Things, life, got big, really big, like my ass in Rasta colored, Zubaz zebra striped spandex bike shorts big. Contained, colorful, but still oversized. Lumpanaciously jiggly and stylistically a little out of date.
Three children, great friends around the globe and a couple of comfortable pairs of shoes. Nice. Three hundred team members, tens of millions in revenue, commodity contract pricing, direct mail marketing, double digit operating income, meetings to plan having meetings, corporate cacophony and triple digit triglycerides. Maybe not always the fun-liest place to be.
Friends and family; I hoped they’d keep me around for a while. Huge work team, well we know how that went. An incredible run, and I’d still help any of them in a second if they needed it. I’ll never be categorized as a great delegator, but over the years, I did get comfortable (comfortably numb?) having that huge amount of a staff around me; eventually learning to trust that they were going to get it done, learning to celebrate their triumphs, quirks and comeuppances. Coming out of Table Games, Kevin similarly had large teams working for him, hand serving every customer. When our teams succeeded, so did we. When they failed, we shouldered the burdens of all of our shortcomings.
Jumping forward, one of the challenges for Herb’N Gardens Farms is that in our significantly down-scaled human mode, we need to do it all: the thought, action, planning, planting, propagation, picking, pickling, packaging, picture taking & payroll, period. In the past, this would have gotten me seriously P’d off….. But I’m excited to get back to working hands on, literally, with the seed, substrate and the nutrient solutions. Introducing new customers to food we’re hand cultivating from seed to sale is so much more visceral than the 10,648,921 orders of Tyson Honey-Dipped Chicken Tenders with Ken’s Industrial Strength Ranch Dressing (Extra High Fructose Corn Syrup please) I sold over the years. I do love some Honey-Dipped Wing Dings once in a while though. Extra tender, greasy, fry-liciously good. And, when we sell our 10 millionth head of lettuce, I am seriously getting all my peeps drunk. Really drunk. Crap, focus, man-child….
Oooops, back to this writing thing. It’s almost a cliché, but the organism of the business is so much like the seeds we’re testing now. If we want to get beyond being the squirrels on the branch scratching our nuts, we need to scale down to being the seed of the damn oak tree this thing is to become. Start small, nurture it, add the simple stuff, really just water and a moist, warm place to grow. Trust that nature will work it out. Deal with the wind and the bad weather, warm sunny days and Buffalo white crapped stormy nights. A little guidance when it needs it, some secret-ing, and BLAM!! there it goes. What started as a speck is now a multifaceted, strong, lush forest providing core of life resources for ourselves and the other animals in our kingdom.
With this downsizing comes the need for greater fiscal austerity. We’ll be creating sustainable jobs for folks, but in the short term, how do we squeeze the most out of ourselves and our families to keep our heads above water? Where can we keep our expenses in check while building revenue from nothing to something to everything?
We’ve factored in a bit of wee help; as in “our wee little family members better learn to work” labor. I rarely advocate selling children into slavery (see previous blog posts) but do believe physical labor is beneficial for every child to learn. Even if they are more intellectually inclined, bound for the bright lights of medical school or silicone implants and such, it teaches them understanding and respect for the people and functions that keep the day to day of this place human.
Until they were old enough, for obvious reasons, it was hard to include our children in our work lives in the casino business. When my oldest daughter Heather came out and stayed with us for a summer after her Senior year of high school, I gave her a choice of washing dishes in the main kitchen or bussing tables in the Buffet. Wisely, she took the bussing job, which made her career-waitress Mom and I proud, and properly scared her straight toward a Masters in English Literature degree. Which made us even more proud. Start small, grow tall.
One of the most cohesive pieces of business advice I ever got was from Zoe. Sitting in our Food Court, having lunch with me one day during first grade, unprompted she busted out:
Zoe: “Dad, I have a five-point plan to improve your business here.”
Me: “What’s that Zo’?”
Zoe: “1. You should change your menus more often. People like new stuff. Give them something new and improved and they’ll buy more of it.
2. You need to smile more. If you smile more, your workers will feel better about themselves and they’ll smile more and do a better job. Then the customers will smile more and business will go up. So you should smile more. Plus I’d like it when you smile.
3. This gabling [sic] stuff, [she meant gambling], you should do it more. It looks fun, and if you do it more and have fun, you’ll smile more. And I already told you, if you smile more, business will improve. And I like it when you smile.
4. You should get those real race horses where the guy rides on the back. [Our property had standard bred harness racing]. People believe in those real horses more, so they’ll bet more, which will help your business.
5. I have a new Table Game for you. Ping Pong, but not just any Ping Pong; Electric Ping Pong. It’ll be awesome and people will line up for it.
I don’t know who she was channeling that day, laying it out so matter of fact. But either which way, she was right on so many levels. Start small. Grow tall. Listening to the words in the wind, there are things to be learned in everything.
My partners and I look forward to building a legacy business in which our children can join us at work, whether it’s to help or just to chill out. This past week when Kevin and I were setting up the first test grow, Makis pulled up my grandmother’s old wooden kitchen step stool, sat down at the work bench, and started planting Cos Island Romaine seeds with tweezers into coconut coir. He was just happy to hang out and help out, and it was a dad moment that was just cool. Ironically, so far, he has a 90% germination rate versus my 75%. Smaller size, bigger result.
We’ve had to step back from where we were in order to clear the landscape for where we are going. Backwards can bring up that queasy, stomach-in-the-throat, falling uncontrollably impending doom; not knowing whether you’re going to wack your head or be poked by a sharp stick nauseousness. But as Kevin showed me this past week in one of the great mysteries of Grand Island, it can also make what’s in view actually look closer, somehow enabling you to see the whole picture more clearly.
I am most excited about working with Liz (again), Kevin and the possibilities that seem endless with our new team. Their energy and contagious enthusiasm, probably derived from chasing three energetic young boys, drinking too much Red Bull, and setting aside quality family time for hiking in some woods will be a key to what makes us succeed. We’ve stepped down to this farming thing from the crazy, complex world of casinos, but that I know this will be bring us so much higher. Here’s to great growth and greens.