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How Do You Stay Motivated in Tough Times?

I am on the Retail Advisory Board for a juvenile industry trade magazine. Each month we answer a question as a regular feature in the magazine.

The question for February was, “During these tough times, how are you staying motivated and how do you share that motivation with your staff?”

What?! Stay motivated?!

In tough times you either stay motivated or close up shop. There really isn’t anything in between. In fact, you don’t need tough times for this adage to work. If you aren’t motivated, you shouldn’t be in business, whether the economy is good or bad.

But I can see where this question originates. We have been bombarded with negative story after negative story from the credit crisis to the auto industry to the Chapter 11’s to the so-called National Bankruptcy Day on Feb. 9, 2009 when the CPSIA law goes into effect.

That’s a lot of bad news and can be a big drain on anyone’s psyche.

But if you’re in business and want to stay in business, motivation is in ample supply in a tough economy. More so than in a good economy.

When times are good, we become complacent. So what if we screw up with a customer here or there? Another customer is waiting in line right behind her.

When times are tough, we know we have to maximize every single customer. We have to be at the top of our game every single time. It’s like being up to bat with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth with your team down by one, or standing at the free throw line with 8.6 seconds left and your team up by one. Concentration is at a peak. Every muscle is locked into the task at hand. You know there is no room for error. Motivation? When the game is on the line, motivation is sky high.

The same is true for business. When times are tough and your very existence relies on you doing your job well, you don’t have to search for motivation, it finds you.

Then again, some stores don’t get this. You’ve probably been to one. The sales clerk barely looks up from his station to acknowledge your presence. If he says anything at all, it’s to gripe about how slow is business. He blames it on the weather, the economy, the media.

That is the difference between the successful stores and the stores just hanging on. Successful stores look at the tough times as opportunities. There is more market share to be won during tough times than in good times.

Customers who are tighter with their money are shopping around more to find better shopping opportunities. And it’s not just about price. They’re looking for stores who best meet their needs, whether it is advice, selection or convenience.

The best stores recognize that tough times are when you make your move, when you go after disgruntled customers, when you expand your selection, your hours, your services to meet their needs. Tough times are when you ratchet up your training programs to keep your staff on their toes and in tip top shape. Tough times are when you differentiate yourself from the crowd by “risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical, and expecting more than others think is possible.” Tough times are when you pull out all the stops to make your business better – not just better than the competition, but better than your own standards, better than the highest standards in your industry. Tough times are when you sharpen the ad campaigns, not throttle them back. Tough times are when you work a little harder, a little longer, a little smarter.

The stores that do best during tough times are the stores that embrace the motivation all around them and see the opportunities that are inherent. And when the good times finally arrive, these are the stores that will be standing the tallest.

Tough times are as Darwinian as it gets. The strongest survive. What more motivation do you need?


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