Path to enlightenment
Jennifer Marks -- Home Textiles Today, July 14, 2003
An industry sage from the West Coast raised an interesting question about pivotal moments not too long ago.
The subject was Strouds, which at the time was still trying to thrash its way out of a second slide into bankruptcy, and the sage, who had done business with the company for most of its existence, suggested that had Strouds made the decision to move into hard goods back in the day, it might now be standing where Linens 'n Things and Bed Bath & Beyond are standing.
What's scary, he said, is that the pivotal moment came and went years ago. How does one recognize whether a decision being made on any given day will turn out to be one of those pivotal moments — either for good or for ill? By the time you're able to look back over your shoulder and recognize it, it's already too late.
Certainly, there are many instances when an opportunity lost ultimately set a business down the long path to irrelevance. When Montgomery Ward's obituary was being written, many pointed to Ward's decision in the 1950s to forego a race to the suburbs as the beginning of the end.
Now that the Pillowtex saga is reaching an endgame, many in the industry blame the company's decision in 1997 to acquire Fieldcrest/Cannon as the first step onto the road of no return.
The question of pivotal moments is particularly important now, as businesses buy other businesses not for their assets but for their shelf space. New ideas can be knocked off in a matter of weeks — if not days — and the shelf life for uniqueness has dwindled to a matter of mere months.
With the cycle spinning so quickly, it can prompt almost anyone into the dangerous game of throwing stuff against the wall simply to see what sticks.
Sometimes, however, the most sane decision can be one of inaction. Another industry sage — this time from the South — reported last week that in his product category, vendors have refused to participate in a volley of auctions hosted by three of the top retailers. As every supplier who has ever been invited to an auction readily acknowledges, retailers wouldn't hold them if vendors didn't go along for the ride.
That's the real trick to pivotal moments. The trumpets don't blare. There is never a flash of divine light that falls on one path rather than another. The big decisions are always made on an average working day and usually result from long, hard thinking about what's best for the long-term.
Sometimes it's just a matter of taking a deep breath, plucking up the courage and moving on.