A new year is generally a time when anyone and everyone with access to a functioning keyboard or television camera sees fit to make predictions. Depending on their frame of mind, those predictions can range from the alarmingly dire to the overly optimistic. In the majority of cases, predictions for business conditions are wisely forgotten a few minutes after reading or viewing.
With that in mind, I'll offer up my own predictions for the coming year: Business conditions will improve, deteriorate or stay about the same. Oh yes, there might also be one of those so-called Black Swan events -- a rare occurrence with extreme consequences that cannot be predicted.
Let's face it, predictions regarding the general business environment are largely, if not entirely, useless. Some are motivated by political agenda or ideology, while others amount to little more than guesswork; and some are just barking mad. What isn't useless is a good, long backward look at the previous year. For bulk vending operators, this is often neglected from year to year. Yet, nothing can prove more valuable than going over both the victories and defeats of the past year, especially the defeats.
It can be tough going over mistakes made. Nobody wants an instant replay of the fumble or the strike-out. A new year is a new start, a time to put the past in the past. But lessons learned from failure can be more valuable than those of a success story. The trick is to review the failures dispassionately, and with an eye toward a viable fix. Blame, like excuses, is not helpful in this process. Assigning blame is not the same as fixing a problem.
Some of the problems are obvious. Underperforming locations, theft, vehicle problems and unexpectedly closed locations. Other trouble spots will no doubt require drilling down into the data to pinpoint. That is to say, a complete review of the performance of every location and every product on a route is highly valuable.
This strategy is not without very real benefits. There is some assurance that the same mistakes won't be repeated in the same way. A complete year-end review may also reveal new opportunities. Accounts suddenly and steadily on the upswing may rate new equipment, services expansion or strategies that target similar location types. Conversely, locations that have experienced a steady or accelerated decline may warrant a second and closer look.
There is also value to drilling into the data looking ahead to ever-changing business environments. An immediate and detailed snapshot of a route provides better planning, but also better response time for the unexpected. A big swing, for better or worse, can be more quickly and effectively dealt with when an operator has fresh data at his fingertips.
All said, this is not a particularly dramatic strategy for a new year. In terms of excitement, it rates somewhere below a resolution for a new diet and renewing membership to the gym. On the other hand, looking back at hard data very often provides the best roadmap to the future.
So I stand firmly behind my own prediction for the new year: conditions will almost certainly improve, deteriorate or stay about the same. There might also be some unexpected event or events. Count on it!