It’s always interesting to discover where
inspiration is found. At Jacksons, we’re
inspired right now. We’re working hard
every day to improve our business on
multiple levels; we’re in the middle of a
“business makeover.” And the impetus
behind this inspiration?
Yes, Tolstoy and his novel Anna Karenina.
More specifically, our inspiration was derived after reading
Guns, Germs and Steel, where the author Jared Diamond
introduced us to the “Anna Karenina Principle.”
Tolstoy began his novel like this: “Happy families are all alike;
every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
The Anna Karenina Principle, based on this line, essentially
says the following: To have a happy family, everything has to
be just about perfect. There must be love and respect, kids
must be obedient, there needs to be a good economic income,
health can’t be an issue, etc. But if just one small thing is
missing – just one item off that list –happiness is at risk. In
other words, it doesn’t take much to mess things up!
Diamond used this principle to describe a biological event.
Jacksons Car Wash decided to adopt the Anna Karenina
Principle in a different manner. We said: All great car washes
are alike; every bad car wash is bad in its own way.
What do we mean by this? We decided that for a car wash to
be great, it must be succeeding in all of the following areas: (1)
a quality product must be delivered, (2) the product has to be
delivered in a short time, (3) the product has to be accompanied
by exceptional customer service, (4) the facility has to be clean
and inviting, (5) the employee atmosphere has to be fun and
positive, and (6) all of the above must be accomplished while
complying with laws and managing costs.
If a car wash falls short in any one of these categories, it can
hurt the entire business. To repeat what was said earlier: it
doesn’t take much to mess things up! By dropping the ball in
just one area, customers see an issue or problem and the car
wash is no longer great. It’s a daunting task when you think
about it. It ain’t easy to be great!
But at the same time, thinking about our business in this
manner really gave us direction. We started with this list and
created a plan. We began addressing the areas where we were
falling short. Of course no one is perfect and every business
knows there is room for improvement. But by simply taking
the time to identify “what has to be in place to be great,” we
discovered a much clearer path to our end goal.
That path, by the way, isn’t an easy one. Another thing the
Anna Karenina Principle did for us was to show us just how
far we were from the Company we wanted to be. It provided
a measuring device that we can repeatedly match ourselves
against. Tolstoy gave us a gauge by which we can constantly
check our progress as we push ourselves towards greatness.
It may not be scientific, it may not be earth shattering, but this
simple principle has helped us a bunch. We thought maybe it
could help you too.
In your own business, what are the things that must be in place
to make you great? How is your performance in each of those
At Jacksons, we seriously want to be great. To be great, we
need to be firing on all cylinders. That’s what Tolstoy was
telling us. As for you, the customer, feel free to tell us if you
think we’re making the old guy happy.