Saturday, November 24, 2012

Growth and Succession Planning - The Big Decision

What is your Big Decision?
CBC is now broadcasting Season 2 of its new show The Big Decision which is a spin off from The Dragon’s Den.

The candidate’s on CBC’s The Big Decision programs have, to date; been well vetted and weekly they bring the different struggles of running a business in Canada to the forefront.

The present format has Arlene Dickinson and Jim Treliving alternate weekly, with both having the opportunity to invest in the companies that they are examining. All companies are given specific direction and have approximately 2 to 3 weeks to accomplish the tasks.

This is the second of our analyses of the programme to highlight what Canadian business owners can learn.

So let’s examine week 4 episode of season 2:
In this episode, Arlene finds 2 companies that have lost their way. Both companies are looking for cash investment to allow for a business turnaround. But interestingly, this episode illuminates the sticky problem of succession and the inner struggles between family members and their lack of knowledge to actually make the proper decisions for running the business.

Overview: Redwood Apparel
Faced with cutthroat competition, Scarborough, Ontario-based Redwood could see their "100% Made in Canada" clothing line shut down. With a history spanning three generations, owner Kathy Cheng will need Arlene to keep her family legacy alive.
Redwood feels that they must find a niche market in corporate apparel in order to survive the competition from low cost producers outside Canada. Dad has built his business without marketing aids and is reluctant to let his daughter chase her dream even when she gets a fat preliminary order from Sears.
At Redwood, the daughter is poorly equipped to run a business. She has no grasp of the numbers and is given a failing grade in marketing.

The Test
At Redwood, the two tests were to revamp the amateurish sales brochures and to move the company to the retail apparel market.
Arlene brought in a top notch retail executive to mentor Kathy Cheng. The executive recommends going after the retail sector but Kathy snubbed her nose at her recommendations. She never revamped the corporate brochure or the direction of her marketing focus.
The executive secured a presentation to Sears but Kathy’s presentation was pitiful at best but; Sears did place a trial order for the Heritage line of 3000 units in both men and women’s as Sears recognized in the sales pitch that price was secondary to being nimble in the marketplace.
Dad withheld support and funds for new marketing material and they snubbed the recommendations by industry expert to move into the retail market.  Redwood Apparel did not complete any of Arlene’s tests and she pulled the plug and did not invest.

Overview: Viberg Boots
Across the country in Victoria, BC, a footwear company attempts to get a grip on their evolving product line. Once known strictly for their tough men's footwear, Viberg Boots has expanded to offer more fashionable products, leaving owners scrambling to keep up with demand. Will the owners reshape their business and rise to Arlene's challenge? Or will they be given the boot?
Redwood Apparel  of Victoria faces the challenge of go big or go home. The eighty year old boot manufacturer’s market for logging boots has collapsed with slowing demand in the forest industry. The son wants to chase the fashion market but Dad is squeamish about a market he does not know.
Arlene recognises that there are leadership problems with the son in Viberg who stares at the ground while talking to his Dad or Arlene especially when people disagree with his ideas. He has strong character but lacks confidence and this shows up in many situations of the episode.

The Test
At Viberg, the three tests were to prove firstly that they could manufacture a high quality but feminine boot – a complete departure from the thoroughly masculine, working market being served. The first efforts were pronounced a failure by the footwear consultant hired by Arlene and the son responded to the criticism by sulking and walking out of a meeting.
A second effort was better, sufficient to convince Arlene. But Viberg failed miserably in the 2nd test – to get out of their comfort zone and demonstrate their products to new markets. They were invited to a party to feature their product at an upper scale shoe store in Vancouver to possibly get their boots on a celebrity and get a photograph. They decided not show up and did not even call to advise that they were not coming.
Arlene did try on a new pair of ladies boots and  because Viberg regrouped and built a secondary pair of boots  as suggested by the expert Arlene decided to invest.

Quickly Arlene established the root of the problem; that both Dads discounted the views of their children but don’t see an alternative to the driving of the business over a cliff.

The other side is that in either instance the family members: the children did not have the skill set to behave like business people and in both instances looked more like spoiled children not getting their way.

At Redwood they continued doing business in the same old way while at Viberg they were willing to regroup after their initial mistake and create a more feminine product.

In both scenarios this week the experts were brought in but the kids in both situations literally thumbed their nose at the recommendations. They did not seem to grasp that the experts recommended by Arlene would actually help the business grow.  But of course that would mean they would have to accept that they cannot know all the key areas of their business themselves and must look for outside support.

I am happy that this theme has been examined on The Big Decision. Too many companies face the dilemma of growth tied into succession planning. Many business owners are nearing retirement age but the children are ill equipped to run any business or have no interest in replacing the long hours endured by previous family members.

In their present state neither Viberg nor Redwood could have been sold on the market for anything like their real worth without changes. And to have worked an entire career building something to see it sold for next to little profit would be the ultimate slap in the face.

Bringing in outside assistance to help turnaround the business and address the issues highlighted in this episode could have improved value; or give the much needed stimulus for change to the owners; and in both scenarios with the right business coach could have educated the children to run the business.

I highly recommend this programme for any business that is looking to expand their knowledge and get great insight into what will help you Build Your Business or begin the first step of a business turnaround.

All episodes can be viewed on line – Click here

Article written by Andrew Gregson and Donald Robichaud

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