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Get smart, tough, or buried

Staff Reports

You don’t need a consultant to tell you Vail Valley business is on the rocks. Bad news abounds: domestic/global recession, war/peace in Iraq, public health fears (SARS), and worse for Vail Valley business, a precipitous decline in travel and shopping.We are in a vicious cycle; bad news feeds on bad news. But lest we forget, there was a virtuous circle not too long ago: good news generated optimism. There is a pattern here: a boom is followed by a bust, which leads to a boom, etc. Of course, what you care about is, “I’m hurting, what can I do now?” I don’t have a panacea, but I have a guiding principle: Get smart, get tough, or get buried. Get smart There are four ways to Get Smart: reinvent yourself, tenaciously pursue customers, market like you never have before, and don’t fret the competition beat ’em. Let’s take a closer look. Reinvention Get smart means reinventing yourself periodically. Start with a blank sheet of paper, label it reinvention, then draw three columns, and label them mission, vision, U.S.P. Mission This is what you are. Describe it. The mission keeps you focused. Vision This is what you want to be. Describe it. The vision keeps you motivated. U.S.P. This is a Unique Selling Proposition; it’s what differentiates you from competitors and gives buyers a choice. What’s your U.S.P.? If you don’t have one, create one. If you don’t create one, you’ll get buried.Start with those three steps, but don’t describe them merely in your head. Write them down. Share them with your staff, your customers, your suppliers, your bank. In tough times, you can’t do business as usual. You must take a hard look at yourself, reinforce what works, drop what doesn’t and steer a new course. If you don’t, you’re toast. Go after customers In good times (remember the go-go ’90s?), it’s easy to take customers for granted. It’s easy to become dependent on a steady income stream, to create false expectations, to believe you’re entitled to business growth. That’s a mirage.Customers don’t need you; you need customers. So you’ve got to go after them. You must serve them. Help them. Answer their questions. Solve their problems. Be there when they need you. And, you must ratchet up the marketing.Marketing With apologies to Nike: Just Do It! In tough times, many businesses cut back on marketing. It’s prudent not to spend what you don’t have. But cutting the budget shouldn’t mean cutting your throat. There is a proven axiom for marketing success:You need share of voice (marketing)to gain share of mind (awareness)which leads to share of market (volume)and culminates in increased profits ($$$$$).So how/when/where do you advertise? Your choice; just do it. There are ample media throughout the Vail Valley. Explore them. Modify their offering to suit your needs. Run ads. Send out press releases. Give speeches. Volunteer. Paint signs on your vehicle (on your clean vehicle). Send direct mail. Make sure you’re listed in the yellow pages. At the very least, make sure you have: a) a business card, b) a product flyer, and c) a Web site. Check out mine at TheCompetitiveEdge.org.Competitors There are three strategies for dealing with competitors: pre-empt, react, ignore. Pre-empt means be the first mover. Innovate, update, communicate. If you move first, competitors must play catch up. Pre-empt also keeps you from getting lazy. React is just the opposite: you follow the leader. There’s nothing wrong with being a follower. It’s cheaper and you avoid the mistakes the first mover makes. But don’t react to everything the pre-emptor does. Ignore. Sometimes it’s best to ignore the competitor and focus on the customer. The big guys have the resources to pre-empt and react; in tough times the little guy should keep on serving, serving, serving the customer.Let’s get specific. T-Rex is coming to Avon in the form of two box stores. They are national chains; they have deep inventory and low pricing. What can an local business do to survive? Let’s follow the four-step template described above. Reinvent yourself. Do the three-step process. You can’t compete on price or breadth/depth of offering. But you can compete on service, on being local, on being a taxpayer (they’re not) and contributor to the Vail Valley community. The big box wants to be everything to everyone. A small competitor must be a few things to a few people. What is your USP? What makes you unique? I have a client of 20 years who values my USP: straight talk. When he asks for advice and counsel, I don’t sugarcoat it; I tell it straight even if it hurts. As a consultant, I’m a flea up against mastodons. But I survive. Go after customers. Call ’em, visit ’em, e-mail ’em, welcome ’em, serve ’em. Attend business association meetings VVCTB and VCBA and network relentlessly. Swap business cards. Do what the big box can’t do: care about customers as people, not just customers as ka-ching. Market/sell. When’s the last time you ran an ad? Updated your literature? Ran a special deal? Sent out direct mail? Asked for a referral? If you’re a retailer, when’s the last time you cleaned your shop? Washed the windows? Gave your staff tips on selling? If you’re a restaurant, what’s your special for the mud season? Vista in Avon seems to be busy nightly with its special. Competitors. If I’m ACE Hardware in Vail, and Home Depot opens 10 miles away, what do I do? I don’t roll over just because Godzilla has arrived. ACE has a strong product mix, fair prices, ample parking, easy in-and-out, and most importantly, people who care, up to and including, the proprietors. Get tough deals with the emotional and psychological facets of running a business. I’m speaking from practical experience here. I started my consulting practice in New York City in 1980 in the corner of a bedroom with a typewriter and a phone. It wasn’t easy but I survived. I practiced the ideas printed here. And I never gave up. You can have the greatest business plan in the world, but if you don’t execute, if you can’t stomach adversity and bounce back, then fold your tent; you won’t survive tough times.Nietzsche said: “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” You need inner strength, a positive attitude and resiliency to survive and thrive. If you have it and the other guy doesn’t, you win, and he/she loses.Let’s start with a list of don’ts. Don’t hunker down. Don’t clam up or complain. Don’t be a groundhog; be a tortoise instead. You know what happened to the tortoise and the hare. The hares flared in the ’90s (dot.coms) and flamed out in 2000. Slow and steady beats a flash in the pan.Most importantly of all, keep on selling. Many businesses fall victim to the “Field of Dreams” trap: “If I build it, they will come.” To which I reply: NO they won’t. Not unless you AFTO: Ask For The Order. I find many sellers reluctant to AFTO. They think that presenting their product, demonstrating their service, smiling a lot, driving a client around in an expensive German car, is sufficient to closing a deal. It’s not. Buyers in tough times are reluctant to buy. They need reasons and confidence to buy. It’s your job to help them.Paul Kuzniar is a local business consultant who can be reached by phone at (970) 479-0054 or on the Web at http://www.TheCompetitiveEdge.org.


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