Gary de Vogel is the CEO of Hi-Tec South Africa. He is an ex-Deloitter and Alumni of Nyenrode Business University in The Netherlands. Hi-Tec is a leading global outdoor brand spanning 86 countries world wide with a unique and proud heritage. Founded in 1974 by Frank van Wezel, we proudly manufacture and distribute outdoor lifestyle apparel, footwear and accessories
I am sure you heard businesses say things like, "It’s the load shedding’s fault", "It’s because of the elections" or "its because of the pandemic". You will usually hear these excuses after a business experiences deteriorating sales over a number of months. Although this is greatly true, a true introspection will show that, companies have a comfort zone and are becoming complacent, especially in retaining existing customers or growing a new customer base.
Income decreases while expenses are increasing, making the margin of achieving success hard. When you add to this cocktail, complacency in leadership, the drink just gets sour. Once complacency takes hold of your workplace, the business starts to give away growth and productivity, then competitors start picking off your customers. Employees leave because of lack of direction, a clear career path, and opportunity.
As a retail company specialising in outdoor lifestyles, we have implemented several successful strategies to curb this problem which have added value. For example, sharing positivity and the business mission on a regular basis with employees, tackling poor performance head-on and encouraging a learning culture at work. During the first lockdown everybody took leave, but the whole management team was actually working double hours to be ahead of our competition. When we came out of lock down we were ahead of our competition. We had multiple new categories, new marketing strategy and a plan to mitigate expenses anywhere, except in marketing.
The moral of this story is, don't complain during harsh economic circumstances. Rather, use that frustration as fuel to add new value to your business. Streamline your customer services, rethink product innovation, and plan new marketing strategies that are in line with the tough times. When others cut R&D or marketing spend, you invest as much as you can. It will be worth it. High double digit growth and improving your bottom line in current times can be your story to tell.
Furthermore, you should focus internally, rather than setting sights on the big whales in your industry. It’s more likely, they are struggling with the same issues, you are struggling with. Stop looking at external parties, rather be on the alert for “growth hacking” companies, mostly led by millennials that go in with low margins to gain market share.
When their market share increases, they negotiate a lower product cost on volume to regain margin. These companies usually pay low salaries but invest in a corporate culture of “possibility". Staff thrives on the idea of sharing in a piece of the pie, in the form of stock options. All available cash are invested in marketing and expanding the business. Usually growth is quite spectacular, despite a bottom line that does not match the fast expansions. Their success lies in the speed they implement new ideas. Whilst competitors are still discussing new products or services, they have already implemented them. Their decision-making levels are without hierarchies, and would rather make a mistake than have lengthy corporate decision lines to get something approved.
How can you start getting in the right mindset? The answer is simple, ask the right questions. What are you doing today to avoid complacency tomorrow? Where can we add value for our customer or end-user?
Seek for different point of views. Research new trends before they hit your industry. Implement short communication lines, this way you stay ahead, not having to await approval. Adapt, learn and be one step ahead. Don’t blame shift, but be awake while the rest are still sleeping. As Dr Robert H Schuller said: “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.”.