If there is one thing the year 2020 taught us as a global pandemic and subsequent presidential election influenced virtually every facet of our lives, is to reexamine what we deem to be “a sure thing.” History is no predictor of the future, and longevity is a result of managing our response to circumstances that are both in, and outside of, our control.
In 1859, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company established a coast-to-coast chain of grocery stores and called it A&P. For over 150 years A&P was a place to pick up food, medicine, and household goods, and they were long held to be the industry standard in the grocery market. By 2015, A&P was no more. After surviving the Great Depression, two world wars, multiple economic recessions, and 9/11, this monolithic grocery chain was undone by soy milk. As the years went on, people stopped treating every gallon of milk relatively the same, every carton of eggs; people were led by words like organic, free-range, and non-GMO. Through its inability to update to fit modern times, A&P opened the door for competitors to encroach on their turf and drive them out of business.
The lesson here is two-fold:
- Failure to adapt to a changing market is a shortcut to the business graveyard.
- People will always need groceries, and if you can give them what they need, they’ll always come back.
Weathering the Storm
Are there businesses that are immune from this type of worry, who aren’t in danger of losing their foothold on the market because they didn’t keep their ear to the ground to track consumer whims? In a word, no. Time is a linear construct, but trends come and go and come again. The secret to weathering any storm in business is to identify your customers’ needs, appreciate which way the wind is blowing, and provide a way for people to fill those needs. Remember, A&P survived multiple epidemics, economic downturns, and presidential terms before they went out of business. Assuredly, every business after the Stock Market crash of ‘29 worried about keeping its doors open. But people will always need food, and A&P was there to give them that.
Like food or water, some needs are immutable. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, humans will always rely on certain things in order to survive, and thrive. Those needs are:
- Physiological needs: Food, water, warmth, rest
- Safety needs: Bodily security
- Belonging and love needs: Intimate relationships, friendships
- Esteem needs: Prestige and the feeling of accomplishment
- Self-Actualization: Achieving one’s full potential
Every business that exists falls somewhere on the needs spectrum, offering fulfillment of everything from warmth to creative actualization.
Sheltering Two Birds With One Nest
Of course, to say that a business exists to cross off a single line item on the hierarchy of needs is reductive, and precisely the opposite of the corporate philosophy of most companies, who look to diversify their services to such a degree that they become the last word in style, or utility, or convenience. The Las Vegas hotel is a good example of this. Each hotel on the Strip, no matter the theme or location, has essentially the same mantra: “This is your one-stop for fun, relaxation, socializing, and food.” Because each hotel offers world-class cuisine, exciting gambling, and live entertainment, the points of uniqueness between them are underscored (e.g. one hotel has a live circus, while another boasts indoor gondola rides). When looking at the Vegas hotel industry, it’s clear that they have moved far beyond simply providing for physiological needs.
This diversity of services doesn’t just exist in the recreational space, where people can feel like sharing a filet mignon with their fianceé after winning at the Blackjack table crosses off their physiological, love, and esteem needs. Many industries lean heavily on the need people have to revel in the pride of their accomplishments. While advertisements have utilized this language for decades (“you deserve this!”), the mere existence of the business and its services are enough to stoke the pride of those with whom they interact.
What These Hands Have Wrought
Take the very real, and very lucrative, second home market. It’s true that people will always need shelter, warmth, and security — any inner-city apartment complex with a modicum of money and proper management can offer that. But buying a cabin on a few hundred acres of wooded land in the rolling hills of Colorado to act as your second home is something else entirely. This is fulfilling of perhaps our greatest collective need as humans after our bellies are full: to know we’ve made it. This is belonging; this is accomplishment; this is self-actualization, the apex of our potential realized. We are no longer animals that scratch in the dirt — we are successful in the eyes of all who know us.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with harvesting the fruits of your labors. After all, that is why we sow in the first place. But for many, the doing is the reward. We need purpose in our lives, a reason to wake up in the morning. And businesses that can offer that, while giving us the tools to succeed, are immune to the banks and turns of an uncertain future.
Businesses like this can either personally give us the opportunities we seek or can make it possible for us to reallocate our time and energies elsewhere. Property management services do both of these quite well. Whether you need good references to hire a property manager so you can turn your attention to another project, or you want to try your hand at becoming a property manager yourself, there are companies that can make the tools available for either venture.
Success Is In The Details
There may be no industry on the planet that is completely immune to monumental shifts in technology, the economy, or global events. But in knowing your own company, its strengths and weaknesses, as well as your industry, and your customer base, there is no reason why your business can’t survive 150 years and more. It’s about recognizing what people need, and then opening the doors for them to get it.