The economy has cycles just like the seasons; some years are like a long recessionary winter season. So I wondered whether we could all learn something from people who face climactic changes all of the time. Could we apply the four approaches seasonal businesses use to cope with the weather to better handle the economic seasons?
The first way seasonal businesses deal with their challenge is to admit they are dependent on one key season. Some ski lodges, ice cream stores, fruit stands, and Christmas decoration shops succeed by going all out during their season. Then the owners spread the proceeds and cash flow over the dormant seasons. To succeed, they must excel at inventory management and reading market trends so they know exactly what will sell during the next season.
Some businesses may be truly dependent on an up economy (a better season). Beating yourself up trying to force business to come in while the economy is bad might make you more tired but not any richer. This type of seasonal business teaches us to recognize limitations. Sometimes it just isn’t there.
Then there are those seasonal businesses that do not accept the conclusion that they must go with what one season offers. They introduce complementary product lines to serve the same customer base through other periods. Take Gloria’s in Milford, Connecticut, for instance. It may have started out as a vegetable stand, but now it sells fertilizer, lawn ornaments, and other outdoor items. Frank’s sells Christmas trees and swimming pools. Each of these companies became year-round, more resilient businesses by selling the same customers different products to meet their seasonal needs. It’s sometimes not easy to find one location that serves such different product lines, but these companies think their approach is better than being closed half of the year.
In economic terms, what if this is not the season for your current product line? If your products are dependent on a better economic season, as are real estate, construction, vacation packages, automobiles, furniture or other big-ticket items, you may need to find products you could sell to your customers when it’s not their economic season.
If you try this approach, it’s important to actually be offering something different rather than trying to convince people they need snow shovels to mow their lawns. You can lose credibility if you just alter how you pitch your product without really changing the product.
The third way seasonal businesses succeed is to have dissimilar product lines or sometimes separate companies. When one is down, the other is up. These seasonal businesses find that it’s important to promote the two lines separately so each gets the attention it deserves. Some law firms with strong estate-planning practices have separate subsidiaries for their bankruptcy/collection agency practices.
The fourth way people succeed in seasonal businesses is to move when the seasons change. The people who sell soft custard at the shore in the summer may sell T-shirts between October and April someplace else.
However, today you don’t have to move to serve another marketplace if your locale is not in the right economic season for your products or services.
You can research and identify target markets that are more receptive to your products and services. It’s less expensive than you may think to go after new markets, even international markets; try telemarketing, direct mail, public relations, joint ventures, etc. The European market is wide open right now.
If you use this approach and shift your customer base completely as the economic seasons change, be careful not to seem like a fair-weather friend. If you now work with health-care companies, make sure you stay in touch with the construction companies you had as customers five years ago.
There is also another lesson to be learned from seasonal businesses. The guy or gal who owns a lawn-care service comes to mind. What is he or she doing during the winter?
The successful lawn service company has an owner who is sharpening the blades on the mowers, recruiting new people, reviewing mailing lists to see whether additional business can be found in the next town, figuring out how to do irrigation services so a new product line can be introduced.
Therefore, when business is slow, you can prepare for your next good season.
It’s funny. With the weather, we know that the seasons will change. The first time a Jamaican friend visited the United States, he was amazed at how well we handled winter. He was surprised by how we are unfazed by bare trees. They seem so dead to him.
If this has been your first recessionary season as an owner, you may feel like you’re from Jamaica, wondering whether this long winter season of the economy will end and whether businesses will come back.
It’s small businesses that will bring it back to spring and summer, that is if we don’t get bogged down, lose faith, or stop trying new ideas.
Known as The Growth Strategist®, Aldonna R. Ambler, CMC, CSP helps rapidly growing midsized companies (typically $20 – 200 million/year) realize their goal of Achieving Accelerated Growth With Sustained Profitability® through opportunity/resource analysis, executive coaching, strategic working sessions, and her intermediary role regarding growth financing. Her clients are among the brightest, most ambitious business leaders whose names now appear on published lists of the fastest growing privately held corporations. The recipient of 23 prestigious awards for her success as an entrepreneur and industry leader, Ambler hosts a peer-to-peer Internet radio program, aptly called The Growth Strategist®, which features lively interviews with CEOs of midmarket companies who have successfully executed the growth strategy of the week. She can be reached toll free at 1-888-Aldonna (253-6662), by e-mail at Aldonna@AMBLER.com or online at www.TheGrowthStrategist.com.