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Testimonial: Coast to Coast Event Rentals

When Jim Baker and his family of Coast to Coast Event Rentals, LLC, decided to take their family owned party rental businesses to a new level they turned to professionals.  The company hired Leadership Strategies and Amir G. to facilitate an off-site strategic planning session to identify key issues and resolve difficulties that naturally arose from trying to coordinate and manage their new location while the principals are scattered all over the country.

LSI: What were your goals coming into the session? What needed solving?

Baker: “Our goals were very basic: develop a vision and mission statement, etc. In our first year of business we had to put out some fires and being related to each other added an additional layer of difficulty because there were personal feelings and emotions involved. When the 5 of us stepped back, we decided it was time to shift gears and examine what kind of issues we were facing in the next year. We knew we had our hands full and wanted to set realistic goals we could successfully meet.”

Baker: “The first year in business was a whirlwind. We purchased a company in Pinellas Park (near Tampa) and then moved into a new 12,500 square foot warehouse 3 months later. The new venture carried a product line to include full linen and dish services, a commercial washing machine and dryer, inflatable bounce houses, barbecues and catering equipment with which we had little or no experience. Jesse and his wife were young and quite ambitious; but even so, it was a tremendous undertaking that taxed even their abilities. The company relocated their entire inventory while simultaneously delivering a substantial amount of business. Meanwhile, Florida’s low unemployment rate kept them scrambling to find reliable help.”

With so much riding on the success of this endeavor, the family agreed they needed to sit down face to face, zero in on their challenges and come up with a plan. Jim and Michelle, who have decades of experience to offer their family members in St. Pete, thought it needed to be done face to face in order to get to the core issues.

“Leadership Strategies was able to meet our schedule very quickly. Amir G. stepped up and did a great job. It was hard for Jesse to come on board because he thought that the timing was bad when so much business was knocking on the door, but I used the old adage that sometimes you get so busy cutting wood you don’t have time to sharpen the saw-and the business needed some saw sharpening,” Jim commented.

LSI: What issues and success metrics came out during the session?

Baker: “One of the issues we explored was our lack of cohesiveness. You have a brother-sister-uncle-son-nephew-wife dynamic occurring at any given time. Finally we pushed up our sleeves and started barking at each other, got some real issues on the table and began resolving serious problems. We punched through the wall of politeness and reached the core of our blind spot: lack of communication and team building activities. Logistically the young managers were solid. Organizationally they needed some training, as we all do when we begin our management careers. The organizational development side of running a business was new stuff to them. In order to grow profitably I felt this needed to be discussed and strategically planned for.”

“If you asked the younger managers what the #1 problem the company was facing their answer would probably be cash flow, hire the right work force and improve process systems and work production. Ask the older generation of managers and they would agree that tuning up leadership skills is the key ingredient to success. Once these areas were clearly defined, we could create a solution to overcome them.”

“The question then became where do we go from here? A lot of miles separate us so it was imperative we make the most of our time over the 2 day period. At first it was challenging because we’re family; we needed to get past the polite stages of family dynamics (i.e., How did you sleep last night? Can I get you another cup of coffee?) in order to tackle serious underlying issues and grow the company.”

LSI: How did you overcome the difficulty of being related AND in business together?

Baker: “Some of the issues we uncovered during this session were very deep. It’s never easy engaging in the ‘what’s wrong with our company’ conversation-especially when you’re related!”

“It comes down to relationships. You have a young couple who are passionate about their work. Between the two of them they are great at managing customers and have a lot of party rental experience. Their successes however had always been supported by leadership already in place. It’s natural for them to have issues like any young couple and then to throw them into this fire and say swim, it’s tough! None of us were communicating well. The question became how can you successfully lead in the work place without a united front? We realized that continually squaring off with each other had made it difficult to gain buy-in of the employees.”

LSI: How did the session end?

Baker: We exposed some root problems which is always good. It’s nothing we can fix overnight although now that we’ve identified the problems we can begin working on them. In addition to strong leadership, the biggest issue is hiring and developing the right work force; the next most pressing issue is to get systems in place for processing our newly expanded product line. As managers, Jesse and Pam had been rolling out this big product line with little experience in dealing with the dynamics and problems that go along with the territory. They were masters at handling tents, tables and chairs, dishes and linens; now their inventory had expanded and they were responsible for inflatable bounce houses, barbecues and catering equipment with little experience in dealing with the maintenance and problems that go along with the territory.”

“One of the decisions that came out of our session was the decision to shelve some of our product line for the time being. Doing this will allow us to focus on what we do well because we discovered through the strategic planning process that trying to do everything well left us doing nothing well.”

“I believe Amir G., our Leadership Strategies Facilitator, brought out many areas within our group dynamics that we couldn’t see because we were so close to the emotional flame. We have added a budget line for organizational and leadership development. Every small business has to watch dollars closely, but it’s definitely wise to invest in periodic leadership and communication training.

LSI: What long term bonuses do you expect to see as a result of the session?

Baker: The session enabled us to get the specifics of how the business was doing in several key areas. Now that the goals have been clearly identified, our teleconferences will be easier to manage. Every week the 3 locations teleconference and I know this session will transform our meetings on the phone. We have to get better at communicating long distance in order to leverage the years of experience we have. Instead of asking how fires were put out last week, now we can proactively discuss what the plans are this week and next to address the priority issues. There’s a greater accountability between us now that wasn’t available prior to this session. Therein is the difference between being a manager vs. a leader. Managers solve problems, leaders eliminate them.

The session enabled us to really capitalize on our strengths, identify our weaknesses and create a plan moving forward to improve our team relationships. Increasing effective long distance communication is key to the success of any organization.

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