Ari on Business

Natural Law #7: Successful businesses do the things that others know they should—but generally don’t

While business books often focus on some stroke of Steven Jobs-like genius, I think that more often than not the real genius is mostly in doing the sort of drudgerous stuff that anyone who really thinks about it could do, but doesn’t. For whatever reason the best businesses do it, while their (oft-complaining) competitors can’t quite muster up the energy to make it happen.

I could tell a thousand stories to illustrate this point but the one that always sticks in my head is about how we got our bread back when we first opened the Deli in the early ’80s. We knew that if we wanted to have a great corned beef sandwich (a key part of our vision) we had to build it on great bread. After testing loaves from better than 20 different sources, we settled on the rye bread from a bakery about 45 minutes away, in the Detroit suburbs. Our excitement quickly turned to uncertainty when we went to talk to the owner. He was happy to sell to us but he didn’t deliver to Ann Arbor. So working with him meant someone had to leave Ann Arbor early enough to get back with the bread before we opened the doors at 7 a.m. And, mind you, the winters in Michigan make for difficult driving. I think nearly every other bakery was willing to deliver. But we wanted the best bread we could get, and that meant we were going to drive to Detroit every day to get it. Which we did about 3800 times (round trip) until we opened Zingerman’s Bakehouse in 1992.

I’m not telling you this story to brag, but merely to illustrate the value of the law. At the time we probably didn’t agonize that much over the decision—it just seemed clear to us that it was the right thing to do.

If you look around at the most successful businesses in any industry I bet you’ll find that each has a folder full of similar stories. Not only are they an important part of the company’s initial success, but the truly great organizations continue to do such things even as they grow and mature. While their competitors cut corners, they just keep doing all those unglamorous little things: they stay open late, they open early, they thank a few more staff and customers, they pay a bit more to get better raw materials, they forgive loyal employees who err, they give a bit more to the community…

Twelve Natural Laws of Business:
There are organizational principles that consistently work and, in the big scheme of things, follow a natural order. We call these “Natural Laws of Business.” Our experience here is that the natural laws are applicable for any business regardless of size, scale, age or product offering. Exceptions exist, but I’ll say up front I wouldn’t recommend expending much energy trying to prove these rules to be wrong.