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Breakout or Breakdown?
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Breakout or Breakdown?

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I’m freshly returned from the International Pool|Spa|Patio Expo, loaded with memories and impressions and ready to set my course for the year to come. I had the editorial conversations I needed to have, conferred with old friends and new acquaintances and met with multiple suppliers to discuss our working relationships.

All in all, it was highly encouraging and fun – but as usual, it was also a bit exhausting.

Through all of my conversations with designers, builders and suppliers, I came away with the thought that, if the economy holds its course, 2018 will be a turning point – and either a breakout year or a breakdown year, depending upon how you approach it.

Let me back up a bit to set the context: During the lean years of the Great Recession, lots of businesses cut way down on their internal resources, paring away support staff, trimming crews and generally doing more with less no matter what the original head count had been. This put a lot of talented people out on the street, with some of them starting businesses of their own.

The rising tide of the years since 2012 have lifted those new boats along with the old ones, and the result is that everyone has been busy lately – and sometimes too busy.

This is where the breakout/breakdown distinction emerges: Once times improved, the experience of the recession made lots of business owners hesitate when it came to expanding, innovating or staffing up, the not-unreasonable fear being that any additional downturn, correction or shakeout in the economy would punish them for lifting their heads above the weeds too soon.

Those who’ve slowly been re-inflating their operations since 2012 are likely feeling good about now, but those who’ve been conservative know how stressed their businesses have become in simply trying to keep pace with recent growth. This latter group of businesses now has a choice to make: Is it to stay tight and overly busy, or to expand sensibly and start thinking about staffing levels they haven’t been seen or considered since 2008 or 2009?

The way I’m currently looking at things, those who’ve already begun expanding their businesses and bringing in new talent and support are getting ready for 2018 as a breakout year; by contrast, those who are madly busy and still don’t want to risk getting overextended may find 2018 to be a breakdown year.

Consider this: People currently at work on job sites can see the growth that’s happening and will inevitably begin to get ambitious, particularly when they’re killing themselves and the boss lets that sense of being overworked continue. So they start thinking about their own opportunities and maybe start looking for ways to strike out on their own.

If that happens in a small, tight company – one of the conservative entities described above – and, say, an experienced construction manager heads for the exit, the company’s leader can generally step in and oversee the work. That’s fine for this project, but what about the next and the next? Where is there any time to pursue new projects or deal with the need to bring in new people to fill open slots?

No matter the size or scope of a business, that’s a perilous predicament – and food for thought.

So what’ll it be? If the economy holds, there’s every possibility that 2018 will be even busier and more demanding than a 2017 that pushed many businesses to new heights of work and stress and fragility. In those circumstances, you have to choose: Are you poised for a breakout? Or are you heading for a breakdown?

Please let me know what you’re seeing in your own operation by commenting below!

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