by Atim Annette Oton
After spending four days at the International African Arts Festival in Brooklyn as the business Calabar Imports, I observed an interesting phenomena and came to the conclusion that some black retail businesses and other businesses these days are stuck in a rot. And rot is not polite word these days. The economy is in a downward tailspin and people are not shopping as they are used to. Ironically, it seems, some businesses in a rot are aware that they are in this situation but what I realized watching them and others this year is that they do not understand the notion of Re-Invention; Revisiting their Mission and Taking Risk.
At the festival and across Brooklyn, I see some retail businesses who should be ahead of the pack are now back where they had begun years ago. To be honest, it disturbs me and makes me ask ”What happened to them?” My sense and instinct informs me that besides the typical rent increases; most of these former innovators remain stagnant – in one mental space – trapped by a lack of imagination and have boxed themselves in a corner. And businesses in a rot need change – but how they go about this shift is critical. It involves Re-invention.
Re-invention requires four simple steps: Analyze, Be Creative, Decide and Plan
- Analyze. In order to re-invent your business, you must start by analyzing your business and competitors. This analysis will reveal what your key strengths and weaknesses are. Every year, I do a SWOT Analysis (SWOT analysis is a strategic planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). SWOT is a tool for auditing a business, its environment and the first stage of planning and helps one focus on the key issues
- Be Creative. Out-think the competition. When I say “out-think” the competition – I draw my inspiration from companies that are not in my realm and do not look at my neighbors as competition. Instead, I drew ideas and creative inspiration from companies like Walmart, Kroger and Target – they are businesses who make me understand how to be creative and take risk. and most importantly, they are the top three retailers in the US. What’s unique about these three? They actually understand mass-market consumption, have what their customers want and are repeat business – the model of a good retailer.
- Decide. It is vital to make decisions. Some businesses take too long to decide and miss opportunities. I have never been able to procrastinate, I decide quickly and act. In business, making decisions are core to making changes.
- Plan. It is vital to develop and implement a plan – and it must be creative.
Re-invention: A way to stay ahead of the pack
Three years ago, I recall an observer telling me to that I should stay in “my lane” and to sell only African clothing. In their words, I was supposed to stay stagnant and not evolve. I smiled politely and continued the Re-invention of my business that year. Earlier that summer (2007), I moved from selling just African clothing to adding Indian dresses – I call them our Summer Sizzling Dresses – and we sold about 750 of them. If I had stayed in ‘my lane”, I would not have found a new market, provided a new product to my customers and expanded my bottom line. Since then, we sell over 750 of these dresses every summer and keep the price point the same – $20 just right for this economy.
Revisiting your Mission
At the beginning of every year, I look at my mission statement and remind myself of the original goals of the business. It is my way of starting the year but also of reminding myself of whether I am still in the focal point of the mission I first crafted and whether I need to refine it or add to it. Revisiting the mission allows you to verify that your business’ activities and outcomes are in line with its stated mission and goals. It is one key component to planning your survival strategy which will enable you make it through the hard times.
When the economy shifts downward, most business people hibernate – they spend less, save money and become less adventurous. Simply, they stop taking risks. The smart business innovator sits back a bit to understand the economy (analyzing it); looks for opportunity (comes up with a plan) and dives in to take more risk and thus, produces positive results.
The business of retail may have changed in this economy down-turn but as a smart entrepreneur – needs to be able to re-invent and take risk to grow their business. And those who do, will survive this period.