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CIO Unplugged 6/27/12

June 27, 2012 Ed Marx 5 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

Excellence, the Road Less Travelled

Another summer working for meager wages was no longer an option for John and me. Both married with kids, we searched for a breakaway strategy where we could make decent cash to hold us over until our first big break. Under-experienced and over-educated in the utopic college town of Fort Collins, this proved a herculean task.

Nevertheless, armed with respective degrees in psychology and Spanish (teaching certificate), we came up with a vision that would forever change our lives. We started our own company. Men… who do Windows!

We visited our local janitorial supply store. With 10 minutes of in-store advice and a $100 investment in buckets, soap, and squeegees, we were bound for glory.

After analyzing our competition in the Yellow Pages, we realized we’d need a bold approach. Competing with dozens of vendors and with no time or money for static advertisement, we took an unconventional approach. We created fluorescent-colored flyers and paid teens to deliver them to targeted neighborhoods. Our phone began to ring.

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We bid each job in person and dressed in nice clothes. We parked our company car (a urine-colored Honda CVCC) down the road a few houses so as not to tarnish the high-end brand we strived for. Who would notice the 24-foot extension ladder strapped on top of an 8-foot car? We wore “uniforms.”

We priced our services higher than our competitors — a bold move. But we hoped to differentiate ourselves by stressing customer service and excellence.

Included in our bid was our happiness guarantee: “We not only clean your windows, but your screens and window sills as well. When we enter your home, we take off our shoes. We have towels under all of our tools so you never need worry about us leaving your home a mess. We will move all drapes and curtains and furniture as needed. Prior to us leaving your home, we will inspect each window with you. If you are dissatisfied with any, we will redo them until you are happy with our work.”

We closed 90% of our bids. Our window redo rate = 0.01%.

After a few weeks, we could not keep up with demand and had to stop all advertising. It became vogue in some neighborhoods to have the Men… who do Windows sign in their yard. A few customers insisted on serving us lunch on their decks overlooking a lake. Excellence creates demand.

With graduate school awaiting me and another summer break for John, we resurrected the business the following year with the same results. We grossed an average of $400 per day, with the cost of doing business a low 5%. Excellence is profitable.

John and I believe our success was attributable to the high quality we put into our craft. We encouraged one another to be our best as we honed our squeegee skills to ensure a streak-free finish. Why would people willingly pay a 50% premium for our window-washing services? Because they knew it would be done to perfection. Our customers knew we would meet expectations and not leave without their approval. Excellence elevates the performance of those around you.

We both replicated this value in our personal and professional relationships — John as a teacher and later a pastor and I in healthcare. This pursuit of excellence has blessed our families and careers. Moreover, the people and organizations we serve have benefitted. Excellence creates differentiation that separates good from great.

Ten years after Men…. who do Windows, I was invited back to Colorado State University to serve on the advisory board of the college from which I received my Master’s. During lunch, I was approached by a fellow board member who asked if I had ever cleaned windows. I revealed myself as the founder of Men. He looked me straight in the eye and earnestly exclaimed, “My windows have never been so clean!”

Imagine — 10 years later and he still recalled the service he received from our company for washing windows. Excellence is not forgotten.

Twenty years after Men, both John and I visited Ft. Collins with our families. The owners of Trios AVEDA Spa and Salon knew we were in town. They had a big social after-hours shindig taking place one evening, and yes, they asked if we could reprise Men and clean their windows so they would dazzle. We obliged. It was a great reunion, and we still had our skills. Excellence sets a pattern for future performance.

The Men experience was priceless. Alas, the time came for us to move into our chosen professions.

Rather than sell the business, we gave it away to others in similar circumstances as we had been in two years’ prior. We taught them everything we had learned, from window washing basics to customer relationship management. Even the happiness guarantee.

By the end of the first season, the business lost half its value. We mourned when Men folded midway through the following year. Excellence requires passion to attain and sustain.

A long time ago, a writer in Greece observed the games that would eventually become the Olympics. He said, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

Excellence is doing everything you do with the very best you have.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "5 comments" on this Article:

  1. This is a fabulous story. Although summer unemployment is at dismally record levels, your experience shows there will always be a market for entrepreneurialism and a passion for excellence. This should be required reading for high school and college students. And for businesses, too, the happiness guarantee is something to be emulated and duplicated.

  2. Yep… very good stuff… thank you.

    I just sent it to my very smart, recently graduated, unemployed, and probably discouraged son and daughter.

  3. This is a story that I will share with our consultants in our organization. It underscores what we are striving for each day with our clients. Perfection may very much be a verb rather than a noun. Its an on-going action and process. Thank you for sharing…

  4. Great story, I will send this to my kids. Hopefully they will understand the idea of success comes from hard work and an excellent product.

    Your Greek writer? Paul the Apostle.

  5. Ed,
    Nice story. Will share it with my son in college, who is working two jobs this summer. He will appreciate. In a tough job market, excellence in his first job landed his second.
    Bob Nance







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