Sunday, February 12, 2012

For Love or Money?

Hanging on the wall at our shop.
 Every Monday morning my entire crew at National Powersports comes in early for a meeting.  We go over all types of things from procedural changes to reading letters from customers.  This last Monday we didn't have a lot to go over so I kind of jokingly said something to the tune of "ok, were done unless you guys want to hear one of my soapbox speeches about why I started the business".  It was sort of a half joke, but one of the guys encouraged me, saying that we hadn't heard it in a while.  Since I have some new employees that really hadn't heard the entire background I decided to talk about why NPS has been successful.

It is really important that everybody that works at NPS knows why I started the business.  It's important to know that we have a bigger mission than just selling motorcycles and making money.  Here is why.

NPD had very humble beginnings.  After leaving my Dads business I was working for a little Tech Startup.  It was a great company with only 7 employees.  I respected them and they respected me.  That was something that I had sorely missed working for my father.  I had been doing very well at this little company and had started investing in Mutual Funds.  Now that my salary had exceeded my living expenses I had been told by everybody that it was time to start investing for the future.  So I met with a financial planner who showed me how my $500 a month investment would turn into millions in 30 years, based on historical data.

Well after one year, and the attacks on 9/11, my mutual funds had tanked.  I realized that I have neither the patience nor the knowledge to be an "investor".  After Amy and I both came to the conclusion that there had to be a better way to make a return on our investments I decided to purchase an old motorcycle with the $500 and fix it up.  I bought a bike, cleaned it up and sold it on eBay for a few hundred dollars profit.  This made a huge impression on me.  I thought about it from the rate of return point of view and realized that the Mutual funds might give me a 10% ROI, but if I did the motorcycle thing a couple times a month in my spare time my ROI would be in the thousands per year.

In November of 2001, shortly after I started this side project, my boss called me and informed me that the tech company wasn't going to make it.  Rather than looking for another job, I decided that I was going to turn this motorcycle gig into a full time job.  I was pretty terrified.  Amy and I had $10,000 in the bank and now neither of us had a job.  Our expenses were over $3000 per month so we had about 3 months to make this thing go before we were out of money.

We lived on Ramen Pride noodles and busted our asses.  I worked from 6 in the morning placing adds, driving to look at bikes, fixing them up in the garage, listing them on eBay, and answering emails all day.  And after dinner I would do the books and work some more.  I usually finished at around 11pm.  My best friend Jeremy would come over after he got done with work and help me with the mechanical things that I couldn't do.  It was a huge amount of stress, but not the type of stress that I had been under working for dad.  It was good stress, if that makes any sense.  It was also a lot of fun.

I was fortunate enough to do well from the very beginning.  We made money and I had a real business!  I could have kept going at the level I was for years to come, but soon something very special happened.  Without going into a lot of detail (maybe the topic of another blog post in the future) I figured out what my "Primary Aim" was for my life.  After much thought about the life I left behind working for my Dad I realized that no matter what I do I always wanted one thing.  The courage to tell the truth.  Once I figured that out my business took on a completely different meaning.

Suddenly selling motorcycles was about a lot more than just making a profit.  I had an obligation to tell the truth to my customers.  I had always been truthful with my customers, but now what it meant was that I needed to find out everything about the motorcycles that I was selling so my customers knew before they made a decision.  I developed a process to uncover the things that were NOT perfect with the bikes as well as marketing what was good about them.  I decided that my commitment was to be my customers advocate.  Telling the truth means being thorough.  Telling the truth often meant that I actually prevented a sale because I was honest with the customer.  For me, that was and is still way more important than putting somebody on the wrong bike. 

When it came time to hire employees the most important thing was that they felt the same way about the importance of telling the truth.  No matter what we did or do now, we can always find a guiding principal with that concept.  My employees aren't on commission and feel zero pressure to "sell" somebody a motorcycle.  They do feel pressure to always tell the truth.  They are allowed to make mistakes, but they all know that the one thing that will get you fired is lying.

Once I made this change the business went nuts.  It sounds so simple, but it is not the norm for most business's.  Many start with good intentions, but get completely off track when they adopt making money as the number one reason for all their decisions.  I don't look at my industry to see what others are doing, I simply follow the rule of telling the truth and providing for others.

This has taught me that if you do things for others, rather than for your own selfish reasons, the money, success and prosperity follows.  It is the natural way of things.   My best success has come when I focused on others as the reason for doing something.  When I focus only on me I am sure to be denied the object of my desire.

Do it for the love.  The money will follow.


John Corse said...

gizangRight on, brother Nathan. Feel like running for office?
_John Corse

Nathan Sanel said...

No way Johnny boy! I don't think me and politics will ever mix.

caa40y said...

As an employee of Nate's at NPD I can say this philosophy is the core of how we do business. I've worked at a few different motorcycle shops prior to working for Nate, some that were very successful, and that wasn't the case. I actaully was pretty tired of working in bike shops, but always got sucked back into the field as it was what I was good at. I was out of work in 2004 and saw an ad in the paper that was as follows "Love motorcycles? Then I'd like to get to know you." I was thoroughly confused as there was no job description or job title. It turned out that Nate was just looking for "good people" and didn't care what they were good at. If he found the right person he'd make room for them persay. Well after a couple days of contemplation I gave him a call and met with him the next day. Seven years later I can say it was a rewarding decision to pick up the phone. Another example of making a decision that was not solely based on money was the right one!