Consultants find economy’s silver lining

Posted March 03, 2009, at 7:31 p.m.

CAMDEN, Maine — The country may be in desperate economic times, but the co-founders of Camden’s Brimstone Consulting Group say that even in this deep downturn, there is an upside.

“In a crisis, when things are tough — and they are clearly tough now — people are going to have to clearly focus on what they have to do to survive,” Bob Marcus said last week. “When [a crisis] happens, there are winners and there are losers. There are going to be stores on Main Street that close, and there are going to be stores on Main Street that thrive.”

He and Bob Weiler make a living helping other people’s companies work better, smarter and more profitably. And while it’s not unusual for Brimstone to work with multimillion-dollar corporations, they said the lessons they are trying to teach also apply to Maine’s smaller, mom-and-pop economy.

“The thing we tell all of them is, ‘Don’t lose track of your strategy,’” said Weiler, a former executive vice president of the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School. “That’s the most important thing.”

The two named their 8-year-old company after Maine’s Brimstone Island — “Cataclysmic change is what creates brimstone,” Weiler said — and now are encouraging business leaders to make the current tough times their own catalyst for positive change.

In Weiler and Marcus’ recent article “The Upside of a Downturn,” available on their Web site, they encourage business leaders to think of 2009 as a year of “foundation building” so that they can be among the ones that thrive. If a company’s foundation is strong, it will be well-positioned to rebound when the economy recovers, they say.

“How you respond immediately is critical — but make sure you do it in the context of where you want to end up,” Marcus said. “If you are doing everything the same as you were doing at this time last year, something’s wrong.”

In addition to encouraging businesses to cut costs while keeping in mind long-term strategy, Weiler and Marcus also want businesses to simplify their strategies.

“Whether your organization is made up of 50 people or 50,000, you should strive to get your strategy on one or two sheets of paper,” they write. “Keep the format of the strategy straightforward, the process for building it inclusive and the communication of it consistent.”

Other tips to remember are to focus on customers and to “engage your organization,” they write.

Marcus tells the story of a multibillion-dollar distribution company that finally asked its drivers for ideas to save money, and was told that if it changed the length of its trailers it could immediately save $2 million.

“People want to help,” Marcus said. “They want the company they work for to be successful.”

He and Weiler said they have taken their own advice, as they work to make their own company successful in 2009. While growth is still important, bottom-line growth isn’t the biggest consideration right now — building relationships, responding to the marketplace and finding more team members hve been more important to them.

“We reframed our goal,” Marcus said. “How we frame success is different now.”

For information on their strategies, visit www.brimstoneconsulting.com.

acurtis@bangordailynews.net

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