retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Reaching the end of 2010 and finding ourselves still in business is probably enough of an achievement to help all of us to get a little self-congratulatory. Before doing that, consider this sage wisdom often repeated about poker, “If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.”

Simply put, look around the poker table or, more correctly, the space where you compete. It may be a neighborhood, a state, a category, an aisle or even some arena of key services. Ask yourself which one of your competitors looks least likely to survive another tough year, least equipped to cope with the current pace of change, least flexible or least strategic to deal with these times? Who looks the least efficient, the least effective and least in tune with the times?

If you can’t figure out who that competitor is, get worried. In the parlance of poker, you may be the sucker.

The end of the year always brings a strange bit of nostalgia for the 12 months just ending. You’ll notice we don’t do any recaps of top stories hear at MNB because, as Content Guy Kevin Coupe reminds me constantly, we are always trying to look at the picture differently. (Let the other guys make lists and think traditionally.) He’s right. There’s little to learn from news that’s now 350 days old when the world seems to change almost daily.

But reflection is called for in one way. Think back on 2010 (and lump in 2009 because the current economic cycle doesn’t honor calendar years) and ask yourself “what changed?” By that I mean, what changed that impacts your business most? Is it the economy, the changes in shopping behavior, technology, cost structures or whatever? Think about what’s changed most in the world surrounding you.

Then start thinking about that poker table. Think about the changes you and your company have made versus the changes made by your competitors and their companies. Try hard to do it objectively and consider even doing it with your teams. Hopefully when you look around you’ll be able to list numerous ways in which you and your team have changed to meet these volatile times. Hopefully, you’ll be able to proudly point to numerous ways in which you have improved on your competitive advantages or attacked points of weakness.

When you consider it all, you should hold that mental picture of sitting around the poker table with your competition and with any luck, you’ll realize that you are not the sucker - that you are the winner. If not, get thinking really hard about what you are going to change. Do it fast. Because in business or poker, the sucker doesn’t end up happy.

Here’s the best news. No matter what, remember the New Year is coming and bringing with it untold and unseen challenges and problems, but also unknown opportunities. So whether 2010 was a good or bad year, you have to keep playing.

So Happy New Year and get that poker face ready. The game is still on.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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