Lessons from Marriott

October 10th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

We often hear about the Apples, the YouTubes and other such companies that nail a market and see instant success. However, most people cannot plan to see this sort of instantaneous success. Rather, you may have to start out like the Marriott Hotels did: as a nine-stool root beer stand.

Early in J. Willard Marriott’s life, he thought like he would be a sheepherder like his father. However, the sheepherding industry took a big hit, bankrupting his father, so he decided to go to college. When he didn’t have the money for tuition, he looked at what hidden assets and resources he had and offered to teach religion classes at the university to pay for his tuition. He considered what he had and used his skills to get him to his goal without debt.

After Marriott graduated, he remembered a business opportunity he noticed years before as a church missionary in Washington D.C. He remembered how thirsty he always got in the summer and thought how well a root beer stand could do, so he went out to Washington D.C. with his wife and opened a nine-stool root beer stand.

The stand did very well during the summer, but business fell as flat as day-old soda as winter approached. Marriott zigzagged and started selling hot Mexican food at his root beer stand to keep business going. From there, he scaled the business and built more of the stands, expanding them into full restaurants and making the very first drive-through on the east coast.

Marriott was a pioneer in other businesses, too. He noticed how people would often come to his restaurant from the airport, buy a box lunch and then take it on the plane with them. Marriott started making the box lunches ahead of time and sold them to the airlines – the first in-flight meals. During World War II when sales were down, he started selling food to government cafeterias to keep things going.

And then, 30 years after Marriott first started his business, he opened his first motel.

Just look at all those zigzags! For 30 years, Marriott slowly and steadily built his business from nothing. It wasn’t a fast, easy process, but instead a legacy of hard work and brilliant successes. Then consider where his company is now, more than 75 years later. If he tried to build one of the largest hotel chains in the world when he first graduated with only a tiny amount of resources, no doubt he would have failed. However, by zigzagging, he managed to achieve that goal and so much more.

What can you learn from Marriott? Don’t be afraid to zigzag! Keep an eye out for new opportunities and chase after them whenever you are able. Even if it means doing something you’re less comfortable with, it may just be the path that will take you and your business to greater success.

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