A Great Time for Entrepreneurs

By  Paul Reuter, Chairman emeritus and contributing editor

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So if you are like me, you may spend a rainy vacation day inside by the fire, reading and thinking about business. Today on Peaks Island off the coast of Portland, Maine, it is rainy and cold. (Well, it is Maine in June, right?) I admit that I like vacations a lot, almost as much as I like business. So there, I came clean!

A story in today’s Wall Street Journal caught my attention: “If 2008 was the year of sheer panic, 2010 is shaping up into one of stubborn, slowburning angst. There is a feeling that a lot remains unfixed in the economy ...”

Well, not exactly what I wanted to read as I was working on next year’s R&D budget spending! Next, I plowed through a pile of (overdue) publications, among them a copy of FOLIO: (a magazine for the business-press industry). The editors interviewed a wide range of publishing CEOs, getting their perspective on business next year.

One question I keyed in on: “Is this a great time to be an entrepreneur in business, or a terrible one? And why?” I like the view taken by Michael Biggerstaff, CEO of Nxtbook Media: “Any time is a great time to be an entrepreneur. A true entrepreneur sees opportunity no matter what the business climate. Entrepreneurs are not swayed by the news or economics forecasts. They are driven by their belief in themselves to execute their dreams and do the best to be successful. “So yes, it is a good time. In tough economic times, great businesses are built. There is always a need for good ideas, and if you have one, you can have a great business. People who use excuses to not follow a dream or passion are really just not entrepreneurial at heart.”

And, of course, Biggerstaff isn’t alone. Just days earlier, Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone 4, a very sleek device that is rail-thin (24% thinner than its predecessor) yet has more power and a much-improved screen (three-quarters of the pixels of the much-bigger iPad), and it lets the user engage in teleconferencing on the go.

Introducing the device, Jobs said, “It’s one of the most beautiful designs you’ve ever seen. It’s beyond a doubt the most precise thing and one of the most beautiful things we’ve ever made.”

In this sense, Jobs extends Biggerstaff’s message that innovators not only pioneer inventions, but they also continuously look to improve upon their creations. Jobs is infamous for listening to consumers and rolling out products that suit their needs, in elegant, streamlined fashion. He’s constantly looking for ways to make his products more usable and desirable.

However, history has shown and labeled our industry as not being known for innovation, speed-to-market or decisions based on data or consumer research.

But I must point out that one of the truisms about our industry is that we are about as close to the consumer on a daily basis as it gets.

Today we see major suppliers more than ever realizing that our stores are great places for trial. Our industry is nimble and can react quickly when presented with the facts. As for the talk of lack of speed-to-market, frankly, that’s just a bum rap. It’s driven more by the distribution and reporting systems of a store base bifurcated by single- store operators and chains.

So as an industry looking toward its own R&D spend and entrepreneurial bent, I would suggest we have great business opportunities at hand. Our key need is to get more customers in our stores. To accomplish that, we need to be the kind of entrepreneurs Biggerstaff refers to. From what I see, and despite all the naysayers, I believe our industry is in major transformation and, regardless of more Wall Street Journal headlines, will make real strides.  

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