Re-invention; Six Random thoughts
“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”… term often heard at Hurtte’s Texaco 1964
I had just started working as a car wash boy (a strapping ten years old) when I first heard mechanic Von use the term. I bet you’ve heard it used too. To some extent, there’s a bit of human nature stashed deep in the phrase, too. Unfortunately, in today’s business “things” are breaking daily. Being prepared with better decisions equates to anticipating issues and planning alternatives before things break. Reinvention takes place when we fix the “broke” without waiting for the “explosion”.
The following are some random thoughts on “breakage”.
What might break?
One --Computer Technology continues as a major driver of change. As I sit in my comfortable chair laptop on my knee, I think about the changes in the technology of creating this article. In 1984 my process for creating this article would have included dictating a draft to my secretary, Sherry. She would have manually typed the manuscript at least three times. Finally, I would have dropped the finished copy into the mail at the downtown Post Office. In just a little over twenty years we went from fax, computer, home computer, and floppy drives, to email and laptops with wireless.
- How can technology change your business?
- What happens if you don’t use it?
- How long will it take you to learn it?
Two – Demographic shifts can cause things to break. You may be doing things fine but your customers may be going out of business. Ultimately somebody is going to suffer. Here are a couple of short examples in the demographic business. Sometime in the 1970’s the North American Machine Tool market took an abrupt change. If you were doing a business with one of these companies you might have had some breakage. Think about the shifts in manufacturing demographics as scores of businesses moved off shore.
- What kind of long range demographic changes are you anticipating?
- What happens if you are not prepared for these shifts?
- How long will it take you to adjust if you wait for things to “break”?
Three – Fashion doesn’t necessarily mean latest in clothing trends. I like to think of these as the cultural trends that affect everything from our shoes to our house and car. Here are a couple of fashions you may have noticed. Granite counter tops in kitchens come to mind. A realtor in Bettendorf, Iowa told me, “A granite top in your (gourmet) kitchen will sell you house every time.” The only place I remember with granite tops when I was a kid was the High School cafeteria. Yet, my guess is you can think of a half dozen people with newly installed granite top counters.
- Are there fashion trends that can cause things to break in your business?
- How can you monitor and make best use of the changes in your own area of expertise?
- What new positioning would put you at the front of these fashion trends?
Four – Competition is a good thing, but even slight changes in competitive landscape can cause things to break. In the industrial contactor and small business world, Home Depot and the like have vastly changed the lay of the land. Staples and Office Depot have changed the dynamics of office supply. But these are just a few of the shifts.
- What happens if even a small competitive force comes your way?
- Are there customers who might be vulnerable to a competitor?
Five – Commoditization will rock your world. The half life of a lot of businesses is getting shorter. Back in 1991 there were dozens of independent movie rental stores. Movies started off renting for 4-5 dollars per day. By the end of the boom times, they were renting for a buck a week. Now www.netflick.com is putting a commodity squeeze on the few remaining brick and motor businesses. Movies are renting for next to nothing. They had things break in that industry. And, the list could go on and on. Computer wholesalers felt their product become commodity. And to my recollection only a couple actually survived that commodity drop.
- Do you know where your products lie in the commodity curve?
- Commodity products result in lower gross margin, what effect will an overall lowering of gross margin percentage have on your products?
Six – Supply Chain plans can break. In my career, I saw UPS and FedEx change the lay of the land. In 1978, my employer (a Milwaukee based Electrical Product Manufacturer) had forty warehouses across North America. To put this into a local perspective, the only way a Des Moines customer could get anything next day was counter to counter airfreight (very expensive) or via bus from the Davenport warehouse. This sounds funny by today’s standards but in the late seventies, this was the state of the supply chain.
- How will future supply chain issues affect your business?
- How are your customers and suppliers tied into your own business needs?
A parting thought
In 1964 (even 1974, 1984, or 1994) things were different. Business moved at a slower pace. Things could “break” and we had plenty of time to “fix them”. Today is different; we need to look for breakdowns in the making. Re-invention, reengineering and constant improvement have become the order of the day. Time spent projecting into the future is time well spent.
Frank Hurtte (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a consultant to business, distribution and the sales channel at River Heights Consulting. He has 28 years of real world experience and is available as a speaker and executive coach. He has written a number of articles and white papers on business, distribution and the selling process. Frank has helped a number of businesses and not-for-profit corporations through the strategic planning process. You can contact Frank at 563-514-1104 or through www.riverheightsconsulting.com.