It’s a Cathartic Exercise to Review Tough Journeys In Business
Posted on Saturday, January 26 2019 05:09:00 PM in News by Douglas Stein
At the risk of sharing too much personal information or being too transparent for my own good, I felt the need to tell a business story. A very personal business story that I needed to document and spend some personal time thinking about the journey as we enter 2019.
LinkedIn, sometimes reminds me of Facebook. My son actually calls it “Facebook for business”. We often post (and very strategically so) things that makes us look smart - on point and insightful.
We post how great our business or company is - or how well we care for our people and our customers.
We post great things and moments about our brands and products and all the wonderful things we are doing.
We post about record shows, record quarters and record years.
A lot of it is somewhat curated and fabricated and orchestrated. It’s often fairytale in nature.
Certainly not all - but definitely some. Victories and high points should be shared and celebrated, but sometimes I find myself searching for real stories about business. Real solutions about problems and sometimes just a confirmation that I am not the only
one with drama.
A dash of transparency and humility follows-
2018 was a terrible year for my 16 year old fashion company. And to be even more honest - the last 2 years were not that fabulous either if truth be told.
At the end of 2017 , and with a series of crap luck and bad calls- I came to some major crossroads in the business. With somewhat of a perfect storm brewing outside my control and me making plenty of missteps at the same time - we ended up in a really bad place in almost every aspect of the business. From our distribution channel, financial condition, product category, sales and marketing focus. Everything was spinning off kilter a bit. It was hard to recognize at first and even harder to admit - as we had experienced 13 years of strong growth and profits. We were among an elite few companies that made it into the INC 5000 fastest growing companies- an impressive 4 years in a row!
But regardless of all the years of success and growth - by the end of 2017 - my team and I found ourselves in the fight of our lives for their jobs and my company.
I knew we would have to make some major changes to every aspect of our company to survive.
I also knew that I had virtually no capital to make those major changes.
In hindsight and from 30,000 feet above - it is easy to see how I drove the proverbial bus into the ditch, but over a longer period of time - with my face pressed so tight up against the glass - it seemed to start in slow motion and kept gradually speeding up - until it was far too late to put the brakes on.
How’s that paragraph for a shitload of antidotes!
I have been praised by some for my ability to see trends ahead of full emergence. I have brought several trends to market far ahead of their market adoption - which was many times a mistake and too far ahead of its time.
I also been fortunate to sometimes being able to see when a trend has peaked and it was going to become a race to the bottom.
So what do you do when a combination cocktail of the numbers and your gut tell you that the category that drives 70% of your top sales is overstated, overplayed and in an exhaustion phase in your sales channel?
You make a lot of hard decisions. You make a plan that you absolutely believe in. You take that plan to your most trusted people and get them on board. Then - you get yourself laser focused and you prepare for the fight of your life.
We have and currently are working that plan. We have reworked, rethought, destructed and restructured, rebuilt recreated and lots of other words that start re!
I’m hoping there’s a few business lessons I can share about this fight that are worthwhile and that I didn’t just air my Mad Dirty Laundry for naught.
The few lessons I want to share are:
- When things are not working - Step outside of your company and look at it hard from a critical lens
- If your a gut person and it has paid off for you in the past - listen to it.
- If your a numbers person and it has paid off for you in the past - I encourage you to follow the numbers - but still don’t ignore your gut.
- Big changes suck! They scare everyone and they are hard. But don’t shy away from major change because of those reasons. Sometimes big, bold changes are what is needed and while it can be a lonely, doubting time - not making bold changes can put you and your pet frog in a cold pot of water with a burner turned on simmer.
- We are in an industry of tremendous change. And our industry if far from the only one. So much is changing in the gift industry. The sales forces - the trade shows - the customers - the technology’s - absolutely everything! It’s been changing for years and we have all been trying to figure out what disruption path it would take and how to adapt to it. Adopting change in this industry has been slower then others to be sure.
- If you don’t have the stomach to spend a good amount of time being scared everyday, swallowing most of your pride, feeling embarrassed, being sick with worry about your people and your family, second guessing your decisions and processes - RUN. But if your company means everything to you and the thought of losing it is so painful you can’t stand it - then DIG DEEP emotionally - and pay attention to your health and mental health at the same time. When your in a fight to save your company - it is ridiculously emotional and personal.
- Don’t spend too much time on a back up plan. If you find yourself contemplating or thinking a lot, about a life without your company - it might your inner self telling you it’s time to give up. However, If the thought of a back up plan makes you sick, anxious and severely depressed - put that back up plan on a shelf and get back to fighting!
- Remember often that you are not the first and won’t be the last that has gone thru something like this. Nothing goes up forever, and there have been many companies that have recovered from bad times. The people that ran those companies put their pants on in the morning - the same way you do - one leg at a time! If they can do it - so can you.
- Celebrate the progress - no matter how small - with your tribe - your family and most importantly- yourself.
- Recalibrate and check your course often. When the clouds are dark and you are operating on your heels instead of the balls of your feet , it is easy to go off course. Take time to make sure you are working your plan correctly and staying on course.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. I won’t name my Angels - but I have had several over the last 18 months and some of them are people that overlooked what I owed them or drama that I caused them and where there for me - (I believe) because I was painfully honest and genuinely authentic.
- And finally - don’t listen to the doubters or non- believers. It’s so easy for well meaning folks to stand on the sideline - with nothing at stake and plenty of opinion - to unknowingly get into your head.
This was pretty cathartic to write. I am still not sure I will post it or not. Will go back to the “listen to my gut” part of this writing to figure it out.
Sitting in yet another airport lounge, on my way to yet another trade show, I can end this story with these 5 statements.
- My team and my family have been absolutely amazing during this entire crappy adventure. If you have to go to war to save your company - you better have the type of tribe that I have been blessed to have. Regardless of the outcome - I could not be prouder of these people.
- No matter what happens - we have done amazing things over this last year. Transformative things that have made a huge difference and all came to fruition opening day in Atlanta.
- We are starting 2019 with some amazingly positive results happening and after our Atlanta and Dallas show - I know 1000% that the course was right and our Brand now stands for something awesome. I feel validated in my decisions and grateful for all the amazing help I had.
- We still may not have enough gas in the tank to get us out the ditch - but holy crap - have we gotten close!
- I still have NO PLAN B.