Just because you’ve always been in business doesn’t mean you’ll always be in business.
As a business owner, it’s easy to fall into the line of thinking that you will be open tomorrow because you were open yesterday. It’s also easy to think people should care about your business simply because it’s your business — after all, you care about it. I find myself slipping into this line of thinking from time to time, but I have to shake it off, or I might not be in business for long.
I don’t have a legacy business, but I’ll bet it’s even easier to think you’ll continue to be successful if that’s all you’ve ever known. Most communities are built around those businesses that have always been there, the ones that made the community grow in the first place. Legacy businesses are essential to a community’s identity, and it’s those businesses’ responsibility to keep their doors open — for the sake of the community.
This week Walmart reminded many of us of something we’ve always known but can never be emphasized enough. Past success isn’t always an indicator of future success.
When Walmart was positioning itself to take over the small town grocery market in 2014, I’m sure they thought they would be entirely successful. They’ve never been anything else.
The false sense that past success will equal continued success can lull us into a feeling of security.
Blackberry changed the face of handheld technology and then disappeared quickly after the iPhone arrived.
And before that, while Blackberry was still on top of the world, many people would have told Apple to double down on Macintosh computers and mp3 players. Apple’s iPods and iMacs were simultaneously tech mainstays and lifestyle symbols. The tech company didn’t maintain the status quo. They took what they were good at and created something we didn’t know we desparately needed — the iPhone, which accounted for well over half the company’s sales last year.
Blackberry was printing money when they were the only game in town. The game is different now.
When the game changes, we can’t keep calling the same plays.
Sometimes nostalgia and legacy can narrow our vision and turn those positive associations into fear and stubbornness. Sometimes we’re only making decisions because we’ve always made those decisions. We call the same plays because they’ve always worked and don’t take into account the new environment we’re in.
Legacy is a good thing, but so is change.
Just ask Kodak. Their decade’s long prominence drove the photographic imaging industry, created innovation and improved the quality of photography as we know it. In 1975, they invented the digital camera. Somehow, the weight of the traditional film industry (and its profits) was a ball and chain around Kodak’s proverbial ankle. They couldn’t figure out how to harness digital photography and use it to continue their success into the next generation.
25 years after the invention of the digital camera, Kodak’s own invention brought about its end as a viable company.
Don’t combat change and don’t assume your business will thrive as it’s currently constructed — especially when new businesses are popping up around you every day and actively zigging where you have traditionally zagged.
When I work with legacy companies, I begin by reminding them (as kindly as I can) that no one cares about their company. I don’t mean that no one will care about their company, but generally, no one is talking about their company at this moment.
Longevity doesn’t automatically garner relevance.
You have to make people care. You have to give them a reason to talk.
How do you give people a reason to talk?
Pivot when the time is right.
Right down the street from my office is an old hardware store that operates as a hardware store every day, but also as a tourist destination. Why? Because Elvis bought his first guitar there decades ago.
So, when someone needs hardware, the Tupelo Hardware staff are happy to help.
And when someone wants to ask questions about Elvis or take pictures with the staff, the staff is just as happy to help.
When your company has an opportunity to reposition itself, don’t pass on it just because it’s not the way you’ve always operated.
Nokia started as a pulp company in the mid-1800s and has since made toilet paper, electrical cables, rubber galoshes, military communications technology, gas masks and cell phones.
When the mobile phone market veered away from Nokia’s products, the company began focusing on third-party consumer electronics and networks. That’s a long way from toilet paper.
Update your look.
Just because you’ve established your brand doesn’t mean you can’t refresh or even reinvent it. I think every company should take a step back and reevaluate the consumer-facing side of their business every few years. That may mean seeing your storefront like a first-time customer and deciding to update your signage or do a complete remodel. It might mean ditching the outdated website for something simpler.
Maybe you’ll find that you need to update the way you’re perceived in the community.
Whether you need to reinvent the company completely, and you may find that you just need a new text treatment on your letterhead, the practice of reevaluation facilitates healthy incremental change. It’s the difference between the words update and overhaul.
Don’t stop marketing.
If you have to turn people away because you just can’t physically take any more customers, it’s fine to press pause on your billboard campaign, but never stop marketing your business. I have talked to so many legacy companies that use their overwhelming marketing success as an excuse to stop marketing themselves, only to find their customer pool drying up five years later.
Marketing doesn’t always have to be an effort to attract new customers.
Sometimes companies market to reposition themselves in the marketplace or to maintain a certain reputation. No matter what, keeping your name in the public is how you keep your brand in conversation.
Bear in mind that the generation that made you successful might’ve forgotten to tell their kids about you. As bad as that might be, it’s worse if you forget to inform newer generations, too.
Remember your founding values.
When you’ve been in business for a long time, it can be easy to forget why you got into business in the first place. No matter how many times you update your look or pivot your company, don’t forget the reason you started.
When I started my business eight years ago, I started it because I wanted to help people and I wanted to raise the creative bar in the state. My business looks completely different from the one I started, but that is still the driving motivation for my staff and me every day.
If you forget why you originally started, you’re probably just in business because you’ve always been in business, and that doesn’t help anyone.