Flipping for success Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2009

Darin Kraetsch is absolutely passionate about freeing his toes as CEO of Flip Flop Shops, which specializes in selling the latest styles of flip flops and sandals year-round.

“The No. 1 thing you have to have is a passion for what it is you’re doing,” Kraetsch says. “I even made a commitment that as long as I was involved in Flip Flop Shops, I would no longer lace up. Whether it’s a fund-raiser ... or a dinner with investment bankers, you can be assured that I’ll be there in my nicest slacks, a nice coat and my best pair of flip flops.”

A huge part of being passionate about his business is making sure he knows where the company is going and then guiding his 55 employees in that direction, as well.

Smart Business spoke with Kraetsch about how to create a vision and guide your employees toward it.

Create a vision. Great entrepreneurs always have a vision for the future. Every business is like a roller coaster. It has its great days, and it has its days you can’t wait till they end. But great entrepreneurs always have the ability to see past that and see the end of the rainbow.

You have to create that vision through inspiration. You have to inspire people about what the concept or business can be, and you have to be crystal clear in defining that mission.

One of the important parts of creating that mission is to allow people to give their input. Have a team assembled that takes ownership in that vision and helps to create it. Whether you’re a vendor, manufacturer or franchisee, we ask for input from all of those people. How is it that you see this company? We’ve never claimed to know everything. We know that great ideas come from all walks of life. We have made it our mission to take all the great feedback, run it through the strainer, pick out those golden nuggets, and help to create and define our brand and vision for where we want to be.

We have no system in place, but one of the things that we have all learned is that you have to overcommunicate. We do a great job just picking up the phone. The other day I called one of our franchisees, and he’s working through this issue with financing, and I called him and wanted him to know that I was thinking about him and offered to assist in any way I could.

Through conversation, we are always asking people, ‘What do you think about this?’ It’s a fun process because people always have ideas, and there are always a handful of great ones. Sometimes you have to sift through the sand to find that one little golden nugget, but if you open the doors of communication and you’re proactively seeking input, you’re going to find the great ideas.

Communicate better. This is going to sound funny, but the key to communication is you have to do it. There are a lot of strategies about how you say something or when you say something or what you may not say or how you want to spin something, but the most important thing is, whatever strategy that you take, you have to do it.

You can’t think about communicating — you have to pick up the phone, you have to go to someone’s shop, and you have to communicate. I know that sounds very elementary, but there are very few organizations that do a great job overcommunicating, and short of communication, people will make up their own interpretations of actions.

For example, we roll out a new program, and we didn’t communicate it beforehand. Well, guess what? Now people are left to decide why, how, what, rather than doing a great job communicating it on the front end, asking for input, gaining buy-in and creating ownership of the idea, the thought, the problem, of whatever it is. That’s critical for all organizations, and a lot of organizations, especially as they start to grow, fall short in communicating. We’re committed to overcommunicating.

Because we’re overcommunicators, we’ve opened the communication lines back and forth. We also understand how important it is to listen. The key to being a good listener is not talking. I often have reminded people that when they interact with people that they watch their talk-listen ratio and make sure that they listen more than they talk. That’s where true communication comes from — when you really understand and not just hear.

Set goals. We really draw from our past experience to understand what are realistic goals and what are stretch goals. Somebody told me one time that you can’t just set sail in the harbor without navigating to a destination; otherwise, the wind will just blow you around.

For example, we set goals on how many franchises we’re going to sell during a given time period and how many stores we’re going to open in a time period. ... We’ve done these things based on our experience and based on good, educated guesses, and then we work hard to get there. And if necessary, we readjust the goals up or down depending on the reality of the environment.

More important than how do we do it is that we do it. There are a lot of organizations out there — and ones whose names you’d recognize — that have been in existence for years that still don’t have goals and have no strategic plan and have set sail in the harbor without setting their navigation and do blow around in the wind.

How to reach: Flip Flop Shops, (770) 424-0027 or www.flipflopshops.com