West Coast Video
The hot technology of the late 1980s was video tapes. After my father retired from the Air Force, he opened a video rental franchise named West Coast Videos.
Most reading this should be old enough to remember far enough back when you had to physically drive to a video store, pick out the video tape you wanted to watch, and bring it home to play in your VCR. Well, my Dad owned the video store that rented you the tapes.
He would regularly start work before the store opened at 10am, and stay there until 10pm or later every night. When he got home he’d work on the administrative stuff — paperwork, taxes, etc — that still had to get done. There were very few days off.
I helped at the store occasionally, mostly behind the counter interacting with customers. I liked interacting with the customers. I also liked watching movies in my spare time and then making recommendations to customers. Working the counter and interacting with customers was a relatively easy job, and it was fun.
In the early days, when videos were $100+ each and there was significant risk of shoplifting, video stores kept the box on the floor but the video tape itself safely behind the counter. Customers would bring me the box from the floor and I’d go to shelves behind in the back to find the video tape, put the box in the spot on the shelf where the tape had been, and give the tape to the customer to take home after they’d checked out.
He opened his second video store during the summer after I graduated high school. To save a ton of money, he purchased the inventory from another video store that had recently shut down. That store kept their boxes and videos separate like my Dad’s first store did.
But the industry was changing. Demand for videos had picked up, the cost of a video tape was dropping, and newer stores put the video in the box and put both out on the floor for the customers to grab. My Dad wanted the new store to be with the times. That meant he needed to match up a couple thousand boxes with a couple of thousand videos. It was a large project.
After working for a moving company for a week, and realizing that moving furniture for eight hours a da sucked, I gave in to my Dad’s request to come work for him. My job for the next few weeks was to match up the boxes to the videos. He had other things to attend to like hiring staff, building out the new store, setting up the computer systems, and continuing operations at the first location.
All of the inventory was in a large storage unit. Knowing I couldn’t possibly do it all myself, I recruited a bunch of friends to help. Every day we’d go out to the storage unit, pull ½ of it outside onto the asphalt, and one by one match up the boxes to the videos.
For weeks I’d have to find friends who were available that day, coordinate with their schedules, pick them up and driving them to the storage unit, and then made sure they worked instead of just goofed off. It was a good lesson in managing a team. We worked hard in the hot sun, but we also had fun and everyone made a little bit of money. We finished the project on schedule and got the videos on the shelves in time for training the new staff.
That summer I had an opportunity to learn an amazing lesson in entrepreneurialism. My Dad found someone he trusted — me. He gave me an important job and checked in with me often, but didn’t micromanage me. He gave me a timeline and set expectations.
In turn I did the same with my crew and reported my progress to my boss/Dad regularly. That allowed my Dad to focus on other parts of the business.
Find competent people, extend trust, give them responsibility, and shift your focus elsewhere. That’s how you run and grow a business.