Brian Miller | Crain's San Diego

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Brian Miller

Background:  

Brian Miller acquired Geppetto's Toys from his parents 25 years ago when it had just one brick-and-mortar outpost. He has since grown the business to nine locations throughout the San Diego area.

The Mistake:

When I started out in the working world, I thought asking for help would make people think I don’t know what I’m doing. Or that I should have all the answers and figure it out on my own. But that’s not the case in the real world. You’re not on your own.

I don’t think there was one moment where I said, “I’m overwhelmed.” I think it was more like, “How do I get to the next step? How am I going to go from one store, to two stores, to three stores? Or, how am I going to wrap my arms around negotiating a 100-page lease in a major mall when I’ve never done something like that before?”

Starting out, it was more hands-on than I was used to. I worked for a big corporation, but when you have a small business, whether it’s retail or any other, you do everything. The buck stops with you. In the beginning, you certainly open every box and wash the windows and sweep the floor. You have to do everything, and you have to understand how to do everything. That’s very different than being a cog in a big wheel where you’re maybe great at what you do in your narrow niche. But when you’re an entrepreneur or a small business owner, you have to be aware of how everything works in your organization. Because it all comes back to you.

I knew I wanted to grow and I couldn’t do it all myself.

The Lesson:

It’s OK to ask for help from your team members.

I don’t have to do everything myself and it’s valuable to get input and to build a great team. I always knew it was important to build a great team, but you really have to listen to your team and be open to input and ask for help. One of the things I’ve learned, probably since becoming a parent, is that you tell your kids, it’s a strength to ask for help. It’s not a weakness.

It’s even OK sometimes to ask for help from people who work in related businesses who aren’t even in your organization. I have found that people are very willing to share information. I’m not calling my closest competitor, but I am calling people who are in my business, maybe in a different state. And I have a really strong network of, in my case, specialty toy retailers all across the country who share ideas. And we learn from each other. That’s really important, and I didn’t know that 25 years ago.

I also think communication is very important and I want to hear not just when things are going well, I want to hear when there’s a problem. When there’s a problem the only way to fix it or make it better is to talk about it. A lot of issues come down to communication. The better we can communicate, the better our organization is. In our case, since we’re a business-to-consumer business, I can’t be in front of every customer. So our team members are our brand. I get great input from our staff when they’re talking to customers. Having a good staff that listens is important.

Follow Geppetto's Toys on Instagram at geppettostoys.

Photo courtesy of Brian Miller

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