Pick yourself up, dust yourself off…

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Another holiday season has come and gone. Now, we calculate the returns and profit margins and wait for the analysts, consultants and pundits to tell us how our industry performed this year.

But you already know, don’t you?

As a manufacturer/supplier, you know if the marketplace wanted your offerings. As a retailer, you know if the customers were willing to pay top dollar, or shopped for the best price or deal. As a salesperson, you know if the customer wanted your advice and expertise, or came to your store only looking for bargains.

As customers, what did you do? (After all, we are all customers too - whether we buy electronics, or cars, or clothing, or groceries.)

How was this holiday season for you?

In the coming days and weeks we will churn the numbers. Balance sheets will report the success or disappointments at the cash register. Paychecks will tell commissioned sales people if their time was well spent.

We all have a bit of time to react - time to reflect, calculate and re-recalculate, reflect and re-assess.

CES is still a few days off.

I’ll wager that there are few if any (i.e. online retailers) who will celebrate this holiday season. I’d suggest that the best of efforts did nothing in our marketplace to make us feel good about our businesses. And, I’ll suggest that we are on the cusp of a re-invention of who we are, what we do, and how we do it.

Actually, it has already happened. Hasn’t it?

Were I smarter, or luckier, I might have been at the forefront of the changes that were realized this year. I wasn’t. Were you?

Did you, as a retailer, throw your marketing emphasis into online marketing, sales and delivery? Did you as a supplier, bring some new, latest/greatest product to market? Did you as a salesperson, find a way to convert a customer who came to you for information and advice, into a sale?

Did we, collectively, fail our marketplace? Did we fail ourselves?

Do we have anything to blame, collectively or individually, on a market that seems to have emaciated our bottom-line expectations?

I’ve heard all the complaints (and admittedly used some myself) that; the competitive landscape has raped any margins (aka profits) from the business; that on-line marketers (whether or not they have brick-and-mortar parallels) have turned us from a business that offered high-end (i.e. profitable) products and services to a ‘best/lowest’ price business that is selling nothing more than a commodity; that the manufacturers have failed to provide the ‘latest/greatest/gotta-have-it’ technology and product; that we have reduced our industry to that which willing dismisses those who once made it profitable (i.e. the consultative/commissioned salesperson) and turned to clerks, websites and barcode scanners to let the customer decide what he/she wants to buy - and what they want to pay.

We may complain, but this is the reality or our marketplace.

Last year, we decried the aggressive price matching of competitors that effectively wiped out margins. This year, we lambast the on-liners (read: Amazon) that further encourage price-matching or more. (We can discuss Amazon’s $5 ‘come-on’ at another time.)

Or we can pay attention and understand that we better react…..or fold our tents.

What I think distresses me, and there are a lot of things that distress me, is/are:

  • We are an industry that has built itself on innovation (that comes at a price),
  • We live in a marketplace that once found our technologies, products and service worth the price we asked,
  • We based our business on the expectation that our customers needed us to explain/consult/design and guide their wallets into our cash registers,
  • That what we offered was something special.

At the core of these assumptions is the idea that our customers wanted more from us than something in a box. And, if this season has taught us anything it is that we are no longer that elite class of manufacturers/retailers/salespeople that our customers needed. We should pay attention. Our customers, and by extension - our competitors, have re-invented the industry that should have been ours to re-invent.We have failed our customers, and in doing so, failed ourselves.

I’ve worked in corporate board rooms, and on sales floors. Many of my colleagues at both levels are no longer part of this industry - by choice or situation.

I’ve known and worked with some incredible product marketers, engineers, and salespeople.

Some have walked away. Some by their own desire, some because they had no other choice. Some have gone to other industries. Some have succeeded. Many have not.

Some are selling cars. Some are marketing clothing lines. Some are in the cellphone business. Some are in the grocery business (some designing marketing plans, others stocking frozen foods or bagging. It‘s a job.)

Our electronics business has been built on innovation, giving the customer something they have never had before: the VCR, big-screen (27-inch?) TVs, DVDs, surround sound, home automation, HDTV, Blu-Ray, 3D. We give ‘em something they’ve never had before. And we profit as we deliver that to them.

We survive and thrive in the constant re-invention of the products we offer.

Now, we are being re-invented by the way our products are being offered.

Has that happened for my friends and colleagues who are selling cars, clothing or food? Is there anything substantively different in a car sold this year than one sold 10 years ago? Has anyone re-invented a sports coat or cocktail dress? Is there something in the super market that I could not have imagined 5 years ago?

Perhaps we need to look at our business more like one of automotive sales, mall-based department stores, or chains of grocery stores. Or of those who sell with a mouse click instead of a handshake. Perhaps we need to understand that our business can no longer be business-as-usual.

Perhaps you already know that and, perhaps, that is why you have survived when so many others have shuttered their doors in recent years.

“Pick yourself up…..”

The movie “Swing Time”, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers was released in 1936 - in the waning years of the Great Depression (although one knew the depression was waning at the time). Jerome Kern’s song, “Pick Yourself Up” is a gleeful, frivolous dance number that defines the movie. It could have easily been an anthem with a different arrangement.

“Nothing’s impossible I have found,

For when my chin is on the ground,

I pick myself up,

Dust myself off,

Start All over again.”

Can we dust ourselves off?

Can we dance like Fred and Ginger?

We used to.

John Rice is a writer, consultant, and occasional sales professional. Komedia Group provides marketing, training and informational services to companies in the electronics, automotive and pharmaceutical fields. He can be reached at 267-980-5919, via email at jrice@komediagroup.com or atwww.komediagroup.com.


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