I think the conventional wisdom is wrong, and 2009 offers a lot of new possibilities. Yes, the landscape will be radically different -- but there's real opportunity mixed in with the challenges. We're approaching the end of a year that we'll always remember -- but here's my strategy for the year ahead.
Sales are Up If You Know Where To Look
I'll never forget the neighborhood antique store that found a way to eliminate its lease altogether. They moved all their inventory into storage, and put a cardboard sign in their window that said: "Moved to eBay."
This year, in the crucial week after Thanksgiving, sales actually increased 24% for consumer electronics -- online. The economic downturn has consumers hunting for bargains, and presumably they've turned to the web with its unlimited number of choices for comparison shopping. They represent a real and unacknowledged opportunity for smart businesses -- and they may be the key to survival. We've always known that consumers were moving online, but the economic downturn has sped up the process.
Now is the perfect time to maximize your online sales outreach. A friend told me about a collectibles store in Boise that discovered a new audience online. Suddenly they weren't limited to collectors in a single city; they could sell to the entire planet. In some ways, online shoppers are easier to reach, by targeting campaigns through sites like StumbleUpon and Google AdWords. Some businesses report the cost-per-conversion is actually cheaper with online sales.
Not every product lends itself to online sales, but for those who can, it can be easy and lucrative to set up an online storefront on sites like Amazon and eBay. (Some merchants are even advertising on Craigslist.) Consumers are doing more of their shopping on the web, and online audiences are the last, best demographic.
The DTV Wild-card
On February 17, every TV in America will stop receiving broadcast programming. It's the federally-mandated switch to digital signals, and there will be a massive rush to electronics stores for converter boxes. (The government is ramping up their public service ads and has already begun handing out $40 coupons to anybody who requests one.) You couldn't ask for a better stimulus for some industries -- including electronics retailers and component manufacturers. And once shoppers hit the malls for their converter boxes, there' s a chance to entice them into other sales. I'm expecting my local retailers to launch promotions with a DTV theme.
An unexpected expense could wipe you out. Make sure all your equipment is well-maintained -- and make sure you have a backup plan.
When my nephew fell behind on his credit card debt, the solution was obvious: "sell excess inventory." This is the proverbial rainy day for everyone in America, and it's time to perform a quick inventory for high-value items that can be converted into ready cash. For tricky items a broker might pay for himself, covering cost of their commission by obtaining a higher sale price.
Hard time are always an opportunity. Businesses that are folding will sell their inventory at a discount. Start watching for them.
Watch Your Spending
There's a reason companies are laying off workers: it saves money. I know other businesses that have offered shorter work weeks to their employees, and one that even renegotiated salaries in lieu of an actual layoff. Everyone understands that we're in extraordinary times, and sometimes that leads to a surprising new spirit: a willingness to compromise. Other businesses are zeroing in on the biggest cost of all: they're investigating whether they can refinance their long-term leases and mortgages.
Some very smart people are working on the economic crisis, and there's new blood in Washington. And this will mean new opportunities in 2009. There'll be massive new federal spending projects, plus "stimulus" checks delivered to every taxpayer. In addition, there's industry-specific proposals that are being considered. It's very possible that 2009 could surprise your business with a new government relief plan.