Survival Strategies for Tough Times

I wasn't born when the stock market crashed in 1929. I'm not old enough to remember the day Pearl Harbor was hit. But I remember when the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, when FDR died and the day Kennedy was shot. The world changed each time. And now, it's changed again.'

I don't know if the magnitude is greater than the monumental days of Pearl Harbor or the bomb, but we all know where we were the morning of September 11, and we will remember it forever. Business stood still and, for a lot of businesses, it has taken a long time to come back.'

Through these difficult times, there was one common denominator the businesses that survived were never paralyzed by fear. They simply shifted gears. They didn't pull sheets over their heads, waiting for things to get better, or put off making decisions, or wait before re-grouping to handle difficult times. They re-worked their action plans, prepared to change on a day-to-day basis, and never let their confidence be shaken.

The time has come again to'not let the fear of recession, stock market volatility or thoughts of business failure numb our brains. Unfortunately, it's easy to get caught up in the wake of this kind of negative thinking.'

For the past few years, we've had a good economy, low unemployment and a growing stock market. A ton of new homes were started. People were expanding, remodeling and renovating their homes. There was no end in sight to the upswing.'

Then, even before the terrorist attacks, our economic cycle began a downturn. There was an undercurrent of uncertainty. Everyone wanted to ask the same questions: "Have we hit bottom yet?" "When will the economy get better?" "When will customers start buying again?" Stocks began to slide, the economy softened and the terrorist attacks happened.

Survival strategy
Stock analysts have told us to have patience, economic gurus have encouraged us to hang in there, and the President told us to go out and spend money that things would get better. The people in the same roles decades ago made the same statements when things were difficult, and they were right.

They were right in the 1930s after the depression it just took a little time. They were right in the '40s; the war ended and our nation started to roll again. In the '70s, we had 20% interest rates, long lines at the gas pumps and businesses falling by the wayside. But things got better. Operators of stores, businesses and dealerships thought they would never see another customer. There were contractors who thought they would never build another house.

For some kitchen and bath firms, sales have reached a low point, and it might be an uphill battle for a while. Nobody knows what next week, next month or next year is going to bring. Not everyone is going to make it. But the businesses that hunker down, redouble or retriple their efforts and are confident that the rewards will significantly multiply when the bad times are over, will survive. Kitchen and bath business firms and salespeople who put their head in the sand and stop promoting, marketing and advertising may not be around.'

It's possible that restructuring might be in order for your firm. Remember, restructuring is not just a euphemism for cutting back on staff, or eliminating some expenses. If your business is to stay alive, sometimes drastic actions have to be taken.

Taking no action at all could be very harmful to your company. Think logically. Those who are cautiously optimistic while everyone else is screaming "The sky is falling!" could reap the rewards in the months and years to come.

I've seen many business owners and salespeople talented and energetic individuals paralyzed by the events of September 11th, to the point that they procrastinate or even completely avoid doing things that would benefit them and their company. They can't deal with anything else while they are listening to all the prophets of doom.

It's in the attitude
Sure, things have gotten tough. The country is in turmoil. The stock market is down. But waiting until things get better could ensure failure.

There are opportunities afforded by any situation. It's time to seek them out. It's time for you to stand out, while your competitors curtail their activities because of the difficult economic climate. Even a modest effort will be noticed while others are doing nothing.

Abraham Lincoln said, "It's not what happens to us, it's how we handle what happens to us that makes the difference." Being paralyzed by fear is not the answer. Fear is a mind-killer. Fear can bring total obliteration.'

Now that the weeks have turned into months since the events of September 11th, it appears that we are finally turning the corner. America is spending again. The malls were crowded after Thanks-giving. The "big-box" stores were packed with customers. The specialty shops' phones started to ring, and prospects came through the door. The airlines increased their passenger count (and, of course, their prices as well). The car dealers had some of the best months ever. While zero-percent financing has had a big effect, the bigger effect was in the minds of the customers little voices saying that it was time to spend money again.'

And, in the heart of it all, people started to visit New York City again; the shows at Radio City Music Hall sold out, and Broadway came back to life (try getting a ticket to The Producers and you'll see what I mean). In Washington, DC, the museums and monuments have once again become as much of an attraction to curiosity-seekers as the Pentagon. Things are slowly coming around.

It's hard to have a smile on our faces when business starts to soften. It's even harder when a national tragedy occurs. But, customers start to buy again. Housing starts to pick up, and renovations increase. People start thinking about making their homes more livable. They did after World War II, and after the interest rates settled down and the gas lines got back to normal. They will do it now. Just be sure that when they're ready to remodel or put in their new kitchen or bathroom, you're there with a decent inventory, an optimistic attitude and a smile even when it hurts.