What Comes Next for Promo? 4 Ways to Thrive in a Massively Disrupted Marketplace
The big question on everyone’s mind these days is: What comes next? What comes next for my business? What comes next for the industry? What comes next for the economy? What comes next for me and my family? Here’s the most honest answer you are going to get: No one knows. The human mind hates uncertainty, so we try to resolve uncertainty with stories. Those stories are nonsense. They might give you the illusion of control, but they’re wholly ineffective at predicting the future.
My company, BAMKO, has thrived during the pandemic. We grew by 218 percent in the second quarter, selling about $50 million in PPE in Q2 alone. About 80 percent of those sales came from brand new customers. We even increased our year-over-year Q2 sales of promotional products at a time when the rest of the industry was contracting in pretty dramatic fashion. Things have been going well here, even as they are going poorly in most corners of this industry. Despite BAMKO’s otherworldly performance, I will be the first to admit: We had no idea what was coming, and we have no idea what is coming next.
So how can you maximize your chances of success during a time of massive disruption when you have no idea what is coming next? Below are some thoughts on how each of us can thrive in a massively disrupted marketplace.
1. Move Forward
I had a lot of conversations in March, April and May with folks who were taking a “wait and see” approach to their business and their clients. Their strategy was essentially to hope that “things would come back.” Unfortunately for them, hope is not a strategy and nothing ever got done with paralysis by analysis. If you want things to happen in this world, you need to make them happen.
Where BAMKO succeeded was not by being the best at predicting the future. We succeeded by having an extreme bias towards action. The ethos of our organization is rooted in urgency, entrepreneurialism and an openness to experimentation. We act like a startup, albeit with the resources of a much larger organization. With a startup’s mindset, we quickly engaged in lots of low-investment experiments. In other words, we did stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. Some of that stuff didn’t work. So we stopped doing it. Other stuff did work. So we did more of it. Instead of trying to predict the future, we placed a lot of low-risk bets, figured out what was working, and did lots more of what worked. When in doubt, act.
2. Let Go of Attachment
In this industry in recent years, innovation, investment in technology, and a willingness to embrace change were “nice to haves,” but not existential necessities—until they were. When the pandemic hit, it revealed an underlying culture of complacency and resistance to change that for years had developed throughout the industry. Once nimble and agile companies had grown so comfortable with “business as usual” that they lost the ability to adapt to change. How many businesses and sales reps had forgotten how to go out and get new customers, instead being content to live off the fruits of past conquests? Like the old high school quarterback still living off of his glory days, that approach was always going to have a sad ending. It was just a matter of when.
Far too many remain attached to the way things were. Unfortunately, that dog don’t hunt anymore. Effectively adapting to massive market disruptions starts with letting go of attachment to the way things were. How things were does not matter anymore. That may sound obvious, but think about the many people in your life and in your business who refuse to let go. How many have adopted strategies that are, in essence, rooted in what was and will probably never be again? Letting go of how things were is the first step in moving forward in the world as it actually is.
3. Get Clear on Your Values
Focusing on values during a potential extinction-level event for your business might feel frivolous. I assure you, it is not. Values matter because they are your North Star. The key to surviving and thriving during times of great disruption is sound decision-making. Make good decisions and you will capitalize on emergent opportunities. Make poor decisions, or fail to decide, and the moment will swallow you whole.
Clear values make decision making easy. At BAMKO, we love the thrill of a challenge, are maniacal in our optimism and take very seriously our responsibility to create fun. When the pandemic hit, we took a step back to remind ourselves of who we were, what we stood for and what type of people we wished to be in this world. Reinforced by the clarity of our values, we found clarity of action.
We love a challenge, so we treated adversity as opportunity. We think belief dictates outcome, so we had the audacity to believe that even with the world crumbling around us, we could have the best quarter in the history of our company. We think fun is a state of mind, not a set of circumstances, so we set out to create more fun and laughter than we ever had before. Amidst the craziness of the times, we succeeded. Get clear on your values, and the right actions will follow.
4. Lift Others
When things are at their darkest, look outside of yourself. Like many of you, I struggled with the isolation and uncertainty at the height of lockdown. I continue to struggle with it. The most important thing I’ve learned, however, is that when I feel low, the best tool in my toolbox is uplifting others. Nothing raises our spirits so well as raising the spirits of others. Somewhere in your life, there is someone who would benefit from you picking them up. Go do it. You’ll both be better for it.
At BAMKO, we have had a number of distributors approach us in recent months asking for help, resources or advice. Where we can help, we do. If we can help you out, we will do so too. As we look toward the future, I cannot tell you what it has in store for any of us. No one can. What I can tell you is that no matter what comes next, the faith I have in our team and in our ability to find triumph amidst adversity is unshakeable. Adversity is inevitable. How you choose to respond is up to you.
Joshua White is BAMKO’s senior vice president of strategic partnerships. Since joining the Los Angeles-headquartered distributor in 2013, White has helped BAMKO become one of the largest and fastest growing distributors in the industry. In his role, White is responsible for driving long-term growth, developing brand strategy and continuously pushing the envelope of continuous improvement for both BAMKO and its customers.