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Why Do We Call Them the Good Old Days?

In every age 'the good old days' were a myth. No one ever thought they were good at the time. For every age has consisted of crises that seemed intolerable to the people who lived through them. -- Brooks Atkinson

Looking through the lens of early 2009, every year seems to fall under the category of “the good old days.” Yet as I revisited an article I wrote for ICS in the summer of 2006, it seems we had problems that appeared to be insurmountable at that time.

Home Depot had purchased Chem Dry and many were concerned that they would prove to be a more than formidable competitor. The benefit of hindsight proves that Home Depot does well at selling products but performs terribly when faced with servicing those products. It turned out to be just another example of David slaying Goliath and the insurmountable problem disappeared.

Also from 2006, cleaners were shocked when gas prices hit $3 at the pumps. Everyone was trying to figure out how much of a surcharge they should to add to their invoices. This shock turned to utter desperation then glee when these prices actually peaked out at $5 and then just as quickly dropped back to a long-forgotten era of pricing under $2. So another problem seemed to correct itself.

The third item in the article was the out-of-control downward spiraling of carpet sales. The romance with soft textiles seemed to have run its course. Hardwoods, laminates, tile and grout, marble and even linoleum was eliminating carpet from homes. Companies that believed they were in the carpet cleaning business believed the end was in sight. The savvy companies knew they were in the service business and making homes clean, comfortable and healthy was the service they provide. Once again, the problem was solved by smart companies looking at this as an opportunity to expand their services.

So now we come to late winter 2009, and we are once again wishing for those good old days. The economy is the worst it has ever been since the Great Depression yet it is nowhere near the severity. What seems to be different about this recession from previous ones is that people are getting laid off across all segments of the economy. It is not just the auto workers this time. People with MBAs thought they were protected from economic downfalls. At least that was the way it had worked in past depressions.

This reminds me of a story about Cassius Clay, before he became Muhammed Ali. He was on an airplane with several of his friends and the flight attendant told him to put his seatbelt on. He ignored her. On her next walk down the aisle she told him again. Once again he ignored her. The third time she bent over and told him to fasten his seatbelt. Clay told her “Superman don’t need no seatbelt.” She replied right back, “Superman don’t need no airplane, buckle up.”

Regardless of what shape your business is in today, you ain’t Superman. You can “buckle up” by looking at your business through a powerful microscope. Starting with the most insignificant part of your business focus on what you can do to make it better. How are you answering your phone? How do your techs look? How do your vehicles look? Are you offering multiple services that can save the customer time with one-stop-shopping? Is your marketing answering the questions consumers have in this economy? Their main question will focus on “Does your company provide me with the most value for my dollar?” The second question will be, “Can I trust you to do what you say you will do?”

This is the time to partner up with other businesses. Look at ways that you can create synergy by providing services to another business. This may be a carpet retailer for cleaners or a plumber for restoration firms. One area that you may have overlooked in the good times is partnering with your competition. By joining forces you may be able to go after larger commercial accounts or loan equipment and employees to each other for large restoration jobs. Pretend you are a group of musk oxen and you have formed a circle to fend off the wolves. Except the economy is the wolf.

A benefit of the massive downsizing is the availability of quality people. Skilled professionals that may not have been affordable in the booming economy may be hired for smaller salaries. These professionals possess the management and marketing skills that will be sorely tested during the next year.

One last thought on this economy. There are always people who are in much worse circumstances than you. Volunteer your time or your labor to charities that are suffering from this downturn. Cleaning a homeless shelter, a battered women’s home or a struggling church will help the less fortunate and remind you that you have much more control of your life than employees of corporate America. Be thankful that you took the risk of becoming an entrepreneur.

Remember that in a few years from now you will be calling this “the good old days.”

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