Reciprocity: Secret to Small Biz Success

Reciprocity in the Workplace

For 25 years my husband and I have owned and operated one of those rare businesses that succeeds against all odds. People often ask us the secret to our success and are disappointed when we say there is no secret. Lately we’ve been discussing our reciprocal business philosophy and it occurred to me – perhaps that’s our secret! We teach our employees how the link between dedication, loyalty, and success is genuinely reciprocal in thriving companies. The harder employees work, the more employers invest in them, and the more they improve. The better employees get, the happier they become, & the more success they achieve. And when employees succeed, companies succeed, and then find themselves in a position to invest even more back into employees.

And so it goes. Reciprocity at its core. That’s the secret.

But it doesn’t stop there. Reciprocity includes customers. In fact, it can’t work without customers. Because successful companies don’t worry about the short-sighted quick sale and take time to improve lives long term, customers support them. Our company focuses on improving our customers’ lives by improving the lives of their children and their pets. We will talk a customer out of buying the wrong thing and lose the sale in order to keep the customer. That’s one of the many reasons customers trust us. To support our mission, our customers keep their business local, with us. That investment extends to our community outreach which makes a positive difference in our city. Our strong community supports us so we can then invest in our employees who then invest in our customers who are the very community that supports us. Reciprocal. Everyone wins.

Over the course of the last year, after realizing my husband, Tim, and I were answering more questions than asking, we’ve had to consider that perhaps it’s time to accept our roles as mentors in the spirit of reciprocity. Our city created an annual “Best of…” competition 20 years ago and residents have voted us “Best of Lawrence” every single year since. Competitors come and go but we’ve never lost. We’ve been asked to mass market our staff training program, sell our store, expand our company, franchise, hit the public speaking circuit, write books, offer seminars…you name it. Tim coaches, I teach, we both manage, so that all makes sense. I guess it’s time. But here’s the thing. For us, it’s not about money or popularity or rapid, financial growth. It’s about responsible stewardship.

“From he whom much is given, much is expected.” Luke 12:48.

Instead of selling our knowledge for money we’re chosing karmic compensation. Perhaps it’s financially unsound to offer up a quarter century of free entrepreneurial wisdom to anyone with an internet connection. But frankly, we’re not too concerned about the risk. Since 1988 we’ve been trying to do what is right regardless of cost and this philosophy hasn’t failed us yet. I don’t think it will now. In fact, I don’t think this philosophy will fail anyone and it’s the very reason I chose to use WordPress and blog for Project Eve. They get it.

We’ve discovered that focusing on the big picture and doing the right thing, regardless of cost, always pays off in the end. In our decades of success we’ve learned that life isn’t just about money and getting ahead at all cost. It’s about growth, hard work, and active participation. It’s about being part of a team, something bigger than yourself. I’m not sure our society is consistently reinforcing the importance of good work ethic & I’m as concerned as the next guy about young adults subscribing to the fallacy that life is fair & easy. A false sense of entitlement concerns me as much as it concerns you. Bad influence surrounds us. Our young employees see some of their friends under achieving, taking shortcuts to get ahead, trading principles & life skills for short sighted advancement. Plenty of businesses lack ethics and fail to understand the essence and importance of hard work and reciprocity. Shortcuts and scams seem to be the norm now. I get all that. Which is why we’ve decided to choose the high road of reciprocity and even add mentorship into the mix. Our hope is for young people to shape their life paths with global focus, understanding that life is as much about the process as it is the end goal. If we help you win, you help others win, and they help more people win, and, in the end, all who participated win.

Reciprocity is about the trust, loyalty, hard work, & dedication of each person involved. It’s about truly caring enough to improve each other’s lives and our existence as a unit. Improve the parts; improve the whole. That’s how life works. It’s reciprocal. So maybe to some people WordPress, Project Eve, open source software, and public owners blogs seem like giving away the farm. That’s okay. We know reading free advice and actually implementing new philosophies are two very different things. As for us, we’re just being responsible stewards. We will continue to grow and foster our reciprocal relationships for as long as our customers will let us and offer nothing but support in return. We hope other successful entrepreneurs follow suit. That’s been our company philosophy since day one. And we’re not about to change now.

Sherry Emerson is a wife, mother, and entrepreneur who recently starting blogging after prompting from her family, peers, and trusted employees. She shares ownership of Pet World in Lawrence, Kansas – a thriving, unconventional, open concept, pet store and education center like none other. Twitter @sherryemersonPW Blog: Business:

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