How Do You Know?
How do you know if you’re making the best decisions for yourcompany? I mean really know — long-term, big-success know.
I found myself dissecting this seemingly simple questionwhile reading recent reports from the retail front. After emerging frombankruptcy last year, Frank’s Nursery & Crafts continues to struggle andposted a decrease in net sales from 2001 to 2002 of 15.2 percent. K-mart ispushing forward with its imminent emergence from bankruptcy, despite theabsence of a clear positioning statement. What about the very public financialtroubles of American and United airlines, one of which is currently shelteredby bankruptcy and the other is on the way. And let’s not forget the troubles inour own industry: growers closing down, families selling out of the industryand greenhouses being turned under for subdivisions.
I keep thinking that all of these situations have somethingin common: One company is failing when its market or its competitors aresucceeding. Frank’s, for example, thought it could offset the seasonality ofgarden products (read decreased profit from green goods) with homedécor, refusing to recognize that the two categories do not easily combineand denying its core market. American and United continue to focus onhigh-priced benefits instead of the low-cost tickets that have made competitorslike Southwest and ATA so successful. Just look at Southwest’s 24-month profitstreak if you have doubts.
So I’m back to my question: How do you know if you’re makingthe best decisions for your company? Companies such as Frank’s, K-mart andAmerican have teams of marketers, accountants, image consultants and otherbusiness gurus to guide them, and they’re still making poor choices. How can afamily-owned, single-location farmer possibly hope to make the right decisions?
The Right Answer
I don’t actually have the “right” answer, butthat’s what you were anxious to read isn’t it? Heck, I’d like to read thatarticle. Sorry, this isn’t it. Now, I’m not going to get hokey and tell you howthere’s no one answer for immediate success and how all businesses aredifferent, blah, blah, blah. We all know that, and besides, I think there aresome clear actions that we can all take, indicators that we can look for, toget the right answers or to know if we’ve already found them.
If you’re winning awards, such as GPN/MasterTag’s MarketingInnovation Award (see page 36 for details), you’re probably doing somethingright. If you’re recognized as successful by your peers, you are probablyheaded in the right direction. If your employees are happy, productive andreturn to work day after day, year after year, your company must have somethings going for it (see how to do this on page 58). But what about the realindicator? Your customers. After all, most business closures are notprecipitated by low employee moral, though it does have an effect; mostbusinesses close because they failed to understand either their market, theircustomer or their competition.
I’ve been in publishing. . .well. . .longer than I wouldcare to admit for fear of dating myself, and I’ve learned one thing: The bestway to know if I’m making the right decisions, whether that is about contentfor the magazine, yearly bonuses or anything else, is to ask. So when I want toknow if we’re publishing the right kinds of articles, I ask the readers; if Iwant to know if we should offer additional employee benefits, I ask like-sizedpublishing companies in my area.
Lest you think that I’m setting myself up as an example,this suggestion to “just ask” is not my theory. There’s a wholeschool of thought that we are all in the service industry, no matter what ourbusiness. Not traditional service in the sense that you serve food or provideentertainment, but in the sense that you are in business to serve — youremployees, your customers, yourself, whoever. Since the service industry ismuch more focused on the end user and keeping them happy, the theory is that wecan all learn something from companies like McDonald’s. We can learn to focuson the user and not the product.
I know that May is not a good time for any grower, gardencenter, distributor or other person associated with the floriculture industryto be out of the greenhouse or focused on anything other than finishing,holding and shipping product. As Roger Styer so aptly put in his column thismonth (see page 90), “Keeping up with the demands of customers, along withtraining staff and keeping fresh plants stocked, will drive many growers to theback greenhouses where they don’t have to have contact with anyone.” Theproblem is that if they do, their business will fold on top of them.