There’s nothing like a ‘good’ scare

Home Column There's nothing like a 'good' scare

Home DepotBy Lisbeth Calandrino—In 1997, the former CEO of Lowe’s, Bob Tillman, told a group at the American Hardware Association Convention, “A good scare is better than a great idea; the biggest scare that happened to Lowe’s was Home Depot.” Around that time, I received a call from Lowe’s asking if I would meet with them about the business. I knew they were out of their element. They knew Home Depot did major advertising and had all the customers. They were trying to compete with a little twist. Why not be more “women friendly” rather than “contractor friendly?” They started with cleaner stores and lower shelves so women can reach products. I thought: why not take advantage of Home Depot’s track record and open right next door and get the overflow?

Why am I telling you this? I believe we’re going through a scare of a different kind, and it’s time to take notice. Between the pandemic, supply chain disruptions, record-high inflation and rising interest rates, how will you entice customers to buy flooring?

If you haven’t already done so, please read the Home Depot story, “Built from Scratch.” I have had the book for more than 20 years, and when I think of change, I read it again. Any time you can follow the success of outliers like Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus, there’s something to be learned. Few people believed in their concept; many felt they were out of their mind. But it didn’t matter to them—they were sure it was time for a “big box” store where people could get everything they wanted for their home.

The founders of Home Depot capitalized on a novel idea—one that filled a void in the marketplace. What’s that “good idea” that you’ve been thinking about but not necessarily acting on? In my latest book, “Red Hot Customer Experience,” I write about the challenges that businesses will face in the “new normal.” Here’s what I think businesses need to do to thrive during constant change: You must wake up every morning and wonder, “Who’s looking to destroy me today?” Competition, the good “scare,” is an important part of being aggressive. Who’s out there stealing business from you?

You also need to take a long, hard look at your business and implement processes for ongoing improvement. For example, if you don’t have the right management team that can run without you, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Also take this opportunity to examine other successful business models. Look at businesses that are doing something different—companies that are setting the pace in their industry. What entices you to buy from other businesses? Identify those drivers and see if there are ways to incorporate them in your operations.

Lastly, don’t make excuses for your inability to make changes. More importantly, don’t be afraid to fail; failures are great teaching tools. I would rather make an attempt at trying something new and innovative versus doing the same thing or worse—nothing at all—and expecting different results. Remember: To succeed you must take calculated risks. As the old saying goes, “Without risk there is no reward.” And as I said in my book, “creativity equals profit.”

Lisbeth Calandrino has been promoting retail strategies for the last 20 years. To have her speak at your business or to schedule a consultation, contact her at

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