How Do You Know?

May 9, 2003 - 08:04

Editor's report

How do you know if you're making the best decisions for your
company? I mean really know -- long-term, big-success know.

I found myself dissecting this seemingly simple question
while reading recent reports from the retail front. After emerging from
bankruptcy last year, Frank's Nursery & Crafts continues to struggle and
posted a decrease in net sales from 2001 to 2002 of 15.2 percent. K-mart is
pushing forward with its imminent emergence from bankruptcy, despite the
absence of a clear positioning statement. What about the very public financial
troubles of American and United airlines, one of which is currently sheltered
by bankruptcy and the other is on the way. And let's not forget the troubles in
our own industry: growers closing down, families selling out of the industry
and greenhouses being turned under for subdivisions.

I keep thinking that all of these situations have something
in common: One company is failing when its market or its competitors are
succeeding. Frank's, for example, thought it could offset the seasonality of
garden products (read decreased profit from green goods) with home
décor, refusing to recognize that the two categories do not easily combine
and denying its core market. American and United continue to focus on
high-priced benefits instead of the low-cost tickets that have made competitors
like Southwest and ATA so successful. Just look at Southwest's 24-month profit
streak if you have doubts.

So I'm back to my question: How do you know if you're making
the best decisions for your company? Companies such as Frank's, K-mart and
American have teams of marketers, accountants, image consultants and other
business gurus to guide them, and they're still making poor choices. How can a
family-owned, single-location farmer possibly hope to make the right decisions?

The Right Answer

I don't actually have the "right" answer, but
that's what you were anxious to read isn't it? Heck, I'd like to read that
article. Sorry, this isn't it. Now, I'm not going to get hokey and tell you how
there's no one answer for immediate success and how all businesses are
different, blah, blah, blah. We all know that, and besides, I think there are
some clear actions that we can all take, indicators that we can look for, to
get the right answers or to know if we've already found them.

If you're winning awards, such as GPN/MasterTag's Marketing
Innovation Award (see page 36 for details), you're probably doing something
right. If you're recognized as successful by your peers, you are probably
headed in the right direction. If your employees are happy, productive and
return to work day after day, year after year, your company must have some
things going for it (see how to do this on page 58). But what about the real
indicator? Your customers. After all, most business closures are not
precipitated by low employee moral, though it does have an effect; most
businesses close because they failed to understand either their market, their
customer or their competition.

I've been in publishing. . .well. . .longer than I would
care to admit for fear of dating myself, and I've learned one thing: The best
way to know if I'm making the right decisions, whether that is about content
for the magazine, yearly bonuses or anything else, is to ask. So when I want to
know if we're publishing the right kinds of articles, I ask the readers; if I
want to know if we should offer additional employee benefits, I ask like-sized
publishing 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 whole
school of thought that we are all in the service industry, no matter what our
business. Not traditional service in the sense that you serve food or provide
entertainment, but in the sense that you are in business to serve -- your
employees, your customers, yourself, whoever. Since the service industry is
much more focused on the end user and keeping them happy, the theory is that we
can all learn something from companies like McDonald's. We can learn to focus
on the user and not the product.

I know that May is not a good time for any grower, garden
center, distributor or other person associated with the floriculture industry
to 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 this
month (see page 90), "Keeping up with the demands of customers, along with
training staff and keeping fresh plants stocked, will drive many growers to the
back greenhouses where they don't have to have contact with anyone." The
problem is that if they do, their business will fold on top of them.

About The Author

Bridget White is Editorial Director of GPN. She can be reached at (847) 391-1004, e-mail:

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