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If you're not growing, you're dying PDF Print E-mail
Written by Joe Carroll   

ImageAs North Americans continue to slowly pull out of the longest economic recession most of us can remember, I recall an expression taught by my mentor when I first entered the business world back in the late sixties. He used to remind our clients that if they were not growing their business it would eventually be surpassed by another business that was more innovative and harder working.

I recently heard two well-known and influential American retailers discuss their strategies for growing their business in times when many of their competitors were happy just to stay in business.

The first was Pedro Capo. He is the chief operating officer of the Miami-based, family-owned and operated El Dorado Furniture, the largest Hispanic furniture retailer in the U.S.

His father arrived in the U.S. from Cuba in 1967 when Pedro was only eight years old. His father took what small amount of money he had and started his business by delivering furniture to others in the Hispanic community in his station wagon. Every day after school Pedro would join his father and older brother in what was now the family business. As Pedro grew, so did his passion for the furniture business. His father gave him two choices, "Either you come to work for our furniture store, or you come to work for our furniture store." The choice was very clear.

Pedro said that even though the U.S. went through a mild recession in the early 70's his father paid no attention to it because, not speaking English, he did not listen to the television or read the newspapers. Pedro says he learned from observing his father's attitude that you must concentrate on improving your business and not by listening to how bad the economy is.

His father used to quote an expression he learned in Cuba - "Si non te van a capor, dale palante" - which, roughly translated means: "If they are not going to castrate you, keep going."

To grow their business, Pedro told us what his family business did not do:

  • They did not get rid of anyone or downsize our staff;
  • They did not cut any hours or benefits;
  • They did not go back to the manufacturers and ask them to lower their prices;
  • They did not cut back on our advertising;
  • They did not stop, or slow down, paying our bills or keeping our commitments;
  • They didn't have any big sales events or ever lower their prices for special events; and,
  • They did not pay attention to the news media.
Here's what they did: They met individually with every employee. They sought to alleviate their uncertainties about the economy by letting them know El Dorado was sound and stable. They would even tell them how much profit they were making and, if necessary, what their salaries were. Every employee was cross trained. This was both an investment in the employee's future as well as that of the store.

The store regularly holds what it calls "presidential lunches." Pedro and his family members always have lunch together every day so they thought it would be a great idea to invite up to six employees to join them for an informal meal. It gave the employees - or "associates" as they are called - an opportunity to provide feedback on how to make El Dorado a better store.

Pedro estimates they have implemented at least 100 ideas generated by these lunches over the years. Today, El Dorado operates some 12 stores throughout southern Florida.

The other speaker was Kim Yost who currently serves as chief executive officer of Art Van Furniture, which with some 30-plus outlets is the largest retailer in the state of Michigan. A familiar face to most members of the Canadian furniture industry, Yost shares a similar positive attitude about acting on your ideas instead of reacting to economic conditions. He has even written several training books for store employees. His latest is: The Art Book: Business Plan, The Art of Execution.

Yost's mantra is constant improvement, attitude and refusal to participate in the recession. He believes in being a game changer. He will quickly tell you that there can be no static in business, health, money or relationships.

You'll hear him say throughout any conversation with him that you are either improving or going backwards, gaining or losing, living or dying. Sound familiar?  In his book he says you must embrace the C.A.N. philosophy (any acronym for ‘constant and never ending improvement').

The first step to success is to refuse to participate in the recession. This must be a real and conscious decision. You can't just talk about it you must actively do something about it. It often involves taking a 180 degree different direction.

Yost says Art Van has started 12 new businesses during the current recession. They created innovative departments to sell dog furniture ("Arf Van"), flat panel televisions and flooring to name a few. He says the most important thing is to stay hungry. You should never be satisfied, no matter how much success you have no matter how many goals you achieve.

Like Pedro Capo, Yost believes everyone in an organization must work as a team. "We can only go so far by ourselves. Take your team to a place where they've never been before and you will have unlimited results."

El Dorado can be found on the web at: www.eldoradofurniture.com. Art Van Furniture can be found on the web at:  www.artvan.com.

Joe Carroll, former publisher of Furniture/Today, is an international marketing consultant. He can be reached at .

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