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Are Small, Inconvenient Problems Ruining Your Furniture Business?

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Small, inconvenient problems can add up. Store owners who were “just fine” yesterday, may end up being frog soup tomorrow.

Retail Topics by Ken Guerrero

Many times store owners, when asked how things are going in their organizations, will respond by saying that things are “just fine.”

Whenever I hear that things are “just fine,” it reminds me of Frog Soup; a good story about “sense of urgency.” It goes like this: put on a pot of water to boil, and once it is boiling, drop a frog in it. End result: the frog jumps out. Put the frog in the pot of water first and turn on the heat. End result: the frog just sits there as the temperature increases degree by degree until the end. Some storeowners are just like frogs.

I recently spoke to a store owner who explained that things were “just fine.”

Probing a bit deeper, I asked him to describe his biggest current challenge and found out that he was closing one of his stores.

Obviously things were not “just fine.” Failure is not an isolated event. It is the culmination of a series of little events that  happen over time. One little thing goes wrong, but it is so small the owner disregards it for now, and instead focuses his attention on bigger fires.  

He said that the reason his store was doing so poorly that it needed to be closed, was that it was too far from his main store. He further explained that when he couldn’t be there, the staff sat around surfing the Internet.

Probably what really happened was that the owner got complacent. Complacency is one of the main reasons behind the downfall of empires, businesses, people and frogs.

Complacency is surrender by degree. This means accepting the unacceptable a little at a time. Most retailers have experienced this. You are complacent if you keep marginal salespeople on the sales floor because keeping them is less hassle than recruiting new and stronger salespeople. You are complacent if you don’t say anything to a driver who consistently gets back to the warehouse one to two hours late in the evening, because at least he shows up on time in the morning. And if you write off missing inventory because it is easier than trying to find it or find out what really happened to the items... well, you get the idea. If you are a complacent manager, then you are very much like the frog who sits in a pot of water while the temperature slowly rises.


Home furnishings retail businesses are complex systems made up of a combination of sub-systems and processes. All complex systems are inherently unstable to a degree.

The trouble is that when one thing changes, everything changes. Expanding the frog metaphor described above, we might compare any change in a furniture store operation to be like a rock dropped into a frog pond. The underlying business model (in this case the water) remains the same, but waves that result from the rock being tossed into the pond radiate out and unsettle other areas of the business that...

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