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Stretching Your Competitive Muscles: Making Your Business More Flexible

written by: •edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 7/25/2011

Being a business owner is tough enough but learning to change when your environment changes is also important. Staying with the tried and true may not always be your best bet. Here, business owner Jean Scheid talks about being flexible.

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    If It’s Not Broke…

    Jeep Cherokee Some of us are of the old school mentality—if it’s not broke, don’t fix it—or we keep the same sales processes, the same products and never try and motivate our employees. Flexibility in business is not only a sort of methodology--these days, it’s a necessity.

    This can be scary for some small business owners, but on the other hand, what choice do you really have if you want to stay in business?

    I remember as a Jeep dealer I was upset when Chrysler determined the old Cherokee needed to go—they’d still sell it in Europe but in the U.S. only the Grand Cherokee would be offered. To me, looking at it from both a business owner's and a consumer’s perspectives—I thought Chrysler was making a bad choice.

    But they weren’t really, because the Jeep line and the ideas behind it included introducing the more affordable Jeep Compass, the Patriot and making the Jeep Wrangler better than ever—try something new, offer new options, get rid of the old—and it worked.

    Any business, no matter the size or type, needs to introduce a little change from time to time, but how do you determine what to change?

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    It's Time for a Business Analysis

    Every year, business owners should make an analysis on top sellers, dead inventory, bad vendors, and even sales presentations. Questions you should ask include:

    • What is still selling like hot cakes?
    • What isn’t selling and why?
    • Are my vendors giving me the best deal?
    • Are vendor products constantly defective?
    • If I try a new product, is it feasible for my business?
    • How can my sales (and sales team) improve?
    • Are there processes or procedures to make my customers happier?
    • What are my competitors doing?
    • Are my employees happy?

    Answering these questions will make it easier for your business to enter the world of flexibility and change. Let’s look at some examples.

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    Dead Inventory

    Old Inventory If you’ve got a lot of dead inventory, what made you purchase the inventory in the first place? Did one customer or sales person tell you it would sell? Did your competitor sell it? Did you see a television commercial and feel the product was an absolute must?

    When it comes to dead inventory—it’s not going to sell and by answering the questions above and being honest about your answers, you’ll find out why.

    For example, if your best customer who spends a lot at your bookstore suggested more “how to" books and now they’re just sitting on shelves in the storeroom, instead of researching the idea you relied on one customer’s thoughts. Television commercials and ads can also be very enticing to everyone—including you as the business owner. Were you enticed by a celebrity or those numbers at the bottom of the screen offering “millions sold?" Again, ordering based on gut feelings often is not the best choice.

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    Bad Vendors

    Bad vendors are everywhere and are seen a lot in family-style businesses. “Grandpa used the ABC Company for years, we can’t change now!" if your vendors are supplying products and you’re constantly seeing returns or exchanges, how good are your vendors?

    Flexibility in business also means knowing when it’s time for a change—even if you’ve used the same vendor for years. Perhaps they’ve slacked on their side of the manufacturing process but in the end, that slacking reflects on your business via customer disappointment.

    Review your vendors annually along with returns and exchanges. Use a vendor selection process to ensure you choose new vendors that will meet your needs. It may hurt to let the old vendor go due to loyalty, but you may be just helping them as well—they also need to change.

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    New Products

    New Products On the ABC television show Shark Tank, where inventors pitch their ideas to investors, I hear time and time again from the investors—why are you focusing on this product line when you already have one that will sell? They’re not telling those inventors and wannabe entrepreneurs to shut down entirely. What they are doing is urging them to be more profitable by selling something similar—not off the beaten path.

    For example, if your small business is a bookstore, will sales increase if you start selling soothing candles you think will improve the reading experience? Or, would offering a line of reading glasses be a better choice?

    You do need to review the product lines you sell from time to time, but swaying too far off the beaten path will confuse and often annoy your customers—and it’s another sales pitch entirely. Explore new product ideas but do ensure they will work and sell in your business environment.

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    Customer Satisfaction

    In today’s economy, with less to spend, customers are pickier than ever. They want great customer service—sometimes over price. Take a look at your sales staff, cashiers and even your sales pitch. Is it thanks for shopping here or have a nice day over and over again?

    If so, it’s time to review new processes or procedures to make your customers love you. When’s the last time you offered discounts or free giveaways? Have you held a customer appreciation day lately?

    As far as your sales pitches go, are they stale? If so, try writing some scripts and try them out on friends and family first.

    Consumers expect more than “see you soon." They want you to show them how much you mean to them by offering top customer service.

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    Unhappy Employees?

    Unhappy Employees When you looked at your sales staff and cashiers, were they happy and smiling? Were they joking and motivated to sell and be at work? If not, flexibility in business also means taking a look at what you, as their employer, are doing for your employees.

    If nothing’s ever changed as far as the incentive plan, the atmosphere, or the processes, expect boredom and turnover.

    Re-energize your staff with new incentives, offer some flex time if you can and allow them to be involved in a redesign. Even a difference in paint color goes a long way in changing the atmosphere, look, and feel of your business, and employees will be more motivated by change.

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    Start Today

    Some brands and products are so well known, they may always sell, such as those of fast-food fame—but if you think about it, they change their slogans and pitches from time to time. They respond to the customer environment.

    By performing an in-depth analysis of your business today, you’ll find out quickly what you can change to adapt to the ever-changing tastes of consumers. You’ll also find new ways to motivate yourself and your staff and rid the business of the outdated. Step up—it’s time to flex your business muscles!

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    The author has been a business owner for over 17 years.

    Helpful Bright Hub Resources:

    How to Perform a Business Process Analysis

    Simple Strategies for Motivating Employees

    Image Credits:

    Jeep Cherokee - Wikimedia Commons/IFCAR / Public Domain License

    Inventory Clerk - Wikimedia Commons/Mattes / Public Domain License

    Fruit Basket - / Royalty Free License

    Clown Teapot - / Royalty Free License