Sharing Success

Sticking With Winners

Over Christmas break, I shared former NFL coach Bill Walsh’s autobiography, Building a Champion, with my 13-year-old son Kyle. Like me, Kyle enjoys reading about sports and since then, we’ve had some great conversations together about the book.

Bill Walsh has long been a hero of mine. One of the stories Walsh told about his early career reminds me of a situation which some Independent restaurateurs are facing today.

Here’s Walsh’s story. Before landing the head coaching job with the 49ers, Walsh was an offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals and then head coach at Stanford University.

During that time, he developed a unique offensive passing strategy which, when executed well by the right players, gave those teams an almost unbeatable competitive advantage vs. their opponents. (If you’re a football fan, I’m talking about Walsh’s now-famous “West Coast Offense.”)

Even though Walsh began implementing his strategy when he first joined the 49ers, he did not meet immediate success. Over time, things got ugly. In fact, three games into Walsh’s third season, the 49ers had won only 10 of 35 games.

In his autobiography, Walsh said so many bad things happened so quickly that he started to wonder whether his strategy could still work in the NFL … and he questioned whether the players on other NFL teams were simply better than his own.

But instead of abandoning his strategy, Walsh doubled down on his commitment to making it work. He made sure his players worked on getting the right things right all the time, not just most of the time. He evaluated every play, practice, and player, looking for even the tiniest opportunities for further improvement.

Eventually, something clicked, and the 49ers began winning … and kept winning. That season, they won 15 of the next 16 games including the Super Bowl. Due to the fact that he continued to focus his players on “getting the right things right, every time,” his 49ers won six division titles and three Super Bowls during his tenure as head coach.

How does this apply to you today?

Having a winning strategy is just as important in business as it is in sports.

If you are like most successful Independent restaurateurs I know, you rely on a well-defined trio of winning strategies: 1) serve great food, 2) provide personalized service, and 3) price your menu to make a reasonable profit.

Lately, I’ve heard a growing number of restaurateurs say that they are being hit by inflationary cost increases at warp speed. Many are reluctant to pass along their increased costs in the form of higher menu prices because they are afraid their competition will take away customers. Simply put, like Bill Walsh in his darkest days, some are wondering whether their “system” still works.

My advice to them has been to follow Bill Walsh’s lead. Don’t tinker with a proven winner.

The simple truth is that the cost of doing business has been going up in nearly every industry, especially in the food business. So your competitors are experiencing the same inflationary pressures which you are.

So, like Walsh, stay focused on your winning strategies. Find ways to execute the first two even more consistently. Review every facet of your operation for ways to further improve your food quality and service quality. Reinforce with your team the importance of getting the right things right every time.

If you execute the first two strategies well, you’ll never have to second-guess the third one (that is, paying yourself first)! And by the way, if you are waiting for your competitors to make the first move on menu pricing, don’t overestimate their ability to take the lead. Remember that after a couple of winning seasons by Walsh’s 49ers, the same NFL teams he’d worried might be superior were now busy modeling themselves after his team!