April 16, 2014 | Arlette Sambs

Is This The ‘New Normal’?

While business continues to boom, always be prepared for change

Is This The 'New Normal'?

At a reception Feed & Grain co-sponsors at GEAPS Exchange 2014, I overheard one of our guests ask a hopeful question about the current state of the grain business. He was wondering if we are in a “new normal” stage of activity for our industry.

This year’s Exchange was one of the most vibrant I’ve ever attended. The association brought together about 400 suppliers and drew nearly 3,400 attend­ees. Great educational content, a good venue in a smart location — everything came together nicely. In fact, I’d suggest the success in part reflects the current, busy, positive state of our industry.

With plenty of windshield time as I cruised home, I started wondering if the past few years really do reflect a “new normal” state of business. My gut reaction is “I certainly hope so.” Demand is good; historically, prices appear to hold some strength. Companies and co-ops have been investing in expansion, remodeling and upgrades. Contractors are busy. Technology continues to help feed and grain businesses gain efficien­cies, improve safety and enhance qual­ity. It all reflects a positive outlook and positive outcomes.

Still, (and I am not trying to rain on anyone’s parade) I hesitate to apply “new normal” to many business situations. The term suggests a sense of constancy that, in my opinion, you would want to look at over a few years rather than months. But, just to continue with my thoughts, what if the industry has been on a five-year growth trajectory? And what if last year was your best ever and you’re on pace to set another record this year? Would you say this is the new normal? Every year gets better than the previous one?

I love that as a target. Crossing the Iowa countryside, though, I started wondering:

  • What changes might be coming next — to the industry and to our business?
  • Of the various changes — from grain demand to communications technol­ogy — how do I as a business manager accurately predict changes and recog­nize their impacts?
  • More importantly, how do I prepare for these potential changes? What are my options?
  • Most importantly, how do I get every­one I work with thinking along these same lines?

In our work lives, few things are more energizing than having a small group of smart people brainstorming about improving our business. If nothing else, I decided, I need to make these a “normal” part of our business routine.

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