The Time is Ripe for Reinvention!

From the global effects of an on-going recession to our own local state of emergency, things appear to be getting worse and worse for business owners – in particular – those who own businesses that thrive after six pm. The nightly news occasionally features a local group, whose chief spokesperson asks on member’s behalf “when is this going to end? How are we going to navigate through a situation that has no solution?”

In “Reset” a meltdown-inspired treatise that argues for a sweeping re-evaluation of politics, culture and society, novelist and radio host Kurt Andersen offers a reform agenda for business owners. “We must not start behaving now like overcautious, unambitious scaredy-cats. We cannot just hunker down, cross our fingers, hysterically pinch our pennies wait for a crisis to pass, and expect to go back to business as usual.”

Yet with talk about town, I get a sense that many are doing just this. Everyone is discussing “what is” and the results of “what is” but I am not hearing of too many solutions. It’s as if most business owners are giving in to doubt and despair and giving up – hoping that they will have enough left over after the worse passes to kick-start into “their business part two.” But why wait till then?

How long has the recession been ‘ending’ and how long is the State of Emergency going to last? Can you really wait, pinch pennies and hope?

As my friend Ross is fond of saying “Negatory!”

I hated history in school but I am beginning to love it now because it can certainly prove to be an illuminating guide to the future given our present predicament. What history shows is that economic trauma and its lingering aftershocks have a lot to do with our psychological response. We cannot control what happens on Wall Street and we definitely cannot control what happens in our Government. What we do have control over is our mindset.

In his book “Practically Radical”, author William C. Taylor tells us that “the Great Depression itself was a springboard to a number of enduring product and business innovations that delivered great rewards to those with the courage to unleash them.”

In an essay titled “Design Loves a Depression,” Michael Cannell chronicled how the dark days of the 1930s became a golden age of design. For the best designers the uniquely difficult circumstances were a spur to unprecedented creativity. They used new materials, new forms and new styles to create products and looks that were relevant to a new era and a new culture.

A story I came across recently totally blew my mind. William Wrigley Jr at age 13 was a travelling salesman for his father’s soap company. “Soap?” I thought “Didn’t they sell chewing gum?” Well in 1891 he peddled soap with baking powder as a sales premium. In 1892 as a sideline he began selling baking powder with chewing gum as a premium. The response was so good he dropped the soap and baking powder to focus exclusively on selling gum eventually making “Wrigley’s” a familiar name.

How many of us have the “belly” first of all to try something different? How many of us are afraid to make changes – or test the market to see what it will bear? And finally how many of us are willing to make the “product” that we used as an incentive – our main business?

Want more recent examples? It was during the 1980’s – during the frightening combination of a severe recession AND industry deregulation that American Airlines introduced the concept of the ‘frequent-flyer’ program – a creative short term move to promote brand loyalty. What about when Fed Ex was launched? During a time when jet fuel prices were rocketing and ReMax was launched in the same year – 1973- when the housing market was entering a severe downturn.

So what are you going to do?

Discounting your products and services to an unprofitable level is not the answer.

Sitting around the camp fire discussing how awful things are now and that it’s only going to get worse won’t help either.

You MUST move beyond the mindset of lowered expectations. For starters – Don’t settle for employees who are prepared to text on their phones rather than engage your customers and sell your merchandise. For those employees showing initiative, why not find out what ideas they might have? They may surprise you. And finally – shift your focus from what is going on in the world to what is going on in your business. Don’t limit your chances. This may very well be the end of Trinidad and Tobago as we know it – but it definitely is NOT the end of Trinidad and Tobago!

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