News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 7, 2013

Business Cents: Lack of innovation drives companies out of business

Heather Strohm
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Have you ever wondered what happened to companies like Circuit City, K-Mart, or Sears? What about small-town businesses or festivals that used to be extremely popular but have dwindled in attendance over the past several years? The answer lies in staying in tune with customer demands and embracing change. Change occurs in every single facet of business, whether you are retail-based, business-to-business-based, or an event or festival, it is inevitable that change will occur. The question becomes how will you choose to react to change. Will you embrace it and become an agent of change, or reject it and become a victim of change?

It is my concern that unless companies, boards of directors, nonprofits, events and festivals become agents of change, then we will continue to see companies shut their doors, lose customers and attendance at festivals will dwindle and eventually the festival or celebration will die away.

I am on eight advisory boards throughout the Wabash Valley and too often I see ideas rejected because it involves changing something that has always been done in the past. In addition, I have seen interested parties that are younger than my 38 years turned away because they have new and exciting ideas to increase revenue, awareness and customers to either the business or festival.

If you are a company or event that is faced with this situation, think about what can be done to fix the problem. First, of course, is admitting that it is happening. This is probably the hardest one thing for anyone or any group to do because it is identifies that a weakness exists. It is only through identifying weaknesses that a company or event can continue to grow and become better so that it continues to positively impact the community and provide character for the area in which it operates. Listed below are additional steps to take to remain successful so that your company or event is not a victim of change.

1. Awareness: A lot of feelings will take place around change, and it is extremely hard to change. We are all creatures of habit, but it is important to select people that can transform these negative feelings or the feeling that “I am always right” into emotions that can be positive and can influence others to be positive.

2. Optimism: Anytime a company or event begins to entertain the idea of change it requires a perception shift into learning and curiosity. There should be encouragement and not fear, as fear makes people feel threatened.

3. Communication: Communication is imperative and should begin with the leader of the company or festival. Who will be affected, how, when and what will be the anticipated impact to the businesses, community, residents, etc.? Change leaders move way beyond fear and foster an environment that is conducive to learning, excitement and hope.

4. Diversity: As a company or event it is critical to have a team around that is diverse in industry experience, age, gender and ethnicity so that a broad array of ideas can be discussed and voted on so that the greatest impact is achieved for the said company or event.

In summary, change is always hard. You may not be popular with your board members or employees, but standing still is simply not an option. I moved here a little over five years ago and there are so many wonderful businesses, residents, events and festivals in our area. I want to continue to see more success for all of these resources as they truly are gems and provide so much character to our communities in the Wabash Valley.

Heather (Penney) Strohm is the regional director for Indiana State University’s Indiana Small Business Development Center.