Changing Your Mind About Change

I know there was a time when the old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" was an accepted business principle. Managers could succeed by letting things ride.

Before "business casual" became a dress code, it was an operating system. There was no rush to create new ways and new opportunities. But, like kitchen dealers who only bought cabinets from distributors, this system has checked into the retirement home.

Change is now the word of the day, and has become an operating system. It is no longer an option, but rather a necessity. The speed of business has accelerated to the point where we're all running, and those who have embraced change are running at the head of the pack. Those who have not are lagging further and further behind.

Our industry has changed more in the last 10 years than it has in the previous 50. It's an amazing exercise to contemplate all of the manufacturers and retailers who are no longer in business. Why did they go away? What changes in the marketplace did they fail to recognize?'

More importantly, why and how are you still here? Did you have to make changes to survive? Were you pushed into those changes, or did you welcome them? Are you resting on your laurels, or anticipating new changes?

Seeing the signs
I'm always surprised, although I probably shouldn't be, when I meet dealers who aren't computerized. They tell me that they hand draw their plans to present a more "custom" image to their clients. As a designer, I think that's great. As a business person, I know that it takes these folks longer to do perspectives, do pricing, make design changes and place orders. The speed of business has to be considered in how today's operations are run. Commerce now moves on the wings of technology.

Besides, every day our customers are becoming more proficient and dependent on technology. They expect a CAD presentation. Clients under the age of 40 probably consider those who work with pencils and erasers to be dinosaurs.

I also worry when dealers tell me that their firms don't get retainers before doing design work. The reason is always the same: "No one in our area gets one." On a salesmanship level, that tells me that there's a weakness there. As a business person, it tells me this is a firm willing to waste time.'

Yet, with today's business climate, there is no time to waste. Qualifying a client quickly and correctly has to be the goal of every kitchen and bath firm. Time is, in fact, money. Those who do a quality job in the least amount of time are the winners.

Competitive edges
The instigators of change are all of those players who want to take our business away from us. We've all gotten used to competing with the kitchen and bath dealer across town, but what about Home Depot? I keep hearing dealers say, "Home Depot doesn't affect me." That's wonderful. But how can a $30 billion company not affect you? In the last 10 years, it has become, by far, the largest kitchen and bath source in the world. And it doesn't affect anyone?'

I recently spent a day with a group of dealers from an area where a new Home Expo had opened. They said the same thing: "It doesn't affect me." Afterwards, I visited that Home Expo only to find it had 350 retainers on file. That means that 350 clients from that area chose to bypass kitchen and bath firms and, instead, retain Home Expo for their design project. And no dealers were affected? Who's kidding who here? Dealers will often tell me that Home Expo clients were not their clients anyway. Whose clients were they? Before Home Expo came along, where would those folks have purchased their kitchens? Mars? Change is in order.

I've been watching a battle of change right down the street from our kitchen and bath design firm. A local natural foods store has enjoyed a loyal following for a number of years. Recently, however, a national natural foods megastore has begun construction of a new building right next door to it. Suddenly, the local store is offering cooking classes, wine tastings, take-out foods, etc. Obviously, it's making big changes in an attempt to stay alive in the face of major competition. The question is, why did it wait? If these changes are such good ideas, why weren't they done before? If the store had anticipated change welcomed change would it now be fighting for survival? It's something to consider about your own business.

What would your firm do if your key competitor were to open a superstore right next to you? Are there things about your business you would change to make it a better operation? Probably so. Would it be better to wait until the construction starts, or to make those improvements now? Pretty obvious answer.

Our industry has all sorts of curve balls that could come your way at any time. The big-box chains are just the most obvious ones. What if one of your major suppliers decided to go direct and started courting your customers? Never happen, you say? Maybe yes, maybe no. Are there manufacturers selling direct now? Yes. Do you positively know your suppliers' game plans for growth? Probably not. Would you have to scramble to keep your business viable if it did happen? Perhaps you would have to make some significant changes to remain better than the new competition.

Whatever those changes are, embrace them and make them now, not after the fact. Consider the possibility that the sales staff at your firm decides to all leave together and open a new competing firm. Would that force you to quickly make changes in your customer service level? Again, embrace change and upgrade your service level now.'

As our industry continues to mature, I'm confident that the successful firms will be those that recognize that change is coming. Anticipating change and adapting to it before it's a business problem will separate profitable firms from the 'also rans.' I suggest that you try to imagine every business scenario that could cause distress to your firm. Then, figure out what changes you would make do to do a better joband then make those changes now. If you can continually do that, you will continually prosper.

Another old saying goes "unless you're the lead sled dog, the view is pretty much the same." Embracing change really will make you the leader of the pack.