Tag Archives: Strategic management

Back To Basics

I played a number of sports growing up. Thinking back on it, no matter which sport I was playing, when the season began the coach would inevitably talk about getting back to basics. He usually meant the building block skills that a team had to have in order to be successful. If you don’t think that’s important, watch one of today’s major league baseball players try to lay down a suicide squeeze bunt. That basic skill has almost disappeared.

No, today isn’t going to be yet another old guy rant about how the world has changed for the worse, Instead, as we approach the end of one year and the start of another, it’s a reminder that now is a great time to do a little back to basics thinking. It’s harder than you think because what often happens during the course of a year (or longer, depending on when the last time was that you did this exercise) is that the basics get forgotten in the heat of battle. So here are a few of the fundamental questions that I’d be asking myself and my team right about now.

First, what are we trying to accomplish? That sounds overly simple since making a profit is pretty much what every business is trying to do unless you’re a non- or not-for-profit organization. What are you trying to make happen? What problems that your customers have are you trying to solve?

Next, how are you measuring success? It’s not just the cash register ringing or the bottom line overflowing with black ink although clearly basic financial items are important. How many new customers did you attract? How is your reputation? What good have you done for your customers, your partners, your vendors, your employees, and your community?

After that, take a look forward. What do we need to do in order to be successful in this next year? How do last year’s results, both good and bad, direct us forward? What can we start doing and what should we stop doing, whether it’s meetings, products, reports, or something else? What could happen in the marketplace that will affect us, both positively and negatively? Do we have a disaster plan?

Finally, is the view you and your organization had of the world at the start of this year still the way you see it going forward? If you don’t think that things change that much, think back 5 years or even (gulp) 10. You wouldn’t have had a mobile strategy or a social media plan then. You probably didn’t pay a heck of a lot of attention to your website or online reviews. You sure had better be active in all of those areas today even if you’re not a digital business.

Those are some of the basics I see as necessary for success. What are some of yours?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Searching For Answers

Happy Foodie Friday! It’s the time of year when many entities try to sum up what’s been going on throughout the year from their perspective. Google is one of those companies, and they issue their “Year In Search” annually around this time. I thought it might be instructive to look at what were the top food-related searches in 2018 according to Google. They were:

1) Unicorn cake
2) Romaine lettuce
3) CBD gummies
4) Keto pancakes
5) Keto cheesecake
6) Necco Wafers
7) Keto cookies
8) Keto chili
9) Keto brownies
10) Gochujang

The obvious question is what can we learn, both about what’s going on in the food world as well as what we can take away from our own businesses, from this list. Here are a few observations from me.

First, half of the searches were related to “keto.” For those of you somehow unaware, keto refers to a ketogenic diet.  That’s a very low-carb diet, which can help you burn fat more effectively. Many people have already experienced its many proven benefits for weight loss, health, and performance. It’s not without problems but clearly, it’s gone front and center with a lot of people this year. I try to follow a modified keto diet myself, limiting carbs and trying to eat only low-glycemic foods. What can that tell us that might help our business? If you’re in the food business it’s pretty obvious, but even if you’re not it demonstrates that consumers are paying a lot more attention to their health and their diets. Movie theaters, airlines, and other transportation companies sell food. Your company or your building may have a cafeteria that does the same. Understanding that consumer eating habits are changing is critical to maintaining those bottom lines.

“CBD Gummies” point to the changing way we’re looking at weed. These are gummies made with cannabidiol, just one of the hundreds of compounds hiding within the cannabis plant. Some have no THC, others very much do. The point I want to make is that the weed business is exploding, so much so that tobacco and drug companies are trying to figure out how they can become involved. Is CBD a fad? Maybe, but once again, we can’t ignore trends in the marketplace and we need to think through if there is an opportunity or how our business might be impacted.

The “Romaine” search term clearly derives from the e-coli scares with that green this year. A great reminder that we all need disaster plans in place.

If you’re not familiar with it, “Gochujang” is a red chile paste that also contains glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, salt, and sometimes sweeteners. It’s a thick, sticky condiment that’s spicy and very concentrated and pungent in flavor. Another reminder that not only are tastes changing but as our population base is changing, our eating, media, shopping, and other habits are changing as well. We need to pay attention.

Finally, “unicorn cakes” are just silly. They’re multi-colored layer cakes generally covered in a highly-decorated white icing. They’re a great reminder that we all need to take a little time to have fun and enjoy ourselves by indulging in something that’s totally unrelated to our work lives.

Those are the insights I take away from the list. What are yours?

Leave a comment

Filed under food, What's Going On

Those Pesky Joneses

You might have missed something in the financial news yesterday that reminds us of a really important business point. The good folks at Verizon wrote down the value of Oath, which is what they renamed their acquisitions of AOL and Yahoo. I’ll let the good folks at Bloomberg relay the facts:

Verizon Communications Inc. is conceding defeat on its crusade to turn a patchwork of dot-com-era businesses into a thriving online operation.

The wireless carrier slashed the value of its AOL and Yahoo acquisitions by $4.6 billion, an acknowledgment that tough competition for digital advertising is leading to shortfalls in revenue and profit. The move will erase almost half the value of the division it had been calling Oath, which houses AOL, Yahoo and other businesses like the Huffington Post.

For you non-financial types out there, writing down an asset is the accounting term used to describe a reduction in the book value of an asset due to economic or fundamental changes in the asset. In other words, something isn’t worth what you paid for it any longer. Oops. These were acquisitions that Verizon made to transition into taking on Facebook and Google as a content providing, eyeball-generating ad brand. This latest stumble comes on the heels of several others that Verizon has made over the last several years (a JV with Redbox, their failed news site, their awful app store and of course, V-Cast). When you basically spend $4.8 Billion and flush $4.6 Billion of it down the write-down toilet as they did the other day, you might need to rethink your strategic direction.

When you think about it, what Verizon did is not all that uncommon in business. They forget what their core competencies were and chased the latest shiny object. Big mistake. Where would we be now if all that capital had been invested in 5G networking or in WiMax? Video and advertising is something in which hundreds of companies are engaged. Yes, it’s highly profitable but it’s also dominated by two behemoths and subject to the ebbs and flows of consumer interest (whatever happened to MySpace anyway?). Why would you try to keep up with those Joneses?

It seems as if FiOS, their high-speed broadband service has been abandoned. They’re no longer expanding despite the fact that demand for very high-speed internet is everywhere. 5G is years away and technically challenging. Does anyone remember the dream of WiMax? Those are areas in which they are the Joneses and people have to keep up with them. None of us in business can forget what made our ventures successful because we think the grass is greener in some other business’ yard. Don’t chase the Jones’ success. Create your own.

Leave a comment

Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?, What's Going On

How About A Bowl Of Sugar?

Foodie Friday, and this week I’m revved up about a food issue which also raises an issue with every business. You are probably aware that there is an epidemic of diabetes in this country. According to the Centers For Disease Control, 1 in 3 adults in this country has pre-diabetes (elevated blood sugar) and over 9% actually have the disease. This incidence is much higher here in the South with some states having well over 11% of the population affected. Having spent a few years here I can tell you that there is a lot of sweet tea and other sugar-added foods sold everywhere.

What’s got me off on this rant today is what I would call yet another nail in the coffin of those who will contract the disease. Apparently, some genius at Post Cereals felt it would be a good idea to make a cereal named after Sour Patch Kids, a candy. I guess we can commend them for dropping all pretense for most breakfast cereals being anything other than candy and just calling it what it is. You think I’m hyperbolizing? You can literally pour a bowl of some breakfast cereals and half of what you pour is pure sugar. Golden Crips cereal (called Sugar Crisp when I was a kid) is almost 52% sugar. Honey Smacks (formerly Sugar Smacks) is over 55%. You would be better off feeding your kid a Snickers bar – it’s only 45% sugar.

There is a greater question here for anyone in business. Post isn’t the only company doing this. General Mills sells cereal with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups on the front. I refuse to believe that the folks at Post or General Mills don’t have an understanding that what they’re selling is fostering an epidemic. It’s easy for them to shrug their shoulders and say “well, responsible parents will let their kids eat this only in moderation.” So why change the names of the aforementioned cereals to delete “sugar? Why isn’t the nutritional information for Reese’s Puffs on the General Mills website? These are dangerous products, folks, and they raise the greater business question. Should we make products that we know are doing great harm? Just because we can do something, should we? Isn’t it possible to sell the healthier alternatives you already make to kids and stop pushing something that you know puts these kids on the road to diabetes?

It doesn’t have to be that way. When scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer and attributed it to the use of CFC’s, many companies that used CFC’s as the propellant in their spray products changed to something else. The products are less dangerous and the hole is healing. Having a conscience to go along with having a bottom line isn’t inconsistent nor bad business. It’s quite the opposite. Selling kids bowls of sugar under the guise of “making your day better” really is a sad way to make a buck, don’t you think?

Leave a comment

Filed under food, Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

He’s Due

The World Series just concluded. Congratulations, Red Sox fans and boy, how it pains me to say that as a life-long Yankees fan. Watching baseball reminded me of something we used to say back when I played baseball. When a guy was in a hitting slump we’d often say “he’s due.” What we meant was that according to his batting average he had taken enough at-bats that it was time for a hit. After all, if his average shows he gets 3 hits every 10 times at bat and he hadn’t had a hit in 15 plate appearances, statistically he should get one now. We were convinced he was due.

That, dear readers, was our youthful display of The Gambler’s Fallacy. We were laboring under the misconception that what has recently occurred will affect what occurs next even if the two events are unrelated. For example, if flipping a coin nine times results in nine instances of “heads,” you might think “tails” is due. Sorry – probability still applies and there’s a 50 percent chance the tenth flip will be heads regardless of what has happened before.

Stop and think about how often you or someone you know in business makes the mistake that if something happens more frequently than normal during a given period, it will happen less frequently in the future (or vice versa). Salespeople refuse to accept higher quotas after a good year, holding back revenue projections which holds back hiring and spending which results in a missed opportunity.  Marketers keep spending against historically good targets after a few campaigns don’t result in the expected results rather than acknowledging that the market may have shifted. Financial people let their insurance lapse after a disaster figuring that if they had a hurricane hit in their area which rarely gets hurricanes, the likelihood of another one hitting is very low. As someone pointed out, the term “100-year flood” doesn’t mean a flood happens every hundred years; it means there is a 1% chance of it hitting during ANY year.

The odds of a disaster happening might be very low but we buy insurance and, more importantly, we make disaster plans. The failure to hit a revenue target after three bad quarters doesn’t mean “you’re due” to have a huge fourth quarter. It means you need to make adjustments. There is no question that luck plays some role in business success and failure but that’s not a business plan.

In the great baseball movie “Major League”, the manager brings in a pitcher to face a batter that has gotten many hits off of him in the past. When the catcher questions his choice, the manager says “I know he hasn’t done very well against this guy but I got a hunch he’s due.” That might be how you want to run your baseball team but it is NOT the way you want to run your business. It worked out in the movies but that’s not real life.

Make sense?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Reality checks

By The Numbers

Foodie Friday at last! I went out for breakfast this morning and as I watched my server typing my order into the Point Of Sale system, I wondered what was coming out the other end. No, not if my order had been captured correctly or if the ticket would print out correctly. I wondered if the owners of the place actually used the data that had just been gathered. Restaurants generate a phenomenal amount of data although I’d be willing to wager that a minority of them actually look at, analyze, and employ it to improve their business. Then again, I’d be willing to bet that many non-food businesses suffer from the same omission.

Think about it. A restaurant gets information from their POS system – what’s selling and how much does it cost. They see if something is more popular at lunch than at dinner. They can look at their reservation system to know when they’ll be busy and their seating record to know how many covers they’re selling. Smart ones look at how many parties of which size were kept waiting (maybe we should turn the 6-top into a 4- and a 2?). They know what drinks have been ordered. Their suppliers have data for them – what’s available and what does it cost? Then they have their own internal accounting – labor costs, etc. Each of those things relates to the other. But there’s more.

What’s posted on social media? Whats the most-photographed dish? What’s liked and shared? How many reviews and are they positive? What are they about? There’s a lot of data to collect from a multitude of sources – OpenTable, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Foursquare, Urbanspoon or Instagram. All of the former data is very structured and it tells you “what.” The social stuff, along with any loyalty data you might have is unstructured and it can help you to understand “why”.

Maybe if you overlay the daily weather during service hours you can infer a causal effect on any of the above. You can adjust what’s displaying on your drive-thru board when it’s busy to show the menu items that may be lower-margin but quicker to prepare in order to speed the line. If you collect emails (your reservation system does!), you can use Facebook or some other data provider to build out profiles so you can know your customer and better target your marketing.

My point is that every business has a similar capability these days. We might not have reservation systems but we do have online commerce or websites or apps. We need to be less intimidated by big data and more proactive with respect to learning about our customers and how they interact with our offerings. Does that make sense?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, food, Reality checks

Woebuck

Sad news about Sears today. An American institution, they filed for bankruptcy in order to restructure the company. They will close 142 unprofitable stores near the end of the year. Liquidation sales at these stores are expected to begin shortly. This is in addition to the previously announced closure of 46 unprofitable stores that is expected to be completed by next month.

The press release says that “The Chapter 11 process will give Holdings the flexibility to strengthen its balance sheet, enabling the Company to accelerate its strategic transformation, continue right-sizing its operating model, and return to profitability.” I guess the question I’d ask is what the heck has taken so long? When I was a kid, the Sears catalog was a 500-page wish book. Everything from clothing to tools to appliances and damn near anything else was in the catalog or the store. At one point you could even buy a prefabricated house kit. They sold great appliances (built by Whirlpool) and even better tools (also built by others). They did very smart things like label grades of product “good” “better” and “best” using brand names.  They were Amazon long before Amazon was a gleam in Jeff Bezos’ eye.

So what happened? Well, technology did but that’s only part of the story. This is a perfect example of what can happen when any of us fail to recognize the fundamental changes happening in business – all business. Obviously, online commerce happened but Sears was in decline in the early 1990’s as Walmart took over the title of largest US retailer. Then the little wave became a tsunami, as consumers fundamentally changed their behavior, becoming more price sensitive, doing more research and shopping online, and the shift away from the mall sped up.

You might not remember this, but Sears was an investor in Prodigy, one of the original online services. They jumped out of the digital service in 1996, however. One can only wonder what might have been had they stuck with it and learned from it. Even though walled-garden services died as the internet grew, there was a lot to learn. Remember that Amazon didn’t begin to sell beyond books until around 2000. Why did they bail? To get back to what they knew best – retail (they also sold off their interest in brokerages and real estate companies they owned).

This is an excellent summary from Investopedia:

It would be easy to read this story as a triumph of e-commerce, or to reflect on the irony that Sears was a first-mover when it came to online shopping, with its proto-internet joint venture Prodigy. But even recently, Sears has been ahead of the curve in that area. According to Bloomberg, Lampert “showered” the online division with resources while the rest meleed over a shrinking pie.

Nor did competition with Amazon alone precipitate Sears’ decline. When sales and profits began to fade, in the mid-2000s, other big box retailers—particularly Walmart—were thriving. In 2011, the year Sears lost over $3.1 billion, Walmart made $17.1 billion.

Perhaps the might-have-been next Warren Buffett should have listened to the original, who told University of Kansas students in 2005, “Eddie is a very smart guy, but putting Kmart and Sears together is a tough hand. Turning around a retailer that has been slipping for a long time would be very difficult. Can you think of an example of a retailer that was successfully turned around?”

This is a story of a series of failures. It’s also a cautionary tale to any of us who live and work in these changing times. Brick and mortar stores still make up the vast majority of retail sales in this country yet the country’s largest retailers failed. Greed? Ignorance? Stupidity? What are your thoughts?

Leave a comment

Filed under Huh?, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On