Preparing for the annual Lordco Auto Parts trade show earlier this month – their 25th annual edition, which is a feat in itself – I couldn’t help but think back on the many conversations I had with Ed Coates.
Ed Coates – who co-founded Lordco with Roy Lord 40 years ago, but was the sole owner for most of its existence until his untimely passing early last year – was an incredibly hard worker, was extraordinarily passionate about the business, and embodied a peerless combination of ruthless competitor and generous advisor. He was also about as unassuming as they come.
Along the way, over the past 25 years anyway, I had the pleasure on numerous occasions to sit down and talk with him about Lordco. He was always open and friendly, and never pressed me to end an interview before I had run out of “any more good questions.”
So, with his openness in mind, here are five lessons from Ed that I think might serve anyone well in this business:
It’s amazing what people will tell you. Ed was on the road continually, visiting customers, suppliers, and competing stores. Particularly in the early days, he would visit U.S. chain stores and start talking to staff. He said he learned a lot that way. “It’s amazing what people will tell you if you ask the right questions.” Many of those lessons went into making Lordco the second-largest retailer of automotive parts in the country, after Canadian Tire.
Throw the shovels in. Lordco does a lot of business with the forestry industry, and Ed told me that it was important to always throw a couple of shovels in the back of the delivery truck with the order because they were sure to sell on the spot, crews being apt to break and lose them on a regular basis. You can expand that to mean doing everything you can to get that add-on sale, and being attuned to the needs of your customers.
You join our company as a career. Not a job. Lordco’s management and sales team is filled with professionals who started out as drivers, cashiers, or counterpeople and moved up; they were free to move as high up within the company as their work ethic and ambition would allow, he once told me (with the possible exception of his job, he added with a smile). It’s a combination of opportunity and empowerment that is rare in companies with such a strong personality at the top. The payoff is a loyal team that cares deeply about what they do.
The times, they are a changin’. Ed Coates’ favorite lyric, from Bob Dylan, was never too far from his lips. “I think that Lordco never really stands still. We’re always trying to reinvent ourselves. We know that the times are changing all the time.”
Play air guitar. Okay, so this one’s really not advice from him per se, but he was an avid music fan, all kinds of music, and yes he could be found often on a Saturday morning, in his office, music up, lost in an air-guitar rendition. The lesson here is to bring the passion to what you do and let others see that passion.
I am sure that many of you will have some brand of those lessons in your own business philosophy. If you do, you should still ask yourself if that philosophy is actually part of your company in practice. And if not, perhaps you should ask yourself why not. It has worked for Lordco; it might work for you.
— Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor email@example.com
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