Be Ready, Not Get Ready

Posted On: 9/23/2011

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Roald Amundsen, Hurricane Irene, vending machine industry, bulk vending, vending times, Alicia Lavay, vending machine, vending machine business, amusement business, Vending Times, Alicia Lavay, coin machine business, coin-op, Betson

Alicia Lavay

I hope all our readers are safe and sound in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. We were fortunate that VENDING TIMES did not suffer any damage (just some minor inconveniences) and we were able to resume business as usual in a matter of days. As you are all likely aware, public safety officials ordered many people living in low-lying areas of the East Coast to evacuate their homes as the storm approached. Since I live right on Long Island's Atlantic shore, I had to decide whether or not to comply.

After thinking about it for a while, I decided to stick it out, but not without making some plans. I might have been trapped in the building without power or running water, or the windows might have blown out, so I made a safe room for myself and my two cats, stocked with enough nonperishable food and water on hand to last for a week. Fortunately, the storm lost force and blew over without compelling me to use those things, but knowing I had a backup plan gave me peace of mind.

In retrospect, looking down the barrel of Hurricane Irene was a very enlightening experience. I realize now, more than ever, that "be ready, not get ready" is sound advice. So is using common sense. Sure, I took a risk by staying, but I planned for the worst and hoped for the best.

Weathering the storm also gave me some valuable insight into myself as well as those around me. I discovered that there will always be the Monday morning quarterbacks who tell you what you should have done, after the fact, but are less forthcoming before they know the result. And it also seems that there always are naysayers who enjoy anticipating disaster -- "I'm sorry to say that all is lost" -- and others who are determined to prevail. I prefer to surround myself with those positive thinkers, because negative energy can be suffocating if not paralyzing. And even a little positive energy can be contagious.

Case in point: just days after Irene ravaged the East Coast, VT editor Tim Sanford and I attended Betson's Northeast Coffee Service and Vending Expo in Secaucus, which is in northern New Jersey. The very recent hurricane had left the entire region grappling with floods and downed trees, so it would have been amazing if there had been strong operator turnout. But when we arrived, we were greeted by a group of suppliers and distributors who were happy they had made the trek, if only to network with each other. One optimistic distributor serving the Northeast told me how his company has expanded into 14 states despite the challenging business climate. He also spoke about how embracing technology had been a strong driver of growth for his business. As we ate lunch, we all agreed that, much like those who prepare for nature's wrath and then get on with their lives, those who make a plan and have a passion for implementing it will survive.

To say that this decade has been a volatile time for our industry is an understatement. How we respond to adversity in life can help teach us how we should operate our businesses. Running a business involves risk; there are no guarantees that you've made the right decision until the outcome presents itself. But there are two things I know for sure: complacency is dangerous, and despair is fatal. I've also learned that, at 44 years young, I'm fairly levelheaded, and while I am open to advice I instinctively make a decision based on the information I've gathered for myself. And once I've made a decision, I am prepared to forge ahead without second-guessing myself, but flexible enough to change course rapidly if the situation changes. And while a little bit of luck is always helpful, hope alone is not a strategy. Good fortune usually results from effective preparation and work.

Managing risk and being prepared is always a wise business practice. Don't panic; be flexible, have a backup plan and an exit strategy. Evaluate advice, but recognize that it can be self-serving. The government doesn't always know best, and it has its own priorities. Also, it necessarily plans for the worst case. Instructions for people in remote beachfront bungalows may not apply to people in modern steel-framed buildings. It's important to know your own situation and act appropriately.

The present economy, like Hurricane Irene but longer lasting, presents real perils. It has been a long time since we've seen an economic storm of this strength and duration. How has your business weathered the turbulence thus far, and are you prepared for things to get better -- or worse?

The famous Antarctic explorer Roald Amundsen equated planning and luck. "This is the greatest factor: the way in which the expedition is equipped, the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it," he said. "Victory awaits him who has everything in order -- luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck."