I spent 10 years working in building materials, specifically in the window and door industry for Andersen Corporation. An industry most definitely affected by the housing crash and recession that started at the end of 2007. The effects of managing through a crisis is something we can all relate to now. We’re in the woods; and we may go deeper before the path to get out is clear enough to follow.

At Andersen during that time, CEO Jim Humphrey would say we (us and our competitors) are going into the woods now. It is a place we haven’t been before and some of us, but not all, will come out at the end of this. We will be different companies than when we went in. He was right. Some of the competitors didn’t come out of the woods at all. Andersen Corporation came out of those woods changed, but stronger for the experience.

Coming through the woods stronger wasn’t an accident. It took new strategies, pivoting to new markets, different selling skills, new relationships with customers and effort on top of effort. More than anything, it took a willingness to admit that everything was different and was never going to go back to what it had been.

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the same experience as a recession, but companies, big and small, will come out of it differently.

This time, instead of being a corporate executive, I am a business owner. My business partner, Scott, and I own Miller Wittman Retail Design Group. The decisions, good and bad, are ours alone. Thus far, we think we have made a myriad of the right decisions on what actions are needed to continue to navigate the business’ future.

As business leaders grapple through the unpredictability of a global pandemic, a lot of questions and ambiguity is swirling around the future making difficult to stay focused.

Ask yourself:

What immediate actions should be taken right now to ensure my business can continue and thrive?

What decisions am I delaying that I should be dealing with right now?

What investments in my future should be taken right now? (This doesn’t have to be a financial investment; it could be time, effort, skill sets, etc.)

Our foundation or business charter was, and is, clear. We demand hard work from ourselves, and diversity among our clients, but still focus on industries related to our core strengths. In the past, we were primarily known as a store design house. Today, with our retail design work, distribution, sales and brand strategy, product launch capabilities and training, we’re able to work with our clients in more meaningful ways to connect all these disciplines so they work together. Our expertise and big-picture thinking helps to deepen client relationships and gain new clients in the process. For our part, we are constantly checking ourselves to maintain discipline, and thoughtful insight toward the market ahead.

As businesses approach the future, keep a steady dialogue going about business growth.

Ask yourself:

Have I developed the right adjacencies to grow my business or are we stagnating under the weight of current circumstances?

What are the right adjacencies or extensions of my business to help me grow?

This situation came on fast. The last time, I felt like we knew we were entering the woods, this time, we got dropped in the middle of the woods, like on the Discovery Channel’s, Naked and Afraid. It’s uncomfortable, unfamiliar and scary. Did I bring the right tools with me? Last time, I fought the battle in my office or in the field, surrounded by my co-workers. Today, I fight the battle at home, surrounded by my grade schoolers. The connections I have made out in the world help me every day and I am grateful that I have a strong network. However, without being out in the world, am I communicating enough? Is our website and lead generation doing as much as possible for us? We are taking the time now to ask ourselves these questions and do the work to update our tools.

Ask yourself:

Am I reaching out and communicating enough? Do we have a communication plan that works within these circumstances?

Is my online image or website compelling and descriptive of my business?

What can I update now that better reflects my business?

Can I be of assistance to anyone and provide needed solutions and skills they need right now?

Thankfully, we’ve been busy. I am grateful for our clients, and focused on giving them our best work. As a business owner, I can tell you, it is not just business. It is personal. And it’s not business as usual. I am thrilled because the planned diversity of our business has begun to take hold in meaningful ways. I am also deeply disappointed about the timing of these circumstances for the same reason. So, I have to remind myself not to wallow in what could have been, and instead remind myself that this is a time for what will be: new ideas, new priorities, new solutions.

For the future of our business and through this welcome work, we have to show discipline and use our knowledge and tools to continue asking ourselves;

What might be next for our business?

How are we prepared to be better for it?

How can I provide more value to the customers I already have?

Am I prospecting enough day after day?

What can I do today to come out of the woods stronger, smarter, mightier than when it all started?

Paige Wittman has been a key note speaker at numerous client sales and channel meetings as well as a featured writer for Rural Lifestyle Dealer and Dealer News

Paige is the co-owner of the Miller Wittman Retail Design Group, a company that builds strong distribution channels and captures dealer mindshare to grow the retail sales and footprint for their clients.

She has 25 years of sales, marketing and channel development experience; dedicating her career to developing winning sales teams, powerful distribution channels, and retail programs for leading brands. She started her career at Malone Advertising, an agency focused on retail. She then was recruited to The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company as an advertising manager, followed by Polaris Industries where, in her last role, was director of Retail & Dealer Development and on to Andersen Corporation where her roles included vice-president of Sales Operations and vice-president of Sales. In 2016, she joined the ranks of her favorite entrepreneurial customers and bought 50 percent of the now 25-year-old Miller Wittman Retail Design Group.

Paige Wittman, Co-owner MillerWittman