But, you don't have to keep singing those blues! You actually can turn this undesirable situation into a wonderful business opportunity. Usually we are so busy handling customers and orders that we don't take time to step back and take a really close look at our business. (I'm constantly guilty of this!) The business can start running us instead of the other way around. The February lull is the perfect opportunity to take time to analyze how you and your business are doing, where you are going and where you want to go.
Instead of being depressed over the weather and lack of business, let's beat these winter blues by focusing on a few positive actions we can take to make sure we have the healthiest and strongest business possible. Just by knowing you've done everything in your power to assure success helps lift your gloomy spirits.
The most important aspect of this business self analysis is to step as far outside the business as possible. Pretend you are an outside consultant seeing your business for the first time. Tell yourself you have no vested interest and will be totally objective. During this initial stage, be as open and creative as you want and do not be concerned about the costs, time or effort it may take to implement the ideas you come up with. Remember, you have no vested interest in this business; you are but an onlooker.
Let's start with the showroom. Is everything neat and clean? Are the displays filled with up-to-date styles, fabrics and colors? Does it need painting or wallpaper? Does it have good traffic flow? Do you offer products or services that are not shown or, if shown, is it done effectively? Ask yourself if you just walked into this showroom as a customer, how would you feel? Welcome or intimidated? Inspired or bored?
Remember, your customers probably are just as weary of the winter drab as you are. Turn that gloom into bloom. Create a refreshing "springy" look with delightful seasonal prints and colors. Not only are you giving your customers decorating ideas, you're making them feel better just be being in your showroom. They will want to take this great feeling home with them! And, when customers feel better, they buy more! That's why many stores offer customers cookies and hot cider at Christmas, or other amenities all year long.
Next stop, your office. Is it work-inspiring or depressing? Is it well lighted to keep you as perky as possible? Is it neat and clean? Is it as organized and efficient as possible? Would a few simple organizational office supplies improve your work flow? Does it need painting, wallpapering or sprucing up?
Does it make you feel good when you are in it? The better you feel, the more productive you will be. So often we are caught up in decorating spaces for other people we don't take the time to do our own. And, I'm just as guilty as anyone else!
If you don't have a separate office, should you have one? If you only have a small corner is it the best it can be?
Keep your spirits up as much as possible. Fresh flowers are a great way to bring spring into your office during the winter.
Take a good look at your telephone procedures. Does your recorded message greet your customers warmly? Does it explain your services without being too lengthy? Something as simple as changing the recording on your telephone can give yourself a new feel about your business. Consider changing it frequently.
Study your phone-answering forms. Do they properly prompt you to ask the best pre-qualifying questions and get all necessary information?
Whether your sample books are in a showroom or your sales vehicle, evaluate their condition carefully. Are they current? Are any patterns discontinued? Are they attractive? Do any need repair? Do they have the current prices? Are they arranged in an efficient, organized manner? Are they cataloged so you know what you have?
Are your measuring, calculating, fabricating and installation forms (whichever ones apply to you) as efficient as possible? Do you even have any standardized forms to save time and errors? If not, then design some to suit your needs or purchase pre-designed forms available to our industry.
If you are a workroom, evaluate the condition of your equipment. Make any necessary repairs or maintenance. Is there any equipment you need that would greatly improve your efficiency or quality?
Inventory your supplies, organize them and label the shelves. This simplifies reordering and ensures you do not run out of any supplies in the middle of a job. Create your own customized reorder form that includes the supplier's name and telephone number. You simply can fill in the blank with the amount needed and easily order all supplies at one time.
Analyze your work flow. Is it an efficient, large circle or an unorganized zigzag around the room?
If you use an outside workroom, take time to study your relationship with them. Would any meetings help improve your communication, save time or reduce mistakes? Are you familiar with all of their services? Do you understand their policies?
Review your marketing plan. Does it need to be updated? If you don't have a marketing plan, this is a great time to design one. (For help on marketing plans, refer to several very helpful articles written by Kay Pegram in this magazine and get a copy of her book, Marketing from A to Z.).
Plan your advertising campaign for the year. Come up with lots of new marketing ideas.
Are your accounting books in order and up to date? If you've always wished you were more detailed or more efficient, now is the perfect time to improve them.
Is your vehicle in good repair? It needs to be dependable and many times it presents the first impression to your client.
Analyze if you are the best employee you can be. Are you as efficient and in as good condition as possible? Do you need to be in better shape to handle your business' demands? Do you need to lose weight to improve your self-image and have more energy? Would a new look give you a new outlook? Are your selling and business skills as good as they should be? If not, find some good training manuals and go to it! Is your product knowledge as high as it should be? If not, give your sales rep a call for some one-on-one training or study your product manuals.
After analyzing these and any other aspects of your business, suggest ways on how they can be improved. It is at this point, you analyze if the cost or effort of each individual suggestion is worth the desired results.
With this type of objective analysis, you can easily waltz (or boogie or two step) your way right through those winter blues into the success of spring.
Cheryl Strickland is owner of Professional Drapery Seminars. She is an internationally-acclaimed speaker with 20 years experience in the window coverings industry. She is the publisher and editor of Sew WHAT?, an international monthly newsletter for professional drapery workrooms. Strickland also is the author of A Practical Guide to Soft Window Coverings and the Designer's Sketch Pad, which are available through Draperies & Window Coverings magazine.