That’s okay with Crawford Ker, founder and president of Ker’s WingHouse Bar & Grill, because that’s when he turns the tables.
“I trap ’em,” he says. “They think they have the better of you on a deal, and you end up trapping them.”
As a former athlete, Ker learned that people would try to take advantage of him when it came to business. But as he focused on becoming a better manager, Ker’s WingHouse began to grow, and in 2006, earned $52 million in revenue and opened six new restaurants, bringing the total to 22.
Smart Business spoke with Ker about how the strong will and work ethic that earned him All-American honors at the University of Florida has helped him become a successful manager.
Q: How did you learn to manage?
Everyone has their own style and that’s OK. There’s room for individuality. Just because you’re good at throwing a fastball doesn’t mean somebody can’t be just as successful throwing curveballs. As long as you get the job done, it doesn’t really matter.
I became very multidimensional in the business because I had to take care of a lot of areas. I didn’t have a VP of operations or a VP of marketing. I had to develop all that as I went along. So I had to learn a little bit about every area.
Q: How has that helped?
Any founder and owner has a lot of passion for what they do. The more work they put into it, the more passionate they become. It’s like the Super Bowl winner. When they go through adversity or long practices, they feel like they have to win. I feel like I have to win. When you don’t have a lot of options or plan B’s, you don’t have a side door you can get out. You have to get it done, and that gives you great motivation.
For instance, if the WingHouse wasn’t going to work for me, what was my plan B? Was my plan B to be a high school football coach and work my way up? The answer was no, so I had make it work.
Q: You’d failed before in the restaurant business. How has your management style changed since then?
The difference was that I was never involved. I let other people do my work for me. No one is going to do the work as vibrantly as you will. I was an absentee owner of a restaurant when I played for Denver.
What it taught me was that you’ve got to be on top of it. No one’s going to manage your bank account like yourself. And over time, you’re going to build good relationships with the people around you, but it takes time to build those relationships.
Q: Are there parallels between football and business?
To an extent there are. What you bring in from the athletic field is the will to win, the will to compete, the will to work hard.
The detriment is, you’ve been managed all your life. You’ve always had a coach. You’ve always been told when to go to bed, when to wake up; it’s very structured.
In business, you have to be the head coach and set the parameters. It’s a lot harder. What would be harder, coaching or playing? Probably coaching.
The detriment is, you’ve been a VIP all your life. When you get into the work force, you’re no longer a VIP. Some people have a hard time with that.
It’s no different than being a child star or Britney Spears. If they made hundreds of millions before they were 25, what are they looking for when they’re 45? I really wanted to focus on my second career even more than my first but it was hard.
Q: How do you communicate with your employees?
We welcome opinions because we don’t have all the answers. A lot of our answers to problems were developed by front-line people. So, you have to be on the front line sometimes. You can’t just manage from a desk.
Don’t expect what you don’t inspect. It helps to be hands on and check for yourself. The very good ones did that. Sam Walton and people like that were in the stores. They didn’t just sit in an office and tell people what to do. They showed leadership by doing it themselves.
Every one of my guys who trained me Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson they practiced what they preached. They were very hard workers, they were organized and demanding, and they won. And in the game, it’s about winning and losing.
HOW TO REACH: Ker’s WingHouse Bar & Grill, (727) 535-2939 or www.winghouse.com