Aaron J. Crowley

Stone Industry Consultant

If this issue arrived on time, its delivery marks a historic event. No, I’m not referring to the election that just occurred, I’m referring to the fact that November 2012 marks the end of the fifth year since the Great Recession imposed itself on our economy.     

Happy anniversary. Five years.

I remember the comforting words of a Portland, OR stone import icon who said dismissively mid-2008 that it would be the year that weeded out the weak companies and that 2009 would be a rebound.

Well, 2009 came and went, as did 2010 and 2011. And here we are at the tail end of 2012 (October 4th, 10:00pm on the eve of the deadline to be exact) and a rebound still seems like a faraway fantasy.

Five years into a grinding, grueling Great Recession and I’m beginning to wonder if the memories of the pre-2008 good times are just that; a fantasy phase in my business career that never actually happened. A peek at the bank balance would suggest it was a figment of my imagination. 

Will good times return to the granite business? Who knows?  

I, for one, am done listening to predictions about “recoveries” and rebounds, and am instead choosing to be thankful that we’re still in business to put to use the agonizing lessons the last five years have forced us to learn!

Allow me to recount a few of the most painful yet helpful highlights:

Mistake: Believing that reversing the decline of top-line sales would solve our profit problem.

Lesson: When demand is declining due to financial panic, collapsing home values, and seizing up of credit, spending precious dollars on “growing” sales is a fool’s errand…like defying gravity. 

Mistake: Managing by s/f installed and gross sales.

Lesson: Imprecise and vague metrics are fine when there is an abundance of highly profitable business. But they are wholly inadequate for managing output and costs when sales are declining and desperate fabricators and big box stores squeeze margins to next to nothing. 

Mistake:  Relying entirely on “processes” while ignoring the people who are performing them.

Lesson: The right managers must be in place to insist, demand, and require that everyone else follow the processes they are responsible for. Those managers must be held accountable for the performance of their departments.

Mistake:  Believing that all customers are only interested in the lowest price.

Lesson: Even in a highly competitive market, certain segments of the market are willing to pay more for features, services, and products that they value.  Identifying and connecting these factors is priceless.

Mistake:  Thinking that we must lead our companies alone, making and carrying out decisions, then bearing the burden in isolation.

Lesson: Carrying that kind of weight will crush even the strongest soul. Seeking out and relying on intimate friendships, mentors, and peer advice is critical to maintaining mental, spiritual, and physical health while leading during unrelenting circumstances.

Mistake:  Assuming landlords, bankers, and vendors are ruthless and inflexible and unwilling to work with our circumstances.

Lesson: Be honest and humble, and communicate often. Explaining that the rent is too high or the terms are too onerous can be surprisingly effective in reducing the rent and extending a grace period to alleviate cash crunches.

Wow, the trial-by-error lessons are so numerous that space only allows a mere scratching of the surface. There’s enough material for a whole series of articles just detailing the myriad mistakes and priceless insights gained while overcoming them.

But my point is not to dwell on the difficulties… Lord knows I’ve done enough of that already. I want to conclude by encouraging you with the words my mentor recently reiterated: If you are still operating after five years in the most difficult economic climate in two generations, congratulations…you’ve earned a Masters Degree in Business.  

 Let me add a thought…we may not have a diploma on the wall displaying our credentials, but as the graduating class of the Great Recession 2012, we are seasoned, battle hardened, and wiser for having persevered. And the rest of our business careers will be better and more prosperous as a result.

Now, let’s get to work earning our Doctorate Degrees!

Aaron Crowley is a stone shop owner, author, speaker, and consultant to mid size stone companies. Contact him at aaron@fabricatorsfriend.com