By Gordon Hecht, Serta Simmons Bedding

It’s hard to believe but we are just hours away from the 20th anniversary of Y2K. You may remember that time, when we partied like it was 1999 (because it was 1999), and worried about dire predictions for the turn of the millennium.

Horror scenarios about Y2K included the collapse of the banking system, failures in the power grid, and living in a time when Tony Danza would have a sitcom, talk show, and variety show all at the same time.

Despite the dire warnings and preparations, nothing happened.  Jan. 1, 2000 was no different than December 31, 1999.

Twenty years have passed since then and our world, especially our retail world, is a different place in merchandising, competition, advertising and recruiting.

That makes this the perfect time for WHY2K 2020: the time to look at every aspect of our businesses and ask “Why?” – and sometimes “Why not?”

You only need to look at the innovators and disruptors in our world to see the value in asking why.  It’s the people who question the status quo and then take the risks of changing it that gain long-term success. Whether it’s the people at Uber who asked, “Why wait for a taxi?”; the folks at Hulu who asked, “Why do you need a cable for TV?”; or the founders of Grubhub who asked, “Why should I have to go out for meals when they could be brought to me?”, it’s the serious questioning that brings about needed change.

There is always a risk in change. Sometimes change takes a while to become effective, or an idea can be way ahead of its time. But there is greater risk in not changing. Just ask the people at Kmart, Sears, American Motors or Blackberry.

Change may come with a cost, but often it’s just seeing if what you are doing (i.e., your operations and sales practices) are still delivering the results (a.k.a. profits) today that you were getting before Friends was on TV. Here are a few simple whys that you can start with:

  • Why can’t I attract and retain great employees? Is it the work schedule, compensation, job satisfaction or work environment?  What needs to change? Is having fulltime commissioned salespeople still valid, or is there a better way? How can I change the environment in our stores, offices and distribution centers?
  • Why isn’t my advertising working?  Am I spending too much, or too little? And how do I know if it’s working? Is it footsteps through the door, web visits or sales dollars? Should I really dive into all digital or stay traditional? And what is the right message to deliver?
  • Why can’t I maintain strong margins?  Or is margin still important? Why can’t my sales team charge for add-ons and not just give them away for free? Should I drop the low-end merchandise and only sell the middle to high-end? Do I have to be all things to all people?
  • Why am I not confident in the performance of my business?  Am I developing the right metrics?  What are the most important measurements of how my business is doing? How can I change the way we measure performance, and how can I ensure that my team is accurate and diligent in doing so?
  • Why is no one in my family willing or able to take over my business? Why is retail unattractive to them? How can I transfer my passion? How can I model my operation for a successful transition to other owners or leaders?

Why can’t we do the things we need to do to affect change? Why aren’t we winning?

There are no easy answers to any of these questions, but things are seldom easy in retail.  In fact, not all of the answers may be within your organization. Sometimes it takes a candid outsider view of your business to get to the real answers.  Connect with your factory reps and their senior managers for help in this area.  Add on your advertising contacts, shopper base and even former employees and listen to their advice with a true open mind. And of course, leverage all the assets of your buying group.

Document (meaning “write down”) your action plan with goals, the steps to get there, and a timeline. There will be difficult decisions to make but execute them as fearlessly as a surgeon removing a tumor. The decisions and actions you take now can be the ones that lead you to Y2K 2030!

Gordon Hecht is Senior Regional Manager/Strategic Retail Group at Serta Simmons Bedding. You can write him at ghecht@sertasimmons.com.