How do you draw consumers during a soft market? By thinking outside the box and updating your business model. One great way to attract interest is to showcase a `green' message in your store. Many manufacturers are already creating new displays that boast of their products' green benefits, as in the display pictured here.

Much is being said about Surfaces 2008. There is no question these are tough times in the flooring business, and elsewhere.  So, one would have expected the mood on the show floor to be down and dreary.  But it was not. The mood was surprisingly upbeat. Attendance was down, but the attendees’ spirits were definitely high. This reminded me once again that many people in the flooring industry are as resilient as the flooring products they market, sell or install.

Recall the immortal words of Thomas Paine. With Washington’s army battered and bloodied and many soldiers teetering between dedication and desertion, he wrote:  “These are the times that try men’s souls.” When things get tough, he went on to say, “the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot” will “shrink from service.” Those that do not relent deserve “the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Historians tell us our Revolutionary War soldiers were of two minds. Some, the crisis-minded, expected to easily defeat the enemy. As such, they had not anticipated the reverse scenario nor had they anticipated the difficult conditions. When faced with defeat, they reacted with fear, denial, or complacency. They sat immobilized.

Others, the opportunity-minded soldiers, had braced themselves for trouble. The conditions were no less horrid for them, but instead of shutting down, they harnessed their discomfort. The result was ingenuity and determination. They may have resented their flight but they also embraced it as an opportunity-for themselves and their countrymen. Perhaps, they took heart from another statement from Paine: “[Crises] bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered.” Bottomline:  They had confidence in their own potential to overcome.

Applying courage and wits, they recognized the reality and initiated the changes needed. They saw themselves masters of even this desperate situation.  With hope, they sought ways to survive. A century later, Charles Darwin would conclude that this choice to adjust and cope is intrinsic to our very existence: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

So I ask you: With the economic boom gone, how would you describe your attitude? Are you thinking “doom and gloom” or “hidden opportunity”?  I believe our attitude and thoughts are a bigger factor in our success than the economy or almost any external factor. There is an African proverb: “It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your mind.” 

The ancient Greeks believed that we can actually improve our future by developing our abilities and acting in ways that yield positive benefits long-term. The Greeks knew that no one’s plans ever fully materialize. Instead, they urged their citizens to: A) Prepare for all eventualities; and B) Make choices today that would assure them the resources needed for tomorrow’s unknowns. This age old wisdom will serve you well during this disruptive time in our industry. 

The opportunity-minded look at a half glass of water differently than the crisis-minded. When bombs rained down on England in WW II, Winston Churchill kept the Brits hopeful with this gem: “An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity.” 

When resilient people face adversity they experience the same apprehension as the crisis-minded. It’s their reaction that differs. Resilient types orient quickly to changing circumstances and grapple with the opposition; even when the future is uncertain. They use their resources to grow stronger; and they persist until they lift themselves up. Challenge, to them, is not a heavy beam on their shoulder weighing them down. It’s a pole they can use to vault over any obstacle. The task ahead strengthens and energizes them. They refuse to be demoralized.

This mindset brings many advantages. Stay optimistic and opportunity oriented, and you will be more productive and live a healthier life. You’ll begin to see problems as opportunities. You’ll achieve more while inspiring those around you. You’ll encounter less conflict, and feel more enthusiastic about work. 

Most of those I met at Surfaces exhibited this opportunity-minded thinking process.  But you are wondering where to begin. I urge you think more optimistically. Consider these three actions: 1) Look for the silver lining by seeking new opportunities; 2) Learn from these trying times; 3) Take action!  Convert misfortune into progress.

In the silver-lining department, what good do you think you can draw from these “trying times”?  If competitors have shut, does that mean there is an opportunity to build market share? How about opportunities like commercial work or insurance replacement-markets you had not entered because you were too busy?  Might you find some waste in your business that has been costing you thousands of dollars-costs you had been too busy to unearth in good times? 

Next, what can you learn about running your business more effectively? I have learned much more from my failures than from my successes. My divorce, the biggest failure of my life, taught me more about life and marriage than eighteen years of a successful marriage. When Thomas Edison was asked about his failed attempts to create an electric light bulb, he showed no discouragement. Rather, he responded: “We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb.” What can you learn from the failures in your business and in competitors’ companies about running a business better?

Finally, what can you do to turn misfortune into progress?  It’s the perfect time to be “procreactive.” When you find new business and opportunities, study them and stick with the ones that appear profitable. 

The dealers at Surfaces 2008 clearly were looking to find opportunities to grow, take market share, find new products for their customers, etc. Crisis-minded people tend to think successful people are just lucky. But I think “the lucky” create their luck. “Those who win, expect to win, and so make their own luck.”  They believe the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence, but is greener where you water it.

The opportunity-minded are not the Pollyannas of the world. They are fully aware of problems and that’s exactly where they look for solutions. They know about difficulties, but believe they can be overcome. They see the negatives, but choose to accentuate the positives. They are exposed to the worst, but expect the best.  Like you and me, they have reason to complain, but choose to smile. Francis Bacon would consider them wise: “A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.”

Will you be the dealer who doesn’t recognize opportunity until you see it working for a competitor?  Or will you treat this time as a challenge, seize it as an opportunity, and prosper from it?  I recommend you be opportunity-minded. What have you got to lose?