Thriving No Matter What

You wake up one morning to find one of the biggest competitors in your industry moving in, not just in the area, but right across the street.

After the initial panic subsides, you are faced with three options: close, sell, or stay and compete. This is exactly what happened to City Mill, a family-owned and operated hardware store chain over 100 years old in Oahu, Hawaii. Not only did The Home Depot move in across the street, but Lowes also moved in next door to The Home Depot. Panic time! But the third-generation owner/operators of City Mill said, “Not on my watch! We’re staying and competing.” They dug in their heels, looked at how they go to business every day and came up with strategies not only to survive but to thrive, and that is exactly what they are doing right now: Thriving! What did City Mill do?

Harry Paul
Convention Speaker
Wednesday, October 12
“Destination: Work”

The FISH! Philosophy was and is part of their strategy. First, it’s helping everyone there to wake up everyday and say, “I get to go to work, I don’t have to.” And when they choose “get to” they are setting themselves apart from everyone else by bringing passion, energy and enthusiasm to what they are doing, no matter what it is they are doing. Second, it’s creating unique experiences for their customers, experiences that cannot be duplicated by their competition because the individuals in the organization are creating them. By practicing the four parts of this philosophy, Choose Your Attitude, Play, Be There, Make Their Day, City Mill ensures that they have the ability to survive and thrive no matter what comes their way.

The FISH! Philosophy can help you and your organization, just as it does for City Mill. No matter the size of your organization, this philosophy will give you an edge over your competition and help you thrive not just for a few quarters, but also for decades to come.

There are four parts to the FISH! Philosophy:

Choose Your Attitude
We get to make that choice everyday when we get up in the morning. It’s our choice. We have to look at what we do and ask the questions: Am I making a difference? Am I making the world a better place? Am I improving the lives of people? If you answer yes to any of these questions, it is easy to choose a positive attitude that will show in everything you do—and your customers will be the first to notice.

We spend a lot of time at work and we don’t want to do it in a toxic environment that’s not any fun. Loosen up and enjoy what you are doing. Look for ways of having fun at work. It brings the energy and the excitement levels to a new high. Take your work seriously; just take yourselves a little less seriously. The World Famous Pike Place Fish Market, featured in my book, FISH!, is known the world-over for throwing fish. It’s fun and everyone enjoys seeing fish flying through the air. It is also a very efficient way of working. Fishmongers are in front of the counter with their customers and throw the fish ordered to someone behind the counter to process. They don’t leave their customer, and they stand next to them, continuing to build a relationship while the order is processed. Remember, work made fun gets done.

Four fish markets in the same area sell the same fish for the same price. Pike Place is not competing on product or price, not even service. They are competing on the customer experiences they create.

Be There
Pay attention, treat people with respect, and don’t act like you want to be somewhere else. If customers feel apathy, they will start to look for someone else to do business with. We need to make our customers feel special—because they are. We can’t survive without them. Grab them with warmth as soon as they cross your threshold, whether it’s physical or virtual. Practice the Four Bs of Being Present: Be Real. Be Appreciative. Be Interested. Be Nice. City Mill takes Be There for their customers seriously. When a large hurricane threatened Hawaii, City Mill stayed open around the clock making sure their customers had everything they needed to weather the storm while their competition maintained normal hours. They even had bottled water available for customers.

Make Their Day
Your customers should say, “Wow! I like doing business with you.” And the only way you can do this is by creating a good experience for them. There are only two types of experiences you can create for your customers: good or bad. There is no in between. What’s great about creating good customer experiences is they become your secret sauce. And a good experience makes everything—you, your company, your product, etc.—seem even better. Just like the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market does. Where they are located in Seattle, there are four fish markets selling the same fish for the same price. Pike Place is not competing on product or price, not even service. They are competing and thriving on the customer experiences they create. These experiences have made the market world famous and successful—believed to be the most successful 1,200 sq. ft. of retail space in America. Their success has nothing to do with superior products, better pricing or customer service. It goes beyond that, their customers feel great, have some fun and feel special.

Some people excel no matter what. Given the same set of circumstances as everyone else, they do well when others run. To do this is not easy. Running a business is not going to get any easier, just tougher. Competition will come at you from places you can’t yet imagine, and you are constantly asked to do more with less and work harder and longer hours than ever before. How can you survive and be the winners and superstars apart from everyone else who is merely trying to survive, or worse, running away? By choosing a good attitude and knowing what you are doing is making the world a better place. It is having some fun and enjoying your time at work. It’s being there for each other and for your customers and getting people to say, “Wow! I like doing business with you.” It is what City Mill is doing as they enter their 112th year, it’s what the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market continues to do, and it is what you can do.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Harry Paul Meet the Author
Harry Paul is the co-author of six best-selling business books, including FISH! A Proven Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results. He presents on workplace culture, employee engagement, sales and motivation, and can be found at