Basnight Family Secrets
August is finish-book-manuscript month so instead of posting two brand new articles this month, I’ll be sharing four favorites from the last year and a half.
We hit the jackpot again!
More best practices and secrets to success – this time from a business that has lasted through the Great Depression, fifteen recessions and fifteen United States Presidents.
In 1924, Stein Basnight, a graduate of UNC, opened S. H. Basnight Hardware. He traveled around the state, pulling a trailer full of products to sell.
His sons, Bill and Jesse, joined their father in the business.
Papa Stein died before he got to see this but four of his grandchildren got involved in the business: Bill’s children, Terry and Don; as well as Jesse’s children, Jesse Jr. and Steve.
Two of those grandchildren now own the business. Terry (Hamlet) filled her Dad’s shoes as President, and Jesse Jr filled his Dad’s shoes as Vice President of Sales. Just last week they sat with me and shared memories about Papa Stein, their Dads, Terry’s Uncle Jesse, and Jesse’s Uncle Bill. And the many lessons that had been passed down over 87 years.
As kids, Terry and Jesse remember that Papa Stein had a strong work ethic, strong family values, strong morals, and pride in his business. They remember him saying, “A home is only as good as its hardware.”
They told story after story about things their fathers had said and done that demonstrated their secrets to success in business. I’ve chosen eight of them to share with you today.
1. From an early age, Terry and Jesse understood that “the customer is a priority”. They watched how Jesse Sr. always travelled to meet his customers. That took time and money but he wanted to be able to shake the customer’s hand and see them face to face.
That wasn’t and still isn’t – about making sales – but about building relationships. Apparently they are all very good at that because they have many long time customers – one of them for 62 years. That’s Dargan Construction in Myrtle Beach.
From the Basnights’ experience, people work differently with people that they know.
Jesse said, “It’s hard to do things wrong with your friends. You might do them wrong. But you get them right.”
Terry added, “When you know people and their intentions, if there is a problem, you get through it together. If you don’t know them – then that issue can have a different flavor to it on both sides.”
2. Terry showed me a notepad that her Dad had created long ago. One of his mantras was, “Write it and you can forget it. Don’t write it and you can forget it”. He printed these two sentences on the bottom of Conversation Log forms that everyone uses during face to face and phone meetings. Having such notes has repeatedly protected projects and relationships.
3. Terry and Jesse now have to train others about more than handshakes and telephone conversations. They now warn team members about e-mail and about how easily things can digress and not be understood. Terry said, “With email, you don’t get the tone, the inflection, the twinkle in the eye. When a situation comes up, we tell people to get off e-mail, get on the phone or if you need to, go see them.”
4. When asked how their fathers would have dealt with these last few years that have been particularly difficult in the building industry, Terry and Jesse said that in addition to taking care of customers and employees, it’s also important to be a good customer to their vendors. Not just paying their bills on time but also making people who call on them glad that they came in.
Jesse certainly knows how that feels since he is on the road so much calling on customers.
At Basnight, they do this by having Beth Ann, a kind, friendly, helpful person at the front desk who greets people and offers them a beverage. And she always puts the names of visitors, along with their company logo on the welcome board.
And look (left) – they did it for me too!
Terry said, “You wouldn’t believe how much people love that. Lots of people ask to have their picture taken with it. One person wanted to send it to his wife.”
Many people tell them that Basnight & Sons is their favorite place to visit.
It may be their favorite place to call as well since they have decided repeatedly against having an automated phone system. They just don’t want customers to have to figure out which button to push.
5. Terry and Jesse were taught to take care of people on the inside too. Both of them remember their dads doing things for employees that were way out of bounds of the usual employer/employee relationship. And it seems that the two of them have continued to do such things as needed to help employees out of a jam. These are private situations so details are never shared. It’s an understatement to say that employees appreciate both the help and the privacy.
6. Giving people a chance is another value passed down through the Basnight family. Terry joined the company in 1978, a time when there were very few women in the construction industry. As conservative as her Dad and her Uncle Jesse were, they never shot her down, always gave her opportunities and stood behind her even when it would have been easier not to do so. Quite often, Terry would answer the phone and a man on the other end would say, “give me a man I can talk to.”. She thinks it was part gender bias and part not wanting to clean up his language to speak to a woman.
One time however, a customer named George called with a problem on a jobsite and didn’t know how to handle it. Terry made a suggestion. An hour later, Terry heard her Dad’s phone ring and then heard her dad say, “Well George, what did Terry tell you to do?” George answered and then Terry’s dad said, “ Well – she’s exactly right. I think that’s exactly what you should do.”
Giving people a chance wasn’t and still isn’t just for Basnight family members. Jesse and Terry know of several situations over the years – of people in the company who might not have been given a chance somewhere else. They’ve also had people leave to seek other employment and then want to come back. For the most part there has been a place for them.
And then there was the time that Terry was feeling challenged by a hard-to-get-along-with member of the staff. Let’s call him Joe. Terry mentioned the situation to her dad hoping to hear something like, “I know it’s tough.”
Instead, he threw it back on her and said, “Terry you just have to think of yourself as middle management and remember that you’re the one that needs to make it work. When’s the last time you asked Joe about his family? When’s the last time you asked Joe about something that’s important to him. ”
Terry did as her father suggested and did see his point – that people are easier to understand when you sit down and spend some time with them. Though she and Joe never became best buddies, they did form a better relationship.
7. Giving people a chance doesn’t mean they could get away with anything. Bill and Jesse Sr. had high expectations. Being in the family business, Terry and Jesse recognize that they were given a job, but they still had to do the work. And they had to work harder and longer and do better work than others.
They say they made lots of mistakes. No time was spent berating. We were just supposed to handle them, learn from them and not make them again.
And they were warned to never guess. If they didn’t know something, they were supposed to ask. But even then, it wasn’t easy. Jesse shared a time that he went to his Uncle Bill with a question and the response was, “I don’t know. Go find out and come back and tell me.”
8. While they expected a lot from people at work, Bill and Jesse Sr encouraged people to do things like go watch their kids play ball. Terry remembers her dad taking a break to go down to Suttons to grab a cup of coffee and find out what’s going on. He would encourage Jesse to go play golf. Encourage Terry to go work in the garden. Whatever was needed to keep your spirit fresh.
I wondered what messages might go between Terry and her dad and Jesse and his dad if they could speak today. Jesse said his dad would say, “Keep it in the middle.”
Terry reflected on the period time right after her dad died which was rough because she was mourning the loss and feeling insecure about her new role as President. She found herself saying, “Dad I wish you had just retired so I could still ask you…”
But she said, “it didn’t work that way. And then eventually I just accepted that I had worked for him for 22 years and I knew I was prepared.”
So today she feels comfortable with a simple “thank you”.
What a wonderful visit – learning about lessons that have been passed down through three generations during the 87 year history of SH Basnight & Sons ( & Daughter). The overriding message is loud and clear: nurture people and relationships and protect them fiercely. Lovely.
What about you? What lessons did you learn from your Dad? Lessons that have helped you in business?
copyright 2012 – Jan Bolick & Business Class Inc