How Every Element of Your Firm Can Work for You

Right now, I am finding that most decorative plumbing showrooms are struggling. For instance, gross sales volume is on life support, margins have had the sweat wrung from them and expenses have already been cut to the bone. Today, there’s no room for the relaxed atmosphere of yesterday, so it’s no wonder office laughter has seemingly gone silent.

And the macro outlook is really not any better. Consumers, even with stellar credit, can’t secure money. The general mood about the economy is beaten down by mainstream media that refuses to recognize even a flicker of good news. So it’s no wonder the rumor mill, our own avenue of underground communication, is spewing nothing but trash about what’s ahead for us. Basically, we’re gasping for air pockets just to survive.

Plan for Success

So, what exactly am I doing about this situation – a situation I have no control over? I’m taking definitive action. I’m thinking differently about my business. One thing for sure is that I’m certainly not going to just sit back and wait.
First of all, I realized that it was time to take inventory. For me, that meant looking at what I know I’m doing right, and knowing what I’m doing wrong.

I looked at my entire business and listed all of the elements that make the company run…things like products and how I select them, advertising for the company, the perception or image of the company and a fine-tuned look at our expenses. These are just a few of the things that keep The Bath + Beyond going.

I listed all of the elements I could think of and then divided them into two categories: elements that are working and not in need of change, and areas of the company that could use improvement to be more successful.

Just as a side note, an important distinction is that there are no “unsuccessful factors” in any business, just those things that could be successful if done well enough.

So, in a short time, I created my list of elements that make up my company. These included Sales Volume, Margins, Advertising, Expenses, Marketing, Merchandising, Image, Product Selection, Client Base, Displays, Facilities, Personnel and Message.

Now it was time to do a reality check. Was each area working the best it could? Was I satisfied with the performances in that area? If so, I wrote the word “maintain” next to the key word. If I felt that this was an area that could use improvement, I wrote “repair” next to the specific element.

After hours of close scrutiny, not one item on the list was safe. Not one element had the word “maintain” after it. Things needed to be changed drastically. I knew it, and there was no better time to think differently than now…when I had the time.

I then listed next to each element questions about that particular category. Let’s take advertising as an example.

Questions I posed to myself were: Where do I advertise? What types of media do I use? How often do I advertise? Who is my target audience? Do our ads have style and class? Is the message the right message conveyed to the client? Is there an underlying message? And perhaps most importantly, would this ad attract me?

I again expanded on each sub-comment with enough specific information to make a proper assessment of each element. After finishing with my comments and observations, I realized I could do better, be stronger and have a better and more complete message in most elements of my firm. My efforts were now to make repairs…everywhere I possibly could in my business.

Check Your Image

One of the first elements I really studied was image. The image of The Bath + Beyond is very important to the company and to me. Image conveys who you are, what you do and what you can do for the customer.
I wanted to explore whether The Bath + Beyond’s image needed repair or whether it should be left alone. So next to the word “Image” I listed some questions, including:

  • What is our image?
  • What is the tone?
  • Is there a central theme?
  • What is the common denominator?
  • How can I improve?
  • Does everything blend?
  • Is there consistency in colors, type and production?
  • Is the overall look sloppy or is it tailored?

After this was done, I realized I wanted to get a real overview of all of the things that contributed to our image. So I went through the showroom and gathered up everything that had the name “The Bath + Beyond” on it. The pile grew: business cards, invoices, credit memos, brochures, stationery and the like.

I placed each piece on the floor of my office. I added the fax cover sheet, our envelope, all of the in-store signage (almost 40 pieces alone), the “off-the-floor” notices, the “lunch on us” brochure, our “airline miles program,” “green brochure,” “comment card,” “professional services” brochure and every ad from the last three years. I finished with a whole host of the soon-to-be released Web site pages.

I then stood up on a chair in the middle of the room and looked down at a floor that was completely covered with company literature, forms and the like. And what did I see? Some consistency, some lost souls, some color and some things drab as the color beige. I also saw some excitement as well as some things that seemed boring.

It’s amazing how things stand out from above. I did, however, notice how we had evolved from basic two-tone gray colors to a sea of vibrant colors sending a message of fun and life that could not be seen in our early literature. Secondary colors like oranges, bright blues and yellows and greens all worked, too. Tangerines, matte green and opaque, translucent pages in the handouts brought about a sense of class.

I found that different sizing on different handouts worked well, too. Nothing was standard. Everything unfolded differently. Some pieces were 6"x6", some were 5"x6", others were 8½"x11" or 4"x7". Each was a different color and size, and all conveyed a different message. I had done my homework over the last two years changing our image; so maybe our “image” was correct.

I could certainly go on about this topic. But for now, I think the point is clear – take what you have, make that list, scrutinize every item associated with your business and determine if it’s working as hard as it can. But most of all, think differently.