Businesspeople, particularly owners of small businesses, are in a state of constant combat. They are fighting not only against competitors or regulations, but very often with themselves. The internal conflict is not a simple one: it's a constant struggle between what they know versus what they believe. Though some folks have taken to using "know" and "believe" interchangeably, it is not a fine distinction. Confusing the two can result in all manner of bad decision-making mischief.
I'm reminded here of a movie director who in the mid-1980s set out to make a film in Europe. Once on location with his all-star, quirky cast, it was lights, camera and action with only the roughest of plot outlines to guide them. When finally asked about the script, he is said to have answered decisively, "Script? We don't need a script! We've got mottos!" Predictably, the movie failed miserably. The final product was such a mess that even the hippest, most avant-garde reviewers and audiences were left scratching their heads.
What does all this have to do with bulk vending? Too many small business owners are making decisions based on what they believe as opposed to what they know or could know with a little effort. Granted, intuitive thinking often plays a large role in business and life, but there are limits to the value and reliability of instinct. Bulk vending operators who wouldn't dream of "trusting their gut" when it comes to accounting or taxes, elevate instinctive thinking to the highest level for other critical components of their businesses, such as buying a competitor's route or estimating the earning potential of certain locations.
In a rapidly changing world, the kind of business decisions made solely on long-held assumptions (and mottos!) can prove dangerous, if not entirely disastrous, to the bottom line. That too many operators are unwilling or unable to roll up their sleeves and do the heavy lifting of careful analysis is something of a paradox. After all, bulk vending operators are some of the hardest-working and most efficient people in small business. It is not uncommon for a small operator to change out merchandise, switch display cards, clean the globes and accurately tally the cashboxes for a dozen heads while remembering the location owner's birthday during a single service call.
Yet the number of operators who run test machines with new products or take the time to really "drill down" and study a prime location's demographic remains relatively small. They believe they know, which is a lot different from knowing they believe. Even worse, once evidence presents itself that their assumptions were wrong, they continue to hold firm to the old beliefs, often justifying them through convoluted logic, no matter how detrimental it may be to their business.
Take IBM's Thomas J. Watson, who built the company into a technological giant. Speaking in 1948, he said, "I think there's a world market for about five computers." Clearly, he believed this statement at the time he made it. He had decades of experience and was one of the most respected business leaders in the country. However, once it became apparent that the market was considerably larger than five computers, Watson quickly and without apology changed his tune and IBM's focus.
The lesson here is clear: Watson, the business legend, turned on a dime when confronted with reality. He may have trusted his gut, but he trusted the facts even more. Perhaps Ronald Reagan said it best, "Trust but verify." And that's one motto I can believe in.