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Guest Editorial

Did the Economy Steal Your Enthusiasm?

No, that is not a rhetorical question—not really—but you may be one of many people having difficulty experiencing any enthusiasm lately. This is quite understandable, and is directly related to the trials of being a specialty retailer during the toughest economic conditions that we’ve seen in decades.

With far too many retailers worried about the future of their businesses (with good reason), it’s no wonder so few are enthusiastic these days. You cannot always control what happens around you, and you certainly can’t control the economy, but you can take steps to help you through these tough times, and can learn from the wise.

I believe that Walter Chrysler (1875– 1940), founder of Chrysler Corp., said it best. He observed, “The real secret of success is enthusiasm. Enthusiasts are fighters. They have fortitude. They have staying qualities. Enthusiasm is the bottom of all progress. With it, there is accomplishment. Without it, there are only alibis.”

With this in mind, how about taking Chrysler’s advice? Regardless of your circumstances, make every effort to stay afloat and refrain from losing your enthusiasm for your business. Is it easy?  Of course it’s not. It’s extremely difficult to keep your spirits up when the economy and everyone around you are down, but if you lose your enthusiasm, you might as well close your doors.

Moment-to-moment Choices

Perhaps you feel that with all the weighty issues that exasperate you, enthusiasm seems like a minor issue. With a little effort, however, you may discover that you can make a difference, for yourself and those around you, by putting a little enthusiasm into those moment-to-moment choices that you make in your daily interactions with customers and employees.

Believe. For example, as a specialty retailer, you can’t win over customers and compete with the big-box stores unless you believe in your business, the products and services that you offer, your employees, and (most of all) yourself. Then, you can make your customers believe, too, by sounding confident. You can accomplish this by putting a touch of enthusiasm behind your words and approaching customers with the intent of helping them to accomplish their goals and improve their living situations, not only with the intent of selling them something.

Sound sharp. Put a little enthusiasm and warmth in your voice when speaking on the phone. Smile and sound like you are happy to be serving customers, and it will come through loud and clear. It will also make customers enjoy talking with you and help to develop relationships. Don’t complain about how tough business is, either. No one wants to be reminded.

Keep staff motivated. In addition to sounding confident with customers, do all you can to maintain high levels of enthusiasm with your staff. During challenging times, employees look to how their leaders act. It’s up to you to keep them motivated, even when times are tough. You can accomplish this by remaining positive, displaying dynamic leadership, showing your employees you care about them, and making them feel that they are working with you (not for you). Make them feel like family.

Don’t Stunt Your Growth

With the instability of national economic conditions, you are likely to be feeling insecure. This is probably making you sit back and ask yourself, “Where am I going in my life?” Instead, perhaps you should shift your mindset toward asking, “Where am I growing in my life?”

Remember, you can only grow as much as you know. The books that you never read, the skills that you never applied, the seminar that you never attended, the class that you never took, and the effort that you never made to ensure that your skills would be superior to those of your competitors will hold you back. Attend the upcoming HPBExpo in Reno, Nev. Informative educational sessions have been designed to assist you during these difficult times.

Don’t simply settle for deciding to live and learn. Put enthusiasm into learning. Learn to love to learn, and inspire your sales team to do the same. I’m reminded of another quote: Edward B. Butler (1853–1928), founder of Butler Brothers department stores, said, “One man has enthusiasm for 30 minutes, another for 30 days, but it is the man who has it for 30 years who makes a success of his life.”

The Bottom Line

Business is tough—really tough. There will be those who survive and those who don’t. Will you approach business with enthusiasm, regardless of our economic situation? It’s your decision, and yours alone. Give it all you’ve got.

© 2008, Christine Corelli & Associates, Inc. Christine Corelli is the author of the popular books “Wake Up and Smell the Competition” and “The ART of Influencing Customers to BUY From YOU.” She is slated to speak at the upcoming HPBExpo in Reno, Nev. To learn more or to purchase her books, visit www.christinespeaks.com or call (847) 581-9968.

Remaining Profitable

Cash is king. Stash your cash. Although it’s not easy, have six months’ cash reserves.

Review your contracts for any service or product that represents a large portion of your expenses, such as insurance, equipment, utilities, cell phones, water coolers, phones, vending machines, and so forth. Then, attempt to renegotiate your contracts. Providers don’t want to lose you as a customer. Explain your situation and see if you can make agreements for less expensive pricing.

Make sure that your employees stay on the phones and go after sales. Call on past customers and ask for referrals.

Never stop marketing and advertising. Be methodical in your marketing efforts and in the way that you conduct your business. You will feel a greater sense of control.

Add value to what you offer that the big-box stores cannot possibly compete with; for example, offer a free furnace checkup with fireplace installation. Give customers more service, along with more education on the products you sell and how to use them.

Put more enthusiasm into developing relationships than your competitors do. Call new customers by name. Shake their hands when they come into your store. Capture email addresses and send monthly campaigns to stay in touch.

During difficult times, all employees in your company need to understand that no matter what their specific jobs may be, they are all part of business development. As an employee incentive, offer referral bonuses for anyone who provides information that leads to business.

Reframe your thinking to accept that there will always be reasons to remain negative and pessimistic, but that those who have the ability to move forward through good times and bad tend to refrain from cynical thoughts.

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