The best advice I ever got: Hope Milner

Written by Susanne Baillie
Hope Milner

La Premiere Compagnie de Paniers (The New England Gift & Basket Company)

Xchange asks Canada’s top women entrepreneurs to share their most meaningful business lessons. Each issue brings you the advice that has helped shape the lives and companies of these winning businesswomen.

Hope Milner is founder of La Premiere Compagnie de Paniers (The New England Gift & Basket Company), a Montreal-based retailer of giftware, gourmet food and kitchenware items. In 14 years Milner has grown the company from a basement operation into a 5,000 sq.-ft.-retail location with 2003 revenue of $3 million. Milner is a recipient of The Canadian Giftware Association’s Retailer of the Year award.

BEST ADVICE: “Be flexible and react quickly.”

“I think our strength is the ability and the drive to react quickly,” says Milner. While she doesn’t recall where she first picked up this advice, it was reaffirmed in a book she read recently, titled It’s Not the Big that Eat the Small … It’s the Fast that Eat the Slow,” by Jason Jennings and Laurence Haughton. “That’s how I run my business,” she says. “You can’t be successful in businesses today without the ability to make quick decisions.”

Turning on a dime gives Milner a leg up on the competition. “An idea goes from concept to fruition within a couple of days here,” she says. “We’re constantly changing our mix, changing what we’re doing.” Case in point: she committed to a new line of charm bracelets from California months before fellow retailers. “To this day, we’re still the store in Canada with the largest selection, and have made a ton of money on it. By the time our competitors found out about them, they were a year behind us.”

Of course, reacting quickly means you don’t have time for committee meetings and detailed analysis. It can be a risky way to do business, but, says Milner, “I think we’re well-informed enough here that nine times out of 10 it’s a good decision. And if it’s not, we’ll learn from it.”

Paring down layers of bureaucracy and staying abreast of market trends, customer tastes and needs are the keys to making quick but smart decisions about new ideas and opportunities. To stay on the bleeding edge of social and industry trends, Milner asks front-line staffers for input, reads plenty of magazines from home and abroad, and watches MTV. (“It’s the kids that start a lot of trends,” she says.) And if you tend to waffle over decisions, hire someone who doesn’t.

“Don’t be afraid of change,” says Milner. “Look for it, embrace it and don’t take forever to make it happen.”

© 2004 Susanne Baillie

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com