Wednesday Walk: Loving What You Do
Welcome to Willoughby Hills!
In case you missed it, I rebranded Quarantine Creatives to provide a bigger umbrella for writing that is no longer just about the pandemic.
While the name of the newsletter may have changed, the format will still be very familiar. Wednesday Walks will continue every week, where I share random thoughts and tidbits, with links to let you do some exploring.
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I hope this first week of 2023 is off to a good start for you. Here in the Northeast, we’re coming off of a few days of unexpectedly warm weather, which gave me a chance to tackle an early RV project.
Our motorhome came with three skylights which crank open to allow for some ventilation, although when it gets hot in the summer, they don’t lower the inside temperature as much as I’d hoped.
Back in November, I purchased some mechanical vent fans on sale. These particular models are made by MaxxAir, they operate off 12volt power (meaning I don’t need to be at a campsite to run them), and they have a built in rain shield that allow the vents to remain open and the fans to run in all weather.
I hadn’t planned to install these until the spring, but the warm weather was a good opportunity to get ahead of some of my RV projects before camping season starts.
We’re coming up on two years of RV ownership and are really starting to find our groove as campers, understanding what projects are necessities for the way we like to camp.
For example, we learned that we prefer staying with Harvest Hosts instead of busy campgrounds. Harvest Hosts sites are usually located at small family farms (though they can also be at wineries, museums, and golf courses). We are often the only campers on site, or are one of two or three families.
The only downside to Harvest Hosts locations are they do not offer any kind of hookups for electricity, water, or sewer. This meant that last summer, we did a lot of camping without air conditioning.
We stayed with Harvest Hosts for about 15 nights last year and experienced wineries, alpaca farms, and even a rural airport in West Virginia. For our family, these new vent fans mean greater comfort while staying off grid.
Also, as an aside, we just learned that as a fourth grader, my daughter (and our whole family) gets free admission to all National Parks through Every Kid Outdoors, so we’re starting to make our wishlist of places to visit this summer.
Turning the Page
A few weeks ago, I wrote about doing some Black Friday shopping at Barnes and Noble. I happened to visit a location in Pennsylvania that seemed preserved in the 1990s. At I wrote at the time:
“A store like this, with its two levels jammed with books, used to blow my mind as a teenager. Now, it felt oddly quaint in the era of Amazon. I wanted to root for this bookstore to survive, even if it seemed of a very different era.”
As it turns out, Barnes and Noble is actually on the upswing at the moment, which surprised me in the original piece:
“While my impression is that they are on the decline, Barnes and Noble opened 16 new stores this year (including converting two vacated Amazon Books brick and mortar stores in Massachusetts) and has another 30 in development for 2023.”
It turns out that Barnes and Noble’s recovery is no fluke.explored this topic in a recent issue of his newsletter , and if my little blurb on Barnes and Noble captured your attention, you'll definitely want to read Ted's piece.
Ted captures the improbability of Barnes and Noble succeeding by describing just how vanilla these stores seem in our collective consciousness:
“Barnes & Noble is no tech startup, and is about as un-cool as retailers get. It’s like The Gap, but for books. The company was founded in 1886, and it flourished during the 20th century.”
The key for reviving Barnes and Noble was making a key leadership change at the top, hiring James Daunt as CEO in 2019.
Daunt had already turned around the British bookseller Waterstones by giving more control to local stores, rather than a corporate book buyer. He also ended discounting programs which may have devalued books and refused to take promotional money from publishers to promote certain books in store. This led to a more thoughtful curation of what lined the shelves and a more pleasant shopping experience for the consumer.
Several months after Daunt took the reins, the pandemic upended many businesses. Rather than seeing the decreased foot traffic in stores as a problem, he saw it as an opportunity. According to Gioia:
“…Daunt used the pandemic as an opportunity to ‘weed out the rubbish’ in the stores. He asked employees in the outlets to take every book off the shelf, and re-evaluate whether it should stay. Every section of the store needed to be refreshed and made appealing.”
Daunt has made some smart strategic decisions, but according to Gioia, Daunt’s simple love of books may be at the heart of BN’s turnaround:
“Of course, there’s a lesson here. And it’s not just for books. You could also apply it to music, newspapers, films, and a host of other media.
But I almost hate to say it, because the lesson is so simple.
If you want to sell music, you must love those songs. If you want to succeed in journalism, you must love those newspapers. If you want to succeed in movies, you must love the cinema.”
Daunt’s leadership successes also bring to mind the flip side: leadership missteps, particularly that of recently ousted Disney CEO Bob Chapek.
Tom Bricker from Disney Tourist Blog offers honest and unvarnished takes of what Disney does well and poorly, especially in the theme parks. Bricker wrote this last month in an article titled “Bob Chapek Did Not ‘Get’ Disney:”
“To put it in the cheesiest—but true—way possible: Chapek didn’t believe in the Magic of Disney, and that made it impossible for him to make others believe. To the contrary, his words actively eroded the Magic of Disney for many who once believed. In a nutshell, this is how Chapek lost–by not understanding what made the company he ran so special to so many…
To be sure, Chapek invoked normal terms from the Disney lexicon about ‘magic’ and offering an unparalleled guest experience, but his delivery always came across as incredibly scripted and as if he were going through the motions—he read the words from a script, but probably didn’t believe them or pay them much mind when making decisions.”
Whether a leader is passionate or doesn’t quite understand what differentiates their product, their attitudes have a tendency to trickle down through the company and inform the front line culture.
In the case of BN, it seems Daunt was able to reawaken the love of books that likely drove employees to apply for a job at the bookseller in the first place. That passion and care ultimately get transferred to the customer too, leading to repeat business.
Last week, I talked about hoping to dehydrate some pig feet to give to our new puppy as chew toys. We are meeting with our vet this weekend and I will discuss this more with her, but in the meantime, I wanted to share something else that has worked well for us.
We were in a pet store the other day, and they were selling sweet potato dog chews made with “only 1 ingredient” (sweet potatoes).
At the end of the season last year, we had bought a 20 pound bag of sweet potatoes from Hutchins Farm and are only about half way through it. So rather than buy the pre-made sweet potato treats, I tried to make them.
I’m happy to report that our dog loves them! They’re just stiff enough that he has to struggle with them for a bit to really chew them, which is helping him as his teeth grow in and gives him a diversion for a few minutes.
I simply sliced the sweet potato into pieces about 1/4” thick, then put them in our Instant Pot with an Air Fryer lid on the dehydrate setting (160ºF for about 6 hours). I had read that cutting them in rounds is better for puppies, but they’re a little small and I will probably cut the sweet potatoes length-wise next time.
It’s taken me a while to build the confidence to see something on a store shelf and realize that I can probably make it, but I’m so glad that I’m no longer afraid to try. If I mess up and completely fail, the worst case is that I wasted two sweet potatoes. But if I do well, I’ve made a local, organic treat for my dog and saved some money along the way. That’s a wager worth making for me!
Thank you for reading! I always love hearing your thoughts, so please drop a line in the comments.
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Other Wednesday Walks
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