4 weeks ago
Monday, March 29, 2010
A Bad Business Model CANNOT be Fixed by Working Harder or Working Faster!
The first quarter of 2010 is almost over. Are you feeling economic pain yet? Financial stress is going to be unavoidable for many crafty retailers as the year unfolds. I subscribe to countless craft retail store newsletters and have noticed a marked increase in "going out of business" announcements in recent months. I am saddened, but not surprised. We are facing a wicked economy, high unemployment, and grave uncertainty as to what the future holds for us. In addition to all of THAT, the internet has changed the way that business is done. Commodity items that are a staple to the craft community can be purchased for a real savings from your online competitor. More significant, I think, is the manner in which crafters are connecting. Internet communities are springing up which threaten to take the place of the local shop, in terms of education, inspiration, and friendship.
What is the Crafty Retailer to do?
If what you are doing is not working, it might be time to think about "Doing Different."
When I got in the retail craft business, a completely inept shopkeeper could survive and a barely competent retailer could thrive. The economy was booming and beading was experiencing a huge resurgence. It was easy to import previously "hard to get" product for the DIYer and every woman in my town wanted to make a necklace for each outfit. Mommies everywhere wore bracelets proudly proclaiming the names of their progeny and Grandma was going to get a similar bracelet for Mother's Day. Times were good. The internet was in its infancy and not yet competing for my customer base. We were virtually the only game in town and life was grand. Our class calendar consisted of whatever project I was working on at the time and customers were anxious to learn. We rarely held promotional events---frankly, no retail businesses in my community did anything outside of the box. I drove to the store, unlocked the door, and flipped over the "Open" sign. There. That was it. I knew nothing about business---I fell into the "Barely Competent" category---and yet, the economy was strong enough to make up for my shortcomings and I was blissfully unaware of the danger ahead.
Initially, I tried to deal with the debt by working even harder. I was already putting in about 50 hours a week, so I set the alarm even earlier, stayed up even later. I was sick to my stomach all of the time. Anxiety attacks became a constant in my life. It was a very tough time. Since only a tiny portion of the debt was personally guaranteed, every single person who is important to me urged me to go into bankruptcy...you know...to simply walk away from it all.
I started reading business books. I hooked up with a business mentor. I vowed to make decisions with my head instead of my heart. My mentor convinced me that dropping a portion of the line we carried was critical to our turnaround. I was terrified---the item she insisted we drop is considered an industry staple and had been responsible for all of the wonderful cash flow. Unfortunately, it was also the product that was bringing us to ruin. The profit margin was abysmal because my competitors were using it as a loss leader. Our product line was not expansive enough to make up for selling crystal at cost. Crystal WAS our product line. What to do? What to do?
Although I initially resisted dropping the item from the line because I feared losing a big portion of our customer base, I ultimately followed the advice of my mentor. I was clued in enough by that point to see the folly of doing otherwise. The reality is that we did lose a big portion of our customer base and it scared the heck out of me. However, I soon became a believer----we became profitable almost immediately. It was wonderful!
Of course, when we stopped selling the low margin basics, we had to refine our niche. I finally understood that putting lots of cash into low margin inventory is a bad business model, so we focused instead on the luxury portion of the line. We added some incredible fibers to complement the crystal. We battened down the hatches and were merciless in cutting every single expense we could cut. We laid off staff members who were under performing----I will never, ever pay for a mediocre employee again. We thought of innovative ways to unload inventory we were heavy on. We marketed like crazy with a budget of zero. We called customers we hadn't heard from in a while, sending out free samples of the new product to entice them to give us a try again. We threw every spare penny at the debt. I became a believer in the importance of THE PROCESS.
Ready for the exciting part? The plan worked. The debt has diminished to a totally manageable level (think nice car instead of nice house!!!) and I can breathe again. I am still working hard, but now I am working smart. I have time to blog, I have time to create. Life is good even if the economy is not. I have been humbled but I have been blessed. I am empowered. Can you hear me roaring? Oh....and I know how to read a balance sheet.
YOU CAN DO IT, TOO! Your challenge might be much different then my own, but the point is this....if what you are doing is no longer working for you, it might be time for you to "do different." Once your reach a point where the pain of not changing is greater than the pain of change, change will come, one way or the other!
So...tell me...what are you going to 'DO DIFFERENT' in the coming months? Your survival may depend upon it and inquiring minds want to know!