Aaron J. Crowley

Owner, Crowley’s Granite Concepts

If you could, would you reduce the number of jobs you have to sell and install? If you had the choice, would you decrease the number of people you employ? If credit and creditors weren’t a factor, would you cut your debt?

In our “If you’re not growing, you’re dying” business culture, such questions are heresy and a sacrilege…such questions might evoke a range of emotional responses from laughter and scorn, to thoughtful contemplation, to a great sigh of longing for fewer obligations and more life outside of work. No matter where you’re at on that continuum, read on. 

This article is not a counter-cultural argument against growth nor is it a promotion for “de-growth” as a strategy in and of itself. It is a challenge to the conventional wisdom that suggests “growing to the next level” is the logical path to solving the many financial and operational challenges that businesses face. It is also a call to remember some things that must be considered when determining the future size of your company. 

Begin With the End in Mind

Reread the three questions in the first paragraph. If you could wave a magic wand and create the ideal business, what would it look like? More importantly, why would you create such a business? So often this critical question is never asked. Do you want peace or prestige, profit margin or more power, calm or more cash flow, a life outside of work or a life indistinguishable from work? Answering those questions and others like them will shed light on where you really want to be in the future. Then you can ask, “What size does my business need to be?”

Growth = Complexity

More than once in these pages I have quoted the statistic that every time a business doubles in size, its complexity increases by a factor of 12! This creates an interesting conflict in a company pursuing growth as a way to increase profits and freedom from chaos.

To accelerate growth in a supply and demand market, prices must be lowered to acquire the additional business…which obviously erodes profit margins. Simultaneously, costs must increase due to additional layers of administration and management necessary to maintain control, further diminishing profits. It’s a cruel business – a bigger monster to feed, more employees to manage, and more debt to support it, all for the glorious prize of lower profit margins and a host of new challenges.

Commitments & Obligations 

Some companies, after trying to grow out of their problems, conclude that shrinking back to a more manageable (and profitable) size is a wise choice. Many companies would like to scale back their operations and simply cannot. Because long-term leases for space, vehicles, and equipment are not easily shrunk, they have no choice but to carry on. That’s something to keep in mind if you are considering debt as a means to grow your capacity!

For those who laugh scornfully at any idea that doesn’t include growth as the key ingredient for success, here’s a fact: Many fabrication shop owners admit (albeit quietly) that if they could, they would shrink their businesses, but they can’t. So they don’t.

If you are thoughtfully contemplating or even sighing longingly for a slower pace in your sales department, fewer employees, and less debt, shrinking top line ambitions for bottom line considerations is a worthy endeavor and a viable strategy for success. 

And depending on how you define success, you can Shrink and Grow Rich!

Aaron Crowley is an inventor of stone industry products like the Bullet Proof Apron, and owner of Crowley’s Granite Concepts.