‘Grow or die’, a stark warning for all business owners

Ian Christelow, co-founder of ActionCOACH UK and a regular columnist for Elite Franchise magazine, explains why some businesses fail - and how to prevent it from happening to you.

‘Grow or die’

Ian Christelow, co-founder of ActionCOACH UK and a regular columnist for Elite Franchise magazine, explains why some businesses fail – and how to prevent it from happening to you.

Whether it’s the death of a retail giant such as Woolworths, or a village pub closing its doors for the final time, the post-mortems often reveal the same cause of decay – complacency.

When I was in my 20s, I distinctly remember Christmas shopping in British Home Stores, in Harlow New Town, and experiencing an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.

Literally nothing had changed from previous visits, regarding layout or the way the store had been fitted out. Not even the stocking fillers on sale looked any different from before.

There were no more than a dozen other shoppers in the premises and I looked around thinking ‘I’ve just lowered the average age by about 10 years.’

My next thought was: ‘What will they do when these people can no longer make it into town?’  Sadly, we found out the answer in 2018.

The reality is this: Stay the same and your competitors will overtake you. If sales stay the same, overheads will overtake sales. If your product remains the same, technology will make it obsolete.

If the customer or your client-facing team members stop caring, customers will stop giving them their business.

In business it’s a case of grow or die. If, unlike me, you are of a scientific persuasion, then look no further than the second law of thermodynamics to gain a deeper understanding of why and how this happens.

Complacency can kick in at any stage of a business’s life cycle because, ultimately, it’s down to the business owner.

There’s a delightful business phrase which goes: ‘The fish stinks from the head down!’

I remember meeting a failed business owner in Newmarket who had set up a children’s shoe shop because her town didn’t have one.

The smallest amount of research would have shown her that parents in Newmarket, at the time, were in the habit of buying their children’s shoes from one of two shops in the same street.

Her chances of success would have multiplied had she’d opened a shop in that same street.

When Burger King followed McDonald’s into the UK, they didn’t start looking for towns without a McDonald’s. They simply sought premises next door, or close, to their biggest competitor.

They wanted to rent or buy outlets close to where they knew they could be guaranteed to entice members of the public.

Sometimes you just need to talk to someone with a deep understanding of business.

Most of all, you need to learn all the basics of business, because ignorance of even just one basic rule can seriously damage your chances of success. Sadly, this happened to my dad’s advertising agency.

However, your dreams and livelihood are too precious to take a chance with, but here’s your happy ending.

Unlike in science and nature, the dying process is reversible. I love it when I see a business re-imagine itself, which brings with it the creation of new jobs, instead of unemployment.

There are so many examples of Lazarus in business. One such example is Butlin’s.

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I noticed Butlin’s were stuck in the 1950s, still hosting their ‘knobbly knees contests,’ with visitors residing in chalets. 

Somewhere along the line, the business was reimagined with apartments instead of chalets, along with laser quest, tribute acts and much more.

My parents didn’t want to take us there as kids, and we certainly didn’t want to go there either.

I was introduced to the revamped experience at a friend’s stag weekend, during the late 1990s, when I witnessed enough to show me that my own kids would love visiting Butlin’s – and they did.

The moral of the story is that it is vital for businesses to freshen up on a regular basis, if they want to keep growing and avoid stagnation.

ActionCOACH, we’ve developed a two-day annual gathering to achieve this.

We’ve now introduced it to other businesses and it’s worked well for them too. Most pleasingly, it’s helped another major franchise to reignite its passion for creativity, having fallen into deep decay.

Nowadays, this company grows year-on-year, since adopting the annual two day exercise, while safeguarding thousands of jobs in the process. 

Business owners often claim they struggle to put 48 hours aside, saying it would risk the day-to-day running of the company. In reality, however, the risk of not doing so is much greater.

Sir Clive Woodward,
England’s rugby union coach when they won the 2003 World Cup, shared at the
Business Excellence Forum & Awards
: “I
would go to the other side of the world to learn about something which gave us
even a one per-cent improvement. When it comes to knowledge, you have to be a
sponge rather than a rock.”

Jack Welch (former
Chairman & CEO of GE)
: “The last 16 years
of revenue and earnings growth are already history. We have no interest in what
has already passed. It is impossible for a company to stand still. It must
always expand or decline. Growth is the engine of the future.” 

Jack Welch (former
Chairman & CEO of GE)
: “The operative
assumption today is that someone, somewhere, has a better idea. And the
operative compulsion is to find out who has the better idea, learn it and put
it into action – fast. The quality of an idea does not depend on its altitude
in the organisation. An idea can come from any source. We will search the globe
for ideas. We have a constant quest to raise the bar, and we get there by
constantly talking to others.”

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