Do you have a mission statement? You know, something like, “We
strive to offer the best in customer service at the lowest possible
price,” or “We put our customer needs ahead of our profit with
Whatever it is, it might be time to get rid of your mission
statement. It also might be time to chuck the core values of your
Actually, I’m serious. Change can be good. Sometimes mission
statements, core values and business cultures can be destructive
rather than constructive. Sometimes they put our businesses in
boxes that start to defy change. They inhibit our ability to keep
current and to go forward. They erect walls and create rigid
You may have started out trying to create consistency and common
goals and that’s good. But, now, you may also be cultivating an
environment of stale thinking. You start to think if it worked
before, it will work in the future. Nothing could be further from
Look at IBM, Apple, Amtrak, General Motors and Encyclopedia
Britannica as examples of the fact that no business can simply
stand still and stay “king-of-the-hill” forever. IBM is shifting
gears like never before. Apple came up with a new Mac design, made
it in funky colors and gave it a hip, cutting-edge name like “iMac”
to regain lost market share. Amtrak lost service to the regional
airlines and deteriorated big time. GM is no longer dominating the
auto industry, and is trying to play catch-up. And Encyclopedia
Britannica got blasted by the Internet.
Some king-of-the-hill hopefuls hung on to the very end until the
revelation came: “You change or you die.” When the parade passes,
you have to march.
In the case of Britannica, you no longer need 70 pounds of books
in your bookcase. The entire set became available on CD-ROM,
complete with pretty packaging and a hefty price tag. Then the
Internet brought everything into consumers’ homes for free. At
first, Britannica tried to sell its 30+ volumes on-line at $5 a
month. That didn’t work. Then it went free, and 10 million people
visited the site on the very first day. Basically, the company
found that if you give it away, people will want it. So with such a
huge response, Britannica is now attracting advertisers. I bet the
company’s original mission statement said nothing about the way the
company is conducting business now.
A clear definition
Management guru Peter Drucker teaches organizations that they only
perform well when their purpose is clearly defined, and when profit
is not a purpose, but a result.
I bet all of the country’s little hardware stores and
kitchen/bath dealerships really appreciated that when Home Depot
and Lowes moved into their towns. They had to tap-dance really fast
just to keep up. They had to refocus their energies to capitalize
on their experience and their reputations as “the folks with all
the answers.” They had to concentrate on giving advice and
instruction while still keeping a close eye on competitive pricing.
They had to find out what their niche really was, instead of trying
to be all things to all people.
Today’s business is more than just “find a need and fill it.”
It’s figuring out what your business really is this month, and what
it might be next year. It’s figuring out who your customer is, and
what your customer values the most . . . even though your customers
change constantly and, with the Internet, your customers are not
only local, they’re national and global, as well.
And it’s not just about price. Today’s customers look for speed,
convenience, quality, accessibility, enjoyment, aesthetics and
problem-solving solutions. They will give you their business in
return for value over and above cost and time.
Maybe you’re a small showroom that has the same customers day in
and day out. Or maybe you’re a multi-store operation that has a
highly structured way of doing business. Well, hold on to your cash
register. The new millennium is here; you ain’t seen nothing
E-commerce will have a major place, but it won’t be the only
answer. You can’t just pay some freshman computer major from the
local college to whip you up a Web site, then go back about your
business and hope that people visit the site sometime. Because, you
know what? Other dealers will have sites, too. And some will be
fully functional and designed to be more than a little 15″ digital
billboard. Some will offer freebies and incentives. Some will be
linked to, and cross-promoted through, other companies’ sites. Some
will contain an archive of advice and information targeted to the
needs of their customers.
And guess what? Their customers are your customers.
Learning to juggle
If you want to survive in the future, you’re going to have to learn
to juggle. Marketing is going to have to go way beyond your front
door, because a business across the state or across the country is
going to be taking a shot at your customer down the block on Elm
These weren’t problems 10 years ago, and there will be a whole
set of new problems 10 years from now. The only constant will be
change fast and furious change. Don’t get locked into to the “we
did it before and it worked” syndrome. Take a look a your mission
statement one last time. Ditch your “core value approach” to doing
business, suit up and go out onto the playing field expecting new
and different opposition.
Be totally prepared for whatever plays your competitors will be
running against you. To survive, many businesses will have to
“learn by doing” and will have to be ready to switch gears on a
I know, I know. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” But be
prepared. The wheel might fall off your cart tomorrow. And a
business without a jack and spare parts, because “that’s not our
approach to business,” may find itself going the way of Burma
Shave, Pall Mall cigarettes, Admiral TVs and Packard cars.
Bob Popyk is publisher of Creative Selling’, a monthly
newsletter on sales and marketing strategies. He is the author of
the book, How to Increase Your Kitchen & Bath Business by 25%.
. . Starting Next Week!, available through the National Kitchen and
Bath Association, and is a speaker at various industry events,
including the National Kitchen & Bath Conference. For a free
sample of his newsletter, call (800) 724-9700 or visit his Web site