Regaining Lost Business

“My company is a corporation with 10 retail stores, a corporate yard and a truss and wall plant. The store I manage is in a smaller community than the others, where I compete with locally owned lumberyards. My store has lost a couple employees who have gone to work with the competition, which has also taken some of our contractors’ business. What can I do to bring back the business that we once had with these contractors, and how can I build on my ‘once there’ relationship without being too pushy and seeming too needy?”

Signed, Want it Back

Dear Back,
Not having been there personally, I can’t determine if perhaps you have relied too heavily on your company’s image and broad offering, relative to your local, independent competition, to maintain and enhance your local market share, but it really doesn’t matter now. Regardless of the fact that you are part of a larger national or regional LBM organization, know that all business is local. You and your company are where you are, and the only real question is what you, as the leader and manager, are going to do about it. Notwithstanding my kinship for independents, I do have three great suggestions for you.

The very first thing I would do (and it sounds like it is overdue!) is to convene a small group (5-7) of your key employees, including outside sales people, and execute a half-day Strategic Planning meeting just for your location. I also recommend retaining an industry pro as your meeting facilitator. It’s a small investment to ensure the meeting runs professionally and with an objective perspective. Using a SWOT meeting agenda (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) will enable you and your team to develop an action-oriented game plan for the next three months and full year.

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You’ve no doubt heard the old adage of “quick to fire, slow to hire”? Don’t make the naive mistake of rushing out with low prices in attempting to regain your lost business. This tactic typically doesn’t work, as I doubt that few of your lost customers left you for your competitor’s better pricing. This tactic also makes you look desperate and impugns the character of the builder.

Secondly, put your newly-developed, action-oriented Strategic Plan into action and focus.

Focus On Your Strengths
Product offering? Capacity? Supportive services?

Focus On Your Weaknesses
Why did a few of your sales staff leave you? What do your key employees say needs to be fixed? Is there anything your local store is lacking? How well trained is your staff? Once you have identified no more than 3 areas of key weakness, empower and reward a valued employee to lead the effort to aggressively address each identified weakness.

Focus On Your Opportunities
A low-hanging-fruit builder? A more substantial builder target? A key new hire from the competition or industry? An addition to your product offering? A new sales incentive for your builders? While the opportunities are endless, identify no more than four or five.

Focus On Your Threats
Should you be aware of what others are doing? Yes. But if you run your own race well, you usually don’t have much time nor need to worry about others.

Lastly, do you remember the old United Airlines commercial where the CEO handed out flight tickets to all in the boardroom? He asked them all to leave their corporate offices and personally go see key accounts. This is the absolute best business commercial I have ever seen. And what a message! One, what’s more important than a customer? And two, get off your butt, get out of the office, and go see ‘em! And the CEO? He’s leading by example and going to visit his old buddy, their lost number one account.

Empowering your staff to help lead in its execution, and by being there by personally visiting existing and past customers, you and your team will begin to quickly reverse your downward trend and regain lost market share.

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