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Last Update: Monday October 23, 2017

Key Idea: Find the Right Mentor

Lupe is a member of the National Office Products Association and a big fan of trade association membership. This membership led him to his mentor.

Key Question:

A: 

Get advice and help from people who have already done what you want to do.

Q: What are the benefits of joining a trade association?

A:
Lupe mentioned one of the biggest benefits. You can rely on your trade association, if it meets your expectations, to predict industry trends. Looking around the corner is critically important to Lupe; he can't afford to be overstocked on tomorrow's hoola hoop.

Sophisticated market research and predictive analysis are important tools in any industry and, by banding together in the form of a trade association; small businesses can contribute to a pool of dollars that funds a targeted effort for their specific industry. Lupe also mentioned the value offered by the training provided and the opportunity to network with other businesses of the same industry.

Q: Can you get the same benefit from local memberships in Chambers of Commerce, Rotary or Elks, local industry trade groups? Wouldn't that be more cost effective?

A:
Probably not. It would be cheaper, for sure, but not more cost effective. National organizations attract better speakers and generally offer better training. They have a bigger budget, collecting dues from businesses nationally, and can plan more elaborate events.

From a networking point of view, your fellow attendees will be a lot more open with you in sharing their good ideas when they know you are not competing with them for customers. Automobile dealers probably recognize this fact better than anyone.

General Motors actually puts together "Twenty Groups" composed of twenty dealers, from different parts of the country, selling the same make and model cars. Each member takes turns hosting a meeting in their city. Prior to the meeting, the members submit detailed operating and financial information to their General Motors coordinator. When the dealers get to the meeting, they are given a report ranking them by various statistics, everything from number of car sales per salesperson to average dollars per repair order.

The dealers who rank high on the list counsel the dealers on the bottom of the list, providing them with advice on how to improve a specific aspect of the business. When they move on to the next ratio, the first may be last and the last, first. Mentor and student roles swap as the meeting progresses and everyone benefits. This could never happen in a single market where all the dealers are competing for the same customers.

Remember Lupe's comments about the value his mentor had brought to his business, particularly in his counsel on inventory mix? Lupe's mentor is from North Carolina. No doubt he enjoys the relationship as much as Lupe does, and he is not at all threatened by a competitor in Texas.

Think about it

Who is already doing what you want to do? What is keeping you from asking that person to mentor you?

Clip from: Tejas Office Supply is all Texan.

Houston: Texans are resilient and resourceful, and people of deep faith.  When Hurricane Ike struck, they began turning to each other to  pull through thiat  storm together.  Pictured above is Lupe Fraga.  He came with his family to Houston as a young boy and grew up as a Texan.

He captures the spirit of this part of the world.

In 1962 Lupe Fraga left his bookkeeping job to buy an office supply business but steady profits did not come quickly. Today, over 150 employees turn $40 million a year making Tejas Office one of the largest minority - owned businesses in the greater Houston area.
 
He borrowed some of the start-up capital from Irene, his girl friend; and, the owner financed the purchase. He married Irene -- "the best thing I ever did in my life" -- and then he learned  profits do not come easily.

This is a family business. Michelle is their first born; and the day we met her, she was busy teaching a new manager and leading a customer service training session. Alisa, the middle child, handles human resources and says that caring can be measured on the bottomline.  Stephen, the youngest Fraga says that they all wear many hats. Stephen followed in his father's footsteps and graduated from Texas A & M. Rather than coming to work at Tejas Office right from school, Lupe encouraged him to work for a large company which he did for two years before joining Tejas in 1998.

Named by Governor Rick Perry to the Texas A&M Board of Regents and currently Chairman of the Board of the Federal Reserve Bank Dallas-Houston, Lupe also volunteers for the Greater Houston Partnership and The United Way.

Tejas Office

Lupe Fraga, Owner

1225 W. 20th Street
Houston, TX 77080
7138646004

Visit our web site: http://www.tejasoffice.com

Office: 7138646004

Business Classification:
Office Supplies

Year Founded: 1961

Find the Right Mentor

HATTIE: Now you are a member of the National Office Products Association.Do they help you? Is their research a collective brain trust? Do you gather data that you share with each other, `This is the number one seller'?

LUPE: Oh, this is what makes it--I don't see how anybody could survive without belonging to a national association or an association of any kind, a trade association. We get training. We get reports. We get financial information, you get to know other dealers.

HATTIE: Research.

LUPE: Yes, the research. Columnar pads. You know, I remember we used to sell tons of columnar pads, but that's those little, green pads, you know, that in the old days before computers, you know, that's what us accountants used, you know, and we still use them.

HATTIE: Did you think, `Oh, my gosh, they've cut out all their pads because they have it on computer--oh, my business is going to go down the drain'?

LUPE: I promise you. That caused some sleepless nights.

HATTIE: When you look back at that, do you think that there was anything you could have done to anticipate that?

LUPE: I believe you've got to be out in front. You've got to speaking to your competitors, to your customers, associations. You know, we belong to the National Office Products Association.

LUPE: They were very helpful, I mean, because they see the trends. They see what's happening. And I think at that time that taught us a lesson, `Hey, we better be out front.'

HATTIE: All right. Now one thing that's come out of this trade association relationship is a mentoring relationship that you have.

LUPE: Yes.

HATTIE: Tell me how that started, and does the trade association try to put people together in an organized way, or was this just serendipity and you latched on and you've got this mentor?

LUPE: What happens here is, really, through the association you get to meet dealers. So it was sort of just by chance that we got to meet this organization. They're in North Carolina--Forntsen Supply. And they've been a terrific mentor for us.

HATTIE: So do they know that they're a mentor to you, or do you just call this guy up, the owner and ask him a lot of questions?

LUPE: No, they know they're a mentor to us. And we told them that we want to eventually get to the stage where they are.

HATTIE: All right. So any business owner ought to look for this kind of relationship.

LUPE: Oh, ask a lot of questions, be open. Don't be afraid to admit you don't know.

HATTIE: Right. Is there one thing piece of advice he's given you or one lesson you've learned that has had a great impact? LUPE: Yes. He gave us the secret to stock levels and mix. Our catalogue used to list 15 different kinds of one-inch binders. Now the research and everything says, `We'll stock one binder.'

HATTIE: One one-inch binder.

LUPE: One one-inch binder. You buy that one, that's your best deal. Our inventory used to run practically a million. Now we're down to about 400,000, so half.

HATTIE: Cut your inventory in half.

LUPE: Yes.

HATTIE: Wow! You're getting rich now!

LUPE: I tell you, this is dynamite.

HATTIE: It only took 40 years!

LUPE: Exactly! Forty years! Make sure you have a good banker, a good CPA and a good attorney, really. Even though I have some accounting training. I still have a CPA that guides us.

HATTIE: Absolutely.
 
 

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