Mark Robert Halper

Maybe you’re one of those linear-minded remodelers who believe that you can gain business knowledge only directly from other remodelers.

You can learn a great deal from your peers, but if you want to propel your company forward and beat tomorrow’s competitors before they even arrive, you must learn from the very best regardless of industry or market. You’ll need to work a little harder to adapt their challenges and solutions to your business, but the payoff can be grand.

Strong Brand, SHARED Vision

Zingerman’s Community of Businesses comprises 32 businesses that sell $35 million a year in premium food products, training services, and more. Based in Ann Arbor, Mich., Zingerman’s is thriving in that state’s doubly recessed economy.

I am fired up because Zingerman’s opened its operations to my company and 90 remodelers in September. We learned about an incredibly strong brand that is powered by a truly shared vision, is supported by passion and excellence in execution, and has grown through diversification and shared risk.

A few takeaways apply to remodelers everywhere:

  • A written, well-defined philosophy makes you think through why you are in business, what you are passionate about, and what you want to deliver to whom and why. Zingerman’s calls its mission statement its “North Star” and makes it very learnable: “We share the Zingerman’s Experience: Selling food that makes you happy; giving service that makes you smile ….” This shared philosophy helps to align its staff, systems, and culture; elevates employees’ daily work to significance; and is critical in aligning the brand’s 32 businesses.
  • Training is paramount to fulfilling your mission. Each Zingerman’s employee carries a pocket-size “passport” explaining what they need to learn. As they train in each item, it is checked-off in the passport. Training covers brand philosophy, business metrics, and individual job duties.
  • Define and measure your “triple bottom line.” Zingerman’s aspires to great food, great service, and great finance. It insists on hitting the mark on the first two, but, being open book, is willing to tolerate a longer-term financial nurturing of individual businesses.
  • Monitor key activities on a regular basis, and make it simple for all to do so. At Zingerman’s, this monitoring takes place in daily morning huddles, with the latest metrics posted on a whiteboard that every staff person can see.

Growth That Fits

This next takeaway applies if you are interested in growth through diversification, rather than simply doing more of what you already do.

Zingerman’s started with two partners. It grows through new ventures that align with the original venture and mission and that are rigorously vetted. As a new division is added, it is run by a new managing partner (perhaps a tested, long-time employee, or a chef hired from outside) along with the original two partners. They all work under the corporate umbrella.

Want to diversify, remodelers? It’s a good idea to designate a managing director — but essential to ensure that the new ventures fit your original business and mission.

As we ate our way through Zingerman’s, we questioned staff to see if our learning meshed with day-to-day operations, and it did. In fact, one night at dinner, when the waiter asked if I was “finished enjoying” (nice subtlety!) and would like coffee, I said I’d love some decaf but only if I could call her at midnight if regular coffee had been substituted. She laughed, and I did too, when I saw she had written her name and phone number on the napkin under the coffee cup. Needless to say, I didn’t need to call.

—Linda Case is founder of Remodelers Advantage, a national company that gives remodelers the tools to achieve consistent profitability and success through one-on-one consulting, the Roundtables peer program, and an online learning community. 301.490.5620;;