The best business call I never expected to get.

I got a unique phone call this week. The caller, a friendly and energetic young man, introduced himself as a banker calling from Name-Of-Bank-Protected. Once upon a time, I had banked with Name-Of-Bank-Protected. But now I was confused. Because I had closed my account with them over ten years ago. What was even stranger, was that the banker added that he was a mortgage specialist.

Hmm?

I asked the nice mortgage specialist from the bank I once banked with, ‘Is there something wrong with the mortgage I clearly do not have with your bank?’

He laughed and said ‘No. I am calling about Name-Of-Employee-Protected.  Does Name-Of- Employee-Protected work at The Weaponry?’

Then I understood.

I have purchased four homes in my home purchasing career. Right before the closing, the bank offering the mortgage calls your employer to confirm that you actually have the job you claim to have. This gives the bank confidence that you will have the funds to pay your mortgage on the new home. This has always been a wise move for banks. But it has become standard practice since the failure to do background checks lead to the world-melting mortgage crisis a decade ago.

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This is where I was sitting when I got the mortgage lender’s call. Except the plant was on the other side of the desk.

However, this was different.

Now a bank was calling me about a mortgage, because I am the employer. This may not seem like a big deal to you. But this was monumental to me.

My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, started as a vision in my head two and a half years ago. I had a clear vision of what the perfect advertising agency would look like. I believed I could create an agency that generated excellent creative ideas, provided amazing customer service and offered a fun experience for everyone involved. Best of all, I knew it could provide long-term financial stability for employees.

As I started on my journey to bring that vision to life, I started this blog. Then brick by brick, the vision has become realer and realerer and realererer.

Today, The Weaponry has great clients, a nice office, amazing employees and benefits. But now, we also have real American bankers calling The Weaponry to confirm that our Weapons actually work at The Weaponry.

That’s a great feeling.

The Weaponry is not just real in my head. It is real in the eyes of a bank that will offer a major loan to one of our employees today, so that they can close on a new house this afternoon. I’m not sure I can articulate how fulfilling that is. The Weaponry has come a long way. And we are just getting started. I look forward to many more confirmation calls from many more mortgage lenders from across the country in the years ahead.

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The best ways to get young people back in stores.

I love talking to college students. Throughout my career I have guest-lectured, judged class projects, and spoken on numerous panels. I enjoy these opportunities to encourage students. It’s fun to see how your personal career path can provide a map for future professionals. It is fascinating to see the world through the students’ eyes again. But best of all, I like telling students that the need for internships is a myth created by kids who have internships.

Marquette

The past three semesters I have guest-lectured for an advertising campaigns class at Marquette University. In this class, the students spend a semester creating a campaign for a real client. At the end of the semester, they then present to that client. I come in for a class or two to teach the students what I can about the creative process.

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I start each class by singing America The Beautiful.

This year my lesson consisted of 3 parts.

  1. I shared the journey of my career, from college student at the University of Wisconsin, to launching my own advertising agency, The Weaponry.
  2. I talked about creativity and the creative process.
  3. I gave the students a creative assignment that they had one week to complete.

The Assignment

I wanted the students to have a significant creative problem to solve. So I chose retail traffic. As you have probably heard by now, an invention called the internet makes it easy for people to buy virtually anything from their computer or smart-thingy. In fact, smart-thingy is just shorthand for an electronic device that lets you shop from bed.

As a result, people are no longer reliant on physical stores for anything. This is a major problem for retailers who have significant physical spaces. Because those stores become unprofitable and unnecessary when people stop dropping by to drop off money.

The Question: 

How do you get young people to shop at physical store locations?

Here is the assignment I gave 35 Marquette students:

We need to get Marquette Students, who are entering the workforce, to visit a Kohl’s physical store location, by telling them it is the best place to find their new workforce wardrobe.

Huh?

The universal knee-jerk reaction to this challenge from the students was:

‘Why would I have to visit a store? It is so much easier to shop online.’

My Response:

‘This is the greatest challenge facing retailers today. Your mindset is a major problem for them. Since college students represent the next great hope or the nail in the coffin for brands with significant retail locations, you hold the key to this perplexing problem.’

The Thinking Began

We gave the seven groups of five students one week to come up with their solutions. They could advertise to the student population anywhere on, or around the Marquette campus. There were no media restrictions or requirements. The ideas the student shared were both surprising and somehow obvious at the same time.

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One of the groups presenting their ideas to the nicest, sweetest group of judges they will ever meet.

4 key takeaways from college students for retailers.

Here are the buckets of ideas we heard from the seven groups

1. Offer Me Services.  

  • There are a host of services that students are not getting right now that would offer real value.
  • Help me understand how to dress professionally appropriate for my career.
  • Help me find clothes that fit well.
  • Help me coordinate, accessorize and create multiple outfits to make my money go further.

2. Help Get Me There

  • The rising generation does not see transportation the way previous generations saw it. Car ownership will not be ubiquitous. It may not even be popular. To get younger shoppers to the stores you may need to actually give them a ride to the store, or help them foot the bill.
  • The students had ideas like receiving UberCredits from the store when they show their college IDs.
  • Retailers could advertise on the campus vans that offer students free rides around campus at night. During the day, Kohl’s could hire these vans to take student to shop at Kohl’s. Think Express route to Express

3. Find Me Where I am

  •  If I should be thinking about you, meet me where I am. And that’s on SnapChat. Join the story.
  • Find me on campus. The students had multiple good ideas about Kohl’s showing up at places they are spending their time, like the student union, library and even bars and restaurants. To be top of mind, you may just have to show up and say hi.
  • Influence the influencers.  The students talked about involving the professors, staff, other students and advisors. The Kardashians may not be the only people influencing these students.

4. Get Involved

  • The students had ideas for fashion shows on campus that Kohl’s could sponsor.
  • At Job Fairs retailers can offer advice on how to dress for interviews and the workplace.
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This is us.

Conclusion

There are great ways to get people to visit retail locations. Personalized services and unique experiences will be key. Think about services as much or more than you think about the products you sell. Remember to fish where the fish are. Not where the old fish used to swim. You may have to coordinate or compensate the travel. This may sound weird, but it is important. It’s no longer business as usual. And the new business may feel unusual. But that’s what keeps it interesting.

 

 

Want to be an entrepreneur? Start by flying a kite.

Entrepreneurship is a thrilling game. I started my own adverting and idea agency almost two years ago. Building my business has been the most fun and exciting chapter in a career full of fun and exciting chapters. If you think you’d like to play entrepreneur, I have a few insights to share. But I should warn you, I don’t have an MBA. My business philosophies come from life.

Creating your own business requires four elements:

  1. Vision to see what you want to build.
  2. Optimism to believe you can do it.
  3. Will Power to keep you moving forward.
  4. Money to pay the bills.

The first three inputs are about attitude. If you have a great attitude, you have 75% of the requirements covered. Then there is number four. It has ruined many a good business. It’s the proverbial turd in the punch bowl. And there is no way around it.

Money, Money, Money, Money

It isn’t enough simply to have money. The real challenge is that you have to invest your money at the proper pace. If you spend too little you don’t grow, you don’t mature, and you don’t get closer to your ultimate vision. But if you spend too much, you die.

In order to thrive, you need to find the sweet spot between these two pitfalls. This is the game of business finance in a nutshell. And if you remember your shell history, the nutshell beat out both the eggshell and the clamshell as the perfect container for simple summations.

So how do you know when to save and when to spend? I have developed an approach to spending money that influences every purchase, every hire, and financial commitment we make at The Weaponry.

The Kite Flying Method. 

I think of spending money like flying a kite. Once you get a kite in the air, you have to decide if you are satisfied flying it ten feet above the ground. If you are not, and I hope you are not, you have to let out more string.

But when?

You let out more string when the wind increases. Not before. This sounds simple enough. But the key is knowing the difference between winds and gusts. A gust is temporary. If you let out string because of a gust, you are in trouble. Because when the gust stops, your line will go slack, and the kite will plummet to the ground. This is bad.

Key Takeaway

The wind is your income. The string is your outgo. If you want your business to soar to impressive heights, you have to let out string. But always let out less string than the wind can support. That tension you feel is profitability. It is what keeps you in control. Always maintain that. It will keep you soaring for as long as you want to play.

Why envy can be your most powerful force for good.

Most people will tell you that envy is bad. They will say you should be happy with what you have. But don’t believe them. Envy is one of the most powerfully positive forces on Earth. Envy reveals what we truly enjoy, what we really want, and who we want to be like. This is nothing to feel bad about. Baby, you were born this way.

Using envy for good starts with recognizing it as a powerful, natural, innate draw within you. Don’t try to quiet that voice. Tune in to it. Understand it. Learn what envy can teach you. Envy is like a gravitational force pulling you towards your own happiness. Or at least towards a great pair of pants.

Definition (from the great online dictionary)

Envy (noun): a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.

Envy (verb): desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute belonging to someone else.

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Interview Your Envy

Envy offers insights to feelings that are hard to articulate.

  • Do you envy the person who doesn’t have to travel for work? Or the person who does?
  • Do you envy your friend who has dinner with his or her family every night?
  • Do you envy the entrepreneur? Or the volunteer? Or the activist?
  • Do you envy the rich and famous?
  • Do you envy the simple and anonymous?

Your envy is trying to lead you on your true path. Don’t protest too much.

My Envy

I have found myself attracted to, and envious of all kinds of random things throughout my life. But instead of feeling bad about it, or trying to turn the feelings off, I have tuned in, and recognized the things I truly want to have, do or be. And those things I once envied have contributed greatly to my own happiness.

Here is a quick list or random things I have envied:

  • A pair of well-worn work boots
  • High schoolers who could lift a lot of weights
  • Entrepreneurs
  • People who have canoes.
  • People who vacation on islands
  • Mountain climbers
  • People who don’t follow popular opinion
  • People who have great blogs
  • Volunteers

These things that I once envied have now contributed greatly to my own happiness. My feelings were not negative. They were motivating.

Today, my work boots (and my flip-flops) are my favorite shoes to wear. I began lifting weights my freshman year in high school and have found it to be the absolute best thing for my mental health. I launched my own business, The Weaponry, almost two years ago, and I am eager to get to work each day. I own a beautiful 17-foot canoe, and a couple of kayaks, which bring me and my family great joy. I have had wonderful vacations on islands with my wife and kids, where we felt as if we had escaped the real world together. I’ve climbed many a mountain, and felt the rewards of accomplishment. I am confident in my unpopular ways. I’m working on the blog thing. But I still have a nagging feeling that I don’t volunteer enough, and envy those who do.

Key Takeaway

Don’t feel bad about your lust for those shoes, that job or the epic vacation. Don’t think you don’t measure up because you haven’t started your own business, created a charitable foundation or bought a second home. If you really want those things, add them to your list. Then create a plan to make them yours, and get to work.  That’s what I do. And someday I expect to have them all.

Now that I have shared, is there something you have envied that you have used as motivation?  Please share it in the comments section. I’d like to think I am not the only one.

 

 

I have a little surprise for one of my high school teachers.

My sophomore year in high school I had a teacher named Mr. Bohi. He was a large, bear of a man who spoke with booming confidence and authority. Originally from Iowa, his life path lead him to the Ivy League town of Hanover, New Hampshire. In Hanover he taught high school students lessons about humans, through the lens of history.  He also smiled at you when he was mad at you, which I found quite challenging to process.

Mr. Bohi was a great teacher who taught me a lot. But on the first day of class he said something that I strongly disagreed with. As he launched into his initial lesson, he pulled out a dollar bill, and made a stump speech about the power of money, and its enormous influence over world history.

He orated about the fallacy of money, saying that currency wasn’t real. That money is an illusion in our heads. And that a plain piece of paper was actually more valuable than a dollar bill. One of the things he said that day has bothered me for 30 years. So today I am putting this note in the mailbox and sending it to Mr. Bohi.

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I have thought about this since 1988. I  wrote this out almost a year and a half ago. And I will finally mail it today.
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This is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 104. I thought ‘Milk’ would have been a good nickname for a guy whose last name started with ‘Shake’.

 

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Maybe you can’t write a Shakespearean sonnet on a dollar bill. But I can. 

 

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By George, I wrote it!

I love doing what other people say can’t be done. I love solving problems that others think can’t be solved. As an entrepreneur and Founder of the advertising and idea agency The Weaponry, I appreciate a good challenge. And I realize it is my will to do things that makes them happen. Even if it takes 30 years.

*In case you couldn’t read my handwriting, this is what the note says:

Dear Mr. Bohi,

In 1988, in my first class with you, you said that money wasn’t that valuable.  Specifically, you told us we couldn’t write a Shakespearean sonnet on a dollar bill. I want you to know:

  1. I was listening.
  2. I remembered
  3. You were wrong.

Enjoy your dollar.

Adam R. Albrecht

HHS Class of ’91

 

My personal March Madness.

It is 6:27pm on Saturday, March 17, 2018. America is in the heart of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, better known as March Madness. For most of my life I couldn’t get enough of this tournament. But this year is different.

This Year:

  • I have not seen a moment of live basketball.
  • I have not seen a single bracket, printed, online or on TV.
  • I have no idea which 64 teams are in the tourney. Or are there 66? Or 68?

I had no idea it was even possible to be so oblivious about the tournament a week after Selection Sunday.

But I haven’t had a moment of boredom in the past week. I have been so interested and involved in the other exciting things that basketball wasn’t even a blimp on my radar (I once had a French client misuse this term).

Having enough positive and interesting elements in your life that you have no room for the extraneous is a good sign. And right now, my family, work, friends and curiosities are filling my days in a way that leaves no need for entertainment or distractionRight now, I would rather write this post about my reflections than turn on the TV to catch up on all that I’ve missed. Life is not a spectator sport. Never has this phrase meant more to me than right now.

 

 

 

This is how our new conference room came to life.

Breathing life into an idea is my favorite thing in the world. Taking a vision that only existed in my head, making it real, and then showing it to the world, offers a healthy, natural high. Even Nancy Reagan would approve.

I thought about creating my advertising agency for a long time before I named it The Weaponry and declared it open for thinkness. In the summer of 2017 I shopped for a new office space. But when I first got tossed the keys the office was pretty bland. So we began putting our mark on the place.

Furniture

Furnishing our office has been a fun undertaking.  I have written before about our custom-built surfboard coffee table. We had readers of this blog vote on their favorite surfboard designs. Then we shared the final result. The coffee table has been a great addition to the office, and a great conversation starter. Since then, we turned our attention to another room.

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Yep, we’ve got one of these. Read all about it at the links above.

The Conference Room

The conference room at The Weaponry was the last room we furnished. We wanted to keep it simple. In fact, we only wanted four elements in the room:

  1. Table
  2. 6-8 chairs
  3. TV monitor
  4. Whiteboard
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Folding chairs and tape helped us determine the perfect table size and the number of chairs we could fit. In the end, we crumpled up this 4×8 foot table and tossed it in the trash.

Shopping For A Table

We looked at a lot of used conference room tables, and they all made me want to cry. Most of them felt like they would have been right at home on the set of the TV show, The Office. That would never do. We looked through catalogs. All the tables either looked too serious, too sterile or had no look at all.

Then something caught our eye. It wasn’t a traditional conference room table.  It was a high top. The type of furniture designed for an active huddle space. Not the kind of table typically used to pacify you before a Powerpoint lobotomy.

When we inquired about the table we discovered it could be custom-made. Which meant we could choose the perfect length, width, height and color.

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We had our 58 inch TV monitor, but we couldn’t install it until we had the table, so we knew how high to hang it. It was our version of the chicken and the egg.

Placing The Order

We custom-designed our table to fit our conference room space like a proverbial hand in glove. We chose both the leg style and the leg color. Then came the biggest, and most important choice of all: the color of the surface.

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These six tall stools were anxious to rip their plastic off and meet some new butts.

Surfacing the Surface Color

We saw a model of our table with a white table top. It had a birch pattern to it, and it looked nice. But we picked out a few other color chips that might work as well. On the day we placed the final order I glanced at the sign in our office that says, Think like a rebel. I knew that white wasn’t right.

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We were finally birthing our conference room.  This is where the table began to crown.
Ta Da!  Our high red top table is up and ready for thinkness.
We finally knew the right height to hang our TV. Here you can see the monitor is well hung. The dry erase board, not so much.
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The whiteboard is now up. And we already have several chips on the table top. Potato chips that is.

All of the other rooms in our office have one red wall. It makes a bold statement and adds energy to each room. The ConFro (I just made that up) doesn’t have outside windows. We wanted to keep the walls white and bright to make the room feel bigger. So we used the bright red, high top table to make the room feel like the rest of the office.

Because our table is tall, you can use it in sitting mode, like Britt, or in standing mode, like me.  Is your mind totally blown by this versatility?

The table feels active. The red color energizes the room. The height of the table means you can either perch on the high stools, and feel like you are leaning into a meeting, like at a bar. Or you can stand without looking any odder than you usually do. You can also easily switch between the two positions, if you have ants in your pants.

Conclusion

We love the way our conference room has come together. We love that it offers a great hub for active thinking. We love that we have a tall, red-headed 48 inch by 96 inch table. We love our giant dry erase board for ideating and illustrating. We love having a large TV monitor for presentations, and for watching Netflix while eating lunch. We look forward to adding a few embellishments to the walls. But most of all, we look forward to having your stop by for a think.

*To follow the story of The Weaponry, and to see how this perfect agency project grows and evolves, consider subscribing to this blog.