Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Business is his bottom line

Speaker delivers straight goods on improving your company

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Donald Cooper jumps down from the stage and paces like a caged tiger, pausing occasionally to stab the air with his finger to drive home a point, or to crack a smile and deliver a one-liner.

After a highly successful career as a sporting goods manufacturer, fashion retailer and award-winning business speaker/coach, you'd think this 71-year-old Torontonian would be slowing down a bit.

But there he was last week in a meeting room at Winnipeg's Victoria Inn, sharing his thoughts about business vision and leadership with delegates attending the Manitoba Home Builders Association's 2012 Housing Forum and Trade Show.

It's one of about 100 speaking engagements the former co-owner of hockey-equipment maker Cooper Canada, the former owner/founder of Toronto's Warehouse Boutique, and the man once named Canada's Outstanding Innovative Retailer, has booked this year through his current company -- The Donald Cooper Corporation.

And even after delivering thousands of speeches to hundreds of business groups over the past 21 years, Cooper said this gig never gets old for him.

"When people ask me when I'm going to retire, I say, 'Why would I want to retire? I'm doing something I love and getting paid for it!' If that wouldn't turn your crank, what would?"

The title of his presentation on this particular day was: "The straight goods on how to sell more, manage smarter, grow your bottom line and have a life!"

Serious stuff, to be sure, which is why Cooper also likes to sprinkle in a little humour. For example, there was this little ditty about hockey legend Gordie Howe: "When asked why players in his day always wore a cup but rarely a helmet, Gordie replied, 'You can always get someone else to do your thinkin' for you,' " Cooper said to a chorus of laughter.

The not-so-funny message he's delivering these days is that this is a time of tremendous change for society and for virtually every industry. And the businesses that don't learn to adapt and to reinvent themselves are doomed to fail.

"We face increased competition for our customers' loyalty, money, time and attention," he said, and one of the keys to survival is having a clear understanding of who your target customers are, why they buy and what they really want.

"We need to do a better job of creating and delivering compelling, customer-owning value," he said. "That will grab our target customers, clearly differentiate us, make us 'famous' and grow our bottom line."

But it also can't be all business all the time, he added. Business owners and executives also need to nurture their private lives, and one of the best ways to do that is to make sure everyone in the company is singing from the same hymn sheet.

"When everyone on our team is clear about our commitments, they don't have to be micromanaged... and we don't have to be there every minute."

Cooper's message seemed to strike a chord with the audience members, many of whom appeared to be hanging on his every word.

"Absolutely great. I think the MHBA picked a real winner," Parkhill Homes president Derek Thorsteinson said in a later interview.

It's that kind of response that keeps Cooper returning to the speaker's podium year after year.

Words to live by

HERE are some "Cooperisms" to ponder:

-- "There was a time when you could make money being mediocre. But those days are gone."

-- "In every business there are only two kinds of employees -- promise-makers and promise-keepers."

-- "The easiest way to increase sales by 10 per cent to 15 per cent in most businesses is simply to let existing customers know all the ways we can help them."

-- "Define your business by how you help people, not by the products you sell."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 21, 2012 B6

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