Textiles: Effective Crisis Management

here is no doubt that there will be extreme challenges in US textiles in 2009. Some
companies already have been swept away by the swift current of economic change. The irony is that
companies that made market shifts into technical and industrial textiles – the mantra of so many in
recent years – also are adversely affected as automotive, aerospace and other cutting-edge
consumers of technical textiles have slowed down.

The real challenge is how to effectively manage in the current business climate. Leadership,
partnership and collaboration take on new meanings and are more in demand. These are times when the
industry needs to come together, to reach out through the various supply chains to partner and
offer higher-value and better-cost solutions.

Companies will quickly reduce capacity, reduce workforces and cut costs. Two casualties that
won’t get much press are innovation and marketing – areas that actually should be in higher demand
in a tough business environment.

Innovation is one of the few solutions to the current crisis. Whether it takes the form of
something truly groundbreaking or is a refinement of product, process or delivery, innovation could
be the very change that wins market share from weakened competitors or whets the appetites of
stingy consumers.

Marketing is suffering from a complete paradox. Unfortunately, marketing is an expense that
is easy to cut – often faceless at a time when managers are releasing employees and facing the very
human effect of reducing operating costs. Marketing, in its various forms, should increase in a
difficult sales environment if a company plans to survive an economic downturn. Withdrawing from
the market is a great way to reduce sales if in fact you believe that being present at trade shows,
advertising and personal selling generate sales. You really can’t have it both ways – 
marketing either means more sales, or it doesn’t.

Innovation and marketing, together, form a potent package in good times, but they are
essential in tough times. You might say, “Easy to say, hard to do.” And you are right – that’s why
the real challenge is how to effectively manage in a tough business environment. If you say to
yourself or aloud, “Times are tough. I expect business to be off 30 percent,” are you finishing the
sentence with “let’s cut capacity, cut marketing, cut product development; and maybe we can wait it
out”? Or are you saying, “We need a solution. We need to find new customers. We need something new
to sell. We need to go to our existing customers and see if we can help them find new business. We
need to support sales through aggressive marketing. We need to challenge everybody in our company
to build through tough times”?

It may sound trite, and there is nothing more painful than the downward spiral of a failing
business, but for those with choices, current market conditions offer a sales advantage over
competitors who choose to hibernate. Choosing to lead, partner and collaborate with redoubled
efforts in innovation and marketing means survival and, when the market improves, a stronger market
position that reaps the dividends of effective crisis management.

January/February 2009