Published on: February 2, 2016by Michael Sansolo
Asked how he lost all his money in "The Sun Also Rises," one of Ernest Hemingway’s characters responds, “Two ways: Gradually and then suddenly.”
Likewise, many businesses, when asked what kinds of problems hurt them most, should respond: Two kinds - big and small.
Allow me a relevant metaphor. Recently, a massive snowstorm buried the area where I live, near Washington, DC. It closed schools, the federal government and streets like mine for days on end.
Less publicized was the half-inch of snow that fell right at the evening rush hour two days before the monster storm. Thanks to the unique properties of this area that dusting resulted in traffic problems that caused commutes to take four to six hours longer than usual.
Here’s the thing: the area actually did everything possible to ready for the monster storm. Weather forecasters issued warnings, municipalities readied whatever equipment they had, and shoppers appropriately panicked - and hoarded - until the roads became useless.
The smaller storm went largely unnoticed until it wreaked havoc.
Now think about challenges business face and ask whether they all get the attention they deserve. The truthful answer is probably not. Big challenges get big response, yet we struggle to muster sufficient attention to smaller issues that can prove highly troublesome.
Consider all the discussion here at MNB in the past week about Walmart closing hundreds of stores. It reminds us how incredibly focused the industry remains on the giant retailer even decades after it substantially altered the retail landscape.
But we rarely hear such impassioned discussion of the impact of category killers - for example, pet superstores - that essentially removed once profitable categories from traditional operators. (Let’s remember that competition is only one problem to consider that happens piece by piece. Think employee retention or trading partner relations as examples where problems can start small and mushroom quickly.)
As many retailers have learned, the death by 1,000 cuts can be just as fatal as a single large wound.
So the question is, have we learned?
We at MNB aren’t the only people watching Amazon intently and constantly questioning what impact electronic commerce as a whole might have on retail. It’s impossible to contemplate a future in which electronic commerce doesn’t significantly change the way people shop.
Yet that’s hardly the only challenge out there. Inside companies we have to hope there’s time being spent on less publicized challenges from other channels or less glamorous operators from Aldi and Lidl, dollar stores, convenience stores, drug stores and more. None of us should ignore the reality that all those channels are finding new ways to serve consumer needs to ensure survival and build sales and profits.
Sadly we never have the luxury to deal with challenges on our own schedule. Just like those inconvenient winter storms, challenges can come one on top of another and all require a response.
Advance planning, concerted responses and aggressive training don’t guarantee anything. Yet that’s still the right path for problems large and small.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . 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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