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Lessons from Lawrence Welk


Posted on Friday, April 5, 2019 in Small Business Today Articles

Last weekend we drove to Sioux City to visit my 97 year old father in law.  Joe still lives in the same house he has lived in for over 70 years.  He drives himself to work five, sometimes six day per week and to the grocery store on Saturday.  Although he walks with a cane, he is still able to get around.  Joe loves music and is likely the oldest active member ever of the St. Michael’s Church choir.  Since we were there over the weekend, one of the things we found out about Joe is that he still likes to watch the Lawrence Welk Show on Saturday nights.

For those of you who are not familiar with Lawrence Welk, he hosted a show on TV that mostly appealed to an older demographic.  If you are closer to my age, you will almost certainly have a grandparent that tuned into public television at 6:30 every Saturday night to watch.  This musical variety show featured music from the big band era and was mainly light and airy.  Some might call the musical sketches corny, but there was never any doubt that they were intended to be G rated, and nothing racier.

We sat there with 2 of Joanne’s brothers and Joe watching a show that we eventually figured out was first broadcast in 1961.  Several thoughts occurred to me.  The first was that things that are truly entertaining and bring a smile to someone, never go out of style.  While I used to think the last show I would ever want to watch was Lawrence Welk, it was fun to listen to Joanne and her brothers recount the memories they had of the show and some of the performers. 

Another thought I had was not every product is going to appeal to every person.  Lawrence Welk had a certain demographic that he was trying to entertain and he never varied from that niche.  Frankly he was very successful and had, and still has a loyal following.  As I researched Welk and his life, he was periodically asked by TV producers to change his style, but he steadfastly refused.  Even when performing contemporary songs, he modified them enough to still fit his style.  And it worked.

The final revelation was that the show had one boss, one person who provided the direction and inspiration.  In doing additional research, it was made clear that if a performer didn’t agree with the direction of the show or their role in it, they were replaced.  That is a tough way to run an organization, but in the end it was effective.  Nobody other than Lawrence Welk was as successful showcasing classic music from the big band era.  One thing I couldn’t tell was how the boss handled ideas and input from the others he worked with.

The lessons from that long running, old show that appeals to what I consider older adults can apply to what we do in our business lives.  Find a niche, do it better than anyone else and bring smiles to the faces of your customers. Sounds easy, but it is incredibly difficult.  Our job as small business owners and managers is to do the same thing in our corners of the world.  It starts with defining our vision, and effectively communicating it to the world.

Later on Saturday night I wondered what my kids will sit and watch with me as I grow older.  It might be reruns of “The Midnight Special” or “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert”.  I just hope they learn to enjoy, or at least tolerate my tastes from way back when.

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