Rocky Romanella began a 36-year career with UPS in 1976 as a part-time loader and unloader. From there, he climbed the ranks and became The President and General Manager of UPS Supply Chain Solutions. After retiring from the largest transportation and logistics company in the world, Rocky went on to serve as Chief Executive Officer and Director for UniTek Global Services, a mid-cap telecommunications solutions company. Rocky brings over 40 years of executive business leadership to today’s podcast and I believe that you will get so much value out of it.
Rocky Romanella Says Build Your Business, One Win At A Time
We have a very interesting guest, a gentleman who has attained some incredible success and has a lot to share with us. His name is Rocky Romanella. He was born in New York City, raised in New Jersey in an Italian family. He began a 36-year career with UPS on June 15, 1976 as a part-timer loading and unloading boxes. From there, Romanella climbed the ranks to become President and General Manager of UPS Supply Chain Solutions. After retiring from the largest transportation and logistics company in the world, Rocky went on to serve as Chief Executive Officer and Director for UniTek GlobalServices, a mid-cap telecommunication solutions company. Rocky, I’m blown away by your incredible success and career. I just can’t wait to speak to you. Thank you for appearing on the show.
Mitch, it’s an honor and a pleasure to be here. Thank you very much for having me on the show.
Rocky, what we really do with a show like this is we are here to serve our entrepreneurs. The people that are going to be most interested in what we have to say are those who are building a business. The reason they are, is because they want to learn what you and what we’ve done to create successful businesses. We’re going to start at the very beginning. Why don’t you get into a little bit about how you started your company and how you grew it and how you started to acquire clients when you first got going and really where things took off?
Just a little bit more from a credibility perspective, one of my interesting opportunities inside of UPS is UPS purchased Mailboxes Etc. and then later rebrand it to The UPS Store. I had the opportunity to have that business unit as part of my responsibility. Inside of The UPS Store in particular, it’s completely franchisee-owned. There are no company-owned stores. Through that opportunity, I really got the opportunity and chance to meet many, many great entrepreneurs, individuals who owned one store to two stores, individuals who owned five, six, ten stores or a whole area. That really gave me an opportunity to appreciate and understand the entrepreneurial spirit. That certainly helps out in these kinds of conversations as well. It’s not just the big company that people look sometimes and say, “You work for a large corporation like UPS. You really don’t understand what I’m going through as a new entrepreneur.”
Now, in my new small business venture of 3SIXTY Management Services, I’m getting the opportunity to live out a lot of the things I saw from the entrepreneurs. I believe, regardless of the size of your business, you really need to start out with, “Who is your customer?” I think that’s so important. That concept of who your customer is and what are you solving for with this product or service that you are bringing to the market. So often people have a vision, they have a view. They believe they have something that the industry or the marketplace wants but they really don’t know who their customer is. If I could give you an example of that is, when we were doing a solution inside of UPS on our healthcare and we’re meeting with a large healthcare customer and we asked the question, “Who is the customer?” Everybody looks at you and they smile a little bit and they think, “This is that generic question that everybody has to ask.” Then when you drill down a little further, it really becomes such an important question because in that group, there were three different answers.
One group of people said, “It’s the CVS, Rite Aid. It’s the group of people who are going to distribute our products.” Another group said, “It’s the vendors. It’s the individuals who are making the product.” Then finally a third group said, “It’s the end-users. It’s the patient.” That’s so important to understand who the customer is because then the solution that you put forward changes dramatically and the metrics that you hold yourself accountable. For example, if it’s a CVS or Rite Aid or Walgreens, having a 99% on-time delivery performance sounds really good. If you are the end-patient as the customer, then you don’t want to be the one patient that didn’t get their product. I think as an entrepreneur and you’re beginning to start your own business and you believe you have a product that the marketplace needs, wants or desires, the question is, “Who is the customer? What are you solving for?” Then once you get those two, what’s so important then is you have to make the decision on what will you compromise? That’s an important point in this evolution of who the customer is? Maybe I’ll stop there, Mitch, and see if those three makes some sense.
They do, Rocky, and I have a third question that I ask my entrepreneurs when I work with them and that question is a very simple one, “So what?” You have your target client defined, you pretty much know what you’re going to deliver to the marketplace now, “So what? Who cares? Why? Where is the demand? Are you trying to offer something where you’re going to create demand?” That’s what we call the missionary sell and that’s very hard. Instead, we’re looking to satisfy a demand that’s already there and maybe hasn’t had it satisfied in a way that is as applicable or as attractive as your solution. Those are all great questions. Let’s go back to The UPS Store. I think that’s going to help us really dig into where the value is for our listeners. When you start with a new UPS Store, it’s pretty obvious you put the words UPS outside and sooner or later people are going to start walking in. I have a feeling there’s a lot more to it than that. Can you describe how you get new customers outside of just being a store and a storefront?
That’s an absolute great question because what happens is the brand. The brand is going to drive a certain amount of traffic. In fact, if you think about it, that’s why people buy a franchise for example in any of the venues or any of the industry versus starting their own. If you want to be the complete 100% entrepreneur, it’s Rocky Romanella’s Hotdog or Hamburgers. If you buy the brand McDonald’s, there’s a certain amount that you get with that. It just begins there. The UPS Store begins there. Then you really have to look at your suite of products and services. For example, there’s the obvious shipping because of the name The UPS Store but there’s Mailboxes. Now, you have to manage your mailboxes and start to drive traffic to your mailboxes. Most people don’t understand, “What do I get from a mailbox rental? Why do I need a mailbox rental?” It’s the ability for you in your world there as an entrepreneur to get people to understand what your product and service is and what differentiates your product and service from everyone else.
Down the street, the post office obviously has a mailbox but you have a mailbox. What differentiates you? What’s the value that you bring? What’s the value add that you get from having a mailbox at The UPS Store versus having it at a post office? The mistake that people make by not differentiating themselves is they become a commodity. It really gets down to price then. If I don’t know the difference between a mailbox at a UPS Store and a mailbox at the USPS, then it’s really down to price. If I understand the differentiator or the value that I bring as an entrepreneur is that at The UPS Store, I have a mailbox. Packages get accepted there on behalf of myself. I have a relationship with The UPS Store owner. Many of the store owners will call you when the package comes in. Besides holding it, they’ll give you a text and say, “Your package is here.” It’s all those value-added things that come from having a mailbox at The UPS Store for example versus the USP. I think that differentiator is so important. One of the mistakes that often happens when you’re starting your business is you believe in your heart you have a great product. You believe it’s needed in the marketplace, but you don’t do a very good job of differentiating yourself from everyone else. You’ve got to work at it. Let’s face it, there’s no substitute for hard work. Entrepreneurs know that. Some of that hard work is knocking on doors. Some of it is putting yourself in that chamber of commerce meeting, Business Roundtables that happens. Frankly, it’s a lot of signals. Everybody wants to go whale hunting. Everybody wants the big whale. Everybody wants the large customer. The reality is you build your business one win at a time and many of those wins are small wins.
It’s interesting when you talk about having a product line and having traffic. When a person buys a UPS Store franchise, there’s a certain element of expectation, which is that people will walk in because of the UPS brand. This plays very well with people in small business all over because I’m hearing that if you’re already generating traffic, then increase the level of service and offer more choices. In this case, people walk into The UPS Store and there are 40, 50 or a 100 items they could purchase while there. If you have a mailbox service, that means they’re going to be there every week or twice a week and there’s going to be all those items available for them to purchase. Translating that if you have any kind of a business and traffic is starting to ramp and you’re getting more customers, start thinking about exactly what it is we’re selling next. I think that’s one of the beauties of a franchise like that, wouldn’t you agree?
I would agree and I would also add if I may, and this goes from the small business owner to the largest corporation, that one of the biggest mistake that is made is that people sometimes lose sight of the lifetime value of your customer. The customer acquisition is the hardest part. Then sadly, an entrepreneur, a UPS Store owner, any entrepreneur with big business, they acquire the customer. They have the customer, the hardest part. To your point, Mitch, they lose sight of the fact that, “How do I go deeper and wider with that customer? How do I offer more products and services?” The example would be at a UPS Store, you have a return and you drop it off. You may walk in and a UPS Store owner may look at that and say, “You’re dropping off the package. In the old days, I would have to pack the package and ship it for you.” The bright, savvy entrepreneur says, “Thank you for that package and by the way, if there’s anything else you need, if there’s a printing that you may need, if there are office supplies that you may need for your small business, please don’t hesitate to give me a call or if you need packaging later on, but thanks for dropping off that package.” That’s the entrepreneur who sees the lifetime value of a customer. That’s says, “I may not be happy that they’re not paying me over the counter shipping right now, but the lifetime value of this customer is they had a great experience. They’re going to come back again and I’m going to have a longer term relationship with the customer.
I think too often, you walk into a food place and you’re just getting a soda and the franchisee looks at you and like, “Really? You’re not going to get a sandwich? You’re not going to get a pizza? You’re not going to get something else to go with it?” You’re like, “I just want a coke right now.” It’s the way you approach me that said, “I’m not going back here again.” It’s that moment, I just wanted a soda but they looked at me like, “I really don’t make a lot of money on just a soda.” It’s understanding the lifetime value of your customer base that you’ve acquired this customer, they’re in your place of business, and you want them to come back again. The way they come back again to your point is expanding the service by giving them more choices but making them feel like they’re valued.
What I want to do is explore the difference between the first month in business and the eleventh month in business. I’m trying to understand the actual pathway that a new store would take once they open. We have a good idea of how a store opens, but tell us what they do differently than what they did in the beginning eleven months later.
A couple of things have to happen in both not only in the UPS store scenario but also in any business. Whether it’s when we are building the Supply Chain business at UPS to things that we were doing at UniTek. One of the key things you have to keep in the back of your mind is what are your boundaries and what are the things that you won’t compromise? They’ve got to stay there remaining in the back of your mind because those are going to be your stage case. Those are going to be the things that keep you on the rail. Those are going to be the two questions. What happens is, if in month eleven things aren’t going exactly the way you had hope they would go. It may have been unintended consequences in the marketplace. It could be just a downturn in the economy. It could just be that it’s a slow time. A better example, you opened in November, you got through Christmas. It was exactly the feeling you had hoped for, but now you’re in June, July and August and you just don’t have that traffic in the summer months and it’s month eleven.
By knowing what you won’t compromise and what your boundaries are, it keeps you on the guardrail. What you don’t want to do is go too far student body left, student body right. People tend to do that. What I mean by that is you have a list of products and services that you sell inside your store. If you’re a food store, if you’re a McDonald’s if I could use them as the example, the next thing you know is you’re not selling pizza. You’re nervous about getting revenue and you decide, “What if I have pizza here? Wouldn’t that be great?” That’s not what the profile of the franchise is or that’s not what your store is all about. When you start to feel the pressure of not being on plan and if you don’t know what you’re boundaries are and what you won’t compromise, you tend to get yourself out of your sweet spot and then what happens is, you start to really divide and conquer yourself.
When you hit that wall, it’s no different than a runner. You’re going to hit a wall in your growth. You have to make sure you know who you are, what you won’t compromise, what you stand for and then say, “Why am I not achieving the results I had hoped for or believed I was moving towards? Is it a downturn in the economy? Do I have to expand my marketing base? Do I have to go into a different group of customers for me?” For example, when it comes to printing if I’m inside The UPS Store, right now, I do on the glass. You walk in and you do one or two. “Maybe I need to go to small businesses and see, who does your printing? Do you really want to have printers feeding off 20, 30, 40 booklets at a time or do you bring them to me?” You may have to expand the group of people that you’re going to interact with, but you’re still doing printing if that makes sense. The problem is going to be is if you say to them, “While I’m here, I’ll clean your office as well.” Now, you’re outside of your boundaries and you’re probably in violation of your franchise agreement but more importantly, you just compromise who you are and what you stand for and what you do best. The key is when you hit the wall, try to understand those things about yourself and try not to go too far right or left because that student body left, student body right just sends more havoc in your organization.
I’ll translate that down to one word. Everything you said is everything I agree with. I call that having the vision; the vision of your business, the trajectory of your business. Understanding what you did and where you’re going with it. If you do that and if you understand that, that means to me that you have clarity about your path. Let’s go back again to that moment in time when we’re at a store and the store has a bad experience. Now, I’m sure there are people who bought these franchises and they failed and shut it down. I’d like to understand what those failures were and what they did wrong from your perspective?
From my perspective, it’s hard to generalize but I would say it really comes down to you have to work the store. To your point, the brand drives your traffic but there’s only a certain amount of traffic and it’s very cyclical if you think about, “It’s going to be Christmas. You’re going to get the traffic. You’re going to get the traffic some time right after the New Year on returns and you’re going to get some traffic in the Mother’s Day, Easter time, Spring Break timeframe.” Then the question is, “Those are natural events that are going to drive me traffic as an entrepreneur. That’s going to get me to a certain level. If I want to have breakthrough results, if I want to drive right through that and to your point, have a vision and a strategy to get there, I want to drive past it, I want to double my revenue in the next few years because I have the opportunity to do that from a growth, then I have to go outside of my comfort zone and leave the store. I’m going to have to knock on some doors. I’m going to have to put myself in those uncomfortable positions.”
Most people say, “I’m not a salesperson. I’ve never been a good salesperson. I don’t like sales. “You’re the brand, so you have no choice but to like sales. You’re going to have to get out there and meet some people and put yourself out there. When you look at store owners in any franchise or in any entrepreneurial situation, I think it really always comes down to the ability to drive traffic, the ability for themselves to get out there or outside of their comfort zone and then start to get people to understand, “What differentiates them from everybody else? Why people should utilize their product or service? How do I get repeat customers?” Then the word of mouth is still the best advertising because then they start to get people out there talking about them. Think about those small restaurants that are in hole in the wall places and yet you can’t get a reservation. It’s because that owner got himself out there. He probably stopped by every table and people start to feel like, “He or she cares about me as the customer.” You get that loyalty, you get that repeat customer. I think that’s so important.
I agree and I want to stress something that you said and that is getting uncomfortable. I can’t tell you how many people I speak to who are scared of going outside of that comfort zone. I think for all of us who have started businesses, we probably had to do that a lot. We probably had to be very uncomfortable and probably made other people uncomfortable too. What I mean by that is we have families. Sometimes we can’t be home for Christmas parties or sometimes we have to stay out late when there’s a beautiful dinner that your wife has prepared and is waiting for you. It’s this desire, this drive, this vision to push whatever you’re building forward that I believe truly makes the difference. Let’s go one step further here. Now, we have a successful store, that store probably has 1,000 clients over the course of the year and maybe more. What is it that they are doing differently now? How do they scale that business? What shifted? What is more expensive or less expensive? Give us some insights.
It’s interesting that you brought up that being uncomfortable because what happens is that uncomfortable feeling happens at every level. It happens at every milestone inside of the business. It just happens in a different place. Now, you’ve grown the business. You’ve gotten outside of your comfort zone and you’re knocking on some doors and you’re meeting people that you never probably would have met before or talk with. You’re in these round tables, all good stuff. Now, you’re starting to grow to a point where, “What’s my next uncomfortable situation?” The next uncomfortable situation is, “I have to learn how to delegate.” The thing of being a store owner is, “I’m the chief cook and bottle washer. It’s my candy store. I’m running it. I’ve got the cash register which we’re open six days a week.” In order for you to get out and continue to grow that business and maybe look at a product line that’s in the store that has good growth opportunity, you’re going to have to learn how to delegate. You’re going to have to learn how to trust. That’s an uncomfortable feeling.
Delegation is uncomfortable whether it’s in an entrepreneurial situation with one or two people or whether it’s in a major corporation where you as the leader have to know your people. You have to be a good communicator and give them the opportunity to understand the vision, the strategy and the plan so they can execute on your behalf. Very uncomfortable feeling and especially on an entrepreneurial level, “I’ve got the cash register in somebody else’s hands.” That’s the next uncomfortable feeling. You’ve grown the business and now you’re saying, “I have got to learn how to delegate and I’ve got to learn how to add employees, train them and make sure that they can execute the vision and strategy.” You grew the business because you interacted with the individuals that walked through the door and made them feel good about themselves.
The degree to which you can get everyone in your care, the three or four, five people who now work in that store on your behalf, they are the brand now. You can be the greatest brand ambassador in the world, but if the three or four other people that are interacting with your customers are not the same level of brand ambassador, that’s when you start to lose that reputation. That’s when your brand starts to get tarnished. That’s when you start to maybe get some customer turnover. That’s the next awkward, uncomfortable feeling. You are always going to be pushing yourself into new places that are going to be uncomfortable and that could be a delegation and that could be a training scenario that you have to undertake to sustain the growth and to continue to grow your business.
It’s interesting too because I call that the one-to-many translating to several-to-many equation. The reason I put it that way is because when you first start out, it’s you and your customers. As you get stronger, as your company grows, what happens next is you must bring people on board or else you’ll never be successful because you just can’t do it without delegation. We’ve all had to go through that. For me, it was a real struggle. I actually found a way to learn to delegate back when I was growing my software company. It was rough. To sit there and watch somebody flub a sale I know I could have made instantly on my own, it’s heartbreaking sometimes. It’s having done it and pushing through and getting that person well-trained and being able to perform, what you end up finding is that there are people out there who could actually do it better than you can. That’s what I love about that growing aspect of learning how to delegate.
One of the hardest skills is the whole delegation. The other thing that’s sometimes difficult is when people ask me the question, “What’s one of the things that hurt a new supervisor or manager? What are some of the things that trip them up?” I always say, “That they always believe it’s about them.” It’s not about you. It’s about your people when you’re managing a large group. In a store environment, it’s about your customer. Think about when you walk into a small store or a place of business and you have a problem and then the person that you’re talking to whether it’s an employee or the actual owner themselves and they were looking at you like, “You think you’re having a rough day. Now, you don’t know what it’s like in here. I’ve got this going on. I’ve got to pay all my bills. It’s been slow.” When your problems become the customers’ problems, they just leave. Too often as an owner or as an employee representing an organization, you project your issues, your problems on everyone else and that’s the thing. When your problems become the customers’ problems, they just simply leave. They’ve got enough of their own problems.
So far in our conversation, I think what I love so much about what you’re saying is you’re talking about the logistics and the execution of strategy but at the same time, what I’m hearing is a lot of great mindset stuff. Stuff about understanding who is really important here like you just described. That’s so critical. It’s the rookie mistake that I think a lot of us make at the beginning thinking it’s all about us and it’s not obviously. At this point in the interview, Rocky, I want you to share something that you are really excited about. If it’s a book or a business project that you’re involved in, we want to know what that is. Can you tell us?
I’m absolutely excited about my new book. It’s called Tighten the Lug Nuts. It’s really been a joy to write. Very scary at first, Mitch. You sit down and you’re staring at a piece of paper and you’re wondering, “Is anybody going to read my book? Do I have enough to write a book?” It turned out to be a great read. It started out as a grateful recognition of a wonderful career that I was very fortunate to have as well as in recognition of some of the great things my dad, who has since passed away, taught me growing up. I really do believe that those traits are such an important part of who you are and what you stand for and what you won’t compromise as a person. My dad was a great influencer on my early years and then my wife, Debbie, who has been just an excellent, excellent partner and friend and in many ways mentor for me as a business person. I wanted the ability to say thank you to those two individuals. This book gave me the opportunity to talk about some great lessons that I learned and some great experiences that I had in my 40-year career, but also recognize two very important, very significant people in my life in a way to say thank you.
The book is great from that perspective. I don’t like to talk in the first person. Throughout my career, if I was sitting in a meeting and someone would present an idea or a solution, I never liked the feeling of saying, “I think I would do it differently or I would look at it this way.” I always have this person, Joe Scafone, who became the running joke with me. I would say, “What would Joe do?” The people who knew me well over the years would actually come to a meeting and say, “I covered this with Joe already. He thinks it’s a good idea.” This Joe Scafone became the person who allowed me to ask questions and help make the situation a little bit easier and not as critical.
I write the book from the view of Joe Scafone. Joe is finishing up his career and he’s on his final airplane flight home from a meeting at California. He reminisces about the 40 years of business and lessons that he learned. Fortunately for him, sitting next to him is a woman who prompts him along and asks him questions and helps make the trip a much easier and much more interesting and enjoyable trip, but also allows him the ability to think through and talk through some of the experiences. It’s a great book. I hope you like it. I hope you think it’s a great book. For me, it was a joy to write and more importantly, I think you’ll see there are some great stories in there. At the very least when you put the book down at the end, I think you’ll have a smile from the many stories that are in the book. It’s called Tighten the Lug Nuts. It’s online at Amazon, at Barnes & Noble and Kindle and NOOK. It’s been a lot of fun.
Great to hear it and I can’t wait to read the book. I’m so interested in the story now. You’ve got me all excited about it. I’ve got to get the book. Tighten the Lug Nuts, it sounds like it has a story behind the title as well.
Yes. I won’t give you that. If I could just add one more thing, the thing I’m the most proud of though since the book has come out is I’ve gotten some really nice feedback and it sold really well. That’s been a great plus and it’s really been a great feeling. I’ve gotten some wonderful emails and notes from people who have read the book or have come to our website and sent me a note on our website about the book saying, “I put the book down and I picked up the phone and called my dad and started talking to my dad.” Mitch, that has been the greatest feeling. If somehow, someway somebody connects with their parent or their father and this book got the chance to do that, it’s a homerun for me.
I can’t wait to read the book and for everyone, how could you go wrong with a book like this? Run out there and grab it. We have one more question. I call it the grand finale. The reason I call it the grand finale because I’m going to ask you to dig a little deep here. This is my change the world question. What are you doing or would like to do that has the potential to literally change the world?
I believe that through the book and through the speaking engagements that I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have, it gives me a chance to interact with people as well as through the consulting. I think the simple message out there is that simple acts of kindness are what make the difference. I think that too often out there, we get ourselves in these positions that everything is a zero-sum game. There either has to be a winner or a loser. What I mean by that is if we disagree on something, I might fill in what my dad used to always say, “You can disagree without being disagreeable.” It’s the same thing. Not everything has to be, “I won or you won.” We can disagree. We can walk away and say, “I respectfully disagree but I understand your point but I may not necessarily agree with it.” One of the things I’m hoping that happens through the book and through interaction with myself or our little consulting business is that people start to understand that the best evaluation you’re going to get as an individual is, “Are you a good person? Do you do the right things because of the right things to do? Do you care enough about your people that you’re going have simple gestures of, “Hello, goodbye, thank you, I really appreciate the job you did yesterday.” I think that to me would be one of greatest things that comes out of all this.
It’s an aspiration. If one person talks to their dad for the first time in years or has a different kind of conversation and feels really good about it, then I think that that’s a changing event. I think that’s what makes people successful. It’s not the number of plaques you have on the wall or the titles that you got, people that are hung up on titles, CEO or a Board Member. I’ve got the greatest title, Mitch, I’ve ever had in my life. It’s grandpa. Stop making it so much about yourself. Stop making it so much about where you are and what you’ve accomplished and make it a little bit more about, “Are you a good person? Do you try to perform those simple acts of kindness that makes it just a little bit better for everybody?” That to me would be a great changing event in the world today.
Rocky Romanella, you have shared some incredible wisdom and experience. I really appreciate us being together and talking. If there is anybody out there who either before or after reading the book would like to get a hold of you, how would they do that?
Go to our website, www.3SIXTYManagementServices.com. There’s a comment section in there. You can easily get in touch with me there. Certainly I’m on RockyRomanella@Gmail.com if they’re interested in those kinds of things. I’ve done quite a few interviews now and I like when people say, “I’ve got this situation going on in my place of business.” Most of them I will say, “Come to the website,” which is probably easier. If I can help in any way or if you get any, Mitch, you have my email, you can certainly send them over to me. If you’d like to at some point do a question and answer or something like that, I’m open to any of those of kinds of things.
That’s very generous, Rocky. Thank you again for being on the show. Listeners, go out there and grab that book because it sounds like an amazing read. Thank you, Rocky. We’ll talk again soon.
Thank you, Mitch. Have a great day and be safe.
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- UniTek Global Services
- 3SIXTY Management Services
- Tighten the Lug Nuts: The Principles of Balanced Leadership
- Rocky’s Personal Email