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Tabatha Coffey Keynote

Bill Bryant

Tabatha CoffeeTabatha Coffey, the Australian entrepreneur, author and television personality, admits that she knows little about the game to which NGCOA members are devoted. “My handicap has a handicap,” Coffey, dressed in her signature all black, said as she opened the association’s 2014 Annual Conference. “I’m a really, really bad golfer, but I’m a really good business person.”

Relying on her business instincts, Coffey, who specializes in rejuvenating businesses on the reality series Tabatha Takes Over, dispensed advice and insights during her lively keynote address on Monday in Orlando.

“It doesn’t matter what the business is, everyone wants an experience,” she said. “Everything you do, starting with how you answer the phone, is part of the experience. It may sound like small things, but when you put them all together, they create an experience that brings people back.”

In her reality show, Coffey travels across the country, taking over failing establishments – everything from hair salons to pet hotels to Mexican restaurants – and whips them into shape. In the process, she dishes out management and marketing advice, along with plenty of tough love.

“People first need to see why they need to change, and then many of them need a kick in the ass to get them over the hurdle,” she said.

Change “freaks people out,” she said. “Most people would prefer to continue doing things the old way and be guaranteed the same results, than to think outside the box.”

The need to change was brought home to Coffey, she said, following 9/11, when a number of retailers in her New Jersey hometown went out of business. She figured her salon faced the same fate unless she made changes. So she began networking, first within a small circle and then expanding geographically.

“I knew I wanted stable clients, the bread and butter of any business,” Coffey said. “So I networked with other business owners in town. To me, it was just legwork. To be successful, you have to go out and meet people. It was really hard to get off my high horse and change, but that’s what I had to do to survive.”

Swallowing her pride helped her take on one of the most important qualities of successful business people, Coffey said. “To be a successful business owner, you need to be like bamboo. You need to be hard, but flexible and able to bend.”

Coffey said she regularly evaluates her competition against the experience her business offers. “I love going into my competition. It’s harder now because people recognize me. But I want to know everything I can about other businesses, so I can see what’s working for them and what they’re doing badly.”

Communication is also critical, she said. “Sometimes as owners we don’t tell our staffs what is expected of them. If people don’t know what’s expected of them, how can they achieve what you want them to?” Coffey asked.

And if employees still don’t meet expectations despite “clear and concise” communications? “I believe in hiring very slowly and firing very fast,” Coffey said.

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