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Last Update: Thursday September 23, 2021

Key Idea: Stick To Your Knitting

Howard Kent teaches us when mistakes take you off course, learn from the experience and get back on track.

Key Question:


Keep doing what works.

Howard and a partner started a company which manufactured a tennis training device and after 3 years Howard sold his part to the partner for $1. The partner continued to work the business for 2 more years then got out.

Q: Do you think Howard is right or the infomercials selling business ideas you can work on just a few hours a week?

A: Howard is doing $3.5 million in sales and has 12 employees. He has hundreds of happy customers and has made money in his business for 30 years. He is not interested in working on an idea that may generate a few thousand dollars a month. However, you might be able to get started in a business by working part time while you're in school or working a full time job. Most infomercials are trying to get you to sell something. They don't encourage you to invent a product or service, and they really aren't teaching you business skills -- they will teach you sales skills. Every business needs salespeople and infomercials are basically recruiting a sales organization. If you want to learn the sales aspect of one type of business, this is not all bad.

As Howard says, "Nothing good comes easy."

If you have always wanted your own business and don't know where to start, research the "start your own business" opportunities that are so widely advertised. Be sure to evaluate the time commitment and any necessary monetary investment as you consider whether this might be a good way to develop your sales skills.

Think about it

Are there ways to expand on what you know to add products and services rather than reaching into a whole new world?

Clip from: Ironbound Supply

Newark, New Jersey: Meet Howard Kent and his team at Ironbound Valve Actuation. Like most of us, he learned his lessons the hard way. He now says, "Plan your work. And, work your plan, so . . . when you do succeed, it's not by chance and it's not by luck; it's just that you followed your game plan."

As you can well imagine, to go global, Howard constantly streamlines his systems with a mixture of old technology and new.

Go to the key ideas of this episode...

Ironbound Valve Actuation

Howard Kent, Chairman, CEO, founder

146 Jackson Street
Newark, NJ 07105

Visit our web site:

Office: 9735895209

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1966

Stick To Your Knitting

HATTIE: Talk to me about some of those mistakes. You know, you're in this core business. Have you wavered off? Have you tried other things that failed?

HOWARD: Oh, yeah. I remember years ago, a friend of mine that's in the insurance business decided--we play tennis all the time recreationally--that we would make a training device for tennis. And it was a PVC frame that you hit through. It was just like a picture window on stilts. And we decided to market it. We got endorsements by major tennis corporations and major tennis players had used it; made friends with Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, Colin Dibley. They had hit through our trainer; they'd used it. We got endorsements by it. We became the world's largest manufacturer of an Encore training device, only 'cause we were the only manufacturer. And after two or three years of doing this, we realized we'd made a lot of friends, had a lot of fun and we're enjoying what we're doing; we're not making any money.

HATTIE: Uh-oh.

HOWARD: We're losing money. The bottom line: Each year, we're putting money into this. And finally, I said, `I can't enjoy this hobby anymore,' because that's really what it came down to be because it wasn't a business paying for itself. And most businesses either succeed or fail within the first three years. First year, particularly, we had the financial resources to keep it going, but we figured, `OK, that's enough.' I turned my stock and everything over to my partner for $1. He inherited the business and he kept it for two years, and then he sold his end of it. And we're out of business, but like I said before, if you don't try something, you don't know, and you can't be afraid to fail. And when you do fail, you learn by it, so don't deviate into another field from a field that you know well that you can be successful in. You got a niche, and I guess that's the biggest success of small businesses: They have to have a niche market, know what the niche is, know what the market is, and then work at it, but don't get jealous, when you start to see your business grow, that this other guy's got a bigger business, growing faster, and it's a different market you know nothing about, but it sounds good, so you get into it, and then two years later, you're selling your business for $1.

HATTIE: Do we have to tell ourselves that, `Maybe if I'm in pipe that tennis isn't my game as a business,' or get used to the idea that if you switch over to that industry, in this case tennis, it's gonna take--it could take 15 years to get in that where you got with this?

HOWARD: Well, I would say the key to that, Hattie, was the fact that we went into the tennis business on a part-time basis, and you cannot make a small business succeed doing it part time. If we would have put both of our efforts into it 100 percent of the time as full time as we did, I have no question at all that we would have made it into a profitable business. Now profitable enough that we can enjoy the same standard of living we have now? I doubt it. But we didn't. We gave it part-time service and we were hoping that it would succeed, and because we couldn't give it the time and effort that it needed to nurture it and develop it and handle it properly, well, it's out of business.

HATTIE: OK. So all these infomercials on TV about `Get started in business part time, work from home for a few hours a day. You'll get rich'--what do you think?

HOWARD: I think that's somebody having a business, looking to get people to work for them part time without paying a full-time employee. And after six months, when you found out it didn't pan out, you no longer work for them, and they find enough of those people, they got free employees. Because how many of those people started those little at-home operations today have their own businesses? I have a lot of friends of mine that tried it, and I know for a fact, not one of them ever succeeded.

A motivational speaker, Ann Powerden, said, `Look, close your eyes, relax, let your arms go at your side. And I want everybody to raise your arm above your head as far as you can, stretch it out. OK. Relax, bring it down to your side.' It's easy enough. `Go ahead. Do the same thing, only this time, try to give me an extra quarter of an inch.' And you reach up, put it to your side. OK. `Now do the same thing one more time, put your arm up and try to give me an extra foot.' Can't do it.

HATTIE: It's not there.

HOWARD: It's not there. It's impossible. I can't reach my foot. The mind rejects the idea and gives up completely. But by saying, `Give me an extra quarter of an inch,' the mind will accept that challenge and, therefore, you will try to do it. So in business, I would say we have to try the extra quarter of an inch. And I've been doing that years with my employees. `I just want a little bit more from ya.'

At the beginning of the year, everyone comes and says, `We want a raise. It's next year.' OK, that's right. So is small business gonna say, `Fine. What do you want, 1 percent, 2 percent, 3 percent, 5 percent?' `What are we gonna get for a raise? Are you gonna be 5 percent more efficient for me this year? Are you going to be worth 5 percent more to me this year?' Why should I pay you more? If my sales stay the same and my profitability stays the same, I just lost money paying you a raise. I don't want to do that. How can we do it?'

So each employee has got to reach inside and say, `I have to try for that little quarter of an inch today, quarter of an inch tomorrow.' Every day, when they come to work, they've got to be properly motivated to try to do the same things you do. You may be motivated in what you want to do, but if you can't motivate the employees working for you also to do it, you can't be successful. You all have to be on the same wave...

HATTIE: But it starts here.

HOWARD: You have to say to them, `We're all working together,' and you got to lead them and show them that you're willing to work hard and you appreciate their work and everybody works together.

HATTIE: In that you're the one demonstrating first and showing that you're stretching for the quarter-inch first.

HOWARD: Well, that goes without saying. If I would expect them to do more work and work harder or be more efficient, and then I'm slacking off and I'm not doing it, then they say, `Why should we do it? We're just making money for him,' and I'm not the one doing it. So you can't slack. You're forced to continue to stay on-guard, even when you don't want to, only because the employees expect that from you.

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