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David Brown

How 1 Percent Improvement Can Add Up to Big Profits

What you can learn from British cycling and performance director David Brailsford.




BACK IN 2003, THE Great Britain cycling team undertook a review of their performance ahead of the Athens Olympics. History had not been on their side. No British rider had ever won the prestigious Tour de France, and results in the Olympics had been underwhelming for years. They elected to bring in David Brailsford as their new performance director.

Brailsford decided to focus on the accumulation of marginal improvements. He stripped down every part of the cycling process with the objective of making a minimum 1% improvement in each area. He was aware that a series of 1% improvements could soon compound into a significant competitive advantage.

In addition to adopting better riding suits and modifying their bike seats, they determined the optimal mattress and pillow each rider needed for a good night’s sleep, and even had medical professionals provide advice on minimizing the risk of catching a cold.

Within five years, Great Britain was dominating the medal events at the Beijing Olympics, taking home 60% of those available. They also achieved five Tour de France wins within a six-year period. The success from identifying dozens of friction points both on and off the track showed an ability to recognize the many factors that can affect performance.

These principles are equally important in business. We often focus on individual or collective staff results but don’t always measure the peripheral factors that can have a huge impact on these results. Is the store open at the optimal hours? Does it accept all the customers’ methods of preferred payment? How often are the light bulbs refreshed in the diamond cabinets? Where are the best foot traffic areas respective to the product being sold?

All of these factors can be monitored, measured and compared, in addition to dozens of other variables that can have a tangible impact on sales performance. Marketing is another area that can have a huge impact, and online marketing has the added advantage of providing measurable feedback in a way that traditional media often struggled to provide. Yet many businesses spend little time looking at the results of this data.


A store owner I know recently began measuring the ratio of display tickets on his diamond product. Despite a policy of having all products with display tickets, he discovered that nearly 20% of the diamond range were without tickets. He was able to measure a clear correlation between those items that had tickets and those that were selling. He quickly implemented a policy of checking display tickets daily and maintaining 100% ticketing for all items shown. The store noticed a measurable upswing in sales in those departments that had been affected.

Staff can be a great starting point for determining what these focal points should be. Simply by asking “What are the friction points that are stopping you from doing your job effectively?” can unearth many areas that may not have been considered before.



When the Kids Have Their Own Careers, Wilkerson Can Help You to Retire

Alex and Gladys Rysman are the third generation to run Romm Jewelers in Brockton, Mass. And after many decades of service to the industry and their community, it was time to close the store and take advantage of some downtime. With three grown children who each had their own careers outside of the industry, they decided to call Wilkerson. Then, the Rysmans did what every jeweler should do: They called other retailers and asked about their own Wilkerson experience. “They all told us what a great experience it was and that’s what made us go with Wilkerson.” says Gladys Rysman. The results? Alex Rysman says he was impressed. “We exceeded whatever I expected to do by a large margin.”

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