Sunny was the keynote speaker at Seattle’s Entrepreneur University in 2007 and she blew me away. Not just what she said, which I’ve summarized below, but also her positive, go-gettum, no nonsense attitude really resonated with me. I like her style of “get off your butt and go figure it out” and not just throw a bunch of money at a problem. In my experience, a lot of what she said makes sense.
Sunny’s Business Lessons
- Get a Job. Before she started Sleep Country USA, Sonny got a job in the bed business to learn the ins and outs of the business on someone else’s dime.
- Do your homework. She then looked up all the bed warehouses in the area and visited each one in person. She took notes on every detail, especially the customer service and how she was greeted and treated while in each store.This can be applied to a website by visiting your competitors’ sites, signing up, and going through the checkout process all the way to the final page, then canceling the order. This kind of research intensity reminds me of playing (and getting schooled) at fantasy sports by Aviles growing up.
- Cut your budget in 1/2 and make it work. I love this one! It’s so easy to think money will solve all the problems your business faces. Be more resourceful. It’s a lot easier to spend less money if the money your business spends is your own.
- Advertise! I have a hard time with this one because advertising is really expensive, but Sunny knows what she’s talking about here. Especially that damn Sleep Country jingle. I actually have to mute the tv or change the channel whenever one of her commercials plays so the jingle isn’t stuck in my head all day!Build an advertising budget into your business plan from day 1. This does make sense. After all, the #1 reason a business fails is… lack of sales. Just because you have a fancy website doesn’t mean squat. It only works if people know about it, which means you need to find ways to spread the word.
She says that 1/2 of the money spent on advertising will be wasted, but you don’t know which 1/2 so don’t worry about it. Of course, this applies to the old school advertising methods of TV, radio and print. With the advent of Pay-Per-Click (PPC) online ads, a lot more information is available on which ads are working and which are not. I wonder how Sonny would be advertising differently in the age of the Internet. One thing for sure, she would be advertising.
- You can’t do it alone, but your help doesn’t have to be on your payroll. She said a friend came up with Sleep Country’s tag line “Why buy a mattress anywhere else?” and her only cost was a pitcher of margaritas! I love it. That’s resourcefulness at its finest.Sunny also said to hire people who love to do what you hate. Even if it means money out of your pocket, it will ensure that things like accounting get done right, and will give you more time to do what you love.
7 out of 10 employees are clock watchers. Their #1 motivation is RECOGNITION. Sunny would write thank you notes personally to employees and she said that they valued this type of recognition more than any other. Even something simple like a Kudos bar.
- Ask your customers how you are doing and make it easy. Direct feedback from your community of customers is the most important feedback a business can get. Be sure to listen to them as they are the ones keeping you in business.
- Our community efforts can make a big difference in our customers’ minds. Make this an integral part of your business model. Remember, it’s not all about making the most money. Leaving a positive mark on your community is just as important as loading up your bank account with tons of cash.
Make giving a part of your business model. Interact with your customers in a non-sales environment.
So, some good lessons learned from Sunny Kobe Cook. Of course, like anything else in business, just because you know what to do doesn’t ensure success. It’s the actual doing that will get you there, and teach you a lot of valuable lessons along the way.
She closed her keynote with the following inspiration:
- She started Sleep County with $5,000 and had 8 stores and was profitable in the first year!
- She saw a plaque in a restaurant many years ago that said, “It’s impossible to be 1,000% better than every other restaurant. Let’s try to be 1% better in 1,000 little ways.“