On the Road Again

Aug 07, 2000

I just got back from a 1,720-mile motorcycle trip with my wife on our new Kawasaki ZG1000 sport touring bike. It was fantastic! We went up the coast of Maine from Kennebunkport to Bar Harbor. We then took the new high-speed catamaran ferry to Nova Scotia (55 mph on the water!), traveled throughout Nova Scotia, and then across the new bridge to Prince Edward Island. On our return, we traversed New Brunswick, traveled across the entire state of Maine, and came back through the White Mountains of New Hampshire. One good thing about riding a bike for long distances is that you get to see a lot. You’re in touch with the environment (smack dab in the middle of it— not always a plus!). And you get a chance to think. Riding takes your full concentration. There’s no stereo, and it’s hard to talk because of the noise. Here is some of what we learned on our journey: You can do without a lot of stuff. Pack a bike for a long trip, and you’ll find yourself leaving a lot of the junk you normally take along on a trip at home because there’s no way you can put it all in two small saddlebags and a rack-mounted trunk. That applies to your firm as well. A lot of the “stuff” that we all think we need to have we could do without. I’m talking about unnecessary overhead that raises our breakeven point but doesn’t make us any money. This makes life a lot easier to live and frees up time to do what you want to do. If you don’t know what you’re missing, you can’t miss it. One place we stopped on our trip was Digby, Nova Scotia. Digby is a hardscrabble port town known for scallop fishing. We stayed in a room above a gift shop that looked out on the port. There’s not much to do there, and the winters must be intolerable. Yet everyone we encountered was smiling, upbeat, and enthusiastic about their town (and their local “Digby scallops”). They probably haven’t been anywhere else! The same thing applies to many principals in small A/E/P and environmental consulting firms. They think they are doing well, but they don’t know how well some people actually do in this business because they have never experienced it themselves! Freebies go a long way toward creating a good first impression. After a healthful lunch at McDonald’s in Amherst, Nova Scotia, I checked over the bike and noticed a small nail in our rear tire. A little spit on my finger revealed that the nail was indeed causing a small leak. We immediately rode the bike over to the nearby Goodyear tire store, where they plugged the tire at no charge whatsoever. That makes me feel pretty good about Canada, Nova Scotia, and Goodyear. The same thing applies to our business. Firms that give a little can get a lot back in return. Maximizing profit on every single job just isn’t the way to engender client loyalty! There are poseurs everywhere. While waiting out a rainstorm in a small café in Norridgewock, Maine, we ran into six fellow motorcyclists from Pittsburgh who were riding three new Harley Davidsons. Every single piece of their clothing was Harley Davidson-branded merchandise, and the fellow who was the most talkative was even wearing a Harley bandanna with a fake ponytail attached! The last thing these people were really interested in doing was riding. They just wanted the “look” of bikers. The same thing applies to the design and environmental businesses. There are people that look the part but are simply playing a role. They have no real talent or interest in the work, but it’s something to do. These folks can sell a client one job, but they have a hard time getting repeat work! There’s always room for a high-priced offering. We spent two days in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, at the Inn on Great George Street, the best place to stay on the island. It cost $250 a night, and we got the last room. Yet there were plenty of places to pick from in the $75-range (and those are devalued Canadian dollars I’m talking about, folks!). And there was a fully furnished apartment renting for $420/mo. right next door to the inn. The owners of the inn bought the place for a song ten years ago and totally restored it. They created value where there was none, then they priced themselves well beyond the top of the market. And they stay occupied almost year-round in a place that has about a four-month season! A/E/P and environmental consulting firms could learn a thing or two about pricing from these folks. If you charge enough, the perception is that you have to be good. That makes it possible to actually be better than your competitors. Here’s one last bit of advice for our readers. Motorcycling is getting more popular. If you are thinking of taking up the hobby, for heaven’s sake, please start out on a small bike. We are seeing more and more of our clients buying huge motorcycles as their first bikes, and it’s dangerous! Any experienced cyclist will tell you that the majority of accidents are caused by cyclists themselves, not by the people in cars! Start small and work your way up over time— you’ll live longer! Originally published 8/07/2000.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.