Peter Drucker, America’s management guru, once said a business only has two functions: Marketing and Innovation. Marketing because if the purpose of a business is to create and keep customers, then the business has to constantly keep telling its story and articulating why it’s in its target customers’ best interest to buy from it. Innovation is critical because of the need for a business to create a unique selling proposition to separate itself from its competitors and to deal with change.
Who needs to be more innovative than a flooring retailer in these tough economic times? Many retailers’ very survival is at stake. Why innovation? What worked yesterday is not working today. The retailers that are thriving today are reinventing their companies. They are trying and doing different things; going after different markets, different customers, using different methods to market, to sell, to connect and to build relationships. They have to work like they’ve never had to before. Before the recession, many didn’t have to worry about advertising or even giving great customer service. Things have changed. Things will never be the same again.
It’s time for us to use our imaginations and create our new future. The problem is that most of us, including me, aren’t using our imaginations. When we were children, we used our imaginations to create. We all thought we were good artists. Remember what Picasso said? “All children are artists. The trick is to remain an artist.”
As adults we now have switched our imaginations from creating to worrying. Adults use their imaginations to worry. That worry creates stress and immobilizes. Worry does nothing for us unless it causes us to change or take action. Here are some responses from floor covering dealers who used their imaginations to reinvent themselves.
Here’s Ernie Ekberg’s story from Ernie’s Remodeling and Repair, Weatherford, Texas: “My wife and I had a small Mom and Pop retail store here in town. We did quite well, until the big box stores showed up. The two of could not compete and so she took an office manager position and I just went back to installing.
“I tried the retail route and tried to get as much commercial as I could handle. All the while I was installing flooring in luxury motor coaches. Commercial and residential dried up and I went full forward to the motor coaches.
“I started a website and haven’t looked back. I do more work for a great fee. I showcase the jobs from start to finish, sending a general email to the group and advising them of daily progress. I update the client’s album with progress photos. If the owner cannot be on site, they can see at a glance the status of their job.”
Here’s a story from Matt Ketterman at Got You Floored in Greensboro, N.C: “I am having a blast with this recession. Except for some sleepless nights worrying about collecting, we are turning over stones, taking market share, and trying to figure out new ways to get better. Customers that didn’t have the time of day for me in the last few years are suddenly back in working roles and are much more approachable for me to consult with them on how we can help them through this recession. We are taking the approach of ‘we are in this together.’ I am trying to teach them how to minimize costs and stay with us.”
Doesn’t sound like he’s immobilized to me; he’s figuring out ways to get better. One last story from Joanne Peretti at Fashion Floors and Cabinets in Lexington, Va.:“I just read your article in National Floor Trends magazine. I would add another lesson: be proactive. During the last recession I sat back and watched my IRA dwindle to practically nothing. At the beginning of this recession, I set up an appointment with my financial adviser to diversify my funds and purchase more conservative funds. This initiative has paid off.
“With respect to my flooring and cabinet business I took the following proactive steps: 1) contacted my landlord and negotiated lower rent; 2) applied for an interest free SBA-ARC loan to pay off my line of credit. The loan payments are deferred for 18 months with a 60 month payback; 3) increased advertising and set up a Facebook page; 4) eliminated paying commission to my salaried designer until the business was making a profit; 5) raised the profit margin on the low end ceramic tile by 5% as that segment was making up the majority of the sales; 6) sourced a new cabinet line at a more affordable price point compared to the semi-custom and custom line I already offer; and 7) installed a programmable thermostat to control the heating and cooling expenses.
“It’s been a rocky road as sales are down 47.3%, but I am confident my business will still be here in 2010.”
After one of my speeches in which I talked about the importance of innovation and creativity, an attendee asked, “You make it sound easy, but how can you be creative when you don’t know what to do?” Creativity is not easy and requires work. That’s why it is so rare.
Here’s the secret to making yourself more creative. First decide what you want. Give your mind a clear goal of your desired outcome, even if you have no idea on how you will solve your problem. Once your outcome is clear give it to your mind. But, your work has just begun.
You next have to immerse yourself in research, hard-core research. Go to the library, surf the net, network with others, call consultants, survey other businesses, go to seminars and totally immerse yourself in any information that might be pertinent to your problem.
Here’s a critical thing you can do right now: register to attend Surfaces 2010. Attend every educational event you can attend, but make sure you target specific challenges for which you are looking for solutions. With all that information you have gathered, study it out in your mind, think about it, and deliberate on it.
Then walk away. Go do something fun. Let go. Your conscious mind will be distracted, but your subconscious mind will still be focused on your problem. Soon your subconscious will send you ideas. Great ideas come to the relaxed but focused mind. Brainstorm; don’t judge. Write all the ideas down. Then identify the best ideas and put action plans together, and go to work!
The work in being innovative or creative reminds me of what Alexander Hamilton once said: “Men give me credit for some genius. All the genius I have lies in this: when I have a subject in hand, I study it profoundly. Day and night it is before me. My mind becomes pervaded with it. Then the effort that I have made is what people are pleased to call the fruit of genius. It is the fruit of labor and thought.”
Being innovative requires effort and study. There are things you can do in your business that can have a dramatic impact on your results. You just have to work to discover them. Go find them and quit making excuses for yourself. Who knows? Some may even consider you a genius.