[I wrote this article for the “Apparel Mag”, December 2010 edition]
If you asked your team “what do we as a company stand for?” I bet you in a normal company that the vast majority of the team would have no common idea. There would be several versions of what the individuals making up the team thought the company was “about”. Why don’t you get every single person in your company to do this exercise and compare all the answers. Who knows you might even get some random answers that make more sense than what you know the company vision to be!
Many companies are not reaching their full potential due to so many of the team not being on the same page, not singing from the same song-sheet. Apparel companies can have various aims in their business, often there would be a brand aim and a company aim. Make sure it is shared regularly with everybody. Do you communicate regularly with your team? Those of you who are not managers, do you take the time to give “upward” feedback. Your managers need to hear from you as to the sort of job you think they are doing (we all want constructive feedback delivered with tact). Are they acting in line with the brand and company aims? Managers and owners, make sure you are open to feedback from your team (the power of the team view is so much more powerful than one or two individuals!). You want to have one of the best workplaces around!
No matter how big or small you are, everybody should be able to quote to you (and your customers!) with true meaning (preferably heartfelt meaning!) what you are about… It is interesting how many apparel companies give mixed messages. With the clothes they make (sometimes two extremes of awesome to ummmm), with how their staff reflect their brand (they need to look like and exude the brand), their communications (there is nothing worse than a fashion label not looking like “it” in its email communications and it happens more than you would like to think), it’s store signs, it’s whatever and their levels of customer service.
I am not a big believer in systemising everything as empowerment is key to a successful business, but you need to have some minimum standards, some non-negotiables. By having this, your business and brand will more regularly appear and act how you expect it to. I do believe in a business having say a “Ten Commandments” (but no more!) that outlines the non-negotiables. They all need to obviously tie into what you are trying to achieve as a business and a brand.
Sometimes what you are trying to achieve as a business and as a brand will be polar opposites – the decision on “being commercial” and maximising sales compared to being potentially “cool and on-brand”. I would recommend it is fine being cool, but remember you have to make money. There can be differing views of this juxtaposition depending on the time frame you take to achieve your goals and what your goals actually are (if you have goals?). Reality is cash is king, so you know, make sure the cash is coming in to pay the bills, over any hip cool aspect as you need to survive to be able to be so incredibly cool and hip in the future, so cash and commercial considerations should normally come over the brand especially in today’s harder economic times. Reality is depends on how much cash you have in the bank! Most apparel companies I talk to and help have cash as right up there in their business issues. So do not think you are alone!
I challenge you to hit the ground running in 2011. Have a big think about what are you really wanting to be? It is never too late to change “tack”. If what you are doing is not really working, best to face reality now than face a lot more dire circumstances one day in the not so distant future. The fantastic news is… Every business can do better. We never reach our pinnacle of performance. Sometimes you need an external view to help you see the wood for the trees as being in the business, we all get blind to things that could be happening.
There are ways as a fashion brand to be the best thing since… sliced bread (perhaps that should be updated to the “ipod” or “iphone”, love you Mac!) and to still make a decent living. If you would like to talk on how to make your apparel business “hum” better and have a lot of fun at the same time, I would love you to make contact with me. We would work through a process where the good would be enhanced, the not so good may even be stopped or culled back and you would come up with a lot of great ideas from yourself and your team and then who knows where you end up.
Just no excuse to be confused on what you are trying to achieve as a business and a brand… It is possible to be commercial and cool! Whilst we have lots of excuses to not be maximising our performances I further challenge you to take 110% responsibility for how you are going. The buck stops with you, full stop. Help is at hand if you need it…
Contact Zac de Silva on firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like business coaching, business advice or a second opinion on what you are trying to achieve business planning wise… It doesn’t have to be “lonely”… Check out www.businesschanging.com