By Carmen Banta, Entrepreneur Team Co-Lead
The Entrepreneur Team (E-Team) welcomed two long-standing business professionals from Bismarck-Mandan for their YP Roundtable event titled “40+ Years of Fame”. Mark Thompson of H.A. Thompson and Sons and Jim Mellon of Midway Lanes were panelists for the event. Mr. Thompson took over his family’s business, a commercial and residential heating, cooling, and plumbing company, nearly 40 years ago and the company has been in business for more than 100 years. Mr. Mellon has been involved in the bowling industry for nearly 50 years, moving to the area when he was 23 years old to take over Midway Lanes in Mandan.
Throughout the evening, both panelists shared their experiences with life and business, highlighting a few of the keys to maintaining a successful business over the decades. One over-arching theme was the focus on quality. Thompson and Mellon shared how low cost is not a model that either used to become successful in their business; rather, high quality has been the focus which enabled their success. Taking care of the customer and providing them with the optimal experience — whether sending a courteous service technician to fix a boiler, or providing an outstanding birthday party for a 10-year-old and his friends — is the key to repeat customers according to the business owners. Most people won’t remember how much they paid for a service, but they will definitely remember their experience. So, focus on the things that matter most to the customer.
Another key to success for both companies was their workforce. Hiring and maintaining high quality employees has allowed these businesses to provide the exceptional experiences they are committed to providing the customer. Thompson and Mellon both stressed the key to hiring (and keeping) good employees is to treat them right! Thompson also discussed the importance of hiring employees to complete one specific job. Recently, Thompson and his family were experiencing health issues and other obligations that took much of his time and focus away from his business. At the end of the tumultuous year, he was reviewing the financial statements only to find that his team produced the best year-to-date for the company. He recognized that by hiring key staff to complete the individual tasks he had done himself in the past, allowed them to be better at the job than he had been and produce even better results than expected.
“Provide lifetime value for your customers and they will keep coming back.”
The panel also discussed growth, business banking, advertising, and much more during the 90-minute discussion. Mellon left the attendees with one thing to remember, “Provide lifetime value for your customers and they will keep coming back.” He stressed the importance of treating the customer right because the cost to replace them can be quite expensive. Thompson stressed the importance of planning for the future. He discussed his military background and how that assisted him in making, not only one- and five-year plans for his business, but 10- and 20-year plans as well. He continues to live by the 20-year plan, oftentimes passing on short-term success for the goal of long-term gain. However, he also stressed the importance of being able to adapt saying, “there is a 50/50 chance your plan for tomorrow will work out” so it is important to be prepared when it doesn’t.
Thank you to both of our panelists for sharing your wisdom and experience with the Young Professionals Network. We appreciate your insight!
The YP Roundtable event started in 2011. The E-Team created the event to give YP’ers access to ‘big-name’ speakers that we normally wouldn’t get to meet at regular YP events. The focus of the event is on entrepreneurship and how to be successful in business. The focus is on Q&A so YP’ers shape the event and the discussion around the things that are of most interest to them.