John Bramlette | Crain's Twin Cities

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

John Bramlette

Background:  

The Ripken Way — inspiring athletes through remarkable experiences — is at the core of Ripken Baseball. Ripken Baseball continues to innovate the game through tournaments, camps and clinics hosted at its state-of-the-art youth baseball and softball facilities in Aberdeen, Maryland; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

The Mistake:

There’s a theme at this job and at previous jobs I’ve had, which is figuring out the right balance between being aggressive with new opportunities, but also servicing your core product and not getting caught up in things that take your eye off the ball, no pun intended.

One of the great things about being at Ripken Baseball, but also one of the challenges, is that the brand attracts a lot of potential opportunities and external interest. At various times during my tenure and prior to that, we may have spent a little bit too much time reacting to those opportunities or reacting to other folks’ appraisals of what we could do.

There were some instances in which we spent a lot of time on initiatives or projects that there may have been some excitement around, but there wasn’t necessarily a clear articulation of what the revenue generation strategy was, or how it would complement our existing customer base.

In the past we probably erred by trying to do too many different things — too many kinds of tournaments or too many kinds of camps or other types of youth programming, and experimenting with hardware products related to baseball.

We were able to do those things, but were we able to do it at a world-class level? And that is what the Ripken brand stands for. In retrospect I would feel the answer is no. Not to say that those things aren’t valuable or something we wouldn’t do, but we weren’t selective enough, and we tried too many of those things.

The lesson I take is to not allow your initial enthusiasm and excitement over a concept to cloud your judgment.

The Lesson:

Making sure that you don’t get spread too thin as far as opportunities, or offerings or programs, is a consistent thing that a lot of businesses need to wrestle with. It’s something I often find myself going back to when faced with some sort of decision.

The lesson I take is to not allow your initial enthusiasm and excitement over a concept to cloud your judgment. Ask yourself what’s the investment of time and money required to get this to not just acceptable but to excellent, and force yourself to have a sober assessment of those opportunities even if there’s excitement.

Some of our decision making lately has been, let’s double down on our core products and put more staff resources into making that truly world class, as opposed to branching out and just trying to do more and more qualitatively.

It’s been a really good thing to take a deep breath and distill our vision and our mission and what we want to try to accomplish. Instead of appraising an opportunity by asking is it feasible, we’ve started to appraise these opportunities by considering whether it’s feasible to do at a high level, and asking does it fit within our mission and the existing things that we offer. If the answer to those questions isn’t a clear yes, we back burner it for now.

In the past our bar was perhaps a little bit lower as far as pursuing things, and I think that led us to getting spread too thin, and we’ve shifted in a good direction, in my view. If we’re going to launch a new product it needs to enhance the kids’ experience or give them another avenue into a deeper, richer Ripken Baseball experience.

Ripken Baseball is on Twitter at @RipkenBaseball.

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