Help Us, Help You

By Griffin Jones

Business owners are the captains of their own ship. They are in the weeds. They don’t get paid until all of the bills are paid. Most of the time that’s overwhelming. When that bottom line is threatened, how could you possibly think about anything other than your immediate survival? That is the eternal dilemma that  usually dooms small businesses. By focusing on their survival, they’re focused only on their problem. In business, that problem is perceived as self-interest. We as human beings, are not drawn to, or compelled by others’ self-interest. I had the pleasure of meeting Tony Conte, President of Shea’s Performing Arts Center. He became president at one of Shea’s lowest points. Their survival was in immediate danger. Many business owners would just desperately beg people to patronize their business at that point. Reasonably, that problem would consume them. But I took a lesson from the examples Tony mentioned of Shea’s turnaround. He immediately started looking for ways to solve other people’s problems. He talked to all of his employees, from the ushers to the custodians, asking them what they would like to see in sales and marketing. He reached out to third parties’ who needed space for housing prom dresses, and provided his wardrobe staff for alterations.

charlie brown

Now that Shea’s is back in the black, they’re helping to solve yet another problem: the former Studio Arena Theater. They’re solving our problem (Buffalonians not having to look at another heart-breaking shell of something that once was). And they’re solving the problem of local theater companies who occasionally need larger space for their productions. That’s what makes me interested as a customer. That’s why I’ll go there. Helping someone else’s needs is the only way to get people (customers) to care. If we want to be successful in this area, we have to genuinely solve Buffalo’s problems, one at a time. Expect something in return, and be disappointed  Self-interest is as clear as day, and it’s not the “all-in” that people are longing for. No bones about it, that can be really hard. Sometimes we get nothing in return, and we’re fighting to make it for ourselves. But if you really care about solving the problem, then the reward is in and of itself. And that’s what makes us care about you.

By the way, the reason Tony was asked to take on the job of President…he volunteered there for thirty years.

What problems do we need to focus on right now as a city?


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