As an Army helicopter pilot, I relied on my instruments to give me the critical performance information that I could not get from my eyes, ears and other senses. Those instruments saved my life and the lives of the other two crew members I was flying with one cold, winter day in Alaska. The instruments told us that our transmission oil pressure was dangerously low — and getting worse — as we were at 3,000 feet above the sea ice floating in the Cook Inlet. We landed safely because we recognized the emergency and then executed the proper emergency procedure.
In business,that un-sensed information is critical as well. There is a lot of discussion flying around in the business world about the pending demise of Sears and other retail giants. The information that Sears needs to stay in business is there, but is the organization nimble enough to recognize and execute the requisite emergency procedures? Time will tell.
Where does that information come from? The hard numbers come from business performance and a basic balance sheet. The other information comes from your customers.
I served at the Army’s Military Intelligence Center for three years and learned that when something happens once it is an incident, when it happens twice it is a coincidence and when it happens three times or more there is a trend developing.
In retail business, as in all business, it is critical to know a few basic bits of information that, in my experience, most companies are unwilling or unable to gather.
Why are you here?
How did you find us?
Why did you come back to us?
Where else do you go for similar needs?
Once you have enough information to start seeing trends in your customer base, take that knowledge and measure it against what you are reading about and seeing in your overall industry.
Amazon is, of course, a major player in the retail industry, but they didn’t become an industry force over night. They were able to see that consumer trends were changing and find an area to build an amazing business.
Back to helicopters. On that winter day in Anchorage, if I had let the complacency and the inertia that can develop when all appears just peachy overcome my known need to always be gathering information, I could be dead now. Cold oceans are not kind to warm-blooded humans and death occurs quickly. That was not an ice-bucket challenge I ever wanted to take.
If you, as a retail business owner, let those same culprits of complacency and inertia overcome your known need to continually gather and analyze your business data and your industry movements, can you expect a cold, uncaring environment to be different to you that it would have been to me?
Gain the information you have available and find the rest so that you can understand your customer and your environment and stay away from ice buckets.