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Your Best and Brightest

A few years ago, in preparation for a CEDIA Regional event coming to my territory, I spent a fair amount of time on behalf of my manufacturers scouting out the property and staging equipment. In the meantime, I got to know the hotel staff well enough that one of them revealed to me that there was an internal memo being distributed to the hotel staff advising them that this CEDIA group had been there before and they are a group that liked to have fun.

I cant argue with that message. However, despite many of our personalities as well as the entertaining nature of the products that we sell, our industry is a very serious business. One need only to read about the recent closure of more than half of CompUSAs stores to confirm this fact. Ironically, we as an industry still eat our young. What genetic predisposition makes us each want to be the first to lose the most money?

Not that long ago I was in a region of Mexico where the Mayan civilization once ruled. Amidst a guided tour that displayed the advanced knowledge of this great culture we came upon a grassy field with grandstands much like any of our football stadiums here in the U.S. On each end were what appeared to be basketball hoops that were turned up vertically by 90 degrees. Apparently, these hoops were remnants of an ancient game designed to reveal the smartest mind and best athlete combined in one person. Upon the contests conclusion, that award-winning best and brightest person would be ceremoniously sacrificed to the Mayans most highly regarded idol. The tour guide seemed puzzled when I remarked that the truly smartest person would have been the one who made sure that the other person won the contest.

In the same way, it is the one who avoids the race to the bottom and does more than talk about added value that deserves our applause. Lets look at an ironic fact about IPRO to illustrate this point.

IPRO, the national representative organization for which I serve as chairman, is currently experiencing its highest membership total since its inception in 1989. The irony is that this has occurred during a period of time when there have been serious questions about the future role of sale representatives in our industry. How can this be?

Well, as with anything else, the best and the brightest in our industry, rather than sacrificing themselves on the latest craze, have chosen to focus on their real value instead. In the IPRO example, the best and the brightest in the representative community said, Look at all of the confusion in the market. This industry needs someone to manage it. In the same way, looking at our industry, how long can we continue to beat our heads against the wall and not expect a headache afterward?

Recently, a business coach reminded me that a business is in the business of making money. Isnt that odd that we have to pay someone to remind ourselves of that? Similarly, as suggested by keynote speaker Pat Croce at the recent CEDIA Management Conference, keeping the main thing, the main thing, is the main thing. In our case, the main thing is making enough money to grow our businesses. Losing sight of that is very easy to do.

In one of my surrogate roles as camp counselor to some of my dealers, frequently the subject of creating product line strategies with manufacturers that allow them to build margin and brand equity comes up. When I am talking about this with my better dealers, it is comforting to see them visibly wince while considering some of the not-so-long-ago cash cows that are now very hard to sell with any profit. Its easy to see by their expression that they have moved on and are not tying the wagon for their organization to a visibly weak horse. They have committed themselves to re-strategize their position, making the main thing the main thing; that of, making money and building a business.

The key to all of this is recognizing that some of us are better at strategic planning while others possess stronger tactical skills. Its critical that you match the right people in your organization to their strong suits. That way you can properly drive your strategy into your budgeting decisions and daily actions. From my own experience, however, this is easier said than done.

As we look forward to this rapidly advancing year, lets remind ourselves that the term audio/video business need not be an oxymoron.