What does it take to go the distance?

Recently, I was sitting in an establishment that had been in operation for more than 100 years. This got me thinking, "What is a business doing so well that they experience that kind of longevity?"

As business owners, we are so focused on a day-to-day basis thinking about all the tasks we have to complete. We rarely have time to reflect on what we are doing well or what other successful businesses are doing to prosper and succeed in the long run. How do you know if your business is going to be profitable and stand the test of time? What systems and procedures do you have in place to support your business, grow your team and adjust with the ever-changing demands of the business landscape?

It is a big job to narrow down all of the secrets to longevity and an even bigger job to sort them by industry type, but I think there are a few commonalties worth mentioning. I have listed three key characteristics I have observed in place in organizations that have been doing business successfully for many years.

Architecture: This does not mean the aesthetics of your facility (although we do know this is important, too). Consider the foundation and the structure of the organization itself. Was the organization built on strong values and guiding principles? Are they represented by management and leadership? Are the values illustrated in a mission statement and their importance emphasized to all team members? Beyond that, are those principles reflected in the policies and procedures that provide the daily structure? As I studied this 108-year-old building, I admired the straightness of the brick and the perfect line of the roof, a testament to its strength.

Identity: One of the most common mistakes businesses starting out make is trying to be all things to all people. This is particularly common in smaller communities where you don't have the walk-in market to build a niche clientele. I am not suggesting becoming a specialty store or seeking out a niche market. Instead, decide who you are as an organization, who you will most profitably serve, be the best you can be at it and be unapologetic about it. This doesn't mean you want to be inflexible; adjust to new information accordingly but focus your energy on your ideal customer and serve them well. It will pay off.

Consistency: It is great that you have determined a profitable market, offered a viable product or service and have delivered an exceptional customer experience. Now it's time to ensure that pattern is repeated. If you observe businesses that have experienced long-term success, you will see they are those you can count on to deliver value and service every time. The beauty of consistency is that once you have a solid foundation and structure in place, and focus on your core competency, the consistent delivery of value and outstanding service follows suit somewhat organically.

There are many things we can learn from our fellow business owners. However, experience shows me that business architecture, identity and consistency combined have helped many successful businesses thrive even during the toughest times.


Johnston-Gingrich has been a business owner in the Lewis-Clark Valley for more than 15 years. She works as an independent trainer and consultant and is an adjunct faculty member with Lewis-Clark State College's Business division. She may be contacted at rene@rjitac.com.