Jerry Williams thought it was going to be a good thing when the firm that provided software services to Schuylkill Valley Sports Inc. sold its business to a larger software firm.
“We thought that the larger software company was going to take the aspects of this other company, integrate them and make it a more solid system,” said Williams, president of the $25 million sports equipment and apparel company.
Last year, Williams needed software to support the retail and wholesale aspects of his business, so to save money, he agreed to let the software provider try a beta version of a new management software system. But Williams and his staff quickly found out that the system wasn’t ready for use. As the holidays approached, the staff at Schuylkill Valley Sports was flying blind, unsure of how much money or inventory the company had. Williams and his leadership team were thrust into crisis management mode.
Smart Business spoke with Williams about how to manage through a crisis and how to stay prepared for when things go wrong.
How did you react to that situation?
The biggest thing is it completely stressed out every employee. They basically had to do their job blindly, based on experience, and as a result, some can handle the stress and other people can’t. A lot of what I had to do was deal with people, calm situations down. A lot of it was just sitting with people individually and try to get them to not panic. Take it one day at a time and get them to do their best. For some it worked, others were ready to jump ship. It depended on the person. Some people thought the sky was falling, some held it all in, even though they were equally frustrated.
How did you start to dig the company out of the crisis?
The biggest thing was to pressure the software company, to let them know the effect it was having on us. At the same time, they knew if this system doesn’t function, no one in the industry is going to purchase it. So I had let them know that without threatening them and try to work on it in a way that was mutually beneficial.
However, as I ratcheted it up with the president, their reaction was kind of acting nonchalant. They told me that they always have problems when they roll out something new, and it was going to take six to 12 months.
But there was no point in getting angry with them. The same sales task you had with your employees, you had with the software company. You had to sell the software company so that they would understand that they had something riding on this, and it wasn’t just all our problem, but do it in a way that wasn’t threatening.
We began to see improvement probably at the beginning of March. Our people knew they went through the worst part, several were still sarcastic, but the key people were starting to realize it was a work in progress and these things can’t be corrected overnight.
What would you tell other CEOs about managing a crisis like this?
Well, first off I’d tell them never to do a beta test. But really, I’d tell them to prepare mentally for the worst, and I think that was the biggest challenge. Our people didn’t know how difficult this was going to be. We weren’t prepared for the all the challenges. The only thing you can think of is to prepare for the worst-case scenario, not having information, not being able to do a sale or a return or a credit card sale or paying invoices. If you prepare for the worst case scenario, as challenges come up, you will be better prepared for the difficulty.
How to reach: Schuylkill Valley Sports Inc., (877) 711-8100 or www.svsports.com