To say that we’re in a trying time for business owners, big and small, would be an understatement. But don’t lose hope. With patience and resolve, you and your business can still come out of this headstrong.
Take it from me, a veteran rafting guide and founder of Blue Ridge Chair Works, a made-in-the-U.S. furniture brand based in Asheville, North Carolina. I navigated the 2008 recession, coming out stronger than before, so now I’m not fazed by the imminent downturn of our current economy.
Here’s why: the economic meltdown that started in 2008 was like staring down the top of the biggest rapid I have ever run. All my skills, knowledge and beliefs were put to the test. I was keenly aware of what was going on around me at the time. It was chaos. Businesses big and small were closing their doors every day. I was searching for answers like everyone else. “How do I navigate this mess?” “How can I take advantage of the situation?” “How can I stay on my line through the rapid?”
Over the course of my career, I’ve developed a set of guidelines and survival tips inspired by experiences from both growing a business and guiding people through dangerous, whitewater rapids.
Today, I’m letting you in on five of those things that helped me come out of the 2008 recession strong, in hopes it will help you keep swimming during this current crisis, too.
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During the 2008 recession, my answer was to try my hand at what’s known as “dropshipping.” Dropshipping is when customers place an order through a retailer, who transfers them to the manufacturer to ship the product directly to the recipient. This allows retailers to sell items they do not have inventory of.
Although it was labor intensive, I spent time cultivating multiple relationships with e-commerce traders and retailers, shipping all the product myself from one central location. Doing this helped me spread brand awareness across multiple marketing platforms. It also kept me in good standing with retailers, who’d later be able to pick up wholesale inventory like before.
I really focused on large numbers of small transactions. I wanted to let the people who were good at it sell my furniture online and work out of my inventory, at practically no risk for them. Who would turn down an offer like that?
Explore international markets
The 2008 recession put immense pressure on online retailers, meaning I had to think on my feet like many other entrepreneurs. I recognized the decreasing value of the U.S. dollar on the world market, specifically in Japan. I also noticed this made expensive U.S. goods a real bargain in other parts of the world.
Hitting the ground running, I quickly formed strong and committed partnerships with foreign export, due to the quality of my business model and product. I studied and learned about exporting and Japanese business culture.
From this point, and the years following, my international sales actually outperformed my domestic sales.
Balance your markets
To avoid putting too many eggs in one basket, I made sure my company had well-balanced distribution in several markets. In turn, this helped provide us with steady cash flow even through economic downturns.
For my model, I spread inventory over foreign trade and e-commerce (through my own site and wholesale dropshipping), corporate or sponsored pieces (co-branded with other businesses logos), and traditional brick-and-mortar stores. By doing so, I’ve effectively secured insurance plans if one or multiple of those methods fall through.
Blue Ridge Chair Works is proud to be 100 percent made in Western North Carolina, and we utilize as many local suppliers as possible in our supply chain.
I’ve made this a priority for a number of reasons:
- Using local suppliers keeps money flowing in the local economy
- You form personal relationships with the people you rely on for your supply chain (i.e. the delivery man, the seamstress, etc.)
- It’s easier to troubleshoot problems when everyone is a short drive or phone call away
Learn from nature
To me, navigating the business world is just like running a class five rapid. You know the rules at the start. You accept the challenge. You can scout the rapid before you run it, see the obstacles in front of you, plan your route and try to stay on the line of least resistance. If you break the rules or get thrown off your line, mother nature reminds you. The boat flips, and you swim the rapids ending up banged and bruised at the bottom.
Hopefully, you learn from the swim not to make the same mistake again. I have swum many rapids in my lifetime.
A bonus tip
Keep your passion! Sometimes you have to get in the trenches or bite the bullet, but each time, you learn something new. Apply yourself, be observant, be vigilant, and don’t forget there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. Had I not kept sight of that, my company wouldn’t be where it is today.
The ever-changing state of the world (and what it means for our businesses) is the scariest whitewater rapid any of us have ever seen. How we navigate the twists and turns is just one part of the journey. I hope my story shows that even if that’s the hardest part, it doesn’t have to be the end.