I had to smile when one of our newest team members, Mona Barton, told me she refers to the Stahls’ training handout that includes a list of “Things Our Parents Taught Us” as the Stahls’ Commandments. Mona recently participated in one of the first training sessions held at our new Training and Administration Headquarters in Michigan. According to Mona, “It was one of the best, most organized training or Onboarding that I’ve ever been through. And I’ve worked for fantastic companies like Hallmark and Broder and have been in the sports apparel industry for about 30 years. Everything was extremely organized and well run. But the “commandments” reinforced that I made the right choice in joining the Stahls’ family. I’ve seen other companies go from small to big and when they get bigger they sometimes forget about the values that made them successful,” Mona told me. “At Stahls’ it’s part of your culture and you want everyone to understand the family values that got them this far.” Yes, these values are important to us. In fact when I have the chance, I usually say that if you don’t like what’s on this list or you can’t live up to these values, there’s the door. And I’m not kidding. Frank Good, who has been a Stahls’ team member since June, was also part of the training group. Frank shared that, “It was really great to see that there are so many people that have been at Stahls’ for 20-plus years. You always hear people say this is a family-style organization, and in spite of all the technical knowledge we were taught, the most important thing we learned was that it’s our job to help make our customers more successful.” At Stahls’ we call that the Extraordinary Customer Experience. Like Mona mentioned and Frank reinforced, it all starts with understanding some simple family values–which many of you will recognize from things you try to instill in your own families. In case you’re wondering, here is the list of values that Mona nicknamed the “Stahls’ Commandments:”
- RESPECT—Our parents taught us that respect is won by giving it. No matter what mistakes we made as a children—and there were quite a few, believe me—our father never yelled at us in front of our peers. When we did something stupid, he took us aside and explained what could have done differently and taught different ways to approach a situation. He didn’t question our integrity and always spoke respectfully to all his children.
- FRUGALITY—Another lesson learned was frugality. For many years, there were weeks when sales were as low as .38 cents. That’s not much on which to feed a growing family. That’s why we had a big garden growing up and it’s also why my mother was very creative in preparing zucchini. And when we did take a camping vacation, we always brought our own food.
- DON’T WASTE—Ernie Stahl (our father) was not only frugal, he was the king of minimizing waste. He always said that if you want to see where your profits are going, look out the back door in the garbage can. He was always reminding us to minimize scrap waste and maximize production efficiencies in all areas. This value led to many production innovations, the introduction of more sophisticated die-cutting equipment, water-jet cutting and much more.
- BE COMPASSIONATE—Even when we didn’t have much ourselves, our family was always helping the less fortunate. Our mother Ricki was our role model for treating everyone with kindness. When dealing with others, be compassionate, be kind. You never know what kind of a day someone has been having, or what kind of burden they are bearing.
- PRAISE OFTEN—A little bit of recognition for a job well done goes a long way. Things as simple as pounding a nail straight or weeding a garden builds our self-esteem.
- RESIST CRITICIZING OTHERS—One story that really illustrates this is the time as a preteen that Ted criticized his younger brother’s handwriting. Instead of telling Ted not to do so, Ernie simply took out a piece of paper that he had kept in his wallet. It was a letter Ted had written to him when he was overseas during the war. Suffice it to say the handwriting was not very legible. We learned a powerful lesson from this simple act.
- LEND A HELPING HAND—When you’re part of a family business, you may find yourself doing jobs you didn’t originally sign up for, such as sweeping the production room floor or answering phones. Ernie Stahl always expected you to be busy and to intuitively lend a hand to others when needed.
- HAVE FUN —In spite of being a hard worker, our parents always knew how to have fun, and encouraged and allowed us to have fun as well. It wasn’t unusual tohave squirt gun and shaving cream fights to make work more fun. Our father also built a cement swimming pool for us and an enormous sand box, where we were allowed to build our own clubhouse, which leads me to another lesson:
- ENCOURAGE CREATIVITY—Our father supplied the wood, poured a cement foundation, but let us build our own clubhouse. It was a lesson in creativity and learning by doing. We built that 6’ x 6’ house completely on our own.EMPOWERMENT—The fact that our father put so much faith in our abilities to build a clubhouse empowered us to tackle even more difficult construction and work-related projects, each time with greater and greater success.
- HUMILITY—Although we didn’t have much money growing up, there were always less fortunate. We were taught to not to brag or be boastful.
- LISTEN AND INNOVATE—Some of our father’s best ideas were born by listening to the needs of his customers. Whether he was figuring out how to cut reflective material into lettering or making envelopes of letters with school names in them, he did everything possible to make personalization easier for our customers.
- BE PERSISTENT—Ted remembers going with Ernie to Missouri to look at an automatic stamping machine. It took a long time to engineer the machine to make it work for our purposes. But Ernie was persistent. He never said “I can’t do that.” Instead he said “We’ll figure out a way.”
- FIX IT—Just as Ernie wasn’t one to throw out scraps, he also never threw in the towel when a machine broke down. He always figured out a way to either fix it himself or call in someone who could fix it.
- BUILD RELATIONSHIPS—Our father and mother taught us the most important lesson we need to know—that business is done with people, not companies. They always went out of their way to make sure people knew we were grateful for their business, and we had similar good relationships with suppliers and vendors.
- COMMUNICATE—Our parents knew that they couldn’t run the business on their own. They needed the help of everyone on the team. But in order to keep everyone on the same page, they taught us the value of communication. Of course it was a lot easier in those days, when you just needed to call 10 people into a room to discuss a problem or introduce a new idea.
We will continue to share these values with our team members and remember, if you aren’t able to follow them, you know where the door is.