5 things that must be done to survive and thrive in today’s business climate
By Jeff Sheets
The word “change” gets thrown around a lot, both personally and professionally. We’ve all heard the following expressions: “They need to change,” or “We need to change,” or “Things are changing.” Generally, what I see though is that most people go kicking and screaming all the way until the “change” happens, and then they accept it and move on…hopefully. There are those people who still want to cling to the old way of doing things because they are so comfortable.
In the outdoor power equipment (OPE) world, or in the retail world in general, things have changed dramatically in the past 10 years. How have you responded to those changes? Let’s look at the top five changes that you should have made by now, and grade yourself on how you have done on implementing them. You get an “A” if you have incorporated all five changes, but a failing grade if you have made less than three changes. Obviously, changes still can be made to improve your grade, but you must establish a goal with a timeline for completion. Nothing ever gets accomplished without a goal and a plan in place.
Have you upgraded your software to the latest version? Are you still running a DOS platform instead of Windows based? Software providers are not evil and trying to make you pay more money for useless stuff! They are upgrading software to provide you with the best opportunity to do business in the most efficient way possible. Many times, the upgrades are done because users have requested them. Do not fall behind in this area. The things that have happened with regard to inventory management, ordering and pricing are too numerous to mention here. After you upgrade, you need to learn what the latest version of your software can do to make your life easier. I have been in many dealerships where they have great software but use it inefficiently. When your software provider holds training sessions, attend them or have them come to your dealership and individually train you. I mention this about software, but this applies for any technological advancement. If you decide to procure it, then make sure you do your best to know it well. Using technology as close to 100 percent of its capability may affect the other four areas of change mentioned in this article.
There are a lot of great stories about why we continue to do the things that we do — almost robotically — but I enjoy this one. A girl had watched her mother cut the ends of the pot roast and then bake it, and so when the daughter eventually had her own family, she did it too. One day she asked her mother, “Why do you cut the ends of the pot roast off?” Her mother replied, “Because my mother did it.” They called grandma to see why she cut the ends off, expecting that it was to make it more flavorful or juicy. That was not the case. She said, “The pan I used to cook the pot roast in was too small, so I had to cut the ends off.”
Many times, we do the same things over and over, because we have never investigated why we do what we do. Is there a better way? This is where comparing yourself to other dealers or having a consultant come in to evaluate what you are doing can make sense. If you are in charge of the dealership or a department, you always need to look critically at how you are doing things and make the necessary changes to make it easier. The service department is one area that has many opportunities for improvement, but so do the parts department and sales areas. Don’t ever give up trying to make sure that you aren’t just doing what you did 20 years ago. This will also make the business more exciting because of something new being implemented. One problem can be pushback from long-time employees who don’t want to change. I expand on this problem in my next point.
The first effort always should be to help your employees change when you need them to. You do that by training them to be better at their jobs and helping them through changes. When they are hired, they need to know that your business is always adapting to be better and a part of what they are expected to do is to grow with it. If you establish those expectations from the beginning, then that gives you an advantage to be able to remind them what is expected of them. If they do not want to change, and this is an important “change” for your dealership, then you need to change employees. If you have a lot of employees who are not open to doing their jobs better because of technology or new procedures, then you need to find other people to fill those positions. I know that no one wants to let employees go, but a department or a dealership cannot be held hostage by employees who won’t move forward. Again, someone who is not associated with the dealership can provide an unbiased opinion as to whether the business needs to move in a new direction as far as employees are concerned. I see this area as one that many dealerships are experiencing major problems. The argument that I often hear is “I can’t find good people, so I am stuck.” I have written articles on hiring best practices. Go to outdoorpowerequipment.com and take a look at my December 2014 OPE article on “How to hire and retain top talent” as a good starting point to finding good employees.
If I were listing things in order of importance, this would be #1. A leader who has given up on being able to make changes, really thwarts the dealership’s opportunity to get better. I recently read the following quote from Jim Collins, noted leadership guru and author: “Leaders don’t leave. Leaders stay in the game and play the hand dealt them the best they can.” When you give up, you have effectively left your leadership position even though your body may remain in the dealership. I know many leaders who continue to “do their job” but do not effectively lead their organization in any way. Start the road back to leadership by creating personal/dealership goals and plans to achieve those goals with deadlines. This will get you back into the leadership position that is needed in any organization. It is never too late, and again, if people do not jump on board with the changes, then refer to point #3.
How does one create passion where it doesn’t exist? Answer: Make the first four changes that I mentioned in this article. No leader, who is doing these types of things, is not passionate about what they are doing. I know it sounds hokey, but I believe that you need to know your reason for doing what you do. I know money is an important factor, but I think something intrinsic is more motivating sometimes. I favor putting together a phrase or a mission statement that reflects what you are trying to accomplish. Sometimes, having an anchor to hold onto in rough times can make all the difference. Horst Schulze, co-founder and past president of The Ritz Carlton Hotels, has a simple motto that he established for his company: “Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” That simple phrase drove him to make sure that his employees were very kind and hospitable and that they had the same feeling about their customers, and he lived it and reinforced it every day. What can be your motto? You probably live by one and don’t realize it. I urge you to create one and stick to it for you and your company
My hope is that you see change in a whole new light with this article. I hate to use the old phrase “Change or die,” but it really is applicable. Those companies or leaders who make changes tend to survive and thrive in almost any business climate. I encourage you to grade yourself, and then if you are not measuring up, make the necessary “changes.” “Change” is not a dirty word — it is a word that refreshes us and energizes us to take ourselves personally and professionally to new levels.
Jeff Sheets is the founder and owner of OPE Consulting Services. Whether a business is thriving or struggling to survive, Sheets’ rich experience in both the corporate and not-for-profit sectors allows him to partner with business owners to customize unique strategies for their needs. For the past nine years, he has worked extensively with hundreds of outdoor power equipment dealers to create best practices in business structure, personnel management and financial profitability. For more information, he may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (816) 260-5430. You can also follow him on Twitter @opeconsult, connect with him on LinkedIn, and visit his website at www.opeconsultingservices.com.