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Last Update: Tuesday July 27, 2021

Key Idea: Reinvent Yourself

Bill and Joan talk about reinventing Le Travel Store in relationship to their location because they thought about their lease cycle as a type of alarm clock.  More...

Key Question:


Out think them.  When a lease was up, Bill and  Joan didn't just automatically renew it. They woke up and looked at their situation with fresh eyes.

How are Bill and Joan different from most business owners when it comes to dealing with change?

Most of us wait until we are forced to change rather than anticipate it. Bill and Joan were doing fine in their first location in Pacific Beach but they thought, "could we do better in a new location?"
Every business owner we have studied here has had to adapt to the market and like Grace Tsujikawa and Steve Hoffman, most were forced to reinvent themselves.

Grace started in business making huge clay pots and her customers were interior decorators. Even though many of Grace's customers were very loyal, eventually big companies started importing large terra cotta pots. At the same time, commercial construction slowed. With these new dynamics in the marketplace, Grace had to do something different to survive.

She hired a ceramics engineer to investigate markets she could pursue using her existing equipment and the ceramics expertise of her staff. Together Grace and her consultant came up with an ususual idea. The aerospace industry had been experimenting with high temperature forming of titanium alloys for several decades. Typically these projects only needed a few parts. As an alternate to steel, some companies had begun using ceramic tooling and the advantage was an 80% saving in tooling costs. Grace won a government grant from the Small Business Innovation Research program to explore the possibilities of becoming a manufacturer of ceramic tooling. Her success has resulted in a new division for Pyro Media which makes a complete line of ceramic castables, turn-key die production and computerized tool design services.

While keeping the vision and mission in focus, stay flexible. We all hit bumps in the road and sometimes they serve to slow us down enough to see that we need to change.

Modern Postcard's founder, Steve Hoffman, outgrew real estate. That's what happened. From 1976 until 1993 he had a strong, sweet, small business providing high quality photos of homes with quick turn-around time at a great price. If you read the complete interview we did with Steve, you'll learn that he owned this marketplace because he beat back all the competitors. He perfected the processes so that he could make money but nobody else could.

When Steve suggested that the Iris Group, (the name of the original company) start doing post cards, he hit big resistance from his two key people. They didn't want to be associated with a company that would do what they thought would be inferior quality printing of inferior quality images.

Steve was driven to listen to the marketplace because he was experiencing decreasing sales and he had excess capacity. Years of hard work to develop smooth processes paid off just as his core customer experienced a tremendous downturn. Like all good manufacturers, Steve and the team at the Iris Group tried to figure out what they should print and for whom.

Steve told us that post cards were not the only idea they had to grow the business. They tested post cards and calendars and got the most response from the post card product. So basically, they let the market decide.

Think about it

What changes are you making now to prepare for the next five years? How do you prepare for change or even figure out what changes are needed? What are your assets and how can you use them to increase sales to current customers or to find new customers?

Clip from: Le Travel Store in the Gaslamp Quarter

San Diego:  Joan and Bill Keller, founders of Le Travel Store,  have traveled so much,  you ask, "Where haven't you been?"  One answer was "The Antarctica." But, they got close -- Ushuaia, capital of Tierra del Fuego - Patagonia down on the tip of Argentina, the most southern city on earth and on a clear day ... of course, Joan and Bill Keller have the Antarctica on their list, but compared to most people, their list is rather short.

Become an independent traveler, but do it with panache. Take some of your customers, your investors, CPA and banker, and of course, your family with you. Source the world. 

Also, this team is well-grounded in their community. They lead the "return to authenticity" movement that champions Main Street. The National Trust for Historic Preservation led us to them and this historic Gaslamp Quarter!

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Le Travel Store (BK)

Bill Keller, Founder

745 Fourth Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101

Visit our web site:

Office: 6195440005

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1975

Reinvent Yourself

JOAN: (Voiceover) We had been a tenant at Horton Plaza for 10 years, and as we came up to the end of the lease, we either needed to renegotiate there, or we needed to find a new location, which is a common experience as a retailer.

Your location is so important, and when you come to the end of a lease cycle, you need to reinvent yourself, you need to find a new place to go. And I came to that period and calculated how much I had spent in lease payments at Horton Plaza and realized I could own--it was $1 million, it was nearly $1 million in lease payments in 10 years, and I thought, for that we could own a building.

And I started shopping the neighborhood for a building that would work for us, you know--it's a fairly narrow range of things that would be effective for us--and that we could afford.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Moving out of the mall into the historic Gaslamp Quarter was a big step for Bill and Joan.

BILL: We managed to get an SBA loan to purchase this 10,000-square-foot building that we're in right now.

JOAN: (Voiceover) And we began to notice that things were becoming energized and then almost exploding in this neighborhood. And our timing, I think, was perfect. We came in and bought this building really before retail took hold, but close enough to the taking hold that we could survive.

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