Photos by J. Alan Paul
For anyone who doesn’t think core values matter, RealTruck Founder Scott Bintz has 100 million reasons you should reconsider.
Scott Bintz took an online truck accessories store from his basement to a $100 million e-commerce giant right here in North Dakota. How’d he’d do it? By developing and sticking to six foundational principles. Here, Bintz answers all the workplace questions you had but were too afraid to ask.
Dear Scott, How can I get everyone on the same page?
DEAR SCOTT: Our company has developed a real silo mentality among our different departments. How can I remind them we’re all in this together?
DEAR RECONNECTER: Transparency is one of the harder things to practice, but it’s also the backbone of your company. Transparency’s about trust. If you think about it, the people you’re closest with are also the people you can share anything with.
At RealTruck, we had two locations and couldn’t ever get everybody in the same room. So one of the things I started doing was a regular, short video called “What’s Up at RT?” I’d meet with every department, and the leaders of each one had two minutes (you had to be succinct) to tell me what was going on and praise two people.
Because I would be giving praise to people who were caught practicing our guiding principles, it not only helped further establish the principles, it also gave our team a high-level view of what each department was up to.
Whether you were in customer service, IT, or accounting, you knew what other teams were up to and how it connected to the bigger picture.
Dear Scott, Will leadership ever open up?
DEAR SCOTT: At the risk of sounding conspiratorial, sometimes it feels like management is keeping things from the rest of us. Any tips for how to get them to be a little more transparent?
-TRYING NOT TO BE PARANOID
DEAR TRYING NOT TO BE PARANOID: Something we did was start an “Ask Anything” program where people could ask questions anonymously, and then I would answer them — sometimes via email and other times with a video. Then, after a while, I would pass those questions on to other leaders in the company and have them answer. It was important that the answers not always just come from me.
95 percent of the time, we got really good questions. We would answer any question, even if we sometimes had to strip out identifying information (“Why does Fred get to park where he parks?”).
Transparency builds trust, and if you have trust, you can do a lot more. When you have trust, you also have loyalty and benefit of the doubt. And that’s not to say we had perfect transparency, but I’ll tell you that it’s hard to run a company if everybody’s playing poker. If everyone can question why we’re doing what we’re doing, it really helps you improve as a company.
A company will oftentimes not be transparent just because they don’t want to explain themselves. If you have a company with principles, though, anyone can call someone out if they’re not practicing them.
Dear Scott, How can I get our company to ask more questions?
DEAR SCOTT: “Just because” strikes me as a terrible reason to do anything, but it seems like there’s a lot of that going on with our business. Any thoughts?
-NEED A BETTER REASON
DEAR NEED A BETTER REASON: I agree that we all need to know why we’re doing what we’re doing, and the answer can’t be, “Because that’s what I was shown.”
I use the example of: Little Johnny asks his mom why they cut off the corner of the ham. Mom doesn’t know, so they ask Grandma, and Grandma says, “I don’t know why your mom does it, but I cut the corner of the ham off once because it was too big for the pan I had.”
There are lots of times in a company where, if someone can’t answer that question of why, they may be doing something they don’t need to be doing or may be doing something that’s ineffective.
Dear Scott, How can we get our team to value our values?
DEAR SCOTT: The core values on our wall are gathering some serious dust. Can you help us live by them instead of just look by them?
-EXCITED BY PRINCIPLES
DEAR EXCITED BY PRINCIPLES: The first time we came out with some principles, we put them up on the wall, and nobody really embraced them. We didn’t live by them, didn’t praise by them, didn’t hire by them and didn’t fire by them. And here I was a year later, shocked.
We went back to the drawing board, and we got re-inspired about where we were going to bet it all: If we could get the culture right, everything else would work out.
I’d had this observation that people had great personal values but struggled with practicing them at work — oftentimes, out of fear of losing their job. So we emailed the company asking everyone for their personal values. Then, we looked at them, grouped them into buckets of like-type values, and that’s how we came out with the six principles we now have. They weren’t my values; they were our values.
Then, we introduced them to the company one at a time.
Dear Scott, Why is it so hard to get recognized?
DEAR SCOTT: I bust my butt every day, but nobody ever seems to notice. How can I stay motivated?
DEAR NOTICE ME: This works both ways.
Oftentimes, if you poll a company, most people will think they work harder than the next person. So everybody feels that way.
At RealTruck, when we initially started asking questions about our guiding principles, we would have people ask themselves, “What can my department do to deliver more?” It would be two or three things. Then, we’d ask them, “What can the company do to deliver more?” It would be a list of 50 items.
We all had to get better at looking at ourselves individually. I had to ask myself what I could do to be a better boss, and they had to ask themselves what they could to to be better employees. It wasn’t always about just offering the information.
Dear Scott, Are tight margins an excuse for bad culture?
DEAR SCOTT: I’ve always wanted to create a kick-ass culture at our business, but I just don’t know if we can afford to devote the resources to it at this point. What say you?
-ARE WE THERE YET?
DEAR ARE WE THERE YET?: The sooner, the better. We were at about $6 million in sales when we started really focusing on culture.
What essentially happened was that I started asking myself why RealTruck existed, and I couldn’t answer the question beyond “to sell truck accessories,” which was an inadequate answer to me, personally.
Yes, it was cool to go from a basement to $6 million, and all the entrepreneurial kudos were great, but as far as a deeper purpose, it always seemed like we were in an endless pursuit of more: more sales, more products, more this, more that, with no real purpose beyond “more.”
And it all came back to my own life and how I really just wanted to be useful. Could this company, the thing I had the most ability to influence, be useful? And that led us to this mission to make people’s lives better, and the principles were how we were going to accomplish that.
Dear Scott, how important is fit, really?
DEAR SCOTT: Everyone always says to hire personality over skill. Is it true?
-DO SQUARE PEGS FIT IN ROUND HOLES?
DEAR DO SQUARE PEGS FIT IN ROUND HOLES?: When we hired someone, we did hire character first and skill set second. We would do interviews where we would hire for character, which meant: Did they have the values that supported our guiding principles?
So for example, we would ask someone to explain a time they went above and beyond to help someone. One person would say, “I opened a door for an elderly lady,” and another person would respond, “A friend of mine needed something for an interview in Bismarck, so I took the day off to drive it to them and then drove back home.”
Once we decided they were a culture fit, we would bring them back for a skill set. Once we got to a skill set, then skill would triumph over culture.
Anyone we hired, though, went through what we called RealTruck Basics and would end training by spending some time on the phone, which tied into our guiding principle of Be Humble.
I didn’t want to work next to someone who thought they were too good to do something beneath them, if it required being done. And our whole hiring process supported that. We didn’t want to have a company full of people who thought they were better than everybody.
Dear Scott, Did I miss the boat on e-commerce?
DEAR SCOTT: I’m a brick-and-mortar retailer trying to make sense of this e-commerce thing. Any thoughts on where it’s going in the coming years?
DEAR E-CURIOUS: My message to people right now is: You’re not too late, even though it might feel like it. If you’re a business, you’re going to have to serve your customer any way they want, any time they want and any how they want. And most likely, it’s going to revolve around mobile.
It’s better to do a few things really great than a bunch of things mediocre, meaning: It’s better to rank in the top five for a few keywords than rank 50th for thousands of them. It’s better to be great at one social media channel than mediocre at five of them.
Oftentimes, people will put up a website, put up 5,000 products and not sell any. Instead, try putting up one, and get it selling. Then, repeat that, rather than doing a bunch of work for nothing. If you can’t sell one item online, putting up 5,000 isn’t going to help.
If you’re a manufacturer and have a relationship with your end consumer, imagine how much quicker you can introduce new products to them versus the traditional model, which was: Get enough dealers, and after you get enough dealers, get wholesalers.
In today’s world, there are just so many ways where you can have a relationship with the direct consumer, even if you don’t sell to them directly. You just have to be where the customers are at.
Amazon is 50 percent of the sales; that’s the new Mall of America. If you’re a business, your website has to essentially feed everywhere: your Amazon feed, your Google Merchant feed, everything is kind of centered around there. Rather than everything being silo-ed, which isn’t really scalable.
Dear Scott, How can we make work a little less work-y?
DEAR SCOTT: Life’s short, and we spend a lot of it at the office. How can I get everyone to lighten up a bit?
-GIRL JUST WANTS TO HAVE FUN
DEAR GIRL JUST WANTS TO HAVE FUN: It only takes a minute to include fun in anything. We started with little things. We’d have themed dress-up days, or one day I’d come into work, and the banner on the website would say: “We’re here to sell bacon and truck accessories, and we’re all out of bacon.”
The idea was that if you could create fun, you’d create memorable experiences. Memorable experiences are the best marketing you can have, internally and externally. One of the best examples of that is what we’d do when we’d have vendors fly in to see us.
We asked ourselves, “What can we do to make their trip to North Dakota more enjoyable?” So we started by just getting them a little gift box of stuff from the state. Then, someone asked, “Why don’t we welcome them to the building like they’re a rockstar?” And so they would come in, and we would all cheer. Next, someone brought a bubble machine and some confetti. That led to us doing different themes, and we would record it.
Again, it had that snowball effect, and eventually, when someone would visit RealTruck, it became the most memorable sales trip they ever took in their entire life.
There’s nothing more enjoyable than giving someone a memorable experience they wouldn’t ordinarily have. In our lifetimes, most of us will never have a rockstar welcome. And no matter how rough your travels are, if you walk into a building with 70 people cheering like you’re a rockstar, you’ll remember that the rest of your life.
And while it’s not the reason we did it, the effect of all that was: When a vendor came out with a new product, who do you suppose they gave it to first? If they experience above-and-beyond treatment, people tend to reciprocate with above-and-beyond actions as well.
For a more comprehensive look at Bintz’s business philosophies and best practices, check out his recently released book, “Principles to Fortune,” where he tells the story of RealTruck more in-depth and provides countless practical actions that any business can take to create a winning workplace culture.