Running Insight

APRIL 2, 2018

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14 © 2018 Formula4media LLC. RUNNING INSIGHT 1994 was my final year in the US A r my. Back t hen I was stationed at Ft. Myer in Arlington, Virginia. Most folks in my unit worked in the Pentagon. I, however, had an office job on-post. I filled alloca- tions for soldiers continuing their military education. My nine-to-five left me with loads of extra time. So I took a part-time job at a gas station. My boss, and owner of the station, was a retired Army Colonel named Skip. He was short and stout, had a bit of a beer belly, and his balding head was crowned with a bright swatch of red hair. His still wore a regulation mustache and always had a smug, half-grin on his face. Skip never raised his voice. He harvested a culture where he didn't have to. During my employment interview, Skip told me everyone on staff has the same title. He, the station attendants, and mechanics were all deemed Window Washers. Sounded fine to me. Skip said I had to agree to some non- negotiables. These included one overarching expectation and three distinct rules. The expectation: "Everyone is willing to wash windows." Every car in Skip's station received full service: a streakless pass with the squeegee, a look under the hood, and a tire pres- sure check. But "washing windows" was also a metaphor dictating each employee's appearance and behavior. Skip used simple language to define the big picture. Like a one-page employee manual. Our willingness to "wash windows" defined how well-ironed our station shirts were, how crisply our pants were starched, how high-and-tight our haircuts looked, and the quality of the Kiwi mirror on our boots. It also dictated how we spoke to customers. As a soldier I was used to such attention to detail. Compliance was easy. "Washing windows" was also how Skip segued a tough conversation. If he saw a sub-par interaction with a customer, he'd ask, "So Tom, how'd you wash that cus- tomer's windows just now?" Or, to rally the team, he might say, "Alright guys, let's go out there and wash some freaking win- dows, huh!" Skip's basic expectation also held us personally accountable. "Well Tom, looks to me like that hair of yours could use a little window-washing, eh? Punch in after you've hit the barber." Stuff like that. Then there were his three rules. Simple at face-value, but far bigger in scope. Rule #1: Hustle. Or, in Skip's words, "Don't lolly-gag." Didn't matter whether it's 25 degrees below zero or if we were hung-over, Skip expected us to move like we were making a million bucks to do it. No exceptions. Rule #2: Don't overdo it. On a practi- cal level, this referred to how we pumped gas. Per Skip, "When the pump stops, stop pumping." But he also believed we should bring our natural selves to the job rather than force a less-authentic, salesy schtick. Rule #3: Smile and be grateful. Every day Skip would remind us we'll never know what sort of baggage people are carrying around. "Least we can do is be kind," he'd say. We'd graciously thank customers using pennies to buy a dollar's worth of gas. Why? Because today's small-potatoes customer could be next year's top dog. "The world can, and will, change on a dime," Skip often said. "Here we work how we ought to live." Skip's personal ethics modeled the perfect foundation for quality retail. Following his tenets may very well improve the lives of everyone involved. n SKIP'S RULES: Good Retail, Good Life Tom Griffen is a storyteller. He's also a coach and trainer for specialty retailers. For the next six months he'll be walking across America. His planned route started in Los Angeles, headed to Phoenix, and will continue onto El Paso, Austin, Shreveport, Little Rock, Nashville, Asheville, and eventually to the Atlantic seaboard. He plans to stop at run shops within range of his eastward movement. There he'll stock up on needed items, but also include the visit in a Running Insight article that celebrates your paths crossing. Follow him at, on Instagram @tomswalkacrossamerica, or listen to his podcast, My Walking Life, on iTunes (or wherever you podcast). BY TOM GRIFFEN

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