Four Timeless Business Lessons

The headline read, “Global Economic Meltdown: 2008 – The Year in Review.” It was just one of many articles written at the end of that horrible year, all trying to put the experience we’d shared into perspective. I opened the page and started to read. It was so clear now in the rearview mirror.

I’m sure that the underlying issues leading to the economic collapse of 2008 will someday be debated and discussed by our children in college business courses. A bright young professor will eloquently outline the issues leading up to the fall and will warn our students about the dangers of forgetting one’s past. Some youth will sigh, others will ignore it and proceed to check whatever the 2025 version of Facebook is for updates on their BFF. A few may just learn how to avoid this trap in the future.

As the dust settled, it became clear to those of us in the decorative plumbing and hardware industry that things weren’t going to get better all by themselves. Every month we’d tell each other, “Next month it will pick up.” But it didn’t. Months led to years, and as we limped along, hard decisions had to be made.

DPH showroom owners looked at their staff and realized, “We can’t afford to keep everyone, so who has to go? Can we really do more with less? What does winning look like in this new paradigm? How do we keep a positive attitude when the news of the day is doom and gloom?”

Unlike our children, you and I don’t have the luxury of a decade or two of reflection on the new world economy. We have to slosh through the mud and try to find ways to regrow our market share today, despite a still-soft remodeling industry and budget-conscious consumers still wary about investing in kitchen and bath projects.

As DPH professionals, we can only succeed going forward if we learn from the recession – and use those lessons learned to make better choices for our businesses going forward.

LESSONS LEARNED

The following timeless business lessons are worth reviewing.

Lesson 1: Jim Collins was right. In 2001, Jim Collins’ Good to Great book followed more than 1,400 companies on their business journeys. He made some solid observations and one of my favorites is that you have to have the “right people on the bus.”

If you manage staff at your showroom, you’ve probably lost a few nights of sleep over this. As the DPH pie got smaller, we had to look closely at our team. Specialists who we could once afford to do very specific tasks needed to be upgraded to multi-dimensional employees, and underperformers could no longer be tolerated.

Now that business is beginning to pick up again, it’s easy to forget this lesson, but regardless of the economic climate, you need to be sure you have the right team in place, and in the right seats on the bus.

Here’s a good self test: Imagine you have an important meeting. At the last moment, you can’t go. Who from your staff would you send in your place and why? Who would you never send? Play this scenario out in your head, and you’re on the way to examining if you have the right people on your bus.

Lesson 2: Yes, we can do more with less, but we have to know where we’re going. Many years ago I was told that internally at John Deere they had a very simple mission statement: “Kill Cat.” No, they didn’t want people to mow their cats. “Cat” was short for Caterpillar, the heavy-equipment company and John Deere’s biggest competitor. How simple would business be if every mission was so clear?

Could your DPH showroom accomplish more, work better with kitchen and bath designers and increase sales if your target was smaller and clearer? Clarity is our friend in this new economy. Knowing what we will aim at and what we won’t aim at makes the necessity of resource allocation much easier.

Lesson 3: Reduce sin (it’s not what you think). The word “sin” derives from Old English, recorded in use as early as the ninth century. The same root appears in several other Germanic languages, but in biblical Hebrew, the generic word for sin is “het.” It means to err, to miss the mark. It’s the gap between the bull’s-eye and where the archer’s arrow lands.

You need to determine the gap between where you’re aiming and where your efforts are landing you. Is it in your profit margins? Your displays? Your clients’ satisfaction levels? Is it in your ability to choose the right product mix that will appeal to today’s more value-conscious homeowners?

Again, once you know where you’re going, it’s much easier to measure success.

Likewise, perhaps your showroom no longer handles certain types of jobs. Maybe you’re focusing on finding the most high-end, unique products available and getting rid of anything remotely commonplace.

Conversely, you may have decided to focus on mid-priced DPH lines in order to reach a more value-conscious consumer, rather than carrying higher-priced items that are harder to move. Whatever the case, knowing what you will not aim at is just as important as knowing what you are shooting for.

Lesson 4: If we aren’t measuring, we’re just practicing. One of my first bosses used to drill this saying into our heads. At that time I don’t think I grasped the magnitude of this simple little phrase. But, in its essence, business really all comes down to understanding where you want to go, what you’re doing to get there, who’s going with you and, at the end of the day, how close you get to your target.

Measuring progress is often simple, but having the discipline to do it every day isn’t.

The year 2008 may have been the start of a terrible period for the DPH industry, and the country as a whole, but it serves as a reminder that many of the best business concepts are simple, clear and easy to rally around. As a kitchen and bath firm, you need to have the right team in place, have a map to where you’re going, strive to make your misses smaller every time and measure your results, and success will surely follow.

 

Jonathan Wood serves as v.p./sales and marketing at Brasstech, Inc., in southern California. In this role, he is responsible for all selling, marketing, product development and customer service functions. He has worked in the home improvement industry as a part of the Masco family since 1995. Wood has been an active member of the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association (DPHA) since 2003, including service on the board of directors, executive committee and as the organization’s president in 2009.

DPH Perspectives is published regularly in Kitchen & Bath Design News under an exclusive strategic alliance with the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association (DPHA).

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