Trends are all around. They're happening at home, in your office, during your leisure time. If you can understand how human behavior drives trends, you can take advantage of it and turn it to your benefit. In this era of big data, this kind of information is more available than ever.

YPO member Samir Kulkarni has built a retail empire from studying and capitalizing on trends. His company Showcase has exploded to include 107 stores all over Canada and is now expanding quickly into the United States. By anticipating trends, Showcase is able to sell hot products before other retailers even know the items are popular. Kulkarni uses his approach of recognizing what people are going to buy to understand how stakeholders in his business - and in his life - are going to behave.

Here are Kulkarni's tips for recognizing trends and getting ahead of the game in everything you do:

1. Be an entrepreneur.

Whether you're building your business or your career, an entrepreneurial mindset will push you ahead. "Entrepreneurship is about finding a new way, and keeping your eyes and ears open for new trends and opportunities that others miss," says Kulkarni. This could mean thinking about new growth strategies, creative work-arounds of cumbersome systems, or a new angle to impress your boss. "With one hot collectible toy, we noticed that kids would buy packs and get duplicates, so they couldn't complete their collection. So we started trading events, first in one store, then right across the country. With fewer resources but more entrepreneurship, we ended up selling more of that toy than every other national chain." Stand out from the crowd by approaching problems from a different angle, and empower your team to be entrepreneurial, too.

2. The trend always has side effects.

Trends have consequences. Sometimes one trend can lead to another, or a trend highlights another problem. Kulkarni offers a case in point: "We were selling a leading line of apparel, but we noticed a side-effect to their popularity. While the manufacturer's business was booming, they were being stretched too thin in trying to manage the Canadian market. We stepped up and become their Canadian fulfillment, wholesale, and e-commerce partner, setting up a long-term line of business." Always keep your eyes open to the trend beneath the trend.

3. Question the truth.

When you identify a retail trend, you know the status quo is about to change. Similarly, trends in your life force you to accept changes in the status quo. For example, Kulkarni says, "There are probably some unquestioned truths at your office. Maybe they're true, maybe they're just holdovers from a past era, maybe they're hasty conclusions drawn from a good or bad experience. Question these sacred cows and make sure they're still true today." Be skeptical of the world around you, and examine the outliers you find to see if they reveal useful information. Don't assume everything is as it seems.

4. There are no problems.

Attitude is everything. Kulkarni shares some family wisdom: "As my dad taught me, a problem with a solution is an opportunity. A problem without a solution is just life. Therefore, there are no problems." Don't waste time fretting about an unsolvable problem. Instead, find the opportunity in it, or focus on problems that have solutions. Make the most of your time and energy, and worry about the things you can control.

5. The big guys aren't as strong as they seem.

"In retail," says Kulkarni, "competing against massive national chains and e-tailers can be daunting. They have more money and more resources than we do. But with size comes weakness - especially with fast-changing trends." Even when your competitors are big and powerful, there are opportunities. "A big and powerful supplier means there may be a nimbler, hungrier, more affordable supplier around the corner. A powerful customer may be slow and rigid, which means they will appreciate (and pay for) products and services that help them be more nimble," explains Kulkarni. Whether you're big or small, use your size to your advantage.

6. The harder you work, the luckier you get.

"Everyone has luck - sometimes good, sometimes bad - but if you work hard, you catch more breaks," explains Kulkarni. "There were hard times at Showcase. Sometimes there was barely enough money to pay the rent. But our great team kept fighting, clarifying our model and improving our quantitative analysis. Then with the 2008 financial crisis, consumers were suddenly looking for affordable trendy gadgets, all while retail space suddenly became more available," recounts Kulkarni. When you work hard to make your company the best it can be, it's better able to weather a storm and take advantage of opportunity when it knocks.

7. Merge your business and personal life.

"If you're trying to escape your work at home or vice versa, you're doing it wrong," Kulkarni says. "Struggle for work-life balance means you may not be really immersed and passionate about what you do on either side." And because the entrepreneurial mindset is all about spotting opportunities where others have missed it, you never know where or when they will appear. Kulkarni explains, "Thinking about or discussing work in a new environment - whether it's with friends or family, or even traveling on vacation - helps you to think laterally, step back, and put things into perspective." Open your eyes to the world around you and be open when inspiration strikes.

Each week Kevin explores exclusive stories inside YPO, the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.

Published on: Nov 17, 2017
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