The Reactive Rut

I had a great conversation last night with a local wine retailer. Her shop is small, based on convenience for the neighborhood, and with more and more competition moving in she’s having a hard time standing out and growing her business. The backbone of her business is reacting to the needs of her customers on a day to day basis, bringing in wines that they ask for.

I had a similar conversation earlier in the week with a wholesaler. They are small, trying to be different, and having a hard go at it in an ever more competitive marketplace. They are bringing in new wines based on the reactions they are getting from their small client base. (“I’m looking for a Bordeaux.” “We don’t have one now, but we’ll get right on it!”)

And last week I had pretty much the identical conversation with a restaurant owner. How to stand out in an ever more competitive environment. How to be different but at the same time successful. The restaurant was trying something new on their menu, a burger, because “burgers are hot right now.”

The Reactive Rut is what all of the above examples have found themselves in, and it’s the most common place for retailers, wholesalers, and restaurants to gravitate toward. It’s a seemingly safe spot, with the feeling of doing the right thing, because it’s about customer service, right? But it’s actually a dangerous place to be.

The Reactive Rut is about responding only to outside influences. Waiting for the reviews before buying the wine. Waiting for your customers to tell you what they want. Waiting for the restaurant trends reports to come out before redoing the menu. Waiting for the retailers and restaurants to ask for the wine before presenting it.

If you’re only reacting to outside forces to operate your business you’re achieving three things, all of them not for the better:

  1. You’re letting go of your own steering wheel and letting the forces of opinion and whim control your direction.
  2. You’re not developing a longer term plan for growth. There is no strategy in The Reactive Rut.
  3. You’re not taking a stand, being remarkable, becoming known for something, and owning your own future.

Beware The Reactive Rut. It’s not a place of growth, it’s a place of compliance. (Another way to look at it: your competition would love to see you stuck in The Reactive Rut for the rest of the year.)