A Chance to Spark Growth

One of my earliest childhood memories was turning off my parents' television set with a book. There was nothing wrong with the "off" knob, but I'd overheard my parents mention that the TV was on its last leg, and that, in conjunction with all the dire warnings I'd heard given to my older sister about drying her hands before plugging anything in, had somehow led me to believe that touching it with anything less than perfect care would cause the TV to explode.

In fact, for several years, I had something of a phobia about electrical outlets, avoiding anything that could be plugged in for fear it might explode in my face. When I had to unplug something, I dried my hands 'til they were raw, then carefully held the plug with two fingers, never touching any part of the outletand I breathed a sigh of relief when nothing bad happened.'

As time passed, and none of the major appliances exploded on me, I stopped worrying about electrical outlets. By the time I was 10, the vision of the TV exploding on me was only a silly childhood memory, and as a teenager, I went through countless burned out hairdryers, taking the occasional spark only as a not-to-be-worried-about sign that it was time to buy a new one eventually, when I got around to it.

Unrealized fears bred carelessness, and eventually, I yanked a plug out of a faulty outlet, and it exploded leaving me with a rather shocking new outlook on life.'

The truly dangerous things, I had learned, do not always jump out at you like childhood monsters from under the bed. Sometimes, in fact, they aren't monsters at all. Rather, they might be perfectly ordinary things that are dangerous only because of our own carelessness or neglect.

Like the proverbial monster under the bed, when the home centers first made their appearance in our neighborhoods, many kitchen and bath dealers initially reacted with fear and distress, viewing them as an evil that could and likely would destroy them. Dire predictions ran rampant throughout the industry, with many dealers convinced that they, like the independent bookstores of old, would soon be nothing but a memory.

Then, the home centers cameand it seemed like, for many independent kitchen and bath dealers at least, nothing happened.

"Their service isn't as good as ours," dealers told themselves. "Their staff isn't as knowledgeable. They're actually creating more business by publicizing the industry." In fact, many reasoned that consumers whose interest had been sparked by big-dollar advertising campaigns from the home center chains would end up bringing more business to independent dealers. "There's nothing to fear here!" they exclaimed. "Home centers are harmless, they might even be good for business!"'

And sometimes, of course, this turned out to be true.

Fear morphed into complacency, and before you knew it, home centers were being viewed as about as threatening as the Abominable Snowman after his teeth had been removed.
When the newer, high-end home center chains started appearing across America, the same complacency seemed to ring throughout the industry. Cries of "fear not they offer poor service!" rang outand continue to ring out.

Yet, as always, things change, businesses evolve, and all of us must ultimately grow or die.'

That's true of the home centers. And it's also true of independent dealers.

Few will argue that, at least initially, home centers focused primarily on price and selection, while not always winning top marks for the kind of personalized service that high-end independent dealers are known for. Yet, as these businesses grow, that's likely to change and with the home center chains' strong financial resources and a tight job market making top-quality design staff scarce, these chains may well begin to close the service gap and strengthen their "weak links."

Independent dealers would be wise to do the same.

In the face of competition, neither blind fear nor blind complacency are effective strategies. Rather, one must view competition of any kind as a chance to grow, to examine our businesses for weak spots, and to improve.

Sparks can light a fire under us that makes us better, smarter and stronger or they can cause things to explode in our faces.

The choice is ours.