Well, the news ain't good. The U.S. economic outlook for 2008 seems to get worse each day, and it's not likely to get better until the second half of 2009. The television, newspapers, and magazines seem to be on the economists' side, especially if you're lumped in the catch-all category of housing starts the way we are. So what's an entrepreneur like you or me to do when the media are saying the sky is falling and the world is saying play defense but we are more suited to playing offense?
We are definitely feeling the effects of the economy on our business. After a record January, we missed February's sales goal and March isn't looking any better. But what do you do when you can't guarantee sales and you're trying to serve customers, invest in the future, and maintain profits?
First and foremost, we're increasing our efforts to promote our traditional products in current markets and in new markets, and we're doing the things that made Aquascape "Aquascape" in the first place -- creating innovative new products for new markets. In other words, we're promoting, innovating, and doing everything we know how to do in order to spur sales growth in an increasingly challenging market. We are focusing on initiatives that have low cost and immediate returns. That's the offensive side of things and as a tried-and-true entrepreneur, I just love it. And we're really good at this!
But also as a tried-and-true entrepreneur, I've learned what happens when offense is my only strategy. I ignore the doom and gloom, attempting to will my top line into being -- and I come up short. We need to have a defensive strategy! Although contrary to my nature, I'm learning to appreciate this. When sales aren't there, the only way you're going to hit your numbers is by shrinking your overhead to increase profitability.
This is something we all know, but aren't all good at. I guess you football fans out there would call this a preventive defense. And as any offensive-minded fan would tell you, the bend-but-don't-break strategy is a great way to lose! The challenge in bending but not breaking is to know where to bend so you don't break. Most of us don't have a crystal ball to predict sales with the same degree of certainty that we can predict expenses.
That's why I'm letting my president and defensive coordinator -- ironically, he's a former quarterback at Army -- make the calls, controlling overhead spending and capital expenses to ensure profitability. Last week, we made the decision to delay the start of the implementation of our new IT system that I spoke of in "Circling the Wagons." Business expenses are being scaled to fit the top line. Team input, buy-in, and communication are mission critical. I'm counting on my defensive coach to communicate clearly with me and the team and then stay the course. If these sales trends continue, we will need to further shrink ourselves if we're going to be profitable in 2008. If this turns out to be the case, then so be it. As an offensive coordinator, does that make me grit my teeth? Hell, yes! But I'd rather formulate my strategy assuming a less-than-desirable outcome and come out with a win, than predict a perfect game and end up with a loss. Sometimes the defense wins the game. I'm learning this now more than ever in my business.
This year will test me in ways I've never been tested. I'm resolved to win. I'm resolved to learn. My goal with this blog has always been to help others with what I've learned in the often hard and gritty world of business -- even if what I've learned has been difficult at times. I only hope that by writing about our experiences, it helps you in your business.