It happens: people get married and have a negative experience with their online wedding registry. They do not, however, usually start up a company to address the problem. George and Karaline Loiterton started Wedding List Co in 2003 to do just that. The couple had been working in London and got married in Tuscany. They set up one bridal registry for their UK guests and another one for their Australian people, and were quickly dismayed by the limited and poor offerings and lackluster customer service available in the Australian registry compared to the robust UK registry options.
The Loitertons planned to return to Australia and debated whether to get full-time jobs or start a business that might afford some freedom when they started a family. Initially, they looked into the wedding registry landscape, thinking the idea was so obvious that others must have tried it and failed due to some marketplace limitation. As fate would have it, that was not the case. So, eager to start their lives together for richer or poorer, they opted to build their own business, and Wedding List Co was born.
Wedding List Co is now Australia’s leading service provider for bridal registries. They focus on great service, unique brands, and an optimal experience for both wedding couples and wedding guests. Wedding List Co employs twenty-five staff now. A few things that distinguish their service:
- Website—the Wedding List Co’s website offers the ability to make online purchases, a feature that the major retailers in Australia currently do not offer. This is a massive competitive advantage.
- Store/Brand—the Wedding List Co store at Bondi Junction is airy, intimate, and inviting. They carry a selection of great brands—some of which are exclusive to them (there are also showrooms in Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth).
- Team/Customer Service—George Loiterton always receives positive comments on his team, especially compared to larger department stores’ service.
George is very truthful about how much hard work has gone into growing his own company. The dream of owning your own business always embraces flexibility, self-direction, and high returns. The reality, however, also includes very long hours, unexpected business curve balls, sole accountability, and risk.
Typical with a company at this size, Wedding List Co does not have a human resource department. George focuses mainly on business issues, and not so much on motivating the team. But along the way, he has developed and adopted effective management techniques to keep his employees engaged.
Here are some insights that’s he learned during his past nine years at Wedding List Co.
Creating a Culture of Trust
Striving to reflect his own values and what he wants in his life, George has tried to create a culture of trust and accountability. He likes giving employees the latitude to try new things and learn from mistakes. But on the flipside, he has employed some people who respect only the “rights” part of the equation, not their responsibility to the company. Naturally, he tries to weed out those folks. As George begins to trust workers with more flexibility, he shares with them his vision of responsibility and what that entails.
Daily 9:09 Huddle
To improve communications, George holds daily team meetings at 9:09 every morning. He adopted this idea from Verne Harnish, the founder of EO and the author of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. He chose a “unique” starting time to help make it easy to remember when the huddle begins. Furthermore, to make sure people get there on time, the last person who arrives speaks first. Everyone hears what’s going on with the company and what everyone else is working on. George also gets a quick pulse on everyone’s mood. I would highly recommend the book since I also implement techniques from it, too.
Leverage Job Description in Reviews
George Loiterton admits annual appraisals can be awkward conversations. To ease the awkwardness, he leverages the reviewee’s job description and uses that as a template for the review. Since both parties have agreed to the job description upon hiring or when someone’s role has changed, using the job-spec template helps depolarize the conversation and provide structure.
George performs these exercises once every six months. He gives each employee a week to think about the tasks that they love and loathe to do at Wedding List Co. He then reviews the list with each person, and he’s honest about whether or not it includes things that he can help with or change. These reports provide great insight into motivations and areas that do and don’t excite the staff. The process also offers employees a healthy, non-confrontational communication platform.
I agree that this is a thought-provoking and non-confrontational way to discover what motivates and demotivates the team. I also appreciate how George acknowledges when he can’t do something to help someone. At least that person knows that George is listening; George closes the loop by validating their feedback.
— David Niu
Hands-on conflict resolution
George often jumps in to put together small, ad hoc “working teams” to hammer through a specific problem, and sometimes he pulls people aside to work out communications hiccups or training needs.
George and Karaline Loiterton have created an amazing bricks-and-mortar-plus-online business over the past nine years. They jumped in feet first and built what they themselves wanted as well as what they thought the broader market needed, too. Today, customers love the staff at Wedding List Co.; George cited people as one of the company’s top three strategic assets. But at the same time, George admitted that he currently focuses more on pressing company issues than he does on his people. But right after our discussion, he was inspired to set up meetings for the next round of Love/Loathe exercises. It’s a good reminder for all managers: think about how much time is devoted to working in the business versus working on the business.