So, what else is new? How often have you heard that easy-out answer to remarks about the pace of business changes? Or, read similar phrases, such as: "Today's information age demands a renewed dedication to working smart." (Whatever that might mean.) Or, "You can't get by today conducting business as usual."
You may react to such ominous warnings with a yawn. "Why all the fuss about business crises," asks a small specialty retailer? "We merchants have always faced change. It's constant, isn't it? Stores that can't cope go out of business. Others eke out a living. Still, some of us independents manage to do very well, thank you. We continue to run our businesses the same old way, too. We rely on courteous customer service, reliable quality products, fashion ideas and sales know-how."
True, business methods have always "progressed" to some degree. It's true, too, that many astute retailers haven't been greatly concerned about change. They have survived by concentrating on the business basics, as noted above. Lately, though, even they are wondering how long the basics will continue to be effective in such a volatile marketplace.
In the past two decades, the business treadmill has run at a faster pace. Today's global markets and manufacturing shifts, with new technology and industry consolidations, have involved more than normal change. They have been much more dramatic and daring. They have brought about major distortions in our business, cultural and political fortunes.
Peter Drucker, a noted American business forecaster, states, "We are living through a transformation as cataclysmic as the Industrial Revolution or the invention of movable type. Today, the basic economic resource is no longer capital, nor labor, nor natural resources. It is knowledge. Now and in the future, our businesses will be knowledge based."
The transformation to which he refers gains momentum yearly. Last year alone, the total value of global consolidations was estimated at 10 trillion dollars. That's trillions, not basic billions or meager millions.
Any doubt about chaotic changes? Just recall the mergers, downsizings and economic shockers among window coverings firms, both retail and suppliers, during the past decade. All of us in home fashions have been impacted in some way by these industry upheavals. Anti-trust laws to regulate destructive price competition among firms? Forget them.
Even the most remote independent dealer has been affected by the waves of low-price merchandising from a nearby Big Box mart or depot operation.
Specialty retailers now have anxious concerns about the ALIGNments that have and are taking place between former competitive suppliers. The "smalls" worry the new bigger firms will leave them in the lurch. To many of them, this battle over product prices and deliveries has become a war of survival.
The question becomes what can you do, if anything, about these major transitions in our industry? Probably not much except learn how to roll with the punches. Many merchants are managing to do so as best they can. At least, they are trying to do more to cope with the numerous changes. In addition, they are pursing the learning and relearning processes necessary to work smarter, as they hear so often. Today, of necessity, they give priority to keeping abreast of changes.
The opportunities for advanced information available to you, on and off the job, are many and varied. No room here to list even a portion of them, but certainly trade magazines can be one of your most helpful sources.
So, as a long-time student and participant in the benefits and values of trade magazines, I want to suggest some ways in which you may be able to make better use of the valuable information found in these store books of knowledge.
The objective of any good trade magazine is to provide news and educational information to assist all persons and businesses in its industry. I must emphasize the word good because you will receive trade publications that aren't very good. They rely on a skeleton staff and exist primarily on manufacturers' product publicity releases and general information of limited value to you.
How to Use
• Lesson 1: Evaluate carefully the various magazines¬trade and consumer¬that you receive. You can get a first impression just by skimming your various magazines. Does the publication have a quality look? Is it printed on top-grade paper for legibility? Does it use color throughout including the cover, editorial matter, advertisements and special sections? Is the magazine published on a regular schedule?
Look at the editorial pages¬the articles, features and staff listing. Does the magazine have a staff of full-time professional editors, administrative and marketing people? Are special articles and reports from outside contributors written by experienced professionals who know what they are writing about?
Check other details; they're important, too. Is the magazine a member of an accredited industry association? Is its circulation verified by a recognized auditing firm, such as Business Press Auditors (BPA) International? Does the magazine have the support of a regular base of advertising from leading suppliers to the industry? Does it participate in industry trade shows and educational seminars?
How long has the publication been in business? Is it recognized by your peers in the industry as a helpful and worthwhile source of business information? Are there articles listed in the contents that you want to read and study? And, important today, does the publication maintain its own Internet World Wide Web site which you can easily access? Does the Web site offer informative editorial articles and Internet marketing opportunities?
Does the magazine's editorial staff solicit comments and materials from interested readers? Are these editors willing to help you, should you wish to become a contributor in some way? And can the production people help you prepare your own advertisements and publicity materials, should you need assistance?
Incidentally, Draperies & Window Coverings can qualify with a definite "yes" for each of the above questions. D&WC has been the industry leader in every area mentioned above for more than 15 years. Its full-time staffs are experienced professionals. Contributing editors also are experienced pros.
D&WC started the first all-industry trade show, the World of Window Coverings (later, the World of Home Fashions). The publication organized and ran the show-related seminars and Interior Fashions University (IFU). It also has been the first industry publication to offer Internet information and marketing opportunities. D&WC has rightly earned its designation as "the voice of the industry." (This admittedly biased sales presentation is intended primarily for your education and possible future assistance. Just thought you should be informed-JJL)
• Lesson 2: Set aside a special time and place to concentrate and study. After you've evaluated your various magazines for quality and content, toss aside those that don't measure up, your time is too valuable to bother with them. Then, try to find a quiet spot to study. In a survey conducted by D&WC several years ago, many retailers indicated they took such materials home with them to review at a specific time. They found it was easier for them to digest the materials there rather than in a store surrounding. When through studying, they passed the magazine on to members of their staffs. (Or, made copies for them and filed the magazines for later reference.)
• Lesson 3: Leaf through the magazine, page by page, to note the product and fashion benefits discussed in the various advertisements. Industry advertisers use D&WC to point out features and information about their products, services and fashion ideas. Advertisers pay for this privilege, which helps you learn more about their merchandise and services. Without their financial support for this purpose, you would have fewer materials to tell you about your industry and its products.
• Lesson 4: Take time to check out the regular monthly departments and special features. These include Industry News, News Makers, WCAA Notes, Take Note, Portfolio, Showcases and Classifieds. These monthly reports help keep you informed about what's happening among your peers, suppliers and industry designers.
• Lesson 5: Study your must-read articles. You noted these earlier when skimming the Table of Contents. Probably you should review the list of articles to make sure you didn't overlook a potentially helpful one. In the period of a few months you are certain to find various stories and items of special interest and help to you personally. The editors plan things that way. They are dedicated to helping keep you informed about all areas of window coverings and related home fashions.
If you don't find information about a subject of particular interest to you, call, write or e-mail the editor or managing editor. They are always very anxious to hear from readers. They, in turn, will research your special subject and its potential value to other readers. Chances are good you will soon see an in-depth report of the information you want.
Or, maybe they will be able to help you become a contributing editor. This magazine's many contributors of various materials include experienced and talented industry professionals. Over the years, they've written articles, reports, fashion tips and how-to instructions. They also have submitted photographs, artwork, personal observations and publicity releases about products, fashions, services and equipment. Our staff editors value such materials and are more than willing to assist new contributors become regular columnists. So, don't be hesitant because you "can't write." Just submit your ideas. D&WC editors can help you put them on paper.
• Lesson 6: Explore the new global world of home fashion on Draperies & Window Coverings' on-line Web site (www.DWCdesignNET.com). If you're into Internet information and communication at all, you'll want to become a regular user of the D&WC Web site. It will be your must-visit site. You will have access to worldwide information on industry issues, informative articles, news and features from issues of D&WC. In addition, you can click on Education for added information on seminars, books and manuals about marketing, design and business procedures.
The Web site, with easy-to-use friendly access and no subscription fee, was designed by interior fashion professionals for your use and use by suppliers. It also includes a calendar page listing trade shows, seminars, schools and other events for the year.
The Web site doesn't replace D&WC magazine. Rather, it supplements and updates news and educational materials you can use to help you in your work and career.
• Lesson 7: Training your staff to work smart also is a vital part of your business management. That's why so many retail owners and managers file copies of their good trade magazines for future reference. And, it's why they circulate copies of special articles and reports to members of their staffs.
Much time and creative effort go into the preparation of a trade magazine or Web site. It's all done primarily to help you as a reader. You owe it to yourself, your store and your career to keep informed. You can make a smart start by making proper use of your good and user-friendly trade magazine, D&WC, and its companion Internet Web site.
John J. Lichty is a consultant and senior editor for Draperies & Window Coverings magazine. He has more than 30 years experience in the planning and administration of various consumer, trade and retail advertising programs.