Hard times: Are they real or only in your mind?

I think it is hard for anyone to understand the reality that change and difficulties offer opportunity. Some are opportunities we never thought of as possibilities.

Vince MorvilloVince Morvillo, owner, Sea Lake Yacht Sales — A new contract just landed on my desk.

This contract is a large one for my small luxury yacht business. Looking at the numbers, we will net a solid profit from this sale.

As I added the new numbers to my sales board for the month, I became curious about what our sales were last year.  As could be expected, they were less.  So, here we were – in November 2010 — actually ahead of the previous year’s sales.

You would think, in our current economy, a yacht purchase would be on anybody’s back burner … or would it?

Almost a year ago, in Houston, Texas, beating the 2008 sales numbers wouldn ‘t have been a possibility.  We had been hit with a hurricane – Ike – and then the recession.  To top it off, our floor plan lenders, one by one, went out of business.  Those that survived raised interest rates to the sky and beyond.

So I had to ask myself, “Are these really hard times?”

When September 2008 was followed by a recession in November, it might have looked that way … the day after Hurricane Ike blasted through the Gulf Coast, leaving a wide swath of destruction in its path … but I’ve always managed by redirecting my team’s thoughts to create unimagined, out-of-the-box solutions.

This year, like other years, the results of this redirection were profits and a growing business.

Here’s how it happened:  Two days after Hurricane Ike hit, I returned to the marina where my business is housed. I was delighted to find my buildings, which float, undamaged. The docks, other than being a little muddy, were in great shape and we even had electricity.  I was one happy, out-of-control business owner. My staff, however was a different story.

Before I go further, I should point out that I am a blind person – and, because of my life experiences, I look at the world differently.  I also operate differently because redirecting my focus and exploring options other than the obvious have become routine for me … a way of life, if you will.

My staff was reacting to the storm’s devastation they saw all around them. They simply could not get past the destruction.  One man’s roof had been ripped away by the wind. Others saw their neighbors’ homes demolished.  One highway was littered with boats, ripped from a nearby marina.

Now I am not an unsympathetic person. I do, however, understand reality.

Reality,  like life, goes on … in spite of everything.  Bills arrive in the mailbox and need to be paid.  Food needs to put on the table. Kids need new shoes. The litter box needs to be emptied.

As their leader, I needed to turn the staff back to productive thoughts and results. So where would I begin?  With the formula for success, focus + commitment – distraction = success.

I think it is hard for anyone to understand the reality that change and difficulties offer opportunity. Some are opportunities we never thought of as possibilities. Change encourages us to look at the business model we are operating under and to ask if that model is relevant to the current market.  Often the opportunity is to come with a new business model.   So my goal was to refocus the staff by encouraging them to come up with solutions that would meet the current reality of life and take advantage of the opportunities before us.

That afternoon, we began the process of looking at the opportunities … and soon the staff began to see the upside of the mess we were in, and the distractions moved into the background replaced by the energies that a new focus brings.

While our competitors were having hurricane sales and trying to sell boats in a community where buying a yacht was the last thing on people’s minds, we took advantage of undamaged inventory and focused sales efforts on customers outside of the Houston area who were still buying.

We also hosted a free information session for all of our customers whose boats were affected by the storm, bringing in a retired VP of claims for a major insurance company, a marine surveyor and an attorney to teach people how to navigate through the claims process.

When the national and local economies took a nosedive a few weeks later, we looked at each other and realized there was even more opportunity.

In September 2008, we developed a strategy and business model that kept us focused and our products moving. We ended the year with a profit, even with a hurricane.

In my consulting work with other companies, I’ve found that simplicity gets you to the problem and then the solution. You basically turn your team’s thoughts to the HOW as you move them from the “I can’t.”

Times can be hard, if you want to see reality that way.  If not, you just need to decide to opt out … to opportunity!

One comment

  1. Vince,

    Great post!

    It is interesting to see one dealer in a BTA (Basic trade Area) succeed while the dealer next door is failing? Why is that?

    Attitude is key and is very contagious. As an owner or manager, if you are positive, your staff will be positive and convey a positive message to their customers.

    The second key is having a plan in place an executing it. Whether it is boat shows, open houses, demo days, service seminars, etc., getting people through the door gives your business the opportunities to make the sale. You cannot grow your company without them. People still want to purchase boat and they still need service, companies need to make sure that they are continuously touching those customers and fulfilling their needs and providing a positive experience each and every time.

    You have proven that having both in place can work and can be successful.

    Again, great post and thanks for sharing!


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