Buy Time

Scaling the Ladder of Success: Uncovered Secrets from Cellular Advantage's CEO

September 14, 2023 Jacob K. Mead Episode 11
Buy Time
Scaling the Ladder of Success: Uncovered Secrets from Cellular Advantage's CEO
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Imagine building your brand from the ground up, with nothing but a small-town mentality, a handful of dollars, and a bottomless pit of determination. That's the tale of Doug Ecklund, CEO of Cellular Advantage, our guest for this episode. Starting his journey in rural Iowa, Doug embraced the struggles of entrepreneurship, building his business into a revered brand with 33 locations and a strong company culture. We'll uncover how Doug's core values, respect, and love for his team played a pivotal role in growing Cellular Advantage.

We're not stopping there. Doug sheds light on the art of buying time and the crucial element of delegation. With the right staff and management teams, understanding your strengths and weaknesses, and knowing when to seek help, Doug has created a system where his business can function seamlessly even in his absence. Prepare for an insightful discussion on work culture, overcoming hurdles, and achieving that elusive work-life balance. Don't miss out as Doug shares invaluable insights and experiences from his extraordinary journey with Cellular Advantage.

You can Follow Cellular Advantage on all the socials
Buy the book "The 9 a.m. Meeting: A high-impact approach to making work meaningful, energizing employees, and taming the turnover tiger"

Until next time... Follow on Instagram @buytimepodcast
Follow Jacob K. Mead on all the socials @jacobkmead

Speaker 1:

Hey everybody, this is Jacob K Mead and this is the Buy Time podcast, where we discuss everything there is to know about buying back your time. Be sure to like and follow and share with somebody who needs to buy back their time. Enjoy today's episode, welcome to another episode of the Buy Time podcast. I'm excited for today's episode because I have Doug Eklund, ceo of Cellular Advantage. I think they have 33 locations now and they're a dealer for US Cellular. Doug, why don't we start with? Just tell us a little bit about yourself.

Speaker 2:

A little bit about myself. I'm a small town Iowa guy Ended up in the big city of Des Moines 30 some years ago and we've got two kids, both ones in grad school, ones in college. And then we've got Cellular Advantage, which started. We're in our 31st year. We just had our 30th anniversary.

Speaker 1:

Such an accomplishment.

Speaker 2:

So a couple kids, when we're 24 years old and my wife's name is Mitzi and she worked for US Cellular directly out of college, she got the opportunity to take over one of their stores and so I told my boss I was taking a leave of absence and we started. We moved out of a one bedroom apartment into a two bedroom apartment so we could have an office and we started a business, and somehow it's still still kicking.

Speaker 1:

Still kicking today. I mean, you've grown it. It's just amazing how you're able to grow it, and so quickly in 30 years. It may seem like a long time, but in the aspect of things it's really short. And what are some of the struggles? So, when you first got started, what are some of the struggles that?

Speaker 2:

you had, I mean in the beginning. It's probably like any startup. I mean it's cash flow, cash flow, cash flow. It's a big part of it, especially in our business.

Speaker 2:

I mean you'd buy a phone for back in the day I mean it's $150, you buy a bag phone or something, and you'd give that phone to the customer for free and then you would wait to get paid an activation commission and the activation commissions would come in from 30 to 60 days from the date of activation, depending on when the activation happened. So when we were trying to get financed, we go to the bank and we told them what we're going to do. A lot of them kind of scratched their heads and they're just like so you're going to buy something, give it away for free and wait to get paid for it? And we're like, yeah, that's what we're going to do, and it probably took five bankers before we could find one that was creative enough to see our struggle.

Speaker 1:

I understand that struggle. Sure, we're trying to do. I, when I first started my business, I went to multiple bankers and had my business plan all lined out and neatly written out and they told me no, we don't see it, we don't see it panning out. And it took so long for me to be able to figure out a way to get financing and end up starting with just credit cards to get started. It's tough.

Speaker 2:

We ran out of money a few different times and went to credit card.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, you're across your fingers. How am I going to make?

Speaker 2:

payroll. Well, I mean, I sold a Jeep to make payroll back in 1995. We were going to be short and we fire sailed my Jeep, cherokee Limited.

Speaker 1:

Sacrifices you make.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and then Metsi's mom and dad were nice enough to let us use their Chrysler K-Car station wagon with wood paneling on the sides, and it was always a fight to see who could get out the door fastest so they didn't have to drive the Woody. We call it the Woody. It's part of the company story now at this point.

Speaker 1:

I love it. It's a great company story and I love hearing the background. So you built this out, you got started and then you started to build out your team. So talk to me a little bit about your teams and what makes it be your dream team.

Speaker 2:

I mean the team, I mean for us, it's all one thing we've really learned, and I think we just kind of lucked into it maybe in the beginning, but ultimately it's really turned in. We're very intentional about it at this point, and that's the culture. And so we grew, grew, grew, just about grew it right into the ground. And there was no core values, there was no purpose statement, there was no real defining. What does this company stand for? And I mean we, literally we opened 19 stores in 12 months at one point.

Speaker 1:

Wow, that's impressive.

Speaker 2:

And just about ran it right in the ground. And as we were coming out of that trying to get it put back together, that's when we really figured out that we've got to stand for something and there's something that's bigger than just being in the phone business, and so we crafted a purpose statement, some core values, and those are things that really mean a lot to us. And that core leadership team we're all in on that, and every interview right down the front line, I mean we talk about those things Because we want to hire for culture, not so much for the skill level I mean we'll train for skills, absolutely but if we can get people that are looking for a place, it's going to be fun. It might be a little quirky, but it's full of respect and love and I mean, I think in the business world love is something that's not really talked about, but I mean we're supposed to love each other and that's something that we really try to do internally and when we hire somebody we're like this is going to feel a little different probably, and we hope it does, and that's the point, that's the thing, and and when you get the culture right, it really it's a multiplier.

Speaker 2:

And I think Pat Lynch, you know, and he's a famous business speaker author. He talked about culture being a multiplier. So if you have a talent level of seven in a store but the culture in that store is really bad, it's maybe there's a toxic person in that store, it's not good. So the culture is maybe a three, absolutely. So you got a seven times three is 21. You got another store where the talent level maybe the talent level is only a five but everybody gets along really well and they're, they're bought into what we're trying to do. So the culture is an eight. So that stores a 40. The 40 is going to kick the crap out of the 21 all day long and we figured that out, that I'll take people that might not have them.

Speaker 2:

They might not be the most talented, but we can train for that. But but if they're, if they understand that we want, when that guest comes in the store, that we want that guest to leave, feeling you know, if they've walked in here, when they leave, we want them here, you know. So if we can make their day a little bit better, I mean that's, that's the win.

Speaker 1:

Ultimately, I love that. I love that you set those core values and that you are employees are meaning more to you than just people and warm bodies. I feel like so many companies out there. It's just I need a warm body and you have the mindset of no, we want to actually have core values and we want to help them in every aspect of our life and whether that be personal or, you know, with the company, and I love that. That's. That's great to hear that your company does that. I've actually had the privilege of talking to some of your old employees and they said the number one thing that they loved about your company was the culture, and so I appreciate that that that means a lot that you shared that.

Speaker 2:

I think there was two cellular advantages. Really, I mean I've had to describe that like the first 10 years. It was almost. What can this thing be for me?

Speaker 1:

I mean, we were, I mean what can I get out of it? What can I get out of it? Yeah, and it was you know we're.

Speaker 2:

We had this chance to grow, like I was talking about, with the big growth that year, and I had visions that we're going to make the Inc 500. We are going to be part of the 500 fast growing companies in America. I mean, we plotted it out. We're like, yep, we're going to hit that, we're going to hit that, we're going to hit that, we're going to have that honor, and you know, and then we about just took it right in the ground and it's just like, okay, there's, there's got to be something more to it than that. And that's when, I mean, we really figured out that we have an opportunity to really help people that are a part of our group. You know, just do life a little better.

Speaker 1:

Maybe I don't know I love that, so talk a little deeper on that. So how did you come to that senses? Was it something that you and your wife talked about and you said, hey, we need to do something differently? Is it something that your whole entire team came to you on, or is it something that you realized? What made you come to the realization that, hey, I need to focus more on my core values in my business, not just all around me. And what can I get out of it?

Speaker 2:

Well, I mean the core values were birthed out of that train wreck that we had. I mean it was a. You know you use the term dumpster fire, but I mean it was. We were out of compliance on probably three or four things at the bank. They could have called our debt in at any time. We owed a lot of money and you know things weren't the best at home. I mean I was never. We were trying to open. All these stores were in Chicago or Nebraska spending lots of time doing all.

Speaker 2:

So I was doing, I was, I was terrible at home, you know, as a father and as a husband. You know it was all about me and own work, blah, blah, blah. So when you get, when you had that, when you, when you really kind of were looking over the edge of the cliff, looking down the hill as far as, like that's where I could be falling off this cliff any day if the bank calls, you know, for me there was a faith component that was never in my world before. You know, we just we literally had a neighbor that was like, hey, do you want to come to church? And I'm like like that's never really been a part of my world.

Speaker 2:

And we, we hopped into church one day and it was literally like we were the only people there. I was kind of like the message was directed right at us. I'm like, all right, there's got to be there's. You know, you got to recognize those moments and for us, that was something when it was kind of a wake up call of, okay, let's try something different. And you know, so that's where the whole concept of we're going to try to enrich the quality of life for each and every person we come into contact with whether they work for us or whether they're a guest coming in the store, and you know, that's just that whole idea of you know, love is a verb, you know, can we love? Can we love the people that come in, can we love the people that are here, you know, and that's just something that it's really worked out for us and I love it.

Speaker 1:

You really built a good work culture and sharing that story it means a lot. You built this company up and you got to a place where you have your core values and you went through all these challenges. When would you consider that you made it? When would you sit down and say, hey, we're doing well, we've made it?

Speaker 2:

I mean we got out the other side of the debt and everything and we've been happy to be debt free for quite a while You're going to have an accomplishment.

Speaker 1:

by the way, Not many companies can say that.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and that was something that and we probably could have grown the business more had we wanted to entertain the idea of borrowing more money again to grow. But I think we got to the point where we were comfortable with what we were doing, and sometimes comfort is the enemy of doing something special. But that's what. We're getting a little older and so we're starting to think about things a little differently. But I'm just blanking on the question right now.

Speaker 1:

Oh, you're good. What's some obstacles now that you might have? You got to this place of comfort where you have the amount of stores that you want. What are some obstacles that you're seeing in your everyday business aspect now?

Speaker 2:

Obstacles. I mean staffing is always going to be a challenge. I feel like we've done a great job of, I mean I think, our turnover and retail turnover right now, if you look at it and actually it's close to 100% a year. I mean that's where it's just. You've got that bottom group that just they come in, maybe it's not for them and they leave.

Speaker 1:

It's like a circulation, it's just circulating.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, middle third stays a little bit longer. The top third are there longer. I mean, we were at 2022, we were at 20, I'm sorry, we're at 42% in 2022, which we felt that was a pretty good, a pretty good deal. So staffing is going to be a challenge, you know. And then the hours that were open, I think, is another thing. You just got to find people that are. You know you're going to have some weekend hours, you have some evening hours, things like that, but and then the things that keep me up at night are just the things that we can't control. You know we're a dealer for a carrier, so a US cellular is a carrier. You know, if they, if they're doing great, that's generally, we're going to ride that with them.

Speaker 2:

If they're not doing as well, then we're going to. We're going to feel that as well. We try to do the best we can on controlling the things we can control and but I'd say, you know, and it's the same everywhere.

Speaker 1:

I mean, staffing is tough for everyone, especially in the retail industry, in service industry, staffing is always a struggling. One thing you know your core values. I love that you talk about that, because US cellular has a lot of core values too, and it just it goes to show that implementing core values and really helping your employees and actually providing value to them is going to help them not only in your company but in their personal lives, and that that really shows.

Speaker 2:

I think the two, I think our little company and their bigger company line up pretty well on a lot of things, which has been good.

Speaker 1:

I mean yeah, you've grown 33 stores and are you thinking about continuing growing? What's your plans there with with the growth?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I mean we added three this year but we grew by 10% this year. There's, I think there's going to be. You know, I hope there's going to be other opportunities going forward. So if the if it, if we can look at an opportunity and figure out it should be profitable growth, then we'll certainly swing the bat at it.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely so, looking, looking at this entire story, it's it's amazing to me to how much you actually gone through to get to where you are. A lot of people don't see that, and especially as a business owner, they they see what you are currently at, but they don't see what took to actually get there Right, so that's, that's an amazing story. So you talked about all this time that you spent with work and how you kind of lost out on a lot of opportunities with your kids. If you could go back in time, would you still do the same thing, or what would you do differently?

Speaker 2:

No, I would do a lot of things differently. You know, the the kids were both pretty young during that 2002 to 2004 kind of that was when we were really trying to ramp things up. So you had a newborn and a four year old at home. So we figured it out pretty, you know, figured it out by. You know 2004, 2005, we had it all. We kind of had it figured out. So, but doing things differently, you know, just, I don't know that I would have been able to really change my travel schedule, but I do. I would have changed the fact that I felt like I'm the big CEO so I'm gone a lot, but when I get back I need time to you know, for myself kind of a thing which that that would be the one thing I would definitely flip.

Speaker 1:

Remember time for Doug. Don't don't forget time for Doug, because it's just as important to you when you have kids. It's not about you anymore. No.

Speaker 2:

That's something that. That's something that, with the ego that I was really, that it was carrying I was carrying around, was hard for me to see.

Speaker 1:

I I understand completely. I have two kids and it's like I'm running this business and sometimes I go home and I realize I'm following up on emails and I tell myself, oh, it's only going to take a minute. And I look at the clock and it's eight o'clock and it's their bedtime.

Speaker 1:

And my wife's really good. She calls me out and she goes hey, put your phone down. You know it's family time and I'm like, okay, phone goes down. She calls it, how it is. So you actually wrote a book and it's called the 9 am meeting. What's that about? What's that all geared around?

Speaker 2:

So we thought we had a story to tell. So it's our employee turnover, it's the first part of it's a company story. It's just kind of like all right, here's how we started, the mistakes we made, the growth, the problems that we had, all that kind of stuff, and then getting it straightened out. So we tell the story. But one thing that we identified is that our turnover in one market was different than the other markets and we started digging into that. And that was the market where Nick Velotti, who's our VP of sales, and I mean he's in charge of the whole, all the stores and all the people.

Speaker 1:

Great guy, by the way. I've actually been able to talk to him a few times and he always has great conversations.

Speaker 2:

He's the best We've been together for 23 years.

Speaker 1:

It's always good to have that strong partner.

Speaker 2:

So what was going on differently is he was meeting with people in his office. He just had an open sign up If you want to come in and just talk about life, you can come in. And he did those at 9 am. And so we started talking about it and like what are you doing with everybody? He's like, well, we're just talking about life. He's like when you ask these salespeople what do they want, he's like you just get the deer in the headlights, look.

Speaker 2:

And so he started to help them dream a little bit, try to figure out what are the things that were important to them, whether it would be personal, could be financial, it could be physical, it could be just places they want to travel, just all these different things. So he had all these categories and he just helped people kind of start dreaming a little bit and then, okay, what are the things that need to happen to start doing those things? And in a lot of cases it was people were carrying debt or things like that. So we started working on a financial piece model where people could they could enroll in that, they could start to get themselves out of debt, start to get an emergency fund built up and then start saving money. But the whole thing with what he was doing, it was just such a much more personal touch and we were not afraid to put personal and work together.

Speaker 2:

I love that, you know, because everybody's got a mirror they look in it's their work mirror. And everybody's got a mirror they look in it's their home mirror. And if you got an unhappy face looking back at you in one of those two mirrors, it affects the other one 100%. And so we're like well, if we can help equip people with more tools so that that home mirror is smiling back at them, that's gonna help them.

Speaker 1:

Break that barrier.

Speaker 2:

So we're like all right, we're gonna do something different and we're gonna start talking about how work and personal go together. We had one guy came in and he's like my wife told me this was career suicide if I came in and started talking about my personal life, you know, because his wife is working, that's all they know.

Speaker 2:

His wife works at one of the big companies like a principal or a Wells Fargo, and it's hey how you doing Great. Yeah, it wasn't. You know, I'm gonna say it's great, even though my radiator just blew up on my car and I need a new dishwasher and I can't afford to pay for you to one of them. So the water cooler talk changed and that's what we started noticing that and so we wrote a book about it. We figured out our turnover. It cost us around $6,700 a person that we would turn over and that would be in lost sales and productivity. You know the cost of hiring, cost of training, all those things. It was $6,700 a person, wow. So Nick's market back then he was a market director, not that he wasn't over the whole thing, but his market when he was doing this stuff I mean his turnover percentage is around 26%. Chicago was over 100%. Nebraska was over 100%.

Speaker 1:

Missouri was over 100%, so he's at this 22%.

Speaker 2:

Something is happening here.

Speaker 1:

He's doing something, he's showing it, and that's what we figured out, so we wrote a book about it.

Speaker 2:

It's called Taming the Turnover Tiger and, but it's helping people connect the dots between why do they go to work and what do they want out of life, and when you put those two things together, it's really pretty cool what's happened, and so we've had a lot of fun with that, and I really love that.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I always ask people to. One of my questions is if you didn't get paid for what you were doing, would you still go to work? Yeah, and a lot of people look at me like obviously no, and they'll have that culture.

Speaker 1:

That's important, I would still go because I'm getting the knowledge I'm learning. They care about me, they actually want to see me succeed. They want to actually build value in my life, and not many employers do that. And so a 9 am meeting where if someone wants to buy your book, can they get it on Amazon.

Speaker 2:

We can get it on Amazon. But I mean, if you've got people listening to this, if they want to shoot me an email, just send it to ceo at selladvantagecom.

Speaker 1:

Ceo at selladvantagecom. That's just kind of the generic.

Speaker 2:

That's kind of the generic email for cellular advantage. But it'll get to me and I'll just send you one. So I got to stack them in the office and if we run out of them, that would be good for you, and then people can go buy them on Amazon. Yeah, so go buy the book. Let's sell out, yeah.

Speaker 1:

So that's amazing. And now you just recently, your daughter just got married. She did and it like, looking back on it, you could probably see how, how fast time goes by. One of the probably the talk to me a little bit about that day how are you feeling when she was getting married? Did you have any flashbacks of her being little? Or, of course, how was that day?

Speaker 2:

The day was perfect in about every way and I somehow held it together for the most part, the tears from falling Exactly Flo and I'm thinking of my daughters.

Speaker 1:

I'm like man they're only four in eight months now, but I can't imagine a few years when they're getting married and I'm just having to hold back these tears.

Speaker 2:

The days are long and the years are short, so, but you know they open the door for us to walk down the aisle and she's got her. You know, her hand in my arm and I could feel her start to shake and I'm like, all right, I got to hold it together because I'm like if I lose it, she's going to lose it and then it's going to be a mess going down the aisle.

Speaker 2:

So we made it down the aisle, okay, and I just, you know, I said, hey, we got this, we're going to be good, and she and we love, we love the guy she married, he's, he's wonderful and the day was great and it it's uh, but man, it just it's like a blink of an eye, that's for sure. It goes by so fast.

Speaker 1:

Everyone tells you that and before you have kids are like, wait till you have kids, it'll go by fast. And I was that naive person that said, no, what do you mean? It won't change anything. And then I have my first kid and I realized that I blinked. In two years, sure.

Speaker 1:

And it's just, it's amazing that what time does. I think that's why it's so important to buy time, and a lot of times I think people look at it and they go you can't buy time. And you've been able to buy time, and the way you've been able to buy time is through the right staffing and being able to have the right management team in place. So talk to me a little bit about that, um, buying your time. What was it like the first time that you stepped outside of your business for like, let's say, a week or two weeks and you knew it could run without you? What was your feeling?

Speaker 2:

No, the feelings. I mean. That's probably one of the most gratifying things is just knowing that if I'm not there, nobody's going to know the difference at this point, which is great because, um, you know what we've, what we've done, and again, I don't know if we lucked into it or what, but we've got myself and three other three other people who are, I'd call it, kind of the leadership team and we've got. Each of the four of us knows the things that we're not any good at. Each of the four of us knows what things we are good at, and we are very comfortable in letting Matt handle anything that needs to be analyzed, it needs to be processed, it needs to be done from a number standpoint.

Speaker 2:

Nick's so good with the people. Todd, operationally, is always able to figure out a better way to get things done. But we're all I mean we compliment each other a lot and that's what I think you know. Call it dumb luck or call it whatever, but we've got a group that kind of fills in each other's gaps and that's something that's been. That's been great for us, and you know that's know your strengths.

Speaker 1:

know your weakness, Know your strengths and don't rely on those that are better than you.

Speaker 2:

And don't try to fake it. I mean, if you're not good at something, it's okay to say that you're not good at it Ask for help, Right.

Speaker 1:

Some people don't want to ask for help. It's like ask for help if you need it and there's stuff that.

Speaker 2:

And then I think, when you get to the next level is where there's things that you're good at but they suck the life out of you. I was pretty good at reading the lease and figuring out what should and shouldn't be in the lease, but I mean I get done with it and I'm just like, wow, you know, I just feel like I just went through a battle. And you know, todd's really good at that and maybe he feels the same way and he's just doing it because he's nice, but he goes through those things and he I mean, he's good at negotiating these things, he's good at finding the different things that we need in them, and but getting to the point where not only I mean at the point where I can really just work on the things that I'm good at and they give me energy as compared to things I'm good at, that might take energy away, I think you enjoy Right Things.

Speaker 2:

I enjoy and that's and that's what's, that's what's really fun for me. Like we just had our leadership summit a couple of months ago, so we had all of our store leaders into Des Moines and you know, you just get to speak into those people you know and you get to see them at work and you're just like man. It's the most proud feeling that you can have, for when you see, you know the, the talent and the, you know the love they have for each other coming together is really cool.

Speaker 1:

So it's it's just a feeling. It's almost hard to explain it's. It's overwhelming, doug, it's. It's been my pleasure to be able to have you on this podcast. If somebody wanted to find more information about you, where can they go?

Speaker 2:

I mean Read your book.

Speaker 1:

Read the book. I mean you've got.

Speaker 2:

I mean I'm on Twitter, doug Eklund on Instagram, doug Eklund on, you know, Facebook. You got LinkedIn. All that stuff. It's just pretty easy to, not hard to find. So it's it's I love. I love your story.

Speaker 1:

It's so powerful and I really want to say thank you so much for taking the time to come on the by time podcast and talk about how you can you purchase your time and all the strengths and struggles you went through. Really cool to have me on. I love it. So, guys, that is another episode of the by time podcast.

Speaker 1:

Thank you so much for listening. Make sure to share this with somebody that needs to hear the story, and if you are needing help with buying time, let me know. Send me a DM. Make sure to buy the book the 9am meeting and let's sell out all the copies. Thanks, Until next time. Thanks for listening to today's episode. My name is Jacob K Mead, and until next time.

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