“These Guys Were Really Smart”

A few years ago (during the dark days of Covid) I was invited to join a mastermind group of fellow dry cleaners which included some of the top dry cleaners in the country – and even one from across the pond. Among these participants were some of the heavy hitters in our industry. 

How I was invited to be a part of this group is a bit of a mystery to me, but I readily accepted the invitation to become a part of this mastermind. This twelve-month commitment turned out to be one of the most informative and fascinating professional experiences I have been a part of since getting into the dry cleaning business.

As part of the welcome package I received when joining the mastermind group, the facilitators included two books that we were strongly encouraged to read. Not just run of mill business books, but two classics that I had been wanting to digest for a long time. One of them was Think and Grow Rich, written by Napoleon Hill. I finished it within a week – taking notes and re-reading various sections as I went along. 

For those of you who are not familiar with this book, it was written almost a century ago when the author was asked by Andrew Carnegie to formulate a philosophy one can use to ensure personal and financial success. By studying the habits, experiences and principles of more than 500 of the most recognized achievers of his time, Napoleon Hill accumulated thousands of pages of documents and notes over two decades and turned them into what became Think and Grow Rich

While reading this treasure, I did note that time had taken a toll on some of the examples used to illustrate various points, but more importantly, the principles are as true today as when the book was originally published. I personally believe this is one of the reasons Think and Grow Rich remains so popular all these years since it was released. It is not a series of steps one needs to take to accumulate wealth but was designed to help the reader become self-aware of the mindsets and disciplines needed to become successful. As such, it isn’t an easy read, but it is more of a textbook guiding you through the disciplines required to attain success. 

The book presents thirteen principles that Hill presents as a philosophy of achievement one should study and master to attain his or her personal success. Among these principles are desire, faith, auto suggestion, specialized knowledge, imagination, organized planning, decision, persistence, the subconscious mind and others. 

According to Hill, the starting point of achievement is desire. Defining a goal and pouring all of one’s energies and efforts into achieving it is the first key to success. Simply wishing for something, including success or wealth, will get you nowhere. You must have a detailed plan, be obsessed by its attainment and refuse to accept failure. He goes on by listing six specific steps to help you formulate your desires for success into action.

Next in the list of his thirteen principles comes faith. Hill defines faith as visualization and the belief in the attainment of one’s desires. In short, cultivating your mind through reinforcement, affirmations and a positive mental state is imperative to the attainment of success. 

Specialized knowledge is everything when it comes to achieving success according to Hill. Specialized knowledge in the area or business you are in is what will generate money for you. General knowledge is of little use when trying to accomplish your goals. Hill notes you can attain specialized knowledge through personal experiences, observations or through participation in master mind groups.

Hill next goes on to list imagination as a necessary principle for the achievement of your success. He states your imagination is where all your plans and goals are created. He claims ideas stemming from imagination are the actual starting point for all fortunes and are the result of imagination. Noting several examples, he demonstrates the impact of one’s imagination as the seed that created many of today’s successful products and companies.

Rather than bore you with my meanderings of the remaining principles espoused in Think and Grow Rich, I think it should be noted that this article can only scratch the surface of the techniques and processes Hill describes in his book. He stresses that all the principles listed are connected and work together to achieve the ultimate goals of success and wealth. It’s not an easy read, nor terribly exciting, but I found the commitment to learn these principles worth the time and effort. While writing this article I realized that I need to return to the book and continue to work on each of these principles more aggressively to fully take advantage of all it has to offer. 

Given the time obligations of the mastermind, reading Think and Grow Rich, and running a small business, I must admit I never got around to reading the other book I received, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Although I had every desire and intention to read this classic, I just never got around to reading it. That changed a few weeks ago.

I just happened to see the book lying in a stack of other materials and decided this was the time to open this treasure and dive into the wealth of knowledge that millions of others before me had taken advantage of. I was not disappointed. Again, although you can tell this book was written decades ago, its lessons are as relevant today as when it was published.

Even in my advanced age, I found myself intrigued by the messages set forth in this book. I am so glad I chose to read it while at the same time, disappointed in my delay in opening its pages. I guess it just goes to show you can teach an old dog some new tricks from time to time. 

Like Think and Grow Rich, Carnegie’s book is designed to help you achieve success. However, this book concentrates on interactions with others and how to deal with people effectively and positively. Much like Hill’s book, this classic is also divided into major philosophies that are supported by principles. 

There are four sections of this book and as dry cleaners we can benefit from each of the strategies described in each. Almost all of us spend much of our time interacting with others, be it clients, team members, vendors, regulators, or peers. After all, when it gets down to it, as service providers we are in the people business – whether we realize it or not. How to Win Friends describes how our dealing with others has a great deal to do with our ultimate success or failure. It also presents methods and techniques we can develop to facilitate our growth.

The first part of the book describes basic techniques for handling people. Most of the techniques listed are common-sense things we should embrace, but I am often surprised how often my staff (and other dry cleaners) fail to follow these steps – leading to mistrust, lost clients, poor morale, lower productivity and subsequently lost profits or opportunities.

It then goes on to list ways to get others to like you. Most importantly, Carnegie states that remembering and using a person’s name is the “sweetest and most important” sound in any language. Using one’s name often and correctly makes people feel valued and respected. It helps break down barriers and helps facilitate trust. In that same vein, he encourages us to become good listeners.

Arguments are futile and only damage relationships. Time and time again, I see and hear of folks in our industry arguing with clients or others and thinking they are “winning.” You’ve heard the expression winning the battle but losing the war. Listening and understanding others’ concerns are recommended as a place where common ground can be established and as a means of moving forward.

And finally, Carnegie challenges us to become a leader. He presents techniques and tips for earning the trust of others and moving them and us forward in our quest for success. Again, many of these skills are common sense but it is a good reminder of what it takes to be an effective leader in our businesses.

I found How to Win Friends and Influence People a much easier read than Think and Grow Rich. The book was written in a much more conversational way and the examples clearly illustrated the principles and concepts Carnegie was presenting.

I find myself diving back into these books often to remind myself of things I need to improve upon while trying to move my business forward. Let’s face it, as business owners the road can be bumpy at times, but these classics provide some great guidance and help us prioritize what needs to be worked on to move us ahead. If you are not familiar with these books, I highly recommend you take some time to read them carefully and use them as tools to help you in your quest for success.

Steve Thompson is the owner and operator of Sand Dollar Cleaners in Jacksonville, Florida. He has been in the dry cleaning business for almost 30 years, starting with a dry cleaning pick up and delivery service and developing it into the full service dry cleaning operation it is today. He was previously in the banking industry, working with organizations in Indiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Florida. While in the banking industry he earned designations as a Certified Public Accountant, Chartered Bank Auditor and a Certified Internal Auditor. Steve has previously written articles and developed training programs for accounting and internal audit organizations. He is a graduate of Indiana State University with a degree in accounting.

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