It’s a New Year, and that means “new” everything. New goals, new dreams, new plans. Retailers across the country begin the year with these big ideas—ideas that can be overwhelming, to say the least.
The first step is the most important: Define Your Vision. Gather all those scattered thoughts and dreams and find a cohesive thought that unites them. What is your vision for your business? Find it, and make it attainable.
Not that that last part is easy. Attaining your vision is a process. The best plan of attack for most retailers is a concise strategic plan. But again, narrowing and deciding the various objectives of a strategic plan can be intimidating.
When it comes to defining visions and strategic plans in the specialty retail community, there’s no business quite like Gazelle Sports. For co-founder Chris Lampen-Crowell and his team, it’s an annual practice that guarantees success for their company. Their vision and strategic plan, crafted at the start of each year and amended throughout, serves as their guide for their daily, weekly and monthly actions.
Your vision, Lampen-Crowell points out, should be the driving force behind everything your business does—and it shouldn’t be small. “Gazelle Sports identifies our vision using what Jim Collins refers to as a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal),” Lampen-Crowell says. That means your vision can be something as big as “turning every person in town into an avid runner.” Just because it’s outrageous doesn’t mean it can’t be your vision. If it inspires you and your company, it’s working. “It is what gets us up in the morning, knowing that we are here to serve a greater purpose than just selling shoes and apparel (although we have fun doing that),” Lampen-Crowell points out. “The vision is completely idealistic, but serves as a north star.”
At Gazelle Sports, their vision is defined by ownership, a collaborative effort between the three partners, then dispersed among their stores and employees. Your vision is the guiding light for everything that happens in your business, which means it has to come from above. It’s also not necessarily comprehensive (that’s what your strategic plan is for). “Our vision does not define practical tactics or financial discipline, yet it remains a light that directs us,” says Lampen-Crowell. Your vision is a clear and engaging dream that’s meant to inspire you and your employees. “Go big with what you want and expect of yourself, your business, the customers you serve, the products you sell, and the impact you would like to have over a long period. Write it down—and then rewrite it. This is your vision and you own it.”
So you’ve defined your vision—now how to enact it? That’s where the strategic plan comes in, arguably the most important part of your business. What steps are you going to take to make your vision a reality, and what are your goals along the way?
Your strategic plan should be a more collaborative effort, incorporating the various sectors of the business to ensure all aspects of the employee and customer experience are their best and constantly improving.
Creating and implementing a strategic plan is where Gazelle Sports shines. “We develop a strategic map (one page) each year with our leadership team of 25 management and administrative staff who are in critical positions in our company,” Lampen-Crowell explains. “We determine our central challenge, strategic objectives and priorities. We appoint a leader to each priority and they use staff to develop an action plan. We hold strategic update meetings/calls once a month for each priority that highlights what has been accomplished the past 30 days and what will be done the next 30 days.”
Lampen-Crowell’s approach isn’t just organized, it’s implementable. It takes the oft-intimidating idea of a strategic plan and makes it completely approachable. It’s also adaptable. The folks at Gazelle Sports are constantly reevaluating their goals and plan to be realistic and successful. “We don’t always get it right, but we are always willing to adapt the plan with new information,” he says.
It’s also important that your strategic plan and vision are communicated constantly throughout your company. Many businesses make the mistake of creating a strategic plan at the start of the year, setting big goals, then letting them lie fallow. If you don’t remind your employees of what they’re working for, they get lost in the daily grind, and suddenly your vision seems unattainable once again. “Communicate the vision throughout you company. Use it in training and meetings. It should inspire and create a sense of pride in the business,” Lampen-Crowell explains. Remind your employees of the strategic plan and how their daily actions make those goals realities.
Lampen-Crowell still realizes that actually implementing a strategic plan can be difficult; these big goals easily get lost in the hubbub of running a business. “The implementation of strategic priorities can get sidetracked as daily operations and crisis needs attention,” Lampen-Crowell says. But he and his team still recognize that their strategic plan and vision are the true priorities, and that’s where that adaptability comes in. “Strategic effectiveness is critical and we attempt to implement our tactics in a ‘good enough’ state instead of waiting until we have processed a ‘perfect plan.’”
This is the key. Part of what makes strategic plans so intimidating is the general perception that they require a perfect plan and, as we all know, there’s no such thing as “perfect.” It’s integral that you devise these goals and just do what you can to make them a reality. It’s not always pretty and it never takes the path you’d expect, but it’s effective.
Chris Lampen-Crowell’s Guide to Strategic Planning
Lampen-Crowell and the folks at Gazelle are clearly experts in the art of strategic planning and defining your vision. He offers five quick tips for making yours effective, too.
- Use an outside facilitator.
- Set reasonable priorities (no more than four or five).
- Implement “good enough” tactics.
- Measure outcomes.
- Review and adjust on an at least monthly basis.
- Communicate the strategic plan with the entire company.