Darryl Jones has watched each year as the number of convention attendees who travel to St. Louis drops a little bit more. Jones is managing partner at D&D Concessions LLC and is responsible for food service at the America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis.
“Now that we don’t have the 20 million people coming in, we may have six or seven million people coming into St. Louis,” Jones says. “It’s a challenge. So in our business, what do we do? We have to look outside the box because we can’t get the big conventions here anymore.”
In short, Jones had to reinvent his business. It was either that, or close up shop for good, and he wasn’t prepared to do that for his 350 employees.
“You have to have the presence to always look at the landscape and see how it’s changing,” Jones says. “At one time, we depended on X amount of conventions to generate 80 percent of our revenue. Now that number is only generating 50 percent. So how do we make up this gap?”
The simple answer is you look for other means of generating revenue. But you take caution to not make every idea out to be the grand solution to all your problems.
“You try to win people over by saying, ‘OK, look. Let’s just try it like this. Let’s tweak it a little bit.’ You try to compromise,” Jones says. “If it doesn’t work or we don’t see any change, we can always go back. There’s nothing wrong with going back. There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘Hey, we made a mistake.’”
You may not even have to trot out a new idea if one of your competitors has tried a new initiative to get their business going again.
“Instead of reinventing the wheel, you look to see what they’ve done and you try to tweak that,” Jones says. “Very rarely will you have that one person to jump out there. If that person has jumped out there, you look at it, analyze it and you say, ‘OK, we can tweak this just a little bit better. They may not have thought about this. They’ve changed the landscape a little bit, but let’s take it a little further.’”
The key is to take a measured approach to change. If your idea works, great. But if it doesn’t, your people will still be ready to follow you with the next option.
All this relies, of course, on your ability to get out there and get engaged with your people.
“If you’re the CEO that’s always behind closed doors and you’re always meeting with senior staff and you never engage the junior staff and the hourly folks, you may have a problem,” Jones says. “You’re going to become like an untouchable.”
Get to know your people and let them get to know you. Not the polished and controlled you that only engages in small talk. Be the leader who really gets to know what your people are all about and what they like about their work and what they find challenging about it.
“You have to know them,” Jones says. “Once you engage them, you have just as much passion about their families as they have. Once you buy them over, they will do it for you. It will be a place where they think, ‘Hey, I can go to the boss’s office anytime I want to.’”
You may be thinking to yourself, ‘I always talk about my open-door policy.’ But if you don’t have anyone coming through your open door to see you, maybe you’re putting other signs out there that convey the message that you really don’t want to hear from your people.
“If the hourly employees can see you get out there and you sit down and you put that pattern together and you say, ‘Hey, this is how you’re supposed to do it,’ they’re going to say, ‘Wow, this person really knows what they are talking about,’” Jones says. “They will do anything for you if they know you care.”
How to reach: D&D Concessions LLC, (314) 429-3400
If you’re feeling out of touch with your customers, Darryl Jones has a suggestion on how to reconnect that you may not have thought of before. But he insists it will produce results.
“You can probably incorporate any business you have when you start looking at fashion magazines,” says Jones, managing partner at D&D Concessions LLC. “Those guys are always on the cutting edge. The auto industry didn’t get to where it is by saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to go with the same old-style look. They started looking at those fashion magazines and saying, ‘Hey, you know what? These are the colors people are looking at.’
“They are looking at tech magazines and saying, ‘We need to incorporate these things. These young adults, they want this type of experience in a car.’”
Jones believes much can be gained from the younger generation that is establishing itself and setting the trends for the future.
“You’ll pick up a lot,” Jones says. “What do you like? What type of atmosphere are you looking for? What types of colors do you like? Talk to the younger generation because that’s your next source of revenue.”
And everyone should be taking part in that dialogue.
“It’s everyone’s responsibility,” Jones says. “From the guy sweeping the floor to the guy signing the checks, it’s everyone’s responsibility because everyone is traveling in different circles.”