Contractor Tip Of The Month: Change Quickly, or Die

Damian Lang

It was 2:30 a.m. on the morning of EZG Manufacturing’s annual two-day planning retreat. I sat pondering my opening remarks. EZG is the second of five company retreats during which the management team gets away from the office for two days to dedicate time solely for strategic planning and setting goals for 2019.   

Having started EZG from scratch – and remaining Chief Executive Officer – I knew our team had heard my opening retreat comments before. After all, they helped drive the company from a startup doing zero in sales to over $17 million in 2018.    

Just thinking about what we had done energized me tremendously, since we also achieved these results at a nice profit. Here are those opening remarks:   

It is the people in this room who have driven EZG to where it is today. Thank you. What we have done is against all odds. It isn’t easy to do. If everyone could do what we have done, there would be 50 similar manufacturers in Morgan County, where we do business. Hell, there would be one on every corner. When I drive through local towns, I see buildings that have had four or five different businesses in them over the years. Most of those businesses did not survive. So, I would like to start our planning retreat by reflecting on what we have done differently to become this successful. Here is what we have done:  

  • We never stopped changing and reinventing ourselves  
  • We took chances that others would not take  
  • We set plans and goals and moved quickly to achieve them  
  • We saw opportunities before they were apparent to others  

Then, I shared a story that I’d seen online as I was catching up on work, entitled “How Harley Davidson’s All-In Bet on Its Past Crippled Its Future,” originally published by Jalopnik.com.    

Harley Davidson’s (HD) sales have dropped almost 50 percent during the last few years since the younger generation just doesn’t have the desire to ride Harleys as did their predecessors. The reason was linked to this generation’s rejection of the rough-and-tough image HD has created. These young people, instead, embrace a “let’s all get along at all costs” attitude.   

I would add the following:  

  • They don’t like or desire the noise. Instead, a quiet peaceful ride is much more to their liking.   
  • The “Made in America” symbol is not as important to them as it was to their predecessors, so they won’t pay more for it.   
  • They want to be comfortable, so they prefer riding in a small car or a side-by-side all-terrain vehicle over a motorcycle.   

The hardest part to believe is that this tremendous sales drop was during one of the greatest economies our country has ever seen. A reluctance to change over a 30-year period led to a sudden drop in sales. HD, nor the article, addressed what I believe was the company’s real business killer. HD has been in business for a long time, but they haven’t been able to change quickly enough.   

I am not sure where the HD Research and Development (R&D) team has been over the last 30 years, but they should have seen this coming from a mile away. HD’s riders changed, but the company did not change with them.    

So, after telling the Harley story, I asked my team what HD missed. If we were Harley Davison and had the brand name they had, what would we have done in the R&D department to recreate ourselves? I never got an answer, so I prodded further. On which fast-growing market of products could Harley have focused over the last 30 years? What are most bikers riding on trails instead of motorcycles? One of our top engineers said the side-by-side all-terrain vehicle.   

He had the answer I wanted. Who would not want to own an HD side-by-side, instead of a Polaris or other brands on the market? And, how could Harley’s R&D department have missed this opportunity to recreate themselves when they were on top? Flash forward to today, with resources too tight and other manufacturers already capturing the market, it may be much too little, too late for a Harley reinvention.  

That evening, after dinner, the same engineer asked me, “You know what I was thinking about when you told the HD story and said we must change quickly or die?”   

“What’s that?” I asked.   

“When you said changing quickly was one of the secrets to our success, I was overlooking the lake from the conference room window, thinking about how most companies move with new plans and make changes at a pace like they were sitting on a raft in that lake, drifting to the side.  

“Dan, our plant manager, takes the plans we make and implements them as though we were on a raft going white water rafting down extreme rapids,” he continues. “Anyone on our team who isn’t willing to change quickly to help navigate the raft never seems to be able to stay on the raft for very long.”  

Take a look at what you do, and be really good at it. But don’t forget to plan ahead and make changes quickly for your future, or your death is certain. Look at your industry and discover what other services you can offer. If you are a bricklayer, surely you can offer to lay block and/or stone. Diversifying your offerings when things are going well for you can help ensure long-term success at your company.   

Damian Lang is CEO at Lang Masonry Contractors, Wolf Creek Construction, Malta Dynamics, and EZG Manufacturing. To view the products and equipment his companies created to make jobsites more efficient, visit his websites at ezgmfg.com or maltadynamics.com. To receive his free e-newsletters or to speak with Damian on his management systems or products, email:dlang@watertownenterprises.com or call 740-749-3512.