Are you in the 1%?

I would like to take this opportunity to join the chorus of voices railing against the ‘one percenters’. This is a real hot button issue for me. I happen to think that the one percenters are at the core of many things wrong with business in America. In fact many of these one percenters are also responsible for driving many retailers out of business. No I’m not talking about Wall Street, but something far worse.

Ok. That might be a bit strong, but now is the time to deal with this issue once and for all. It is my opinion that one percent thinking is the greatest obstacle to positive change.

Who are these one percenters? They are the type of customers who will return a dead plant (that they bought from another retailer) and demand their money back. The plant has obviously never been watered, they have no receipt, and they are making a real stink in front of dozens of other customers.

So you handle the situation as best as you can in the moment, but promise yourself you’re going to beef up your return policy. In fact, you are so worked up you launch into a tirade to anyone within ear shot about completely ditching the return program. You’re tired of getting taken advantage of by unreasonable customers. After all, shouldn’t the customer shoulder the responsibility of keeping their plants alive? They were perfectly fine when you sold them. You never see shoppers returning a steak to the grocery store after it has been burned to a crisp on the grill, do you? Of course not. Why should you lose money on perfectly good products that customers kill.

So in the heat of the moment you cancel the return policy for the sake of the 1% of customers who complain, and as a result, the rest of your customers suffer. The 1% who drive you nuts hurt the 99% that drive your business.

You’ve heard of the expression ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’? That is one percent thinking. It is the habit of making emotional decisions based on limited experience.  Other examples might revolve around how you manage your staff, make purchase decisions, or handle your marketing projects. I have seen (or heard) other examples where a retailer won’t buy from a particular grower because of a perceived slight that occurred years ago (case in point: a truck driver who cut a corner and crushed some shrubbery), or it might be a salesman they can’t stand. You get the idea.

But my real concern is another type of one percenter. That is the business owner who bases his/her business decisions based solely on their own personal bias. It is a stubborn reluctance to adapt to change. They are the holdouts who refused to get a FAX machine because they did “perfectly well without it for years. Why should they need it now?” Those same individuals had to be pulled kicking and screaming in the face of other changes as well. Whether it was something as fundamental as shopping carts, a POS system, paved parking lots, or product displays.

It seems crazy now, but there was a debate at one time as to whether it was better for plants to be left on the ground or placed on tables. True story.

1% thinking can be an obstacle to change. “I don’t believe something to be viable or true because I don’t do it or use it. ”They are absolutely certain. There can be no debate. Just as dangerous is the 1% thinking that holds that because “I think it is important everyone else should as well.”

It is dangerous because people have a tendency to only look for information that supports their point of view. They see only what they are looking for, usually to confirm what they think to be true. (i.e., Fox News and MSNBC). They will go to industry conferences and talk to each other to confirm their own experiences. It is commonly called complaining. Don’t mistake that for real research.

Challenge your thinking. It’s tough. We have all had the experience of the unreasonable customer, stubborn problem, or perhaps even new technology that tests your patience. Frustration starts to bubble up, and before you know it, you are having that one way ‘conversation’ with a buddy (or business partner, spouse, employee, or perhaps even the family dog). A common result of these ‘conversations’ are hurt feelings, deep misunderstandings and an erosion of trust. The challenge is to see opportunity amidst all that inner turmoil.

Recognition is the first step towards change. Fear drives 1 percent thinking and fear is a very powerful emotion. Most people are afraid of what they don’t understand. It can drop you head first into a rut of negative thinking. Instead of looking for ways to improve things you get paralyzed for fear of what might happen. I have seen it happen in plenty of business owners (including yours truly).

I had a conversation recently with a local retailer. I asked if they use e-mail marketing. The answer was immediate: “I hate getting so much spam.” Quickly followed by, “Our customers do too.” When pressed for details the answer was anecdotal. The retailer related a few instances that were seared into memories. Based on that limited sampling an important decision was made. No e-mail marketing. Ever.

I need to inject an important distinction here. I don’t mean to brand all contrary opinions as ‘one percenters;’ Ironically, that would be one percent thinking. That individual mentioned earlier is a very successful retailer. A reaction to email marketing or a dead plant doesn’t need to brand an individual a ‘one percenter,’ it is just an example of ‘one percent’ thinking. A ‘one percenter’ is an individual who can’t move beyond one percent thinking.

Finally, beware of experts. In some cases they might just be trying to convince you of what they think to be true.