Connect with Carolyn Strauss
Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturers' Network Podcast. My guest today is Carolyn Strauss. Carolyn is an expert on leadership sales persuasion and execution. She works with companies who want to increase their dollars per minute. Carolyn grew up in the manufacturing business; her father owned and operated the oldest leather tannery in North America.
Carolyn spent 18 years on-air at the Home Shopping Network designing and selling her own clothing line - the Carolyn Strauss collection. While she was there, she created a dollars-per-minute formula that led to her consistently selling over $500 per minute and ultimately exceed over $1 million of product in one day. Carolyn, welcome to the show.
Carolyn Strauss: Thanks, Lisa, it's so good to be here with you.
Lisa Ryan: Carolyn, share with us a bit of your journey and what led you to do what you're doing.
Carolyn Strauss: Well, the speaking and consulting that I do came out of decades of learning how to work with companies in my own business. I love this podcast. I love your show. I've listened to it many times, and I love it because I think manufacturing is the basis of everything on the planet. If it's not made, we can't buy it.
I love that all of your listeners are creating something. I love working with companies that produce things. Like you said in my intro, I had my own clothing company for 18 years on the home shopping network. We had one client. We had one source of selling our goods. I wouldn't recommend that, but if it. That's how you structure your business; that's how we structured our business.
We manufactured in the United States when I started my company in 1997. We manufactured in the US until 2007. What happened in 2007 is we got an order for today's special. For anybody who hasn't watched the home shopping network, I highly recommend you guys watch that and have your salespeople watch it all the time. Nobody does sales and persuasion better than HSN. In 2007, we got an order for it today's special. We had 36,000 sets: three-piece sets. It was a tank, a jacket, and pants—36,000 of them - seven sizes: extra small through three x and petite average and tall.
Lisa Ryan: Wow, that's a lot of SKUs.
Carolyn Strauss: It was like 144 SKUs. We did the math because of the different and three or four different colors. It was like 144 skews for one item. Not only that, but we had four collections around it that had pants and jackets and prints and all of this. At that moment, no factory in the US could handle an order that big.
We got the order in February. We weren't going to be selling it until November. But there still were no manufacturing capabilities in the US to handle it. That broke my heart. It broke my heart because my dad lost his business. We closed the tannery in 1987 because of overseas competition. The chemicals that he needed in the leather industry and because of the pay structure, he had to close. My dad ran a Union shop, and he lost his business in 1987 and had to go overseas.
So when I had to take my clothing manufacturing to China, my heart broke.
I stepped away from my company for six months at the beginning of 2008 because I was heartbroken. I was like, if I can't manufacture in the US, I'm not doing this anymore. It's not fair. It's not right. And then 2008 happened, the recession occurred, my retirement vanished. That's a whole separate story that I can tell on another disaster podcast on financial disasters.
So I went back to it, and the Chinese manufacturing did an incredible job for us; I hate to say it, but they did. So we did a combination of us and overseas manufacturing for the next eight years of my line.
Lisa Ryan: So tell us because I'm sure that the fascinating part of the intro and what you've developed is this dollar per minute because we think about manufacturing so many times. It's the revenue coming in through the month. It's the price, the cost of everything that we look at these hard things, but we don't narrow necessarily break it down into those tiny increments like that.
Would you please share with us a bit of that mentality? I know you work with manufacturing clients today, but what are some ways they can start to change their thinking to focus on those smaller increments to become more profitable.
Carolyn Strauss: I love that question. Dollars per minute is how I think so when you're on the home shopping network. When you get on air right, I a million dollars worth of merch that I needed to sell for the day. I would have to break that up on each show when I would get on. I'd have a 50-minute hour to sell my goods. An hour is only 50 minutes because you have 10 minutes of breaks and stuff, so I'd have 50 minutes.
When I got there, I would get what's called a flow sheet showing what items would be in the show and how much time each of them got. At the top of the flowsheet was a little number that would show how many dollars in that 50 minutes they expected me to sell. The number was anywhere between 120,5000. I would see several $380,000 worth of 29 and $39 retail price goods that I would need to sell, and so what I would have to do is take that number divide, whatever the number on the top of the page was by 50 and know how many dollars per minute I needed to sell to be successful. The home shopping network is that if you don't sell at least 20 $500 per minute, you're a failure. So I knew exactly my metric of what was successful and what was not.
Lisa Ryan: wow.
Carolyn Strauss: So after doing that for 18 years. After doing it for three years, I started to see every activity in my business and in the businesses of the people I work with. This creates the dollars per minute that I need this person's activity to generate. I'm not saying to micromanage - that is not how I work with my clients at all. We're not talking about micromanaging, but it's like it's productivity. It is productivity, but its value and productivity. Where are your people putting their time and attention so that each person is as valuable and productive to the organization as they can be. Each manufacturing piece is as effective as it can be. I was designing my collection, and I had a business partner who bought the fabric and the pricing because of the details that I couldn't handle.
But what I realized is I would let's say it's September, now I would be designing a collection in September that I would be showing on air in March, so I had seven or eight months to get from a concept in my head into the hands of my customers in seven or eight months. So I realized that there was an eight-step process in executing that I would have to do, and if I missed a step, I failed, and something went wrong.
I created the eight steps of execution, which is one of the things I work with my clients to help them optimize their dollars per minute. What I love about this formula is that it works for every single business. Executing gets getting stuff done. It's getting stuff done.
Lisa Ryan: Right, and so going through that process with the short time we have together, we can't go into tons of detail, but what are the steps - the cliff notes version.
Carolyn Strauss: I am happy to tell you what the steps are. The steps are first is imagining and inventing what it's gonna look like when it's done. I believe in doing that, like leadership, figuring out what we are making and what it will look like, and creating a time frame for it right. But in that, you've got to get input from your team. You've got to get in production in conversation with the production people, salespeople, and marketing people. What I found with a lot of companies that I've worked with lately, I don't know if you've seen this Lisa, I know you work with companies all over the place., Have you found that they tend to be siloed in the bigger companies where they're at least 100 employees or more?
Lisa Ryan: Absolutely, that's one of the biggest complaints of departments don't talk to each other. Everybody's got so much on their plate right now that they don't even think about going into a different department to talk to people.
Carolyn Strauss: I spoke in a marketing association, and I asked the marketing people at this big conference I was speaking at how often you meet with your sales teams, and most of them said never. How do you know what your customers are asking for if you? How are you marketing something that you don't know is going to help your salespeople sell it.
It makes me crazy. Silo is a big problem. I believe, when you come up with the concept of what you're going to design or what you're creating or manufacturing, you've got to talk to the whole team.
The second step that most people miss, and this is, I think this is the most important step. Most people don't realize that when you go to add something to your manufacturing line or add something to your business or shift something, resources will need to be allocated. So there are three kinds of resources: your human resources, your tangible resources, which are essential to give in manufacturing, and your intangible resources, which people don't tend to think about, like your credit line. Do you have money? Do you have the credit to go to the bank?
Then there's the conversation of getting everybody on the same page is talking about here's what we're making here's what it's going to look like when we're done then there's getting the commitment. Because if you have people on your team who aren't committed to working on what you're working on don't see why they matter in the process, it's not going to get done.
When you write, and then you've got to work in action and get all the pieces together, I call it to work in action. Because it's what action is everybody taking, and that's really where dollars per minute come in. What action is everybody in every department taking to make this work? There's assessing what's happening, where you stop and go. Okay, are we benchmarking the ROI. Are we where we're supposed to be by this time frame.
Then there's completing it. How many projects does your company start? That doesn't get finished so you've spent all of this time, all of these resources, all of these this human capital, getting something done, and it's not going to go to market. I have a funny story about that. Remind me of that in a second.
Then, you complete it and deliver it. Then you have to go to the assessment about it, to see this worth it did this make us money. Did this improve our reputation and move us forward as a company to where we want to go next. Those are questions that a lot of manufacturers and a lot of people don't look at. Then we go back to reinventing and starting again. Okay, what comes next? So many of these cycles happen simultaneously. I found that there's almost always one piece that people are missing in every organization. That's where they get hung up on, so when I go in and work with them, we look at all the pieces and see if how it can work. I realized that that was the process I went through in my company. I did that every time.
Lisa Ryan: When you're getting rid of the silos, as you said very early in the conversation, everybody in different departments sees things differently and gets that feedback. Unfortunately, it may not be feedback that you like, but you're getting lots of other thoughts from people, and I had a guest on my podcast a couple of weeks ago. He said they have all-hands meetings where they have the office and the plant people get together. Think about a silo and us versus them. They have a great life versus the people in the plant and all of that. Having those conversations is such a little thing that anybody can do—looking at where those conversations are happening and making sure that you're looking for ways for people in the plant in all departments to have regular contact with each other and then take it to the end.
Sometimes we get done with a project. So, for example, we get done with a product line, and we're ready to go on to the next. But then, like you said, taking that step back to assess did we make money was this worth the effort, and again being okay with whatever answer comes out of that.
Carolyn Strauss: That's right. I can't tell you how many times we did a collection and didn't make money on it. Because the printing costs more than we thought it would, we gave them a price and the printing costs more than we thought it would result in the cutting costs more than we thought it would, and something happened. I mean, now what's happening with the supply chain. I have friends who are still on HSN, and, by the way, my line lasted from 1997 until the middle of 2015, so I was there for 18 years. Every four to six weeks with three, four or five, probably seven or eight times a year, I was on air with my stuff. We were constantly manufacturing. I have friends who are on air now who are having the most challenging time getting their goods. I have a friend who had today's special last week, and it's still on backorder because it's on a container ship somewhere off the coast of Los Angeles right now.
I can't imagine right now. My heart breaks for you because the supply chain is so challenged right now, given the past 18 months of COVID. Okay, so the quick story, because I hate to leave a short story. I had an uncle who was Vice President of an advertising agency in New York City. It was when I was living back in New York. I lived in New York for 20 years and, while I was living in New York every once in a while, I'd take a weekend and go up to their house upstate because they had a pool, and it was good to get out of the city. So my uncle and I were sitting on the train on the way from the city up to the white plains area where they live, and he said yeah he said well we're launching a new mustard type product, and I said, really that's very exciting he's like yeah, this company has been a client of ours for 20 years. So I said, " Well, what's the product, and he said the product is "dip and spread."
I swear I stopped, and I waited. What. The product is called dip and spread. I said, are you going to call the product? Because it's just how my brain goes. So inappropriate to me. He said no, no, no, why. I told jack, dip and spread, really. He said he'd been working on it for probably a year, and he had had no outside feedback. Nobody had said anything, and I was the first outside person he had had a conversation with. I'm like are you kidding? Then I said, let me tell you what I'm seeing, and he went, "Oh, my God, we never thought of that." I said, well, half of your potential buying audience will, and I would rename the product, and they did.
Lisa Ryan: Well, and we go, so we get so married to an idea. We fall in love with our thoughts. I can't tell you how many speech titles are.
Carolyn Strauss: Many years, and I'll give you one of mine that was a failure.
Lisa Ryan: I'm trying to think, but one of them was I thought that turn off turnover would be good because I thought that this way you can eliminate employee turnover.
Carolyn Strauss: Yes, but then, when you looked at the turnover of product production is good.
Lisa Ryan: So yeah, I was just. I thought it was catchy ahead of alliteration, and I bought the URL.
Carolyn Strauss: I had one called, "take a nap with your clients and vendors." I had a new attitude and perspective right now to look at them in a new way. There's a flaw in the plan; nobody wants your people to take a nap with anyone. I spent a year on that being married to that, so yeah, take a nap.com. That was f. You're right; everybody gets so married to their ideas, which is why it's so important to have outside eyes, which is why I love the consulting that I do.
I can go in, be completely neutral, understand their end goal after having a conversation with them, and then we start talking about what you are working on. I can go. We may want to rethink this.
Lisa Ryan: It's getting the outside feedback but being ready to let go of something even if it's something that you're madly in love with too many times that we've seen it that we come up with this great idea. You see it on shark tank all the time that people come up with this fantastic idea. They never think they develop the item before they decide to discover if there's even a market need for it by getting that outside feedback, even if you're talking to some friends. Any honest feedback is getting the real story from people, and that that feedback hurts sometimes.
Carolyn Strauss: I recommend a mastermind group. I think every leader of an organization should have a mastermind group, a group of peers, not in your industry, even necessary to bring your ideas and challenges to. They then look at it and say, where that might not be the best idea, I think it's brilliant. That's why you do what you do, Lisa. That's why this podcast is so valuable because people can listen to it and hear the mistakes that other people have made.
Lisa Ryan: Right exactly. Well, boy, time does fly, so I know that you do a lot of consulting work but share how you work with your clients, what you exactly do, and then, what would be the best way to get in touch with you if somebody wants to learn more.
Carolyn Strauss: So thank you well. My website, making it simple, is CarolynStraussa.com, so almost everything there is to know about me is there. How I work with my companies is I work with however they need. Suppose it's consulting with the management team and getting everybody on the same page. One of my sweet spots lately has been family-owned businesses. I just worked with a software development company that had three brothers running it. And the older brother wanted to get out within two years. The middle brother wanted to keep working. The younger brother was the salesman who tried to expand. How do you get anything done when you have leadership on three such different tracks? So that was a consulting job where I worked with an electronics company and electric and electric service company in Ohio. How I work with them is I go in once every once in a while and do those full team meetings like you were talking about, Lisa, where the installer people and the salespeople and the Office people all get together. We have a conversation about where the company is going in the next year. Whatever will serve people.
Lisa Ryan: Carolyn, it has been an absolute pleasure to have him on the show and a whole lot of fun, too, so thank you so much for being here.
Carolyn Strauss: Thanks, Lisa.
Lisa Ryan: I'm Lisa Ryan, and this is the Manufacturers Network Podcast. See you next time.