Archive for the ‘Personal Development’ Category

Reinventing Dairy

Friday, March 18th, 2016

The dairy department in a grocery store is like Rodney Dangerfield, it gets no respect.

Dairy is not top-of-mind when it comes to the topic of fresh, like it is with produce.

Dairy doesn’t get front page attention on the store’s weekly ad.

Dairy is viewed more as a necessary commodity and not a destination item like those fancy chips or organic meats that only your favorite grocer carries.

So when I was asked to give a talk at the recent National Grocers Association convention in Las Vegas on “Reinventing the Dairy Department”, my initial reaction was only so-so.

But then I did a little soul searching and decided that the dairy image needed some help and I accepted the invitation. After all, dairy provides over 15% of sales and about 20% of the profit of a typical store. Without a solid and up-to-date dairy department, a grocery store will linger from becoming exceptional.

A few years ago, we decided to overhaul our meat department as its results were not up to par. We wanted to expand the department by eight linear feet, but that required a domino effect of meat spilling over into dairy, dairy into beer, and beer into our wall of values.

We called on our wholesaler SuperValu for guidance and help. Coincidentally, SuperValu was rolling out a new Dairy Initiative which focused on making sure the anchor items like milk and cheese were positioned appropriately to allow higher visibility to complimenting items like biscuits and yogurts. The program refreshed our assortment making sure that we had the best movers, the latest nutritional items like probiotics, and threw out the items that lagged and tended to expire.

So we adopted the program after we did a thorough cleaning and relighting of the department. The results were amazing. Not only did the Dairy sales increase 9%, but so did meat, beer and total store sales.

With the help of some other colleagues our dairy presentation was a hit to a standing room crowd!

Think about this the next time you are asked to help on a routine project like a parade or a school musical. Or invited to help an average kid with tutoring or coaching a sport. With the right attitude and solid effort, you can take something ordinary and make it extra-ordinary!


John Marklin


Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

painted floorOne day after school, when I was a 6th grader, my mother wanted to talk to me. The conversation went something like this:

   “John, I put an ad in the Baden News Press and got a grass cutting job for you.”

    “Mom, why did you do that? I didn’t ask for one.”

    “I know, but you need to work.”

    “Why, none of my friends have jobs?”

    “I know. But they should.”

    “Where is the yard that needs to be cut?”

    “In Bellefontaine Neighbors.”

    “Well, how far away is that?”

    “About five miles.”

    “And how will I get there?”

    “Ride your bike.”

And that was it. I had my first official job.

Reluctantly I rode my bike out to Mrs. Enright’s house and began what would become a job that would last well into my college years.

Mrs. Enright was a delightful person, a school teacher and had a large house and yard. After I cut the grass, she asked how much money I wanted. Not being ready for this question, I said $4 per hour. She agreed and I was stunned at my success in negotiating my first salary.

The yard work evolved into more: weeding, mulching, small concrete work and cleaning the pool. And, the long ride back and forth seemed to be much more palatable now that I had a fresh $20 in my pocket.

That was the start of many jobs as a teenager. Work seemed to be a necessity at that time. My parents had little money raising seven boys. So if I wanted anything discretionary it was on my dime.

And then college was looming ahead. My Dad made it clear to me that he would pay for private high school, but I was on my own for college tuition, room and board.

So I set my sights on working several jobs in the summer and making enough to pay the full college load at Mizzou (admittedly very difficult to do with today’s inflated college costs).

And this notion of work never seemed to escape me as I always had a list of chores to do at home as well as a good deal of nightly homework.

Pope Francis, on his recent trip to America, said the following on the topic of employment and minimum wage: “Do good work as work is how you express yourself.”

The other day I decided to paint the floor of my garage. I always wanted that “car dealer floor” look so I bought a kit and set out to complete the task. It was a three-step process: (1) scrub and clean, (2) etching and (3) painting. I underestimated the first two steps as I was focused on the painting step, which was the glitzy part.

But I looked at the floor after the first two steps and it still wasn’t clean. I wanted so badly to just go to step three and paint, fully knowing that it would not yield that sparkled look unless it was cleaned again.

So I did stop and clean again, taking another couple of back breaking hours.

But the result was spectacular. Much more so than painting over dirt.

I wanted a beautiful floor. But it required very hard work. A trait that was drilled into me by my mother.

Thanks Mom,


John Marklin

Believe in yourself

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Throughout my early career, I was raised in a corporate environment. Offices, secretaries, lots of people, training programs, procedural manuals, job reviews and plenty of management issues.

In 1997, I got an “entrepreneurial seizure” and decided to go out on my own and become a consultant. I was ready to leave the corporate world, work out of my home and be in charge of my own destiny.

I had been a CFO for many years with several companies, so I decided to become a part-time CFO for smaller companies. I would handle top level financial issues for a half dozen or so clients.

In the beginning I got lucky. I made a couple of phone calls to colleagues who owned businesses and they had a need for this skill. You have to keep in mind that this was a long time ago, and consulting was not nearly in vogue then as it is today. So I landed a couple of jobs to get me started.

I focused at first on the skill. I researched topics that were important for my clients. I designed spreadsheets, flowcharts and templates to bring things into a simpler and clearer perspective. I soon discovered that I was on to something, that most business owners hate financials and the whole financial process. They were usually sales people, marketers or engineers. They despised accounting.

So I used this as an asset-that I would take the burden of worrying about financial issues off of their minds, or at least reduce it a bit.

After about three months in my new career, I realized that my success was less about the actual product, but more about me. The clients liked the way that I made them feel. They liked that issues were kept in confidence. They liked the fact that they could trust me with inner secrets of their business. They enjoyed having a confidant who could hear their side of the story and look for honest critique. And they liked dealing with a realist, which often balanced their optimism.

This was not easy to do, to be able to get into the inner sanctum of my client’s personal and business world. It took time, and it took a belief I could do it. From that moment on, I switched from selling financial services, to selling me, who just happened to know a little bit about accounting and finances.

This revelation was a real jolt, and it changed my whole approach to consulting. I immediately looked at myself through the client’s eyes: my appearance, my approach, my disposition, my demeanor, my style. After a meeting, I would give myself a report card of how I did. And I always felt I was too hard on myself in my ratings; but it made me better the next time.

Becoming a small business owner is risky business. In the end if things go wrong, you really have no one to blame but yourself.

And that is exactly why you need a huge dose of self-confidence that only you can make it work.


John Marklin

John Leonard

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

When I decided to move my family to Richmond in 1994 from Reading, PA for a new job, I did the pre-drill: first go alone and look for a neighborhood with good schools and a good Catholic parish.

We settled on the west end of Richmond for the schools and then I looked for a parish. I heard about a new church (St. Michael’s) forming a few miles away so I went to attend a Mass. The brand new parish was using a Middle School auditorium for Mass while the new church was being built. I nestled in a comfortable “theatre” chair and observed the people around me. All were chatting and telling stories about their week. Smiles everywhere and the place was alive with a feeling of happiness all around me.

Being raised in St. Louis, where growing up Catholic seemed to be a given, I have been to hundreds, maybe thousands of Masses. Most seemed to be compulsory in attendance, and ones where a place of solemnity trumped celebration. Rarely did people interact in Church, that was for praying.

The contrast hit me hard, in a very good way. I called Debbie and said, “I think I found our parish. So vibrant. I think you will love it.”

The next day I sought out the pastor, Fr John Leonard, who was working from an old ranch home on the new parish grounds. He met me with open arms, asked me to sit down and chat.

I told him the neighborhood I was moving to and asked if that was in his parish boundaries. Knowing I was from the Midwest, he said, “John, you are now in the south, and we Catholics are in the minority. We will take you at whichever parish you choose. Just go, attend and participate!”

That was my first real encounter with a man who would later become a very important part of my life.

Father John was a charismatic man. You could not keep your eye off of him while he celebrated Mass. He brought such life and meaning to rituals formerly so mundane to me. His sermons were “real” not preachy. He spoke about his trials and tribulations, as well as his joys in life while relating to the Gospel message.

He was brash at times, he had to be, since he was in charge of building his third Church in the diocese and raising the funds to do so. He never shied away from asking for money for a church window or a bell or a processional cross. All the money going for the Church.

And what a church he built. One that was in the round so you could see the “faces” of your neighbors, not the back of their heads. The church was artistically beautiful in a simple way-clean lines and good acoustics.

The church grew to be one of the biggest in Richmond. And at the center of it all was our leader John Leonard.

After Father retired ten years ago, I became very close to him. I would call him on my long drives between stores and talk for long periods of time, maybe an hour or so. We spoke about all topics and his insight usually ended up with me looking at things from a different perspective. He was a liberal and proud of it. Yet he was never demeaning of the views of others. He later went on to teach Ethics and Christianity in Film classes at a local community college. His classes were always filled up-no wonder.

Last week, John Leonard died from cancer. His death has hit me, and the community hard. It is difficult to believe that I will not have him to talk to anymore and I will miss him dearly.

John Leonard is leaving this world in a private way. As of this writing there is no obituary in the paper. I could not even find a picture of him on the internet to include in this post. Read below for his final letter to the parishioners of St. Michael’s.

He once told me that all he ever wanted in life, from a very early age, was to be a priest. And what a priest he was! He was married to the Church and now is in a much better place.

Thank you Father John, mostly for making me a better person.


John Marklin



When I was called back to Richmond from Norfolk Catholic by Bishop Sullivan in 1992, it was to begin a third parish for the Diocese.  The land was located on Springfield Road -a large field, home for 4 horses, a small brick rancher and a pond.
I would be visiting Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Mary’s, two well established parishes, to invite those who lived within the new parish boundaries to join us – what a challenge!  On May 31st, we gathered for the first time at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church on Hungry Road (all 150 families) to begin our journey as  “The New Catholic Parish in the West End”. You welcomed the idea of a parish to be formed on the basis of the Documents of Vatican II.  You rolled up your sleeves and did the work.  This was your parish and when I left in 2004, you never missed a beat.
I know there is a better way to do this, but time is not on my side.  I have been diagnosed with stage 4 Liver Cancer.  I want to thank you for all you did as a new faith community – St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church.  You have heard the Word of God proclaimed and brought those words to the 21st Century in all you have done for each other and God’s people wherever there was a need.  You were and are the presence of the Risen Lord in this day and time.
God blessed me by your presence in my life.  I ask that you continue to support Fr. Dan and your community.  Keep me in prayer as I make this last journey to God’s loving arms.

Fr. John E. Leonard
Founding pastor 1992-2004

Family first

Friday, June 5th, 2015

boysWhen I was very young, I used to ask my father what he wanted for Christmas or his birthday. His answer was always the same. “John, all I really want is for my seven boys to just get along.”

I always chuckled when he said that, never really understanding what he really meant until much later in life.

My six brothers and I were very close. We had to be, with only eleven years separating the oldest and youngest, we did everything together. Played together, went to school together, went through Cub and Boy Scouts together, and yes, went to church together. We had clothes passed down from one to the other, and all had pretty much the same haircut from my mother.

Fast forward 40 plus years and we are still close. Although we don’t all live in the same city anymore, we do stay in touch. And we all continue to check in on Mom and Dad, still going at the young age of 89.

1610938_951864981514860_1078250687097923682_n Recently, Debbie and I took our kids, their spouses and our grandkids on a vacation out west to Phoenix and the Grand Canyon. It had been many years since we had taken a vacation with just our family. We spent a week together touring the area, swimming, relaxing in the hot tub and just catching up. It was a delightful experience with everyone just getting along.

If you haven’t reached out to communicate with your family in a while, stop and take the time to do it. Call them up, or better yet visit them, even if they are in a different city. Tell them that you want to visit just them, for no other reason than to spend some quality time with them. It will make them, and you, feel wonderful.

Dad, I finally understand what you meant about the best gift of all!


John Marklin

Building a Great Organization

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

shannon-dadI recently reread the bestselling book Good to Great, by Jim Collins. Published in 2001, the author details the rise of eleven Fortune 500 companies from being good, to becoming great. Only eleven companies made the cut through extensive research and stats. One critical stat was that they had to have thirty years of consistent history: fifteen with good results and fifteen with great results. This requirement alone knocked out most of the Fortune 500 as it focused on long-term steady growth and progress as opposed to flash-in-the-pan exemplary results for a short period of time maybe due to one outstanding product or a CEO.

A Good to Great company needs a consistent, disciplined approach according to the author and his research. First by picking exceptional leaders (Level 5), then going through what he describes as the hedgehog phase (a slow, methodical phase employing three concentric circles of discipline) and then cultivating it with a culture of discipline and technological improvements.

Once the Good to Great process is implemented, a continuous acceleration of improvement is noticed called the flywheel effect- things get better and better with more and more ease.

I found this book to be fascinating as it lines up very closely with how I like to see and run companies or organizations. By focusing more on improving the matter at hand and less on the limelight, success often finds it way.

Seventeen years ago, I became involved as a softball coach for my daughter Shannon’s Little League team. She was nine at the time and we were new to the city of Richmond and the Tuckahoe Little League system. Little did I know of the success of the Little League in days past, but also of the impending success my daughter’s teams would have at the local and All-Star level. For the next six years, our teams went on to win three State Championships and two runner-up’s. A wonderful streak for anyone to be a participant.

As I reflected back on what made those teams so good, one consistent theme came to mind. I always strived to make the practices and games fun for the girls. So much fun that hopefully the experience would stay with them for a very long time, and possibly develop into their daughter’s wanting to play the game. To me, that would be the ultimate payoff of how well the team did.

So I “hired” excellent Dads as coaches who thought the same as me. We stressed fundamentals and turned routine practices into fun-filled events. We added “talk time” not only describing strategy but discussing great players of the past and why they were great. And we constantly rewarded hard work with little victories, like a game-ball or a sleep over with their teammates.

As we started to jell and win as a team, it became infectious. Girls on other teams wanted to join in the fun. We never lost focus on the girls, making it really enjoyable. Continuous improvement was made during each practice. And the victories continued, year after year.


John Marklin

Exercise your mind!

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

72 novaIn 1979, I bought my first car, a 72 Chevy Nova, off of a used car lot in North St. Louis. I did little research and just fell in love with the cool looking bright orange sports car. It had little frills, no A/C, manual windows and a stick shift. Ah, what a nice car; simple and fun to drive!

Then reality sunk in. The car looked great but seemed to eat gas and my left brain told me to get a handle on what gas mileage I was getting (not that I could really do anything about it). Back then, there were no gauges to report the gas mileage, so I kept a note book in my glove box. I wrote down the gallons and mileage after each fill up. Then I subtracted the difference in gallons and divided it into the difference in miles since the last fill up. The result was a pretty consistent picture of my gas mileage. And I did it all manually, in the car, without the help of a calculator!

Today, I push a button and it gives me the result instantly. No fill up needed. No log book. No mental math!

Computers have created a world of instant information and calculations that we use for a more efficient lifestyle. But the unfortunate consequence is that it eliminates the curiosity of how something really works. We morph into a lifestyle that relies on a machine to do the thinking for us. We focus our thoughts onto visual things rather than using the mind for basic step-by-step processes like math and sciences. After a prolonged period of nonuse atrophy sets in and we can forget about simple things, like multiplication tables, or how to figure out a percentage increase, or division by long hand.

Try a simple test. Divide 500 by 10,500 without a computer. Did you struggle getting the result? I sure did. It took me a moment to remember which number went on the left side and right side of the bracket, and how to “carry the zeroes” before I came up with the quotient of .0476.

The other day, I built a bench out of wood. The directions called for cutting a board at a 60 degree angle. I had to pause a moment to get it right. My mind is used to 45 and 90 degree angles, not 60.

In business, I use math every day as part of my financial responsibilities for my stores.  I have trained myself to add numbers quickly in my head, and to come up with percentage increases or decreases. I now construct complex excel spreadsheets using a variety of different formulas. But it is not easy and I have to force myself to do this to exercise my brain.

A couple of weeks ago, my business partner asked me to calculate the gross profit % of a subset of a particular department. I knew the result of 2 individual subsets, and the grand total, but not the third subset. So I had to set up a basic algebraic formula of x and y to derive the result. It took a while, but when I did get the answer, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment, much more than if the computer had done it for me.

Do not be embarrassed if you have forgotten some basic skills;  but do take the time to exercise the mind with refresher courses. There are many tutorials you can use online to review subject matter you may have forgotten since grade school. One I really like is the Khan Academy. It is free and the videos are short, around 10 minutes, on thousands of topics.  Other exercises include:

-Play Words with Friends-Debbie plays it all the time and has multiple games going on simultaneously with different people,

-Watch Jeopardy-this show is filled with fun facts and entertaining as well,

-Turn off the TV and read a book-when is the last time you actually did read a book cover to cover?

-Subscribe to Merriam Webster Word of the Day and learn some new words

Good luck.


John Marklin

Summarize your work

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Back in the 80’s, when I worked for Peat Marwick & Mitchell, our main form of documentation was not a PC, but large 10-ring green binders. These binders were critical to every audit as they held the support for the audit tests that we performed. The contents were a mixture of legal sized notes and 4, 10 and 16 column spreadsheets. The papers were a blur of multi colored numbers, words, tickmarks and explanations describing the contents and the audit procedures performed.

 It was customary to have every workpaper in the binder reviewed by a senior, manager or partner. One day, my senior reviewed my work, and returned it to me with a comment that has stuck with me for thirty years.

The specific workpaper under review was a complex list of numbers and stats to the naked eye. I knew what I was doing, but my senior had a hard time following my reasoning. He threw his hands up and told me to label every workpaper with:

 1-A purpose-(why is this workpaper important)

2-A story about the work (what is your approach to prove your point)

3-A conclusion (summarize the key point of the workpaper)

 The senior’s theory was if the worksheet was removed or fell from the binder, that someone should be able to pick it up and completely understand your conclusion.

 This simple three-point exercise made an indelible mark on me!

 My inbox today is a series of word, excel and power point files that oftentimes lack minimal description of what they are, much less a purpose, story and conclusion. As a result, I am left with the job of  trying to understand the logic of the file. This is a waste of time, and often leaves me with a conclusion much different from the one the author had or was trying to make.

 I have made a career using this three-point approach in the work that I do. Whether as an auditor, CFO, consultant or business owner, being very specific about the purpose, story and conclusion of my work has been a successful theme to my readers.  My bosses, clients and employees appreciated having complex bodies of work brought down to simple, understandable concepts.

 Keep this in mind the next time you prepare a list, chart, or graph. Tell the reader why it is important. Explain your thought process. And go on record and give a conclusion.

 He will thank you for it.


John Marklin

Wage stagnation

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Throughout much of my younger life, I was blessed with good employers and good jobs. Jobs that not only were interesting and helped grow my career, but provided a good wage, enough to raise a family of five and live comfortably in a nice home.

The annual performance review preceded the raise, and I was usually delighted with good marks on the first and above normal percentages on the latter.

Back then, raises in the 5-10% range were not uncommon and were the norm for doing a good job. Even the recessions of the 80 and 90’s didn’t detract much from the annual ascent of wages. And I must say that it was a very comforting feeling to know the range of earnings for the next few years. It certainly helped in budgeting family expenses.

But that trend of 5-10% raises has been replaced with 2-4% since the 2008 recession. More and more companies are setting annual increases on the rate of inflation, which has been hovering around 3% for the last few years. Companies are able to do this simply because there are a lot of people looking for work (much more than the government reports since the unemployment statistics do not include those who have given up looking for work).

This blog is not to analyze why the raise % is low; that would take much too long and quite honestly I don’t have the answer. But what I will comment on is how to deal with what seems to be a fairly long period of wage stagnation staring us in the face.

There is only one thing I know to do to get a higher than average raise; earn it by looking through the eyes of the boss!

As a business owner, I am responsible for about 100 people who work at our stores. Unlike me, they get a paycheck every week, regardless if the week was good or bad in sales. I can tell you that a day does not go by that I do not look at the financial picture of my businesses and project the future direction likely to happen. An entrepreneur lives on a risky edge, balancing day-to-day issues with longer term competition. It can be a frightening task if you don’t have exceptional people working for you and helping you achieve your goals.

So I tell my employees to think like an owner and make decisions that I would likely make. To raise the trust level from me to them so that there is no doubt about their honesty and their commitment to growing the business. To come up with ideas that I have never thought of to try. To out-think, out-work and out-perform anyone who has ever done your job before.

And here is the big one; to absolutely convince me that I cannot do without you!

If you are successful at doing the things above, you have a tremendous leveraged position that can equate to more money at raise time.

I always tell my employees; the more money you make me, the more money I have to give you!


John Marklin

My Aha moment

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

It was an extremely hot Friday in July in 1994. I remember the day vividly. I had just moved jobs, and cities, again for the 4th time in my career. This move took me from Reading, PA to Richmond, VA to work for Richfood, a large food wholesaler as their Vice President/Controller.

That Friday capped off my first week on the job. Debbie and the kids were still back in Reading getting ready for the eventual move to Richmond.

That week, like most first weeks on a job, was filled with long hours, new relationships and complex procedures. This didn’t bother me; I usually enjoyed challenges and knew it was just part of any new job.

It was around 5:15pm. I had just put in about 60 hours of work and  was looking forward going to the apartment and having a Bud. As I was walking out of my office door, the phone rang. I hesitated and wondered whether to answer it. First week on the job, so I decided it would be a good move to pick up the phone.

It was the CEO. He asked me to come down to his office a few steps away.

As I entered his large office, typical of a CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, I saw him sitting behind his desk. He was flanked on both sides of his desk with a couple feet high of paper. In between the mounds of paper I saw him sitting at his desk, hunched over with wire rim glasses holding a sheet of paper in each hand.

He asked me why the one piece of paper (an invoice), did not appear on the other piece of paper (the weekly customer billing statement). The question startled me, not because I could not answer it, but why a CEO, making millions of dollars, was asking the question at 5:15pm on a Friday (or any hour of any day for that matter).

The CEO was a brilliant man, a mover and a shaker in the food industry. He was known for his turnaround tactics and bringing success to most business ventures in which he was involved. Richfood was no exception. We were hitting it out of the park with good, consistent financial results at that time.

But back to that evening. This 65 year old man felt it was important enough for him, to examine the hundreds, maybe thousands of invoices for that week and spot check to make sure invoices were not missed in hitting the customer statement. He knew the food industry inside and out, and also knew that it was a penny business. Sales volumes were high, and margins were small-around 2%. And any $100 of a lost invoice required $5000 of additional sales to make it up.

I agreed with the importance of checking things to this level of detail, but not by a CEO at this time of the day. And then it struck me like a bolt of lightning to the chest. That will probably be me in 20 years!

That day, that hour, that minute was the time in my life I decided to do something different. To not be chained to a desk, focusing on historical things. I knew at that moment I wanted to be an entrepreneur: it was the Aha moment in my life!

I stayed with Richfood for another couple of years, but I laid out a plan to change careers. I researched industries, did some soul searching and decided to leave the company and become the CFO of a manufacturing company. I needed the manufacturing background and later left to start a consulting business which proved to me that I could use my skills to “sell” ideas to others. I became successful in consulting yet knew that it still wasn’t my dream. I wanted something more: something I could touch, some employees and a business that I could really get behind and make something exciting happen.

With the good fortune of finding the right business partner, I left the consulting world to buy a grocery store. And then a second and now a third. My days are exciting and hectic; just like I wanted it.

Michael Gerber speaks of the Aha moment in his book, The E Myth Revisited, as having an “entrepreneurial seizure”; that point in any business wannabe’s life of wanting to use his or her skills to start a business. He goes on to talk about the difference of being good at something (the skill) and running a business using that skill.

But it all starts with having the moment. That is important. But equally important is what you do after it.

I am really grateful for deciding to answer that phone call.


John Marklin