Moving forward Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2008

Margaret K. Nabors got her start with $60 and a cooking pot.

But that was 20 years ago, when she co-founded Mustard Seed Market & Café with her husband, Phillip, yet today, the company boasts 300 employees at two locations.

Nabors, co-founder and CEO of Mustard Seed Market & Café, says that when it comes to growing a business, keeping track of the numbers is imperative, taking risks is a must and a good business plan is essential.

“It’s a road map,” Nabors says of creating a growth plan. “It makes the journey a little bit easier.”

Smart Business spoke with Nabors about how to create a plan for growing your business.

Q. How do you create a plan for growth?

It happens sometimes spontaneously, and other times in a planned, well-thought-out manner. There are pluses to both of them.

When you’re sitting down and going through a formal meeting, that’s very helpful, because at that point in time, you really get things down on paper. You can measure: Have we met our goals? How close are we to getting our goals?

The impromptu meetings, those are enormously constructive, as well, because something has come up that has inspired you to talk about it. It really gets the juices flowing.

You need to have an executive team that you can share ideas and formulate direction. You need to be cognizant of the economy, labor market. This can have a huge impact on the direction you may want to pursue.

You need to know the growth pattern of your business. You need to be realistic about the strengths and weaknesses of your business.

You must be willing to listen. Be willing to listen to the people on the ground — the people who are in the trenches down there — what they have to say about their department, what their needs are, what they think are the long-term goals that can be fulfilled. That’s important.

Listen to your managers because they’re the ones that are interacting with the staff. Our senior vice president meets with each department head at least twice a year to map out the direction of their specific department, discussing with them their team’s strengths and areas to be improved.

Q. How do you prioritize growth goals?

You have to have short-term goals. But then there’s the long-term planning of how are we going to get the departments honed in for the long haul.

We’ve been on a three-year plan for our new location. What we’re doing is going department by department, analyzing it, tearing apart the numbers, tearing apart the work force. Really what we call tweaking it, so then at that point all you have to do is maintenance.

Q. How do you recommend monitoring and updating your growth plan?

Work with the numbers. It’s through the numbers that really helps you sit down and hone in on a department or an area that needs attention.

Acknowledge the company’s strengths and see if there is more room to expand on them. Then, recognize areas of weakness and set up a methodical plan to address those weaknesses.

Get buy-in from your core team and then, in turn, ultimately the entire staff — we tend to go department by department, utilizing the numbers created by our accounting department: gross profit, inventory control, labor percentages.

Q. How do you encourage taking risks?

I wouldn’t be in business if I didn’t take risks. You have to have a little bit of faith in yourself. You have to have instincts in some regards. Once you get past that, you have to go in and, then again, look at the numbers.

You have to do a plan to see if it’s going to work out in your favor or not.

In this day and age, you must be very aware of the economy. Are your ideas going to be well received by your target customers?

Yet at the same time, you cannot let fear stop you from moving the business forward. If you have confidence, undoubtedly, everyone will be stepping in line with the updated direction.

Always remember you are responsible for the well-being of a lot of families, and the decisions you make affect lots of folks.

Q. What one thing can bring a company down or prevent growth?

Improper staff, if you have a staff that alienates the customers or doesn’t know the product or doesn’t understand.

We have what we call Mustard Seed Market 101. It’s an introductory to the business so that they get the basics of how we were founded, what are our ideals, what are our food standards, how do we expect them to treat the customers and each other?

There’s all kinds of ways to measure your staff. Put yourself in the position of the customer. Is this person fulfilling their role as your liaison?

You have to look at, are they meeting your numbers? Are they able to control their labor? And, are they happy?

HOW TO REACH: Mustard Seed Market & Café, (330) 666-7333 or