How a 79-year-old helped me launch my clothing line

When I was a 20 year old college student, I first read the classic, How To Win Friends and Influence People.  It helped lay the foundation for how I look at relationships, business, and life. One thing we all have in common, no matter what business or service, is that we all work with people, real human beings, in one way or another.  This book gave me practical yet timeless wisdom for how to love people, how to cultivate healthy relationships, and how to move my ideas forward in a diplomatic way that’s congruent with building a healthy organization.

After launching my fourth business – Trim, and Dale’s principles have been fundamental to how I approach every business. I have a background and current businesses in real estate and automotive, so how in the world do I jump into the insane, artistically driven world of creating an innovative fashion line?  Here I am, finding myself as a total rookie in an industry I’ve never been in, that’s driven largely by artists-and working with artists is very different from working with business people. Oh and I’m doing something I’ve never done before, which is create a product.

The idea came about when I was frustrated with my own, poor fitting, boxy shirts. I wanted to design something beautiful that would break the one-size-fits-all pattern that’s been on the market for years for men.  Years of frustration of buying poor fitting, box shaped shirts that don’t fit my athletic and sometimes slender frame built up and led me to create TRIM.  We make clothes for the athletic or trim man, starting with a collection of really unique denim shirts made right here in the USA. We just launched March 30th, 2015.

Dale’s materiel is fundamental on how to treat people like human beings with dignity.  Out of everything he said, the 6 ways to make people like you have been absolutely foundational to how I approach interacting with people, building my team and more.  Let me share a few of the ways using Carnegie’s Six Ways to Make People Like You as a guide:


1. Become genuinely interested in other people. 

This has been a habit of mine, though I certainly have my fair share of selfish moments.  I frankly find people fascinating, their stories, their wisdom, the obstacles they’ve overcome and are overcoming.  When I launched my business, I was overwhelmed with how many of my friends, acquaintances and even competitors supported me in my new venture.  Nearly 70% of my pre-sales have come from people whom I’ve had a real tangible connection.  Even, Ron the owner of this Dale Carnegie franchise, in a brief conversation saw something in me—this young startup entrepreneur pursuing a big dream, that he offered to let me share my story with you.  It’s because of people like him, helping me along the way and vice versa that I even have this opportunity to start a new business.


2. Smile.

Even when I’m on the phone (unless I’m getting unsolicited sales calls-sorry I don’t always smile with that), or in a meeting, I strive to make sure I smile. Not only are you happier when you smile, it sends out positive vibes and aids in a genuine conversation.  Whenever visiting my partners, I always am sure to greet them with a big smile, a hug when appropriate, and genuine excitement to see them.  Why?  Because I am excited to see them and I want them to feel and know that I’m enthusiastic and pumped about working with them.


3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language. 

Wow, this is huge.  I cannot say I’m perfect at this, but I will do little things like go back through a Facebook party invite list (From the launch party we just had) and pair faces with names as there are often people that I met months ago one time, that I cannot recall their name.  And, I know how significant that is and how great it feels when someone remembers you.


4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.

I like to call it “putting the spotlight on the other person,” like making them the star of the moment, but being genuinely interested and engaged in them. We’ve been given two ears and one mouth for a reason. When you go out to dinner or lunch with a loved one, a business associate, or a team member, putting the spotlight on them is invaluable—hence why I nearly always go airplane mode when sharing a meal so that I can be fully present and connect.  Working with the fashion designers and fashion insiders, it’s been fascinating to learn their stories, why they love what they do, and who they seek to.


5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests. 

Thoughtfully engaging and listening to really understand a person and what makes them tick and what they love about life and their story. Engaging with our team members, partners and customers, and creating space to hear their story, their passions, and ideas for what we’re working on has created the space for so much rapid growth and improvement from where we started to where we are now.


6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

And really what I’ve learned, is doing all of the above, when done genuinely, will make the other person feel important.  For a rookie fashion startup, I’m already honored to say I have several “A” players on our team who are exceptional.  For example, fingers crossed one of my newest team members will be someone who was the marketing and sales director for LVMH brands, the largest luxury goods conglomerate in the world.  And she wants to be a part of my little startup men’s fashion line.  Why?  Because she knows she’ll be respected and honored as someone important on our team.


Let’s recap.  I love these principles.  Simple, beautiful, timeless, and congruent with loving people. They can change your life and your business, whether you’re in sales, an entrepreneur, an ER Doctor, or a stay at home mom.  Let them become even more of a core part of your how you do business and life.  You’ll be glad you did.


-Mike Zeller