THE BIGGER THE CORPORATION, the more its leaders seem to be out of touch with reality. This is becoming even more evident during the recession. Presidents, directors and CEOs in far-off lands and ivory towers are scrambling because it's no longer business as usual. The old rules of "finance and flip" or "acquire and consolidate" are things of the past — it seems the world is reversing itself to become more local and less global. More small, sensitive niche businesses will replace larger, mass-market corporations.
And where did this new "green" movement come from? Al Gore? Tree huggers? At first I resisted because it appeared to be a guilt-trip from a few politically active environmental groups that typically want to restrict fun, outdoor activities. But being "green" started to take on an additional meaning to me on my recent 4,750-mile, liberating dirtbike ride across the nation (www.transamtrail.com). "Green" expanded to broader terms beyond eco-sensitivity — it became synonymous with the word natural. It implied roots, fundamentals and even sustainability of the financial kind. Humans helping humans instead of companies competing for profits. As the pie-in-the-sky economy wanes a bit, Americans appear to becoming more grounded, more community-centric, less corporate and — well, green.
Is the pendulum swinging back? More and more companies no longer do business with companies. People will do business with people. Companies will serve customers rather than the reverse. The huge foreign businesses and disconnected American corporations involved in the passion-based powersports community will be forced to realize this paradigm shift soon. Not only does this back-to-basics movement seem to be more Earth-sensitive, but equally important, it's also getting back to a sense of family and quality of life. Corporate arrogance is gone along with unchecked consumerism and never-never payment schedules. No longer is our dream the quick buck (OK, maybe a little) and a bigger toy collection to show for it. No longer do we follow the lemming herds to mass, advertised feedings of "cool" events and stores. It seems the larger "dumb dinosaurs" are toppling down while the smaller, more adaptable lizards, birds and cockroaches will survive this financial equivalent of a meteor hitting the Earth. Whether it is AIG or GMC, the shadowed era of unchecked greed and customer insensitivity is over — not just to the environment, but to our fellow man and businesses, too.
No longer is America led by Washington and Wall Street. It's led by you in your town. Admittedly, we citizens feel more powerless than past generations, but that is because we assume our one vote in the ballot box won't make that much difference nationally. It's time to start voting with your business — locally. You can make a HUGE difference. Here's how.
THINK BIGGER, BUT SMALLER. Take a deep breath and step back. Don't look internationally or even nationally. What is going to work for your local community? DIY is popular again, so do you need to provide tech seminars in the evening? Do you need to take phone orders and drop-ship to your busy or distant customers? Do you need shopping carts on your website? Do you need special events or a club to create a customer family? If you have driven customers away in the past era of gluttony, fix it now or die the death of a dinosaur — which this environment will not support anymore.
GET BACK TO WHAT WORKED FOR YOU IN THE BEGINNING. Your business undoubtedly started successfully and evolved. You grew like many American businesses during the easy-credit years. Now look back at those start-up fundamentals and re-ignite them. They undoubtedly will work again to get you kick-started in the new economy.
LOOK THROUGH YOUR CUSTOMERS' EYES. If you don't ride yourself, then you don't feel or see what your customers are. Is riding to your customers a luxury activity or a necessary ingredient for existence? Perhaps you have both types, in which case you approach each one differently. The hard-cores may consider upgrading their habit while the now budget-strapped Rolex-riders might embrace the actual riding experience more than the fashionable, poseur experience. Fan each of their flames while cross-pollinating the two.
LISTEN, THEN LEAD. If you don't reach out to your customers, they won't come in. Invite. Challenge. Lure. Have you had a phone campaign to your customers to let them know what's new and ask them how you can best assist their motorcycling needs during this weird economic time? Forget direct mail. Call them with what's new and exciting, then ask them what they need most. Don't ask them to buy — ask them for ideas. Once they express their opinion, they have an investment in you. Now invite them to come hang out. You need floor traffic first — buying comes later. Start there.
CHANGE YOUR MODEL — EVEN IF IT'S WRONG. Analysis paralysis — don't let it cripple your business. You can find a reason NOT to do anything, but pray to see the end of this recession. Don't wait for your OEM, state association or 20 group to help you. They're worried about their own business models to honestly look at yours. Be sure to make a change, then give it some time to work. Your customers aren't shopping the same way either, and they'll appreciate your trying something new and different.
Stand out and don't be dumbed down. You are closer to consumer reality than your parent company, vendors or supplying distributors. You are a retailer and that makes you the expert.
Eric Anderson, owner of VROOM consulting, has fathered several powersports apparel brands. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the Dealernews November 2009 issue.