The Mark of a True Champion

Jim Bursch, Senior Vice President, Group Publisher & Editorial Director, CSP

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The August issue of CSP, in which our annual CSP/Service Intelligence Mystery Shop results are revealed, has always been one of my favorite issues of the year. I ran a sales territory for many years, and this was my “go-to” issue to recommend to my clients. Over the years, it had grown to be one of our most-read issues, and the mystery-shopping award itself has become a badge of honor among the top retailers who take part in the study each year.

In today’s fast-paced business world—and B2B media, for that matter—most of the attention centers on striving toward the next best innovation or concept that will knock it out of the park. I’m no different from the next guy or girl; I love to hit home runs. The excitement of coming up with a product or idea that takes a company to a whole new level, and energizes the team and the industry, is a terrific feeling. However, I’m a big fan of hitting those consistent singles and doubles vs. always swinging for the fences, because it’s the foundation of any great business. I have always found that if you do the basics well, the rest sort of takes care of itself.

I remember living in Southern California during the ’80s and early ’90s amid the wild swings of the real-estate market. I was a first-time homeowner. One year I’d feel like a real-estate genius as the price of my home jumped 25% to 30% in value; I would think that maybe I should quit my day job and do this full time. Then the next year it would drop 30% as the bubble burst. I wondered why I got caught up in all the hype and didn’t see that the underlying fundamentals weren’t there to support it.

For the past 23 years, I’ve lived in the Midwest. As in many other areas of the country, here you don’t see the wild ups and downs of real estate (except during the recession), and the mantra has always been steady appreciation over big gains, assuming you followed the tried-and-true basics of real estate and bought the right property at a fair price in a good or great location.

The same goes for the stock market. We all like to see our portfolio jump 20% to 30%, but after living through several bubbles bursting, I’ve taken a much different approach over the past 10 to 15 years. I no longer get caught up in the hype of the hot company, and I’ve grown to really appreciate the steady performers who, through good times and bad, stick to the fundamentals, do them better than most and deliver results.

Yes, we must all strive to find that next big thing or idea, but exceeding in the blocking and tackling, as I like to call it, is the foundation that provides the opportunity to try and swing for the fences and hit that occasional home run. It’s no different for the companies participating in our ninth annual mystery-shop survey. It’s like the playoffs of retailing: The best square off to decide the winner, but the winner is not necessarily who has the biggest or flashiest stores; it typically comes down to excelling in the basics of operational execution. It’s the attention to operational details and the culture to execute them that continues to define the best-in-class retailers from the others and allows them to hit that occasional home run.

Kwik Trip, last year’s winner, once again has taken the top honor for large chains. (See our cover story, by Angel Abcede and Melissa Vonder Haar, starting on p. 50.) In fact, the company has won four times in the past five years. That means a high degree of tenacity and focus on the basics, but also going beyond with a culture that wants to improve each year. The folks at Kwik Trip weren’t satisfied merely with winning last year; they once again challenged themselves to improve their scores.

Having spent some time with the Kwik Trip team and Don Zietlow, honored as our 2012 Retail Leader of the Year, I’m not surprised by the results of this year’s survey. As most of the industry knows, Kwik Trip handles the basics of retailing incredibly well. It may not be flashy or sexy, but it’s this consistency and desire to find ways to continue to improve that is the mark of a true champion. It’s something we all should strive to achieve in our own organizations.

And speaking of great companies and great people, don’t miss our tribute to Kum & Go co-founder Bill Krause, which starts on p. 20. Bill, you will be missed. 

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