The Art of Course Correction


Listen to any motivational speaker or business coach, and you’ll likely hear that determination is the main ingredient of long-term business success. Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, an indispensable part of any business owner’s library, is almost entirely founded on the principle of determination. But any business advocate with real-world experience knows that determination is just one part of the battle. Without course correction, dogged determination can be detrimental to your business (not to mention your sanity).

Resistance to course correction is natural (but unfounded).

the art of course correctionThe term “course correction,” of course, refers to the need to frequently alter a ship’s path so that it can reach its destination. Ships, like businesses, rarely stay on course without constant attention.

I recently worked with a couple who had purchased a beer and wine shop in a suburban area of Columbus. Shortly after the purchase, the large chain grocer across the street secured a liquor license and remodeled to include a vast liquor store. Predictably, the beer and wine shop’s sales fell through the floor.

By the time I got the call from the owners, they were already two months behind on the store lease. I sat in my car in the parking lot for 90 minutes on a Saturday night and saw exactly three customers pass through their doors. Most of their old customers, I imagined, had opted for the liquor store across the street. And why wouldn’t they? The chain grocer offered convenience, an upscale atmosphere, and a wide selection of wines, craft beers, and spirits.

My first meeting with the independent shop owners uncovered a deep sense of determination. “We’re not giving up,” they told me. “We’ve invested our life savings in this store, and we’re going to keep going as long as we can.”

I admired their tenacity. But determination alone didn’t address the chain grocer’s obvious advantages. The couple’s “keep on keeping on” approach, by itself, held them on a path to certain disaster.

Course correction doesn’t mean giving up your business identity.

Clearly, some strategic course correction was in order. But the owners were resistant to change – as they put it, “This is what we are.” I get that – it’s easy to feel like you’re giving up your business identity when you’re faced with the need for change. My challenge, then, was to help them understand that they could implement changes without discarding their core business.

I knew that, in order to sell them on the need for course correction, I was going to have to come up with a low-cost solution that could be easily implemented. With the couple’s budget already strained, major efforts like remodeling and adding major product lines were out of the question. Wine-tasting events wouldn’t likely work, since the chain grocer already did those.

I spent a sleepless night researching to come up with a solution. Finally, in my fatigued haze, I hit on two things. Firstly, I noticed that while there are several gift basket businesses in the area, none of them offered baskets that included beer or wine. Secondly, it occurred to me that the restaurant located in the same building hosted local bands on the weekends.

A quick trip to the specialty wholesaler across town produced a carload of inexpensive gift basket supplies – baskets, shredded fill, ribbons, and cellophane wrap. The owners were understandably incredulous when I showed up and unloaded my purchases.

I explained what I had in mind. “Build your own gift baskets” would give customers the opportunity to build custom gifts for bosses, clients, friends, and family members. It would allow the owners to sell the inventory they already had, just in a slightly different format. And since the owners were quite knowledgeable, they could serve as consultants, helping customers tailor gift baskets to the recipients’ personal tastes and preferences.

It didn’t require the shop to change its identity – it simply gave them a unique way to sell what they already offered. Because the liquor store across the street was staffed by general grocery employees instead of experienced advisers, the chain grocer couldn’t pull off custom baskets. And because it gave the owners the chance to demonstrate their expertise, the strategy helped bring in high-end clients looking for better service than the competing grocer could offer.

I also pulled the schedule off the adjoining restaurant’s website, contacted the bands, and convinced them to attend “meet the band” events at the beer and wine shop before their shows. The shop owners benefited from increased traffic, and the bands benefited from the opportunity to build a more loyal following.

Initial results were encouraging – the shop had a 34% increase in sales compared to the same month in the previous year. Gift basket sales will likely be seasonal, but the resulting increase in high-end customers will improve the shop’s profitability throughout the year. Likewise, attracting customers by giving them the chance to meet local bands will continue to boost income.

Most importantly, though, the owners discovered the power of course correction.

What takes your business off course?

For you, correcting course can take many forms. You might need to look at your customer base to make sure it is still a good fit for your business. Like the beer and wine shop, you might need to look at how you present your existing products or services – a small change can make a big difference. Or you might need to redefine your secret weapon – the aspect of your business that sets you apart from your competitors.

Adapting to changing circumstances doesn’t necessarily require you to give up your vision, any more than course-correcting a ship requires changing its destination. Instead, it helps ensure that your business will continue to prosper and that your vision will become reality.


Categories : Business Strategy

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