- Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place in historic Valley Junction.
This year's RAGBRAI, like those in the past, gave me a chance to think about business from time to time even as I enjoyed the beautiful Iowa countryside.
This year, though, I was thinking about RAGBRAI, retailing and the whole notion of order even before my feet hit the pedals. On the way to Glenwood, the first overnight of the week, images of the crush of people rushing here and there came to mind.
If you've never been on RAGBRAI or in one of its host communities, you'd be justified in assuming that having more than 10,000 bike riders and at least twice as many support people descend on a small Iowa town would be nothing short of bedlam. You'd be wrong.
Although there is a lot of energy and activity, there really is an order to RAGBRAI. A lot of planning by the sponsors, participants and host communities ensures that people get where they're supposed to go, that they have food, bathrooms, entertainment, places to sleep and much more.
And, that's the lesson for specialty retailers.
Whatever you're doing and however much energy you're putting into your business, you have to have order.
That means your inventory selection has to be well thought-out to ensure you have the products your customers want and that you don't have a lot of unwanted products gobbling up space and capital. Your store design and product presentation have to be organized in ways that appeal to and attract customers rather than frustrating them. Your staffing has to be scheduled to best serve your customers while also making sense for your bottom line.
Your handle on business finances -- especially accounts receivable -- must be firm. Your grasp on cyber-security has to be solid. In short, you as the owner have to have a sharp focus and a commitment to use practical systems for every aspect of your business and constantly improve your own skills.
I marvel at the way the organizers of RAGBRAI can always see, create and maintain order in the midst of apparent chaos. The specialty retailers who succeed are those who can see, create and instill order in their business and its people even when things look anything but orderly.