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Smooth the ups and downs by managing market stress

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Freeze, freak or fight. These are common ways we react to stress. Want to try out all three in one big swoosh? Drive across town during rush hour — yeah, that’ll do it. Did you catch all three stress reactions? I did, both observed and applied (kidding, grin). If you’re a manager, another way to try out all of these stress responses is to repeatedly experience the back-and-forth swings in the economic recovery.

How are you guiding your marine business with this stressful, wave-like market motion in mind? Is the economy improving or not? Are you frozen in your current management approach to the teeter-totter market, not taking any action at all? Are you freaking out or running in the other direction (the “flight” response to stress)? Or are you fighting back with strategies and actions that keep you moving on a future-focused track?

You may be surprised to hear that each of these reactions can be good or bad, depending on timing and circumstances. Good stress, bad stress: What’s the difference, the best way to deal with it and better manage your marine and boating world? Let’s look at options for managing market stress to your advantage.


This is a good stress reaction when you don’t have enough information or small changes in the economy haven’t been consistent enough to warrant business adjustments. It might be OK to freeze for a while as you continue to monitor the situation, gather data and maintain market vigilance — being careful not to wait too long. Freezing is a bad reaction to stress when economic swings and diminishing revenue establish a negative pattern. You might be frozen because you don’t know what to do, you’re stuck in your comfort zone (complacent or scared to tackle change) or you’re inappropriately waiting till things get better. Stop! Managing market stress by freezing in your tracks often prompts comments such as: Hello, is anyone home?

Doing nothing for the long term can place you in the loser category. Don’t let it. Break free from the freezer, thaw out and get moving.

Because freezing usually isn’t your best option, start managing assertive moves to make your business visible and vibrant. Revisit familiar and previously successful tactics. It’s time to send a fresh e-mail to your customer list. Make it fun and relevant, providing value-oriented information. Include boating service tips — for example, keep the engine well-lubed — website links for finding cheap gas, the newest hot topics in boating, along with humorous “boating banter” or “aha” moments that helped customers enjoy their time on the water.

Change up the look of your e-mail, too. Have your webmaster add a new banner, eye-grabbing photos and colors. Integrate your brand with everything touching your customers, from e-mail to voice mail, signage to reminder service calls, websites to watercraft. Manage your efforts with revenue in mind while making your brand and business memorable.


This is a good stress reaction when you’re running away from a tornado or a burning building. Smart move. Freaking out — similar to the “flight” reaction — is not the recommended stress response, however, when you’re managing your business. If you’re a freaked-out manager you may be a victim of a natural disaster, you’ve been disconnected too long, had too much caffeine or are in over your head. If there is a good side to freaking out, it is recognizing the need to make decisions that could save your business.

Freaking out usually catapults you into reactionary decision making — good or bad —such as drastic changes in your product and service mix, downsizing employees and space, or even bankruptcy. Whether freaking out is a good stress reaction is all about timing. How long had negative conditions been brewing before you reached a key managerial conclusion? You already know why freaking out is a bad stress reaction when it comes to management tactics. If you had been consistently managing your flanks you likely wouldn’t be freaked out in the first place.


Fighting a good fight is often a great response to stress. As a manager on top of your game, you’re continuously strategizing around stressful market gyrations. You know you must use scarce resources wisely, being ever innovative and creative to attract customers and maintain cash flow. In addition to the moves mentioned earlier in the “freeze” response to stress, you also know you’ll be most successful in the fight against anxiety when you execute well-planned actions and take well-calculated risks. This should include revisiting your customer demographics — who they are and what they want — and filling client gaps to promote revenue growth.

While wooing all customer segments, become a market leader by making the most of hot technologies. I’m talking iPhones and digital media, including the Web and your presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn — the big four in the digital landscape.

Overwhelmed? Hire a college intern who is like a duck on water with all things digital, including apps, keywords and search engine optimization to ensure customers find you. Your intern can provide an energetic perspective to help you take on market stress. While you’re in vitality mode, consider repurposing market approaches that others are using for renewing visibility. Think McDonald’s and its summer strawberry lemonade promotion, or Target’s 5 percent off everything credit card (loyalty program).

When is “fight” a bad reaction to market stress? When the fight is not strategic or well-planned. Apply tactics for market survival and growth by applying due diligence first. Determine what impact digital media will have and what grabs customer interest. Many will still be motivated by a 15 percent off service coupon (sent via e-mail). Gather input with a customer survey (

Consider hosting a lecture series. Call it “Bagels and Boating.” Invite customers for a 20-minute talk and give them a free bagel or doughnut as they listen to the latest on water skis, fishing lures, marine safety and more. Explore regional interest in starting a quarterly forum or think tank for business leaders to vet ideas for navigating economic ups and downs. Partner with your local chamber of commerce to get going.

As you manage your way through tension-filled market highs and lows, do you freeze, freak or fight? Instead of avoiding stress, embrace it as your friend whose nagging voice is telling you to shove past your fear. As your friend, stress also builds confidence with timely adrenaline surges, sharpening your mind during a presentation or pushing legs into overdrive during a marathon.

Fear and confidence are infectious. Take advantage of that. Confidently grab stress and fear, look them in the eye and forge ahead to positive outcomes. Remind your customers and yourself that getting out on the water for a day of fishing or boating provides a great outlet for relieving stress. Deliberately and skillfully manage the stressful, surf-like nature of the market, and you’ll be better positioned to keep your business above the water, not under it.

Mary Elston has spent more than 20 years in management in the transportation, consulting and technology industries. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of the book, “Master Your Middle Management Universe, How to Succeed with Moga Moga Management Using 3 Easy Steps.” Contact her at

This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue.



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