Who’s heard of the delicatessen, Zingerman’s?
Well, neither had I until recently. But trust me, once you learn about this small business, you’ll be itching to know more. At least this was the case for me and why I felt compelled to read their book, A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business.
So who and what is Zingerman’s? Inc Magazine calls Zingerman’s “The Coolest Small Company in America” – and after what I learned about them (even without ever having visited one of their stores) I’d have to agree. For this GoodRead, I will share many of the principles from this book that I agree with so completely that one could hardly not notice the similarities between my business, GoodLife Team, and Zingerman’s.
Now, please don’t take this the wrong way – in no way am I claiming to have a business in even the same hemisphere as Zingerman’s when it comes to success! BUT, I discovered that many of the foundational principles that Zingerman’s is built upon are the same that I have used to found GoodLife Team. Perhaps this is why I am now in LOVE with this company and why I plan to make a special trip simply to experience, in person, what’s described in this book.
A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business is authored by one of the partners, Ari Weinzweig. Often asked for the “secrets” behind the Zingerman’s success, Weinzweig shares 18 essays that he claims are the “Secret Sauce” of their brand. In these essays Weinzweig goes into great detail about how they have built their company and does, in fact, reveal the secrets to its successful operation. If you are looking to build a great business, you must read this book.
In my book report below on Weinzweig’s Building a Great Business, I have picked out my favorite Zingerman’s “Laws of Success” and peppered them with my own beliefs, perspectives and “Aha’s.”
“Great Things come in Small Packages”
Nearly 30 years ago, Zingerman’s started with two partners, Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig, two staff members and two loans. It has since grown to a staff of over 500 and annual sales in excess of $40 million.
Weinzweig opens the book with this brief background, and begins by explaining that most people visiting their stores for the first, after hearing the “big stories” of “big success,” anticipate walking into a massive restaurant and/or an enormous upscale, gourmet supermarket. Each of these visitors inevitably dons a look of surprise upon arrival coupled with the common comment, “Wow. This is really a lot smaller than I thought it would be!” From the very beginning, Zingerman’s intention has never been to be the ‘Biggest,’ only the ‘BEST.
I love this intention, as it is our GoodLife motto as well. We, too, could care less about becoming the biggest brokerage in Austin, TX. In fact, our mantra is “Be Small on Purpose.” This is counter to the majority of our competitors’ philosophies – Most are primarily concerned with growing their Agent count, meaning they focus on recruiting the numbers. At GoodLife Team, we only want the best professionals on our Team; those individuals who wish to be part of a company concerned about being great, not big.
Due to the huge success of their local delicatessen, what do you think is a regular question asked of the Zingerman’s founders? You guessed it, “When will you Franchise?”
The American Growth Model is that when you build one successful store, the way you scale your success is by opening MORE UNITS, first locally and then steadily across the country. For Zingerman’s, however, success is derived from providing high-quality food and 5-Star customer service. Weinzweig and Sanigaw could never picture the possibility of converting a one-of-a-kind business, famous for this high quality and unique personality, into a cookie-cutter franchised model.
As a result, Zingerman’s moved in a different direction from the recognized franchise disclaimer “Individually Owned and Operated,” and invented a path all their own. The Zingerman’s growth model is called ZCoB, which stands for Zingerman’s Community of Businesses. The entire suite of 10 Zingerman’s “local” food businesses reside in the Ann Arbor area, each operated by a passionate and persistent “managing partner.”
Boy, does this resonate with me! Due to the local success of The GoodLife Team, I am frequently asked those same 4 words, “When will you Franchise?” I always respond with a one word answer, “Never.” Now, I’ve been told to never say never, and perhaps one unforeseen day I will eat that word, but today franchising is not part of our plan. Why? For the exact same reason that Zingerman’s declined to follow the ‘normal’ growth model; we have something special here at GoodLife Team.
First, GoodLife Team’s structure is opposite from the traditional real estate model. This means that in order to adopt our brand as a franchise owner, one would have to let go of everything they currently know about the real estate brokerage – as the traditional approach can’t be retrofit into our Model. Due to the meaning of the words “Independently Owned and Operated,” we would also maintain little to no control over the required full adoption of the GoodLife way of practicing real estate. In addition, I can’t picture how our strong, collaborative and distinctive GoodLife culture could be transferred to other independent owners, who then transfer it to their agents. It doesn’t work that way.
What makes my Team unique is that we are one unit at GoodLife Team, one unit committed to greatness for the sake of living a good life. Our philosophy won’t work for a many-unit model. As my CTO Jack Miller would say, “That dog won’t hunt!”
Natural Laws of Building a Great Business
Just as we must obey the Natural Laws (the consequences of challenging gravity are not pretty), there are certain foundational laws of business that must be followed. These Natural Laws of Business don’t necessarily guarantee success, but if disregarded increase the likelihood of failure. Zingerman’s is a company built solidly upon these laws, which they consider to be truths of business. By the success of their results, I think we can consider them to be true as well. The Zingerman’s Laws of Business say that any business must have a vision, a mission and core company values.
Have a Vision
What becomes indisputable by the end of the book is that Zingerman’s is a company with a clear vision. And, beyond its clarity, their vision is inspiring! Weinzweig goes into great detail about the importance of not just having a company vision, but also of writing it down and holding it close. He says,
What happens when you don’t have a vision? Imagine I asked you to prepare for a long trip, but I didn’t tell you where we were going. It would be pretty tough to get ready, wouldn’t it? Or, pretend you’re trying to plot a course at sea without knowing what the ultimate destination is. Impossible, right? In either case, hard work, commitment and all the best intentions in the world aren’t going to be enough to attain success. Without a clear picture of where you are headed, about the only chance you have of being successful is just that, chance.
Weinzweig describes Vision as an inspiring and strategically sound picture of your chosen future. A vision is specific and addresses what you do, how big you are and may even include how you work together. This is the Zingerman’s Vision:
- • To Be Better Tomorrow than Today
- • Grow Locally into 12-18 Vibrant Businesses
- • Radically Better Food
- • Radically Better Service
- • Radically Better Finance
- • Intentional Technology
- • A Fun Place to Work
- • An Educational Destination
- • Committed to Success organization-wide
At GoodLife Team, we too have a Vision for what we want to achieve. After reading about Zingerman’s Vision, however, I realize ours isn’t specific or long-term enough, so, I now know I have some work to do.
Zingerman’s has a clear vision, but in addition to that, they attribute much of their company’s success to a standard practice they call Visioning. Visioning is a part of their creation process; visioning is beginning with the end in mind. Whereas the normal process begins with the present and works out a path forward, the Zingerman’s visioning process starts with what success looks like and then works backwards. This shifts the moods from the normal act of problem solving to what they call “Preferred Futuring.” This infuses participants with creative energy, leading to a free flow in of innovative ideas. Only after they create the Vision, does Zingerman’s work on the strategic plan.
I LOVE this idea so much that we have adopted it hear at GoodLife Team. After using this method for our two latest projects I can tell you that it’s a powerful tool (and fun!). Visioning is a great way to bring the pragmatics and creatives together to produce a far more powerful strategy that enables everyone to truly visuals what success look like. After visioning, the work towards your goals is a completely different kind of experience.
Picture it this way: It’s like visualizing your trip to France before you take one action to plan the trip – what do you see yourself doing, who will you be doing it with, what do the French cafe’s look like, what will the French food taste like, what does the French bread smell like, are there people around a large table laughing and drinking French Bourdouis teaching you how to ask for more wine in French? What is your mood, how do you feel, what will you read, how will you journal, what will be in the photographs… Once you complete the vision, then you start planning the trip – probably very excited to do the work of putting the trip together in order to get closer to the experience you have in your vision.
In this book, Weinzweig discusses the key components of Zingerman’s and what really makes their business great. These include 5 important pieces:
If you have not thought about these for your business yet, I highly recommend sitting down to think about and map out your own business plan, and to read about developing it from the experts, Zingerman’s.
What is your Mission?
Zingerman’s believes you can’t have a strong company without an inspirational Mission. What is a Mission? Do you have one for your business? Your mission, according to Zingerman’s, should answer the questions, “What do we do? Why do we do it? Who are we that we are doing it? Who are we doing it for?” This is what Zingerman’s came up with when answering the questions for themselves:
They exist to bring the Zingerman’s experience to as many people as possible:
• Why? Because they believe that if they do their jobs well, everyone is better off and it’s a rewarding way to live
• Who? They are people who work at Zingerman’s
• Who for? For their guests, themselves, the community and the folks who make the great foods
Which developed into this Mission:
• We share the Zingerman’s Experience
• Selling Food that Makes you Happy
• Giving Service that Makes You Smile
• In Passionate Pursuit of our Mission
• Showing Love and Care in All of our Actions
• To Enrich as Many Lives as We Can.
At Zingerman’s, it’s everyone’s job to fulfill on the mission. No one can get away with saying, “That’s not my job,” as their culture is built around the principle of doing whatever it takes to fulfill on the mission.
What is guiding you?
Weinzweig spends a lot of time in this book speaking about the importance of company Principles – what guides the thoughts and actions of the Company (other companies name their principles Core Values or Ethics of the business). My question to you is, “Do you have core values that guide you and your business?” Zingerman’s specifies their Guiding Principles as:
• Great Food
• Great Service
• A Great Place to Shop and Eat
• Solid Profits
• A Great Place to Work
• Strong Relationships
• A Place to Learn
• An Active part of the Community
Like Zappos, Zingerman’s believes strongly in the necessity of Core Values, which includes the idea that trying to balance work and home is misplaced. Where Zappos describes it as Work/Life Integration, Weinzweig says at Zingerman’s they think of life as all one life – meaning one life has no need to balance. They are intentional about hiring only people who match their values, which translates to a company of like-minded people who love where they work because their personal values are aligned with their professional values.
Again, I couldn’t agree more as, at GoodLife Team, we hire to our core values or principles. We are passionate about our core values, which are spoken regularly by everyone in the company; our core values are the Culture of our company. These values are spoken and practiced at the top, and then carried out throughout the entire company. They are so present in our everyday practice that it becomes pretty obvious pretty fast when one of our employees or agents doesn’t fit. We have a total of 8 Core Values that are the guiding principles of GoodLife Team. I think it’s our cross alignment between personal and professional values, spoken and practiced from top to bottom, that is our secret to success.
And, like Zappos and Zingerman’s, I also believe that a line between personal and professional does not exist. I don’t believe that life has separate compartments where you can move through each separate part. To me, the passion for life comes from living it all at once! This means life is full and sometimes messy, but when the values are set and the ambition is pure, the joy becomes the journey of taking on each and every day to produce the outcomes you want for your life – a healthy body, a healthy mind and spirit, a healthy family, and a healthy business and career. One doesn’t take priority over another because they all just are. Life is about taking care of all of them all the time, with sometimes more emphasis placed on one more than another.
Is your Culture by Design or Default?
Zingerman’s describes culture as the way they live every day – it’s the personality of the company. And, if Zingerman’s has anything, it’s personality! So much so that they are often asked, “How did you find this great group who care like they do and bring so much fun to their work?” People talk about it as if Zingerman’s has been gifted with an unfair share of great people who just happened to wind up there.
Weinzweig describes how Zingerman’s culture, different than many others that are created from neglect, is a result of conscious intent. The culture, derived from their guiding principles, is clearly defined, taught, lived, measured and then rewarded. They even have a “fun quotient” as a measure to ensure that in their pursuit of company greatness, they never lose the playfulness they are known for.
One thing I am most proud of at GoodLife Team is our strong culture. We are a small company, but we exude a vibrant BIG energy. Like Zingerman’s, when people walk into our office for the first time, they notice something different. Our culture is recognizable – most frequently by others in the industry who wonder at our packed house of agents in the office every day. Day in and day out, we are working, laughing and serving.
If you visit our office and attend our 9:03, you will be asked to “ring the rooster” and “run the gauntlet.” We work hard with a rigor and passion that is uncommon and essential to holding our 7th core value true – “Enjoy the Journey.” We are a weird group, which is what causes the bond and love between everyone on the Team.
It’s a Question of Systems
Weinzweig describes systems as the “formal procedures created and used by Zingerman’s employees to accomplish the daily work.” He suggests the people of an organization (culture) and the systems of the company are like the two weighing pans on a balance scale; that organizations work best when the people and systems are in or near balance. You may have great people working for you, but if they lack the support of good systems it is inevitable they’ll burn out over time.
On the other hand, if you have excellent systems without great people you find yourself with similar failings within the company. Zingerman’s attributes their good balance as the secret behind their success. The Vision, Mission, and Guiding Principles attract the right people and their systems enable great employees to perform well at their job.
Zingerman’s says their systems, while providing effective structure and support, bring out the brainpower of the people involved, enabling them to consistently deliver excellent customer service their competitors can’t match. Weinzweig explains that through their systematic use of technology and tools they are able to attract better, smarter, winning people who want to do great work, which in turn can only be enhanced by smart systems.
Again, I fall right in line with the Zingerman’s philosophy. Oftentimes I describe GoodLife Team as a system and, as I mentioned earlier, there is a GoodLife way of doing things. That means that in order to work here you must follow our system. This is one thing that clearly differentiates us from other real estate brokerages. In an industry where as the norm every real estate agent working in a brokerage chooses their own suite of tools and creates their own systems (or not), at GoodLife Team we all use the same suite of technology. We all use the tools the same way and we all follow the systems put in place.
Like Zingerman’s, we believe that the best people wish to have the best tools, and unless they are systems people, they’d rather not invent them – just use them powerfully. And, in our experience, great real estate agents aren’t systems designers. In addition, we know that we can ONLY fulfill on our core value # 5 – 5-Star Customer Experience – by having tight systems in place. When I think about it, Zingerman’s is right – in thinking about my business, our success is a combination of our amazing people and kickass systems and tools.
Quality Beyond the Cliché
I will guess that by now you’ve ascertained that Zingerman’s is not your average small business. They have set a very high bar few other small business owners are willing or able to match based on the work required to produce similar success for themselves. Zingerman’s admits they could probably make more money by sacrificing quality, but in exchange they would give up what makes them special, or the magic behind their brand. Zingerman’s stands for quality. They don’t cut corners. They represent the overused cliché, “Going the Extra Mile.” They go beyond the norm in order to produce a customer experience, both for their patrons and employees, that is 5-Star. And although they don’t physically exist outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan, they are a brand that is recognized and admired across the world.
At GoodLife Team, we too are committed to quality. Our agent to staff ratio is 3:1. Yes, we have 1 staff member for every 3 agents. This means we spend a lot more money than the typical brokerage in order to ensure a quality of service that we not only promise with our words, but also fulfill with our actions.When we say we exist to take care of our customers with superior care, we mean it. Sure, we could make more money doing it the traditional way, but that’s not good enough for us.
Zingerman’s is my business role model. They are proving that great people doing excellent work really does equal success. Combined with their commitment to making the world a better place through great work and a clear vision, mission, and core principles, Zingerman’s stands for quality and success. They are an example that real success can be achieved by simply following the natural laws of business.
I have covered just a few key points illustrated in the book, and there is an enormous amount of exceptional content I just simply couldn’t cover. I highly recommend this book for all small business owners, especially those who have a natural attraction to the strange and different, the trendsetters who wish to build something unconventional and special. I also recommend it to those looking for a guide as they create their own business vision, mission and core values. In this book, you will not only find an explanation of what each Natural Law of Business means, but you will also be generously offered the real Zingerman’s examples of each that have created them into a $40 million local business. It’s an absolute MUST-READ!
15 More Zingerman’s Success Secrets
1. Create a vision of uniqueness and mission of greatness
2. Build a culture that represents your guiding principles
3. Commit to building powerful systems and train to them
4. Be willing to buck the trends
5. Believe in a better tomorrow
6. Be willing to go the extra mile
7. Lead by Example – Walk your Talk
8. Have fun
9. Appreciate your staff
10. Love your customers
11. To get great performance from your team, offer them clear expectations, training, systems and tools
12. Do the drudgery stuff anyone can do but choose not to
13. To get to greatness, you’ve got to keep getting better all the time! Always.
14. An overnight success is always many years in the making
15. Sweat the detail
About the Author:
Krisstina Wise is Founder/CEO of GoodLife Team and Coffee with Krisstina, and has spent her entire adult life working in the real estate industry. Krisstina opened her own firm to accelerate her vision for the industry, and in just a few short years, the industry has noticed. Inman news honored Goodlife Team with their Most Innovative Award; Apple, Inc. sent a production team to profile their innovation in the industry; and most recently, USA Today featured Goodlife Team on their Money section front page.
Krisstina gets most excited when talking to agents and company owners about what they can do to prosper in and take care of the industry that has provided such great opportunity for her. She loves good, healthy food, enjoys traveling, is a voracious reader, and is never far from her running shoes.