Tuesday, August 18, 2009

When Should You Get on the Bandwagon?

You have no doubt seen many of the indicators that the recession may soon be over (if it isn't already, a view held by some very smart economists). This doesn't mean everything will return to the rosy days of, say, 2006, but it does mean the economy will begin growing again. With this knowledge, you are probably thinking about when you should consider revving up the profit engine in your company. The timing of this can be a critical question in many industries.

As a general rule, you don't want to rev up too early, because you will increase your expenses to do so, and profitability will suffer as you spend on capacity that you do not need. On the other hand, you also don't want to rev up too late, because this could easily lead to a loss of market share as your inability to fill orders in the short term pulls you up short. A more difficult and probable effect of undercapacity is that parts of your distribution channel - and even individual customers - are likely to switch to competitors when you cannot meet their needs.

These two factors push against each other - the risk of increasing expenses too early tempers your desire to reduce the risk of losing market share in a recovery. Obviously, excellent forecasting - or at least close attention to real economic data - can be very valuable to you here. Beyond timing your return to expansion precisely, you should also assess the real risks of both scenarios. If you are pursuing commodity strategies, the cost of increasing costs too soon may be unbearable with your super-lean cost structure. On the other hand, a specialty strategy may lead you to see the cost issue as small compared to the risk of losing market share, especially when some market share loss may be permanent.

How should you handle this in your strategic planning? An objective look at your current financial model and market position should be a part of at least some of your monthly strategy implementation review meetings. Until we have passed the current economic inflection point, you will be well-served to look at the upside AND downside of both increasing costs and losing market share.