Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Using Vision to change your life

A few weeks ago I was a guest speaker at a local event called the “March Fourth Motivation-A-Thon.  This is an annual event that features a new speaker every hour from 9am until 7pm.  The theme for this years event was Prosperity.

I was hoping to be able to post an audio file of my presentation, but the person who taped it has not reached out to me.  Since several of my friends have asked me to post it, I’ve decided to write it out here.

When I was told that the theme was prosperity I immediately asked, “define prosperity”.  It can be defined many ways and it means something different to everybody.  Since the dictionary specifically mentions it in terms of financial well being I’ve decided to talk about how I used vision to create my business, National Powersports Distributors.  I’ve used Vision to create many things in my life, but NPD is the most financially prosperous thing I have ever created.

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For those of you not familiar with NPD, we are one of the largest used motorcycle dealers in the country.  We have 35 employees and are known all over the world for having the best values on used bikes.  We also have a reputation for being “straight shooters” and for being fair and honest.  To say I’m proud of my staff is an understatement.

In order to understand how my vision for this company was created I have to give some background on my professional life as well as my scholastic career. Lets start with schooling.  I was a terrible student.  Not sort of bad, but terrible.  My grades were mediocre at best and I was constantly challenging my teachers. Frankly, I just didn’t care about learning these things.  What I did care about was riding BMX bikes.  I lived to ride my bike.  I remember sitting in class looking out the window at the bike stand where my bike was and just waiting out the minutes until school got out and I could go ride.
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At the age of 17 I took my first summer job at A.T. Naults bicycle shop in Manchester NH.  I continued to work there summers and eventually became a full time employee.  After high school I decided to attend Keene State College.  The first semester I received a 1.4 GPA.  I also discovered Snowboarding.  I fell in love with riding with the same passion that I had for riding bikes and soon started competing.  Of course, my first semester GPA put my on Academic Probation and I achieved the dubious GPA of 0.0 the second semester.  I actually tried pretty hard to pull my grades up the first few weeks of my second semester, but once I fell behind I just gave up and stopped going to class.
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Do I look like I'm studying hard?
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1987 snowboarding
I continued working at the bicycle shop in the summer and snowboard shops in the winter.  I enjoyed my work a lot.  I thought I would never be rich because I thought that the only way to earn more money was to have a better paying job.  That’s what they taught us in school.  The way to make money was to study hard and get good grades so you could get a good paying job, right?  I knew that I would never make the kind of money a Doctor or Lawyer would and I was ok with that.  What was most important to me was being able to balance work and being outside in nature moving my body.

In 1991 I met Amy and fell madly deeply in love.  Within 2 years we were married.  I felt that if I was going to be able to start a family that I needed to find a better paying job.  I decided that it was time to call my father, the owner of A. D.Sanel Auto Parts.  I told him that I was ready to grow up and that I wanted to come work for him and learn the business.  He told me that he had no place for me and he wasn’t interested.  I was pretty bummed, but over the course of the next few months I convinced him that I was serious.  He decided to give me a shot and Amy and I moved up to St. Johnsbury VT at the end of 1993.

I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of what it was like to work with him.  But lets just fast forward 7 years.  I am now the VP of the company.  I work from 6am till 7pm every day.  I have two children, a house, and lots of bills.  And I am utterly miserable.  Hopelessly miserable.  Everything is good at home with Amy and the kids, but the work situation is the worst.  I hate working for my Dad and he hates having me there.  The gloves are off and we are not very nice to each other.  I have never felt more trapped in a situation in my life.  I have no college degree and can’t go back to working in a bike shop for $25k a year.  I don’t have the confidence that anybody else would see the value of hiring me.  I realized that the only way that I was ever going to make a lot of money was to own my own business.  The seed was planted.

Luckily, a man named Ray Stover who owned DST, inc visited me to sell us a new computer system.  Over lunch he told me that he would GIVE us the system ($125,000!!!) if I agreed to come work for him within 2 years.  I started to realize that I was wrong.  I actually did have value!!!  He showed the confidence in me that my father did not and changed my mindset about the position I was in.  About a month later, after walking out of an extremely nasty argument with Dad, I called him up and asked him if the offer was still on the table.  It was, and I left the family business to work for DST.  Ray apologized to me about the salary he offered me, which was almost 50k a year more than what Dad was paying me.  I started to realize that I really wasn’t as dumb as I had been brought up to believe.  After less than a year I was hired by an internet startup, Point 5 Technologies for even more money.  I loved that job and really liked the people that I worked with.

Since I was now making decent money I did what everybody told me I was supposed to do.  Amy and I met with a financial planner who advised us to invest in mutual funds.  We started putting $500 a month into the funds, even though the market was not doing well.  We were told to just be patient, ride it out, and in 30 years we would have 1.4567 (or whatever) million dollars to retire with.  It didn’t take long for me to see that it just didn’t make sense. 

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One day, after looking at our mutual fund statement, I told Amy that I wanted to use the $500 to buy a motorcycle to fix up and resell, rather that put into our funds.  We did, and sold it within a week, making a few hundred dollars.  I thought, if I could just do this a couple of times a month it would pay off way better than the mutual funds.  I started buying more bikes and fixing them up in my garage, with my buddy Jeremy helping with the mechanical work.  I had a lot of fun doing it in my spare time and soon I had a garage full of bikes.

Unfortunately Point 5 was not able to raise the capital that they needed to continue and I received a call from the CEO around Thanksgiving of 2001 saying that they were going to call it quits at the end of the year.  I had been wracking my brain for the last 2 years trying to figure out how I was going to own my own business and all off a sudden I realized that I had already been doing it!!  Amy and I talked and we decided that we were going to go for it.  I wasn’t going to try to find another job, I was going to turn this little side project into a business.  “The Collectable Trader, LLC” was born (we later became National Powersports as I grew tired of calls asking if I sold baseball cards) on January 2, 2002.

At this point my only Vision for the business (remember, this post is about vision?) was to just make money.  Amy and I had no employees and we worked from sun up till sun down and beyond.  Jeremy continued to help me at night after he worked his regular job.  We had a blast finding old bikes, fixing them up, and riding them a bit before we sold them.

There were two books that were extremely influential on me at this point.  One was “Rich Dad Poor Dad” which I had read the previous year.  It got me to start thinking about how money was actually made, in a different way than I had thought before.  The other was a little book called “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber.  It is a story about why most small business’s fail and it taught me an incredibly important lesson.  I needed to work ON my business as well as IN my business.  So at night, after traveling to buy motorcycles, working on them, selling them and being on the phone all day, I spend time doing things like writing job descriptions for all the different tasks I was doing and working on what the business was going to look like (Vision…) in the future.

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Emyth book
One day while looking at the E-Myth website I saw that they offered a program called the “e-Myth Mastery Program”.  It was a guided program with weekly calls to a coach and a workbook to use.  It was $500.  $500 was a huge amount of money to me at this point.  At this point Amy and I had a very small savings and no other income.  Our idea of a big date was a dinner of Ramen pride soup and a six pack of Budweiser. With $500 I could by another motorcycle and make money off it.   I agonized over buying into the program, but I had this overwhelming feeling that I should do it.  So in October, with Amys blessing and after 10 months officially in business, I bought into the program.

The first workbook in the program was called “Finding your Primary Aim”.  I really don’t want to make this post an advertisement for the E-Myth program.  I’m not going to get into all of the details of the program.  What I will tell you is that I couldn’t seem to separate what I wanted for the business vs. what I wanted out of my life. This is a theme that I have noticed with many people.  When push comes to shove, most of us really can’t answer what we really want out of life.  We all want to be rich.  We all want to be happy.  So what.  Not many of us can truly state, in a simple sentence, what we want.

After going through working for my Dad, I found it very easy to list out the things that I didn’t want.  So I started there.  Those things flowed out of me like water. I wrote that I didn’t want: “A Boss, To be around people that don’t tell the truth, financial worries, to be around close minded people, to be around negative people, to get unfit – out of shape, to be bored, to be ignored, to be isolated, to be disorganized, to procrastinate, to be around lazy people.”

And then I had an epiphany.  On the paper in the workbook that said “The essence of my Primary Aim is….” I wrote, “To always have the courage to tell the truth”.  I knew it was right from the moment I wrote it down.  Here was something that I could apply to everything in my life.  To the business, to the relationships around me, to everything current and in the future.  It became my guiding principle.  And it transformed the way I approached the business. (During my speech I took out the paper and showed it.  As I read it I had to choke back tears).

Now it wasn’t just about making money.  I had a bigger obligation to fulfill.  If I wanted the business to reflect my primary aim then I had to go about building the systems to make sure it did just that.  I started to write condition reports that explained everything I knew about the motorcycle.  And that also meant that I had to develop more thorough processes as well.   My vision for what I wanted to create was getting stronger, but only on an emotional level.  The next exercise is what really helped create the true “Vision”.

The next workbook was titled “Your Strategic Objective”.  Now this was starting to look like work.  I actually had a hard time with this workbook. I’m a “wing it” type of guy.  Making me think about and define  “Company size and growth objectives” and “Market Positioning” was extremely difficult.  Yet, at the end of the workbook I wrote my Strategic Objective paper.  And it is incredible to read today.  At this time the business was doing about $15k per month and I had just hired my first employee to go pick up bikes because I didn’t have time to do it anymore.  I was working out of my garage still.  But after going through the workbook I was forced to create a vision of the future.  I wrote this:

“Within 10 years TCT (The Collectable Trader) will be a multi-state wholesale purchasing company of used motorcycles from other dealerships.  TCT will enable the growth of its partners by giving them a system to take in trades, thus enabling a sale of vehicles that they would have previously turned away.  We will have a system of agents within those areas that will facilitate the inspection and pick up of those trades.  We will have a distribution center to prepare these vehicles for resale.  Our vehicles, when ready for sale, will be fully inspected and certified, and all information known (good OR bad) will be revealed to our potential buyers.  Our primary method to market our vehicles will be the web, but regardless of where we sell we will always reveal the full known information of these vehicles. TCT will guarantee that our vehicles are in the condition that we represent and we will have a reputation for honesty and truth.  Our customers will appreciate our approach to the point were they will be hesitant to buy a vehicle from anybody else.  Our gross sales will exceed $10,000,000 at a gross profit of above 20%.  We will employee people who crave to work in an environment where they can tell the truth.  We will always continue to develop methods to discover and reveal more information about the vehicles that we sell.”
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This is the actual paper that I wrote
As I wrote this I created a picture in my mind of exactly what the business looked like when it was finished.  It was a vision in the most literal sense.  I was forced to dream and create a picture.  To this day, I still hold that picture in my mind and it is as clear today as the day I wrote that paper.  I can open the door to the shop, know how the bikes are laid out, see how the lighting is.  I know the font on the signs that hang down from the ceiling.  I know where the reception desk is located.  I know what it smells like!  This paper is almost a perfect definition of what we are today.


Over the years many people have asked me if I ever am happy.  They see me as somebody who is never satisfied with how things are.  The truth is that I am very happy, I’m just have not finished what I've started yet.  The picture for what it looks like when it is done is has not been realized yet.  It is certainly getting closer though.  I am simply connecting the dots from where I am now to finishing creating that picture in my head.  Oh, and In 2011, our tenth year in business, we had gross sales of $9,900,000.  Pretty damn close….

The whole point is that I had to WORK to create that vision.  It didn’t just come to me.  I had to do the hard work of forcing myself to define what it is that I wanted.  That’s the first step in creating your vision, and subsequently getting what you want out of life.  You have to create your Vision through hard work.

So, how do you go about doing just that?  How do you create your own unique vision for financial prosperity?  Click here for Part II….

3 comments:

Mike B. said...

Hi Nate, your post is excellent and your story in general really hits home with me and is truly inspiring. I'm 47, have been running 12 years with 13 marathons under my belt and 1 50k. I'm trying to break into the ultra scene but it has not been easy. My wife and I moved to mid-mich. to open a fast food rest. franchise which is very popular in many areas but ours is a new market. We've been in business 5.25 years and although we are growing, we still don't have the sales volume and it's tough. I can run in the afternoon which is great but the stress sometimes makes my runs feel like there's a "C" clamp around my chest. I think I read in a recent post from you that you talked about how great it is to have "broken through". I think I'm only a few more years away from this. I am enjoying my running as much as possible but the stress causes injuries and cortisol weight to not come off. I guess my whole post is centered around the idea that I feel you can certainly relate to what I'm talking about. Please tell me to hang in there and tell me some more how great it is to get to that really good place business-wise. By the way, I really like Rich Dad as well!

Nathan Sanel said...

Mike,
Thanks for taking the time to comment. I know about the stress that you are experiencing. I look at my running as a huge factor in dealing with stress. Try to look at it that way. It is the one thing that you can do for yourself that nobody can take away. I too have had runs that I cut short because I was so worked up over something at my business that I couldn't concentrate, so I understand. I really urge you to read the E-Myth that I talked about in the post. And, oh yea, HANG IN THERE!!!
Nate

Soekawan Holip said...

Wonderful posts, both of them. Four thumbs up