In every industry you have a handful of heavy hitters. These businesses and their owners have both longevity and a solid track record of sales and growth. They’ve seen it all. They’ve done it all. They’ve been involved in the industry, in their trade organizations, and quite often in their hometowns. They suffer from chronic hand-raising disease.
If you belong to a trade organization you can probably rattle off the names of those businesses and people in your industry quite easily.
The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) recognized this. They realized their Marketplace & Academy conference every year offered sessions geared mostly to small stores, new stores, green stores. They recognized that the big hitters were not being served, but instead were the ones mostly doing the serving. ASTRA reasoned that the stronger they could make these stores, the better it would be for the organization and the industry as a whole.
ASTRA invited sixteen of the big hitters together a few years ago to see how we could benefit from being together with our true peers. I had the honor of sitting at that table for that first meeting and becoming part of what we eventually called the Masters Circle.
After that initial meeting, our group took on a life of its own. We planned other meetings, visited each other’s stores, and shared information freely with each other. We not only became friends, we became mentors to each other, people we could rely on to answer questions and offer advice.
I noticed something about these rock star toy retailers that I had also been seeing from the stage as I did more and more workshops.
The best stores were all eager to learn more. The best stores had intellectual curiosity.
At a customer service workshop I did in Manistee, MI a few years ago, the local shoe store—the rock star of their downtown retail scene—was at the workshop with a few of their staff. One of the other attendees asked, “Why are you guys here? You guys are like the best retailer in town.”
The owner replied, “That’s why we’re here. If we don’t keep learning new and better ways to do things, we won’t be the best retailer in town.”
You don’t know what you don’t know. If you have intellectual curiosity, however, you have an understanding that there is a lot you don’t know.
Italian writer Umberto Eco has a personal library of over 30,000 books. Has he read them all? No. But by surrounding himself with such a vast wealth of knowledge, he reminds himself daily that he doesn’t know it all. He reminds himself daily that there is more to learn. It keeps him humble. It keeps him curious.
The good news for you is that you are here reading this blog. You are curious. You already have that one trait most common among the big hitters in your industry. Curiosity.
The other is longevity. Show me those two in a retail business owner and I’ll show you a heavy hitter in their industry.
PS The Masters Circle continues to meet regularly. In fact, they are meeting shortly after I publish this blog. ASTRA made the introductions. Their intellectual curiosity has kept the group going. (And their humility almost kept them from calling the group the Masters Circle. Sometimes they have to be reminded of their accomplishments in the toy industry.)