Living through downturns is as much a part of business as making money (or, at least, trying to make money). Unfortunately, you can’t wholly avoid an economic slump. But you can respond to one.
I believe that tough economic times present huge opportunities for leadership growth, tighter focus and business-model improvements, which allow for a stronger, more sustainable business to emerge from the other side of the storm. At 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, we’re in such a phase right now.
Thanks to the U.S. housing crash, our revenue growth has slowed significantly this year. So, in late May, we assembled 20 senior members of our team (including successful franchisees) for a two-day strategy session in Vancouver. We wanted to develop a plan that could be executed organization-wide in 100 days. Having everyone moving with the same purpose in the same direction, we figured, would allow us to gain maximum momentum and prevent further erosion in our growth.
But there was one prerequisite to our planning session: a framework for our plan. I was inspired by Rudy Giuliani’s three-point plan for making New York City safe again. It was a massive challenge, but the former mayor understood that small things done consistently with excellence can drive massive improvements. Giuliani chose to: 1) ensure that all cab drivers wore collared shirts; 2) remove all graffiti from the subways; and 3) get rid of “squeegee kids.” Just four years after Giuliani took office, the FBI named New York one of the safest cities in America.
By setting and achieving three clear and simple goals, Giuliani engendered trust among New Yorkers and won great respect from the city’s workers. Our “100-Day Plan” needed to do the same with our franchisees and 2,000 truck-team members in the field.
After much deliberation, we decided to control what we could control. With only 3% brand awareness, we had a huge opportunity to grow in spite of a challenging economy.
There’s not enough room here to detail the entire plan, but I will give you our version of the “collared shirt” imperative: Own the Neighbourhood. Our service area covers 200 million people; even if we had a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign, we couldn’t make an impact on all of them within 100 days. But we could focus our sales and marketing efforts on the neighbourhoods where we already do well, thereby leveraging word of mouth, lawn signage and the like among our existing customer base to generate more business.
With only 100 days to execute, we had to be driving hard every single day. Constant, clear communication would be crucial to success. To ensure that everyone understood the three strategies and was ready to execute, we kicked off with a mandatory, company-wide conference call and Web presentation on June 10, the eve of Day 1.
Now, you can’t just launch a plan; you have to “work the plan.” As a big believer in “speed of the leader, speed of the group,” I knew my pace would determine everyone else’s. Immediately, my leadership team and I contacted every franchise partner to ask whether they’d begun to implement the plan—and, if not, what was stopping them? We asked each one to sign a commitment to their own revenue goal for the 100 days so we knew what to coach them against. If someone wasn’t adopting the plan, they received calls from me, their field adviser and fellow franchisees, pushing them to get with the program. We then engaged their employees by inviting them to participate in regular 100 Day Update conferences; I’m still doing early-morning conference calls with individual teams that request them.
Here’s another key to the effectiveness of our recession-fighting program: a blog! The 100-Day Plan Blog was designed for sharing successes, challenges and tips from the field every single day. We’ve measured traffic to the blog, and if franchise partners and our corporate staff aren’t visiting it, we push them to. Although a blog might sound clichÃ© in 2008, the 100-Day Plan Blog has become something no one wants to miss because it’s full of inspiring reports of our many successes in the field. Our mission is to share at least three stories a day, through pictures, testimonials, anecdotes and even videos, which many franchisees have submitted.
The results through Day 70? We’ve halted the erosion. We’ve connected our people not only to the brand but to how we build the brand; we’ve connected them not just to the company leadership but to the importance of their own leadership. I have never seen my system team stronger, more aligned and more excited about the future.
Now I realize this story is less about defying the downturn and more about aligning a team around one simple plan, then driving that plan hard with shared and measurable results. It’s about leadership, clarity, focus and unity. Whether the economy improves sooner or later, we have learned much that will help us make 1-800-GOT-JUNK? a stronger brand.
This downturn couldn’t have come at a better time.