these amazing reviews. On one occasion when a pejorative comment was made that was detrimental to our business, I was blown away that Yelp looked at that particular review (i'm not saying I haven't had my share of bad ones..) and determined that the reviewer violated their rules of fairness. One day later, the review was gone. Something I still find truly amazing.

Unlike many of my fellow small business owners, the 3 star reviews don't eat up much time in my head. Of course they piss me off at first.. but then I look at what information is being given, and as a group, my team and I put into practice an attitude to improve based on whatever feedback was given. Never before in history have small business owners been given the opportunity to get this level of unsolicited feedback. In turn this allows us to build on what people love and improve upon that which they do not. At a time when a record number of small businesses are going under, we can now see what people think. And we can choose to use this information to our best advantage.

Fast forward to last year's Coast 2 Coast Event. I am sitting in a Yelp Advertising Workshop with fine people who are following along on their laptops. There I sat with my head in my hands, feeling despondent and at sea about my new salon. Simply put, it was failing. I was lost. For two years I had planned and then executed my vision for the salon with the concept of offering great work at a fair market price. A place where beauty begins by being yourself. I dreamed of filling the house with stylists who would be well trained and would strive to be the best. And, not least of all, a separate Men’s Grooming Lounge where I could continue to hone my barber/stylist craft and teach. Yeah. That was the dream. And none of it was happening. It became a big (beautiful) money sucking hole that offered me no joy. Anyway, the Yelp group leader Corey was talking about the options open to us and then bells began to ring in my head. "Here is how you can upload the pictures (and now video) you want potential clients to first see.. here is how you can create a call to action button that links back to your website for deals.. here is how you block competitor ads from your page when people wish to read about you". Nothing about the review part of my page or the site changes, except that I have some creative control over what visuals people accessing my yelp page see. ding ding ding! Now I am fully enthralled. Then there were break out sessions, lunches, time with other business owners when we shared our thoughts, dreams, disappointments, frustrations and joys. People coming together to help one another through shared experience, strength and ability. I’ve come to learn that opportunity is not a lengthy visitor and I didn't want to waste one minute of what was being offered.

Within a week I began to see where new potential clients were coming from. I could see who was accessing what part of my site, where they were calling from, who was taking advantage of my deals. The salon got busier, and for the first time since I had opened the place, I felt as though we might have a chance to succeed. To do what we set out to do. The reviews from our clients flowed naturally from there. We don't request they review us, but when my phone buzzes at 10:30 at night to tell me a review was just posted, my heart skips a beat. When I read what reviewers say about my staff, I am not ashamed to tell you that my eyes well with tears. I am so grateful to be surrounded by the people who share my day, and so humbled and blessed by the people who take the time to sit and write a review of their experience. 

So you can see why I am psyched to be going back to Yelp headquarters to present this year. Paying it forward. Giving back. Showing up and being grateful for the last year's success and for the many fine people I met at Yelp. That I can be there to share my experience, strength and hope gives me endless delight.

As for our Salon? Let's just say my amazing team is doing incredible work. Their days are busy and our shared vision is working. Yelp gave me a chance to move the needle, which means I continue to teach while honing my craft in the Men's Grooming Lounge I always dreamed about. These days my life is once again abundant. Filled with work and creativity and the sound of laughter. And I have, quite simply, found my way home.

the rules of reciprocation

me and my big mouth. i should learn to control my need for joining in the conversation. cory was handling the request for a donation like a champ. then, upon hearing "well maybe if you have a bunch of sample sizes that you're not using", i blurted out a tiny bit of information that eventually led to the woman's ire.

"it costs us almost as much to produce a 2oz size as it does to produce a full size." i said. it was not snotty or dismissive or curt. i was merely offering a factoid. she retorted something about the price of the 2oz size being so high but i had already moved on to a ringing phone and a client checking-in for the salon. needless to say she returned the purchased goods 15 minutes later. i wasn't trying to be a dick. i simply wanted to be informative. unfortunately, like everyone else, there are moments when i can be thoughtless and obtuse.

the rules of reciprocation are pretty set. when one person does another a favor, there is an unwritten rule that at some point in time the favor will be returned. you shoveled my walk during a storm, i'll buy your candy bars to support new team uniforms. you help me secure a loan, put me up for retailer of the year, write a great review, send in your friends... "much obliged" my gratitude is assured. somewhere along the line, i may be asked for a favor in return. never specifically asked in return mind you, but that's how most societies across the globe for thousands of years have operated. not actually quid pro quo so much as being a good neighbor. a good friend. a kind person. an active member in our society. sure we will donate a basket to your kid's school fundraiser. this is what we do. community. relationships.

the store itself is an enterprise, not a relationship. we often have relationships with our customers but if we gave to everyone who asked, i would be forced to work for no pay. seriously. we are delighted that many people think so highly of our products that they want to include us in whatever is going on in their life. we are touched that there are so many people who are working to make the world a better place. to support kids, feed and shelter the homeless, offer low or no income women healthcare, fight for their fathers/mothers/kids/families who have suffered from disease. like you, when it gets personal, we roll up our sleeves and join in. give until it hurts.

rarely does anyone ever assume this is the case. we do not have nor do we wish to create a foundation. often money gets diverted to the bureaucracy of any organization. we believe charity begins at home. those in the house who wish us to support their charitable work are first up at bat. then our personal relationships with friends and clients. then a pool of requests that we choose from each year that vary according to emailed requests from the prior year.

but sometimes i say something or do something or simply stand in the wrong place at the wrong time and poof! away goes any feeling of goodwill i might have enjoyed from our giving because inevitably, someone gets disappointed or offended (or quite literally), they expect something specific in return. the following is our template for saying no to most of the average 15 requests per week:

Dear Whomever,

Thank you for thinking of us for your event/charity/organization/request.

At duross & langel, we receive over a dozen requests each week for donations. Having raised money for silent auctions and raffle events, I respect how difficult it can be to not only procure donations, but to have to ask.

Each year we focus our contributions to a list of charities we personally hold dear. In most cases we do this privately and quietly.

In the store we often raise funds for various charities through our business by apportioning a percentage of the sale of our own products. It has become our company policy that contributions should flow directly to those most in need rather than through events, and we prefer to limit our donations to smaller direct impact charities rather than large foundations.

We do not offer our goods for swag bags. Though the perception of greater exposure through charity is often suggested as an incentive for our participation, at duross & langel we believe that giving becomes it’s own reward. We wish you the best of luck with your fundraising event and thank you again.

Warm Regards,

Steve Duross

though the rules of reciprocation do not apply to commerce, we hope people never stop asking for our support. and we promise to do our best to support all communities. directly.