Staples Lesson to Associations: Okay to close underperformers

Frank Fortin wrote a compelling post What Staples Can Teach Associations in a Recession  noting that “if you swap the term “member” for “customer” in this context, and you have a good template for leading associations through this recession.”

Two points he made really get at the heart of what associations with components must address. He notes that it’s imperative to pare expenses (rule #2) and shared that Staples in fact closed 31 unprofitable stores during the 2001
recession. Here’s the important balance: they opened 60 in fast-growing markets. 

Too often I hear about underperforming chapters and SIGs and the angst of how to deal effectively with them. Far too infrequently, I hear about closing underperforming groups. The reality is that some locations just can’t support a component and SIGs can run out of “gas.” Closing them is not only warranted but good business.

Why? Other members remain underserved because we simply haven’t had the time or resources to explore new components. Fledgling groups could blossom with the right touch and support. And we may just be completely missing groups of members. So repeat after me: it’s okay to close an underperforming group.

Bonus! By closing these underperformers, we can put the resources to better use including investing in the future (rule #3). What are smart investments for the future in this context? A couple comes to mind immediately:

  • Technology to support components (that give web access to data files, robust community space, registration and sales functionality, communications and more).
  • Develop and test new component models that develop new ways for members to connect that aren’t burdensome – you know that take away complex governance and reporting and onerous volunteer positions.
  • Invest in a volunteer management program that includes the ability to track all volunteer activities, provides robust skill and knowledge development, and adequately acknowledges and rewards.

There are many corporate examples that offer great lessons for associations (read Kevin Holland’s Yeah, Wal-Mart Has Something to Teach AssociationsToo) we just have to be willing to make the hard decisions that the corporate world makes.

PS – I’m been twittering about the great customer service over at LLBean. I received a thank you from@LLBeanPR. I wasn’t following them on Twitter. They listened, heard me, and thanked me.
When’s the last time you “caught” a member being nice and thanked them?