Accentuate the Positive

In life and in business, too many people focus on the negative. I speak from experience because too often I’m one of them.

We look at what we don’t have or don’t do well and let that diminish the good stuff. It’s a mistake in life, but it’s rarely fatal. Symptoms can run the gamut from dissatisfaction to despair, but you’ll trudge on. In business, though, it can kill.

Here’s how it tends to work in a tackle shop.

You open because desire and opportunity convene. You have the know-how, the location, the starting capital and the drive. Things go pretty well for a time. You’re paying the bills, getting things done and having some fun along the way.

Then something bad happens. The economy takes a nasty turn. A big box store opens up the road or the fishing in the area you serve takes a hit to its reputation. Business suffers.

It’s easy at that point to look at the negative and try to figure out how to fix it. Sometimes the answer is staring you in the face; sometimes it’s elusive or even unfathomable.

I’m here to suggest that the best response to your problem may not be to attack it head on. I’m suggesting that after you’ve tried that — but well before you’ve crippled your bank account or other resources by banging your head against the wall — you respond by getting back to what’s good about your business.

The most straightforward example here involves having to cope with a big, new competitor that’s siphoning off your customer base. It would be easy to look at the new megastore and say, “I need to find a way to compete on the basis of selection and price. I need more inventory, and I need to slash prices.”

Of course, that’s not going to work. If you don’t believe me, try it. You’ll likely be waving the white flag (and perhaps a foreclosure notice) within six months.

Instead, it’s almost always better to focus on and upgrade the things you already do well. Accentuate the positive. Forget about the negative — unless, of course, the negative is something so big that it’s destroying you (a rare situation for most retailers).

Can’t compete on selection? Make sure you know your market better than the competition and that you have the essentials and a few key items the competition may not even know about.

Can’t compete on price? Kick their butt with service. Know your customers by name and by fishing habits. Give them that personal touch.

Can’t compete with advertising? Be more personal and get involved in the community. Sponsor a fishing tournament or a Little League team. Give the local club a place to meet and some store discounts. Be the face and personality of your shop. The big guys can’t pull that off.

Attack the negatives by focusing on the positives.

A terrier is never going to be a Great Dane, and that’s OK. Instead of trying to get bigger and stronger, the terrier just needs to be the best terrier it can be. Not everybody looking for a dog wants a Great Dane. Plenty prefer a terrier. Find them. Cater to them. Prosper.

A rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s be that tide.