In the spirit of it being ‘Brexit month’ and the looming date of 29 March – which at the time of writing this, no one has a crystal ball to see what changes will happen – let’s take a look at that all important, but often overlooked, skill within our business. Adaptation, improvisation and the ability to overcome.
“It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and to adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself…” so says Charles Darwin in Origin of Species.
When we run a business there are many environmental factors which can change during its course, some good, some bad, some we see coming and some that completely blindside us. The current challenges are some of the largest seen by UK industry in a generation and our sector is no different. We go through some of the bigger potential issues in this month’s article.
Our current challenge is leaving the European Union. Right now as you read this there are thousands of pallets of German frankfurters, French cheese and Italian car parts in storage up and down the M4 corridor from Swindon to Guildford. They have been there for months. I know this because my team have been part of the intense mission to find storage for pet-related European products in amongst the thousands of other industry sectors looking for the same pre-Brexit overstock space. Stockpiling in the UK is just one adaptation to the up and coming split and one way to deal with the void of information.
Others have frozen pricing for customers for reassurance. Some are just letting the wind blow and see what’s left to pick up once the storm has passed – this is not advisable. One thing is for certain; we will all need to react quickly. If you have been in business a good while then you will have seen the automation of systems, the boom of social media and the growth of online sales.
Interestingly I still meet companies every month who operate with no website, social media presence and manually manage their stock. However your business runs you should now have a plan in place for the coming months. Don’t get caught out without some kind of fall back. Even if it’s a few thousand tucked away to keep the bills paid, we all need to be ready.
Adaptation to other species – The pet industry has trends that govern popularity of products with a species demographic and with specific pets. Exotics such as reptiles, birds and fish come and go. Dogs and cats remain steady in their ownership but products and husbandry trends move and evolve. Keep your eye on these trends over the next year. Certain species and products might become harder to source, that could either be a hazard to avoid, or an opportunity to exploit for your business.
Adaptation to competition – What happens when you suddenly have someone open up in your town who has the same customer demographic as you? Previously you had no competition so did not need to dedicate any extra thinking time to your strengths, weakness or how you will plan your next 12 months. Even if you are the only horse shoe salesman in a one horse town, and you own the horse, you need to be ready for competition to arrive and challenge you.
Brand adaptation – How a business starts is not often how a business will be in three years. As you find your niche within the market that may change many of the customer facing elements such as a name, company colours, logo etc. These should be adaptable as the way you communicate with clientele and your customers’ tastes change with time.
What can you do to keep on top of it? The truth is that where you are aware of the changes you can be proactive. Weigh up the considerations around your business for risk, level of control you have etc. If there is a degree of ambiguity, assign resource in the form of thinking time, expert opinion, extra staffing hours to make sure that you have a plan to take on the changes you face.
In the past 12 months we have seen some business in the pet services industry need to adapt to the legislation in the case of Animal Activities Licensing Regulations. This is an example of a very structured change with plenty of build up to the date in which businesses must adapt to comply with new rules. In this case a business would need to allocate additional resource to cover training and implementation.
For the changes that are not clear to us, such as sudden labour turnover, a competitor opening or a change in the demands of the marketplace a contingency plan needs to be made. Firstly you need to lessen your risk to being left behind by these issues in your everyday operations and in the views of your marketplace. Secondly you need to have robust systems in place to allow you to quickly react where you have been unable to be proactive.
Beware the resistance to change – “We’ve always done it this way so don’t need to change,” mentality is surely the downfall of many. Take care out there in the coming months, stay true to your course, and keep your eyes and ears open for danger and opportunity and we will see how we all fair. Good luck and good business.
Nicola is the founder of Ravensford Consultancy – Providers of holistic business support for pet people. www.ravensfordconsultancy.com
This feature was first published in the March 2019 issue of Pet Gazette