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

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.