Stuck in a Rut? It’s Time for a Reinvention Intervention

By Rieva LesonskyBusiness on Main

Learn from entrepreneurs who refreshed their attitudes and business offerings to put themselves on the map.

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These days, many business owners are grateful just to be in business and aren’t looking to embrace change. But this is precisely the time to re-examine how and what you’re doing — maintaining the status quo isn’t good enough.

It’s time to refresh your business with tips from these business owners and experts who know a thing or two about pulling out of ruts.

Ben Eisendrath, Grillworks Inc.

Ben Eisendrath did more than refresh Grillworks Inc., the company his father ran as a side business for many years before shutting down in the 1990s. Eisendrath, having grown up talking about grills at the dinner table, resuscitated the company in 2007 when he decided to evolve from AOL employee to entrepreneur.

Grillworks’ signature product, the Grillery, was a wood-fired, stainless-steel grill. Eisendrath didn’t want to abandon the “artisanal quality” of the grills, “but wanted to bring the product into this century.”

His first move: Improve the quality. He digitized his father’s old shop drawings of grill designs and contracted out the work. Next, he reworked Grillworks’ logos and graphics and started marketing online, using search engine optimization so customers searching for “wood-burning grills” found Grillworks.

Instead of blogging on his site, Eisendrath writes about grilling for The Atlantic and The Huffington Post. He says this media presence “is far more effective in getting the wood-fired message out than reinventing the wheel with my own blog.”

Going forward, Eisendrath is focusing on a new line of grills and plans to “explore streamlining international distribution, particularly with the new Obama focus on helping America export.”

Eisendrath calls his revitalization of Grillworks a “refining.” His success suggests it was somewhat more than that: Sales tripled in 2008, doubled from that in 2009, and increased 20 percent in 2010, despite spending 25 percent less on advertising.

Peggy and Ken Farabaugh, Vermont Woods Studio

Refreshing your business requires you to take an objective look and admit when things aren’t going well. That’s easier said than done for many entrepreneurs, but Peggy and Ken Farabaugh pulled it off. The couple founded Vermont Woods Studio in 2005, with the goal of supporting local furniture artisans by selling luxurious, custom-designed, locally made wood furniture online to a national audience.

A few years in, they realized their “strategy wasn’t working.” As Peggy Farabaugh explains, “We were gaining plenty of media attention, but we weren't selling much furniture and we were losing money.”

The Farabaughs explored their options and discovered that while there were numerous Vermont artisans who were making affordable wood furniture and were eager to increase sales, they didn’t want to undertake the sales and marketing efforts to do so. The Farabaughs revised their business plan, started offering sales and marketing services to the furniture makers, and revamped their website to focus on selling affordable made-in-Vermont furniture.

The refresh worked: 2009 sales tripled from 2008, and last year revenues doubled.

Barry Moltz, author and entrepreneur

If stories of faltering businesses sound uncomfortably familiar to you, Barry Moltz — an entrepreneur, author and consultant specializing in helping businesses get unstuck — says the first step to getting out of a rut is to “let go of the idea that you can grow yourself out of it. Or, that if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll somehow get different results.”

Then, says Moltz, you need to look at the specifics. You might need to:

- Fire your worst employee(s)

- Focus on your best customers

- Drop your worst customers

Moltz warns that not every business is salvageable. “Sometimes,” he says, “the hole is too big. If you don’t have enough cash or passion to survive, shut it down.”

Do you need to reinvent your business? Almost every business needs a refresh at some point. Last month, in his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama spotlighted a small roofing business run by brothers Robert and Gary Allen. When hit hard by the recession, the Allen brothers started manufacturing solar shingles (with the help of a government loan) in a previously unused part of their factory. “We reinvented ourselves,” said Robert Allen.

President Obama echoed that sentiment, adding, “That's what Americans have done for over 200 years: reinvented ourselves.” Reinvention is the American way. As the president said, “In America, innovation doesn't just change our lives. It's how we make a living.”

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