Can You Save Your Way to Greatness?

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On August 26, 2013

Some businesses are still complaining about how tough the economy has been over the past few years. And while there’s no denying that it’s been hard (when has business ever been easy?), why is it that some businesses survive—and even thrive—during tough times? A lot of it has to do with how companies respond to the challenges they face.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s all in your head and if you just have a positive attitude, everything will turn out fine. But do challenges drive you into a defensive, reactionary position, or do they make you examine your market and your products and services so that you can change to meet the challenges?

When times get tough financially, many businesses “pull in their horns.” They look for ways to cut costs and save money. But is that they right way to grow your business? Sure, most of our businesses have areas where we can exercise more financial discipline. Being responsible with your spending is smart. But can you really save your way to greatness?

There’s one company that obviously doesn’t believe in that strategy. BJ’s Restaurants found themselves facing a market over the last three years where—according to all the experts—because of the economic pinch, consumers didn’t have the money (or the inclination) to dine out. So why was it that BJ’s Restaurants grew their headcount by 3,490, added 35 new restaurants, and increased revenue by 41 percent?

A lot of their success came because they didn’t let the challenge (real as it was) drive them into a defensive position. They could have cut their staff and trimmed employee benefits and tried to ride out the storm. But they didn’t. Instead, they went on the offensive. Maybe they couldn’t change the economy, but they could change the way they operated. And that’s what they did.

They made two significant changes. First, they focused on maximizing the floor space in their restaurants. It’s pretty simple: the more people you serve, the more profitable you’re going to be. Second, they didn’t ignore the economic situation. Instead, they offered more cost-conscious dining options. They didn’t go the route of a “dollar menu” (which didn’t fit their profile). They just made it a little easier for people to eat out.

I don’t know what it’s like in your neighborhood, but the BJ’s restaurant closest to me is always packed.

What if you’re not in the restaurant business? It doesn’t matter. What they did isn’t industry specific. They didn’t ignore what was happening around them. But they looked at their market—and then looked at their own operation—and figured out what they needed to change. They didn’t try to save their way to greatness. They thought and implemented their way to greatness.

If you’re facing tough business challenges, what do you need to do differently to achieve your goals?