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An informal, stream-of-consciousness reflection on business ideas, events and issues in modern business, modern life and with some specifics to the web-software industry by Paul Tomori, Internet Entrepreneur

Tribute To An Inspiring Customer
By Paul Tomori
Monday, October 12, 2009 at 14:54:38 (EDT)

I recently learned of the passing of Leo Charvat, proprietor of Wheaten Manor B&B in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It was a sad moment for me - Leo had been an inspiration.

Eight years ago, I was freshly underway heading up my own first internet company after six years with two partners. It was a tumultuous time in internet land with the “bursting of the bubble”. That’s a kind of harmless sounding way to describe how millions of people lost their shirts by over-investing in companies that they thought held promise to be the next Microsoft. People bought shares in companies that had no customers, had poor business planning, were operating on whimsical ideas of turning strange website ideas into billion dollar valuations. It was nuts. Delusions of grandeur... Visions of splendor. The fallout hit everyone in internet land hard. People stopped investing in their own websites. New customers were hard to find. For me, it was a reason to make a big move that I had been contemplating for some time. Meeting Leo near the beginning of that new period in my life was a sign to me that I was heading in the right direction.

You see... working with partners has many benefits. But, one of the biggest drawbacks is the inability to envision something, act on it, then personally prosper (or suffer) on the results. Leo had worked in the dog-eat-dog world for many years and had “retired” to operate a bed and breakfast in the beautiful north-east corner of Niagara. He applauded my upstart company and welcomed me to the B&B community. He explained how things work for small lodgings, what their challenges are, what politics can do to gum things up and more. He also hired my company to provide many different services. He believed in me and I appreciated it. I didn’t have partners any more to help carry the burdens of business, so I really needed a little bit of external validation... and mentoring.

Coming out of a partnership, I had concluded many things. Unless structured with executive powers assigned to some one person in particular, partnerships are inherently a democracy... rule by committee. That can work for some people... in some situations. But mostly, it creates HUGE delays. One person’s anxiety about moving on a decision can stop some great ideas from moving forward. Stepping out on the limb to a one-boss operation was intimidating, but very liberating.

What followed after my introduction to Leo was that word started to spread that I was a guy who delivered on his promises. The result was I made personal friendships with about 10 different B&B owners who were filled with encouraging words and advice. I have always suspected that Leo was making quiet references about me to his peers. Less than a year later, when my mother passed away much too young from a terrible disease that had crippled her for over 15 years, the condolences I received from this new group of customers were heart-warming. I think some of them felt I also needed a bit of surrogate parenting. They were right. I was grateful. That’s how most B&B owners are you see... They understand the human-ness of what they do. They provide “food and shelter to travelers”... directly... usually one on one. They are not overseen by corporate policy and procedures. They do not have a front desk and tiers of management. They do not put you up in numbered rooms. For them, hospitality is simply intuitive.

I will never forget doing one of my first photo-shoots at Leo’s place. Back then, I was “chief cook and bottle washer”... I did everything. Leo meticulously prepared several different breakfast dishes for me to photograph. He inspired me with his perfectionism, but also with his clear ability to present a tantalizing dish for the camera’s eye. It was all I could do to stop myself from putting down the camera to devour the Egg’s Benedict that morning. Fortunately, my professionalism kept me in line and I simply admired what surely was the dish of a consummate professional in Leo Charvat, just doing what he knew how to do... and loving doing it.

My inspiration from him was clear. Be good at what you do. Be REALLY good. Serve your customer with an appreciative and respectful manner. Charge a fair dollar. Love what you do.

In subsequent years, Leo referred lots of other work to my company and I continued to hold him in very high esteem. When some of my relatives came early from Scotland for my brother’s wedding while we were all still in Las Vegas, I did not think twice about where to put them up. Leo was our man. His hospitality and delicious breakfasts were very well-received and on the last morning when I returned to Niagara, he even invited me in for a complementary Eggs Benedict meal. There was great cheer... and it was good fun. And yes, that breakfast tasted every bit as good or better than it had looked in the pictures I took years earlier.

Leo, you will be missed. My condolences go out to his wife and B&B business partner, Zenobia and their children. May Wheaten Manor B&B continue under your good proprietorship and may Leo’s inspiration continue to guide you.

Visit Wheaten Manor B&B

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