Have you ever noticed that when the economy gets tight, standards go down? I haven't figured it out: Either management feels guilty asking the survivors to work hard, or the people left in the company give up, so nothing matters. Whatever the reason--slow sales, economic challenges, or a reduced workforce--it does not give anyone a green light to lower standards.

Don Magruder Things were a little slow during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. During this time, I was sent to various locations to audit inventories. I can't tell you the number of times I walked into stores where business was slow, and I would see salespeople, warehousemen, and sometimes even managers huddled at the front of the store, talking bull and drinking coffee. The problem was that their stores were total disasters from the front door to the back.

An old football coach once said, "You have to prepare yourself for success." During these times of economic challenge, everyone should be preparing themselves and their facilities for success, which will come when this economy turns a little. So, I suggest you walk your facility and look at the following:

  • Check your restrooms, as filthy restrooms are a sign of diminished pride. Ask yourself, "Would I want my mother to use it?"
  • Look at the counters and fixtures. Is dust still on them from 1950?
  • Look at your pricing on merchandise. Is the sticker so faded that you can't see it? Worse yet, is the sticker from a co-op that went out of business two recessions ago?
  • Are you running in-store clearances and special promotions at your facility to get people excited and shopping?
  • Do you have empty inventory slots in the showroom, with the merchandise still sitting in the back?
  • When was the last time your facility's floor was swept and the front counter cleaned off?
  • Does everyone at your facility understand that when a customer comes through the door or a telephone rings, it's a business opportunity that needs immediate attention?
  • Are your people contacting their customers by phone or e-mail to keep up with possible new projects and to keep the lines of communication open?
  • Do you hold morning meetings with salespeople and key staff members to make sure everyone is focused on growing business and solving problems?
  • Are your people spending more time on the Internet than with customers? If you are hearing a lot about YouTube videos of the Redneck Santa Claus, then you need to shift priorities.

There are many other examples that are flashing lights for lowered standards, but I think you get the gist. Tomorrow morning, I encourage you to walk into your business with fresh eyes, as if it were your first time walking into the place, and make a list of items you would immediately improve. Wipe from your mind the road blocks, the "can't change" attitude, the idea that someone might get angry, and begin raising your standards.
I try to live by one simple motto: :Do the best you can every day, and every day do a little better." Raising standards is a good thing during economic challenges, so prepare yourself for success.

Don Magruder is general manager of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply Inc., Leesburg, Fla., and chairman of the Florida Building Material Association. This article originally appeared in the Dec. 11 FBMA newsletter.