retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) faces a problem common to many businesses: Things don’t always make sense.

Graham is an experienced legislator with a track record and reputation on numerous important topics including foreign policy. Yet, as you might be aware, while he’s running to be the Republican Party’s Presidential nominee, he’s making little headway.

In a year when outsiders seem to be in vogue, Graham and others like him are losing badly to candidates who might not have gotten even a passing look in other years.

But things don’t always make sense and most assuredly aren’t always fair. It happens in politics, and it happens in business. That’s why best-laid plans are both essential and useless at the same time.

Great plans are essential because no business should charge forward without a clear sense of where they want to go. There should be hard questions asked about why any consumer would want a specific product, store or service and why exactly your company is best positioned to sell it. And those plans only work if the company executes them like crazy.

Of course, those plans are also useless because things are always going to change. Unexpected developments should always be expected in the form of competitors or even a sudden shocking shift in consumer tastes (as Sen. Graham, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and others are finding out in the current election cycle). You have to recognize the changes, shift where appropriate and, again, execute like crazy.

We’ve had a lot of articles about best-laid plans going awry here lately. Consider the apparent retrenchment of Walmart’s Neighborhood Markets, which surely seemed a great plan for getting stores into smaller spaces. Or what about McDonald’s ongoing struggles to connect with shifting consumer tastes for fast food. (We’ll ignore the fates of Haggen, Fresh & Easy, and A&P in this context, since their problems seem far more extensive than just shifting consumer tastes.)

The bottom line is that there are no simple solutions. There’s no way to know whether Amazon.com will be a major food competitor in 10 years or if some other form of e-commerce solution will supplant it. We have no idea if the local food trends Kevin wrote about yesterday will be lasting or trivial in a few years.

Likewise, we can’t tell when consumers will break out of the frugal mindset that’s taken hold since 2008 or, worse yet, how they’ll react when the economy softens again, as some signals from around the world. suggest.

In some respects, politicians are lucky. They can drop out and run in another year. Businesses aren’t given an off year. They need find a way to keep correcting their courses, change with the times and competition, and stay sharply focused on shifting consumer trends even as they shift on a daily, weekly or whatever basis.

In a television interview Monday, Graham bemoaned his terrible poll numbers by saying, “How am I losing to these people?”

From his point of view, it’s a great question.

And it’s one every business also should ask itself constantly about every competitor you have. Then, quickly, you need to focus on how to turn that picture around because even the best-laid plans need constant course corrections.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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