A few months ago I noticed in the press that a bike retailer had gone bust. It wasn’t a big news piece and it seemed to be just another retailer who had followed the long list of others who had gone to the wall in recent times.  The owner of the business said they had struggled to compete with internet retailers, was stuck with high store rents and customer demand had slowed. This seems to be a common problem for retailers at the moment.

Maybe I’m a cynic but I can’t help but wonder if part of the problem was that they’re just stuck in the past, unsure of how to react to a rapidly changing market-place and then failed because they couldn’t see or ignored what they needed to do and just kept repeating what they’d always done. The reason I say this is that failure never happens overnight. It’s a slow process that happens bit by bit. One poor decision layered on top of many others. The warning signs are there long before the fat lady sings. There’s plenty of time to change but usually the decisions are tough and painful and they’re not taken. Surgery is needed but only Band-Aids are applied. Failure is a natural consequence.

The starting point I think is to continually ask this one important question – “what’s my job?” If you don’t answer with “to satisfy my customers” then it’s time for a re-think. Customers are smart and they’ll know when you are really trying to satisfy them or are just going through the motions. If you continue to sell them last year’s version then they’ll eventually get restless and move on. They can smell a compelling offer a mile away and they’ll compare yours with the myriad of others coming their way from competitors and channels that didn’t exist 10 years ago.

The businesses that succeed will rise above the others because they are fixated on giving their customers something special and valuable. Something that gets better every month and every year and that they can’t do without. Everyone else will be scrabbling around in the dirt trying to meet payroll every month.

But what else do you need to do to surge ahead in tough times?  Here are some tried and true principles that might help:

  • Do it by nightfall. Stop stuffing around. Work faster. Do it now.
  • Over-communicate. Communicate everything important DAILY to everyone, not just the inner circle. Use the collective brains trust of the entire organisation to solve problems and create opportunities.
  • Create teams. Individual accountability is good (and necessary) but small-team accountability brings peer pressure into the dynamics and that is healthy, productive and fun.
  • Fanatical simplicity. Only do things that help to “satisfy my customers”. Nothing else.
  • Supply chain. It’s the backbone of your company and should be a huge generator of profit. Got it.
  • Costs matter. Every last cent. Only spend money on what makes you more money.
  • Front Line. Get face to face with your customers and suppliers. Regularly. Consider it mandatory education.
  • Measure Everything. If you don’t measure it you can’t control it.
  • Change fast and often. The status quo is dangerous. Innovate even when you don’t need to.
  • Bring your A-Game.  To every meeting, phone call and other interaction. The “big” deal is coming. Be ready.
  • Don’t Blame. Learn instead and move on quickly. You can’t change mistakes. Do better next time.
  • Create a Hero culture. Publicly praise and reward the heroes in your business. They’ll love it and the others will want to be it.
  • Steal Business. From your competitors. Pick off the ones that take their customers for granted.

The tough times will be around for a while but there’s still plenty of money to be made and markets to be conquered. You can’t sit it out and wait for things to improve. You’ll go bust or at least lose a chunk of market share to someone leaner and better than you. Don’t let it happen. Focus on what you can control and forget about what you can’t. Start with the question “what’s my job” and go hard. You’ll do fine…

Article by The Bull