Old-school business lessons from the butcher, the baker …

I was once chatting with the owner of a local bakery when she confided something unexpected. She said she probably knew more about her clients than any other merchant in the area. As someone baking for a close-knit community, she knew when someone was celebrating, or someone was mourning; she knew when someone was eating their feelings, or even when someone was being passive/aggressive by intentionally not ordering their spouse’s favorite baked goods, and later claiming the bakery was sold out. In other words, my local baker knew pretty much everything going on in other people’s lives, even when they were completely unaware they’d been noticed.

Wouldn’t these be excellent skills for someone working in a competitive environment? Paying attention to things some might think unessential only to realize you’re the one who suddenly has an edge over the competition?

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In that vein, here are some more old-school business lessons from unexpected role models. And no. I don’t know any candlestick makers, so we’ll skip that one.

The Butcher: A cut apart

I’m mostly vegetarian, so I’m probably not the person to discuss the finer points of fine cuts of beef, but there is an art to cutting to perfection. Some cuts of meat rise above the rest and are priced accordingly, while others are given funny names and priced to sell. A talented butcher can understand that a fine cut one way or another produces a superior product or something that people just can’t stomach.

In the work environment, sometimes you might feel like you’re serving up the same old thing day after day after day. So, how can you make your work stand out? Look at what you’re producing with a critical eye from time to time. Has your work become something less than fascinating? Try seasoning it or marinating it or adding a bit more flavor so that people are interested once again.

Or, you can take the Instant Pot approach. In case you’re unfamiliar, the Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker that seems to magically transform even cheap cuts of meat into tasty treats. Metaphorically speaking, maybe you have a work colleague who is the perfect editor for documents and can help you transform the same old report into a feast of words.

The Contractor: Managing all the moving parts and partners

Howard Molen, owner of HFM Builders and a service pro on the HomeAdvisor network takes tremendous pride in his work. “In my nearly 40 years as a business owner of HFM Builders and general contractor, I’ve learned that you have to juggle competing interests while still staying truthful and loyal to yourself, your employees and your customers.”

Molen believes that “it’s important to do the right thing as you work with clients during one of the most stressful time in their lives, renovating their homes.”

That seems to be one side of the contractor experience, but what about the part where you’re the one controlling all the moving pieces?

Molen says: “As you work to keep everyone from plumbers to electricians to clients on budget and on track, you have to enjoy working with people, be a good listener and be able to compromise when needed. Once you’ve signed on to a project, you’re committed to drafting and executing a plan, being on time, and taking pride in your work. You are creating a beautiful, finished product that enhances people’s lives.”

There are a lot of old-school takeaways there. From trying to stay truthful and loyal to both yourself and your clients and employees, to managing stressful situations, to keeping to a budget and timeline. If you find that your projects start to sag at some point, it might be helpful to create a plan similar to building or renovating a home. At least this way you’ll see all of the players, the budget and the timing.

The Jeweler: An issue of trust

When most of us make a significant purchase, it’s usually with someone with a great reputation or someone we already know and trust.

Rordan Shane, President of National jewelry chain Shane Co.: “It’s not always about what you sell when it comes to building a successful business. My family has been in the jewelry business for 90 years and our signature product, the diamond, represents something much bigger than its carat size. It is an object that represents emotions – love, honor and a promise.”

If you’re selling a product that anyone can theoretically buy anywhere, you need to create a bond or value proposition to ensure your clients’ loyalty.

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