As every amusement and bulk vending operator knows, it pays to take a thorough inventory. It is not unusual for operators to have an exact count of product, equipment, tools and even office supplies. Good operators know every item on their warehouse shelves. The process itself can be of value, revealing hidden deficiencies or unnoticed assets that can be better utilized. Of course, this is Business 101 for many of our readers.
What's surprising is how few operators take a thorough inventory when it comes to skill sets they and their employees might possess. Business skills, once acquired, tend to remain largely unexamined. This is just as true for the bulk vending operator who has upped his game by learning the ins and outs of skill cranes as the office employee who began a career with a written ledger and now spreadsheets. For many operators, it is more than enough that their businesses are running reasonably smooth day-to-day and week-to-week.
This is a shame, because a thorough evaluation of an organization's skill sets not only reveals easily corrected deficiencies, but also opportunities -- and both can boost the bottom line. Over the years, I have seen some bulk vending operations evolve from the simplest mechanical venders to skill cranes, then on to ATMs and digital jukeboxes, as their companies' technical expertise advanced. Likewise, I have talked to operators who invested in helping their employees learn new skills that made their businesses more efficient. An inexpensive junior college course in accounting or inventory control can pay for itself very quickly, if the acquired knowledge improves efficiency and productivity.
What is most striking about this notion is that it is almost always associated with the young. It is as if there were a law that reads, "No Fancy Learning Over 50." As it turns out, the hoary saying about old dogs and new tricks is not only entirely wrong, but it also limits and potentially harms a business. Many older operators who have acquired a number of skills over the years would do well to take an inventory to see what has fallen forever out of style, what is has become obsolete and what can be updated.
Of course, this can be an ego bruising exercise. After a certain age, most of us know how things should be done and the way they are supposed to be; as they say, just the way it is. Challenging those assumptions isn't easy. Even tougher is going back to school to learn how things are done today, and the way they might change in the future. Building skill sets at a time when you are just getting accustomed to AARP membership is no easy thing.
Neither is it easy for a younger person who has mastered a job and fallen into a comfortable routine to be challenged. As many managers and owners can attest, this often takes more carrot than stick, but it can be done with minimal fuss. And it builds character.
All this may sound a bit too "squishy" and non-quantifiable for many operators with years of experience who consider themselves hard-nosed businessmen. I can't argue with that, except to ask: Are you now in the same business you were a decade ago? And at what point are you too old to learn a new trick or two?