For 43 years, Our Town America has been providing new movers with traditional hospitality by mailing warm gifts from neighborhood businesses in a premium gift package. And, thirteen years ago this Friday, when I wrote my first blog post on this website about a franchise, it was about Our Town America. That original post is now long gone, but Our Town America is still around. And this week, I finally got a chance to speak with the CEO Michael Plummer Jr.
Hi Michael, thanks for doing this interview. Glad we finally got the chance. So, where did the idea for Our Town America come from?
My father started the company in 1972. He discovered the power of welcoming new movers when he was running a pizza shop. He started with sending physical welcoming baskets as a one-time gift welcoming people to the neighborhood. He started to see new faces that would soon become loyal customers and bring in hundreds of dollars a year.
How did you bring it to life?
My father was the one who brought the company to life. Growing up, I helped where I could. In 2009, when my father passed away unexpectedly, I decided that carrying on his dream was the only choice there was. He did an incredible job running this establishment; I can only hope I do half as great a job as he did.
Where do you see Our Town America in five years?
Expanding with new relative offerings. Still remaining true to our special niche but expanding into other frontiers. Can’t say much more without spilling the beans.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Not sure much of anything. After being in the industry as long as we have, our pitfalls, bumps, and bruises along the way were lessons learned that helped build us to whom we are today. While hiccups may not be pleasant, they are valuable learning experiences. Not to mention, what you do during the more difficult times really helps define who you are in getting through them.
What does your typical day look like?
It’s pretty simple; I usually check the Internet for daily news, grab a quick breakfast, and say goodbye to my wife and daughters and head to the office. The first thing I do when get there is grab some coffee, walk around and say good morning to everyone. Then dive into emails, meetings and calls.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Keeping it local. Supporting the local businesses in your area. Remember that franchises are also locally represented ownership many times as well. It is great seeing these entrepreneurs supported. It is not easy for everyone being your own boss. It is tough out there sometimes and folks need to find a special way to stand out of the crowd. This dovetails into our own philosophy and what we do in reaching out on behalf of the neighborhood to the new families in the area.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
One of the best pieces of advice I ever had was you learn something from everyone and every situation good or bad. You learn either what to do or not to do. As far as a worst job, I have been a bellman at a hotel, animal cruelty investigator, and combat field medic in the Army. But by far the worst for me was working as a beach cabana boy. On my first day, a thunderstorm hit, and I chased umbrellas around a beach all day. The torrential downpour washed off all my sunscreen and the beating sun that followed left me blistered, burnt and tired. I lasted one day and I quit. I learned I needed a real job and direction. I was 18 years old and soon after enrolled in college. I wanted to work smarter not harder.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do, too?
Stay up to date with current trends and topics in your industry. The moment you think you know it all is when you will fall behind. Learn about all you can. I find myself versed in every aspect of my business. May be an inch or so deep and a mile wide in some areas but it helps you know the right questions to ask. Is this the right direction? Are you being snowballed? Chasing a fad or something that is stable? Either way, you want to have a pulse on as much as you can. The learning really never stops.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Leadership can be tough at any level. A big lesson learned is in letting someone remain onboard too long when they should be let go. It can poison an environment you worked hard to create and can set bad examples to others as they wonder why this is being accepted. There were times in the past I had let my heart over rule what I know needed to be done. It is a disservice to the individual, the company morale and yourself. Make the right decision and execute it in the proper time frame. Leadership is about making the right and necessary decision for the business and those are not always the popular or fun ones.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Reach out to the new folks in your community. They need you as much as you need them. There is an anti social trend in our “social” society where that personal connection is even more valuable today. Folks would rather digitally touch someone rather than reach out personally. People want to be noticed, recognized and appreciated. Reach out to new residents in the community and you will always stand out from the rest.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Ignorance. As humans, we assume others are similar to ourselves. I have lived all over and around the world in the Army. Realizing the gifts and things we have available to us in this great country are not things available to the masses in other parts of the world. I would suggest reading and learning about others. Remember what makes this country so great and what it took to us to get here. Be a part of the solution and not the problem.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Peer groups. I am a big believer in C level groups where you I can speak with folks who face similar scenarios in their daily lives. Although they are different businesses you can get some good, unbiased advice from folks without a direct interest in your business.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Tough one because I have read so many I have benefited from. If there was a single starting point I would suggest Good to Great. Covers the base of what all leaders should know and has great insight on why things should be done in certain ways. Again, this is a starting point as there are so many others like the Jack Welch series to even Sun Zu that offer different angles on leadership and business.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I laugh often. I recently played some pranks on folks at the office for Halloween. I hid some fake cockroaches on keyboards, fake snakes in lunch bags, etc. Stupid I admit, but the random screams throughout the day produced some good laughs. We have a good environment in our office, thankfully.
Do you (or did you ever) have a mentor?
Many over time. From one of my high school teachers, an old platoon Sargent and then my Father, as I was older. Each one was appropriate for me at the time I needed them. To this day I still remember, and hopefully still live by, the lessons I learned from each of them.
Tell us a secret.
There really isn’t a thing such as luck outside of gambling. Fortune is something you have a hand in making happen. Opportunities are always available to those who are looking for it.
What’s the website where people can find out more about Our Town America?
- If you’re interested in opening an Our Town America franchise, check out: http://www.ourtownamerica.com/franchise-us/
Where can people find Our Town America on social media?
You can check us out on all 6 of our social media platforms:
Thanks again Michael for doing this. I hope that we can connect again in the future!