Who knew? Unexpected Business Lessons From Schitt’s Creek
One of the fortunate (or unfortunate) things about being two freelance writers who work from home is that we're never able to turn our work brains completely off. We're always scanning for lessons or principles that we can apply to our own business, even when we're vegging out. Hence our posts about Project Runway, Silicon Valley, High Maintenance, and now Schitt's Creek. (Westworld, you're next.)
Now obviously, don't take this list too seriously. These 'lessons' aren't going to transform you into an industry titan or anything. They're just meant to get the wheels turning. So, without further ado, here are 5 unexpected business lessons from Schitt's Creek:
1. Stay hands-on.
As the series opens, federal agents are ransacking the sprawling mansion owned by Johnny Rose and his family, effectively stripping them of everything they own. Turns out, Johnny’s business manager has neglected to pay any taxes on their behalf for an extended period of time, and the IRS has come to collect. The Roses are left with nothing but their designer clothes, Moira's all-important wig collection, and of course, the town of Schitt's Creek (which Johnny once bought for his son David as a joke). “Eli was family. ‘Leave your finances to me’ he said…SON OF A BITCH!” Johnny had placed blind faith in his business manager, and he got screwed as a result. So the lesson here is obvious: be present in your business. If you have employees, get to know them. Promote open collaboration that works both top-down and bottom-up. You don't have to micromanage, but you damn sure have to get your hands dirty...and pay your taxes.
2. If you don't use it, you lose it.
After living in a motel in Schitt's Creek for some time, Johnny starts looking for his next business venture. However, his hand is forced when the motel's owner, Stevie, threatens to sell the place due to poor cash flow. By offering to partner up and help her run the business, Johnny convinces Stevie to give her family's business another try. Unfortunately, he's been out of the game for a while, and it shows. One of his first marketing strategies is to create custom coasters that encourage people to leave a review or "Tweet us on Facebook," but he fails to even realize that he needs a web page, hashtag and/or social media account. The lesson? As a business owner, your education is never complete. There will always be new technology to incorporate, new perspectives to consider, and new ideas to test. Not only do you have to know your offer inside and out, but you also need to have a grip on marketing, sales, analytics, finance, politics, networking and more. The world moves insanely fast, and the ground is constantly shifting beneath us. Embrace it!
3. Pivot carefully.
Johnny's son David is eventually forced to get a job at the Blouse Barn, a clothing store full of hideous outfits and 'skanky' mannequins. The store's owner, Wendy, allows David and his exquisite taste (debatable based on some of his insane outfits) to completely revamp the store. And you have to give her credit: although she was hesitant, she leaned in and embraced David's changes. That takes a lot of courage as a business owner. The only problem is things like leather ponchos don't really play well in a small rural town of about 1,000 people. Still, David practically guts the store and turns it into a posh-looking Manhattan boutique, only to discover that the town isn't exactly embracing his sweeping changes. And because Wendy can't keep up with the increase in expenses and decrease in sales, she eventually has to close the store. Perhaps if she would've tested David's ideas first, before completing a full-on pivot, she could've avoided bankruptcy. For example, instead of revamping the clothing and decor of the entire store, Wendy could’ve given David one section to make his own, and then pivoted based on customer feedback. Or, she might have let him select a few pieces to see how they would sell. Instead, she gives him carte blanche (even letting him binge on the company credit card with the plan to 'write-off' everything), and it almost costs Wendy her business.
4. Before negotiating a deal, do your research.
In a twist of fate, just before Wendy is about to close the Blouse Barn, a competitor from Australia - who happens to be expanding to the U.S. - contacts her about buying the Blouse Barn name. They’re even willing to offer her $10,000 for the rights as a nice gesture, even though they claim that Wendy’s actually been using the name illegally for some time. Luckily, David listens to his intuition, smells something fishy about the deal and decides to be present at the meeting with the Australian rep - but not before doing his research about the company. He comes to the meeting knowing that A) this large retail chain needs the Blouse Barn name desperately and the rep cannot leave the meeting without securing the deal, B) this business has a massive amount of resources and revenue, so David knows that their lowball offer is insulting, and C) he needs to have a counter offer to call their bluff, in this case, a much larger number. As it turns out, David’s tactics work, and he secures an amount that Wendy can barely even fathom. She even writes him a check for $40,000 for his efforts. So yes people, when negotiating a deal or even just pitching someone an idea, do as much research as you can. Fortune may favor the bold, but it favors the well-prepared even more so. And perception of fairness is key in any negotiation, as we learned from the guys at Frilot Forward last year at NOEW. (You can see that piece here for other takeaways.)
5. Words matter: distill your message.
With that $40,000 in hand, David is presented with an opportunity to start his own business. The town’s General Store, which is “a disaster” as he so delicately puts it, is closing down. So David uses his money to submit a lease application and successfully obtain the space. He knows he has a great idea on his hands, but can’t seem to articulate that vision into a concise explanation or mission statement. In fact, one of the funniest moments in the series is when David calls the local business licenser, Patrick, to explain his idea so that he can submit the proper paperwork to incorporate. He ends up leaving several hilarious and convoluted voice messages in which he tries to explain his vision for the business and brand. Eventually, he figures it out: "...curating a selection of products from local vendors and selling them on consignment in a one-stop-shop retail environment that benefits both the vendor and the customer." Mic drop. But it took David a long time, and probably hundreds of hours of planning and strategizing, to come up with that one perfect mission statement. And that’s where good copywriting can come into play. At WBS, our job is to take all of your ideas, sentiments, features, benefits and working parts of an offer, and distill them down into simple, confident language that educates, intrigues, and inspires. (Hint: contact us.)