On July 21, 2019, the Chicago Tribune said this about Forever 21: “Nearly a decade ago, before Instagram Influences existed, Forever 21 let teen girls dress like their favorite celebrities, for cheap. It wasn’t a novel idea – teenage girls have always wanted to dress like their idols. The dizzying speed at which Forever 21 could make those trends available and affordable, however was. The company’s specialty became known as fast fashion, and the chain grew aggressively to become a staple in American shopping malls, opening hundreds of stores and redefining what it meant to be a traditional mall anchor”. 

Frequently we hear about companies folding. Brands we thought were iconic are suddenly gone overnight. There they were, sailing along, customers in abundance. Some have multiple locations, others are 1-stop solutions. You shopped there last week. You called customer- service and someone was available to help you.

And then, overnight, they disappear. A sign on the window says Closed or worse yet, Closed for Remodeling. Were they sold? Did they go into bankruptcy? Or, did they literally close their doors and simply walk away?

As small business owners, we read these stories with disbelief. How could well-financed, revered retailers go so wrong?

It wasn’t only in malls. You could find Forever 21 in Chicago on Michigan Avenue and other mag miles in other cities. The most interesting paragraph in the article, to me, quoted Roger Beahm, executive director of the Center for Retail Innovation at Wake Forest University: “They’ve lost sight of what brought them there. They’ve tried to make up for it by expanding their appeal, and I think you end up diluting what you stand for.”

I get it. In soon to be 20 years of coaching small business owners to step up their brand by becoming explicitly clear on who they serve and why, I often find reluctance on the owner’s part to choose a single path – one path that will take them over the top before they start going down another.

Overnight sensations rarely are. Rather, these businesses have worked long and hard to get known. Their owners are not surprised when they reach the tipping point and experience smooth sailing from thereon in.

They are surprised, however, when one day sales screech to an abrupt stop, or slow down, and they can’t figure out how to get them going again. It was so easy before.

KEY #1: Pay attention to satisfying your customers with the products and services they came to you for in the first place.

Customers are your only ally. It is 100% true that keeping the customers you already have is financially easier than attracting new ones. Have you heard of the Ladder of Loyalty? There are many versions, but I like this one because it applies to numerous industries. Do you know which rung your customers are on?

AFFILIATE – shares their advocates with you
ADVOCATE – follows you on social media, sings your praises
SUPPORTER – happy clients who are delighted to send you referrals
CLIENT – makes repeat purchases
CUSTOMER – pays you for your product or service
PROSPECT – someone who is not yet in your community?

Do you have a plan in place to attract prospects and keep them moving forward from the bottom all the way to the top? One thing we know is you first have to attract them into your ecosystem, get them to join your community. Once they have opted in, now you need to create attractive offers that are solutions to the problems they face.

KEY #2: Interview your customers: “How can we serve you best?”

  • Find out if they feel well cared for.
  • Are they going elsewhere for products you used to carry?
  • Are they going elsewhere for services you provide and they didn’t know you did?
  • Do your price points continue to work for them?
  • Ask them what they like the least about your business, service and products.
  • Find out if anything has changed for them.
  • Get them to tell you if there is another way you can solve their problems. Never assume you know why your customer buys from you. Ask!

And once you have answers, believe what they tell you. Do everything you can to prove their business is important to you and keep them as clients.

KEY # 3: Don’t forget about YOU! Has your passion for the work you do increased or decreased? Sometimes, what used to give us joy suddenly deludes us. Business in today’s new media world, can seem hard. It’s unclear where to put our energy, how to find our clients or ways to build new relationships. Do we pick up the phone or send a text? Do we belong to organizations and go to meetings, or do we join online groups?

How much do we invest of our time and money in social media and technology? There are so many different enticing options. If we are not careful we wind up spending all our time doing research, going down dead-end paths and losing ourselves in work that gets us nowhere.

We can also lose out by hesitating to take advantage of new ways of doing business. Videos, online courses, podcasts, social media, speaking and so much more, used correctly, can bring you new revenue streams, help you reach your true client, become a well-known expert in your industry. If you are stuck, ask for guidance. Find out how to create the strategy that works best for you.

Just the other day, in relation to my podcast, Women Over 70-Aging Reimagined, I spoke to a potential guest, an 86-year old woman who lives in Switzerland. Her voice was strong. We met over Zoom. She was clear on the time difference. She was delightful, strong and purposeful. 86 years old! She recently published a book. She conducts business over Zoom. During the last 15 years she has been following a specific path and learned she is a healer. She continues to work with clients and is looking forward to conducting a book tour. (To learn more about her, you’ll have to join our Facebook group, WomenOver70 or visit our website, WomenOver70.com to learn when her episode will appear.)

I bring her up because she is a perfect example of someone following her passion, staying true to her purpose and building her brand, still, at the age of 86. Do you continually reinvent yourself? Are you sure your business is aligned with your current values and desires? Do you work towards rediscovering who you are and the life you want to lead? No matter how young or old you are, you deserve to live it on your terms. Perhaps you need to realign, reimagine and rediscover your unlimited, unrealized potential.

KEY #4 – It’s already November. In 2 brief months it will be 2020. It’s time to rethink who you are, to take a hard look at yourself, your business, your life and your passions? Are you ticking off items in your bucket list? When is the last time you traveled for pleasure? What is ahead for you? Often it only takes a few small tweaks in perspective to get back on the road you are meant to travel.

Unless you absolutely, positively know who you are, what you need to do every single day and where you are going, it is easy to sway off your path and wind up in a place you never expected to be. What happens then?

You work harder. You suffer. Your business suffers. Your family suffers. And, all too often, it is a downhill slide into oblivion. Forever 21 and Barney’s – there for the grace of G-d, go I.

Perhaps its time you put a coach on your team.