It was 2008, and Christopher Peacock’s name was flying on banners in Rockefeller Center. A kitchen by his luxury cabinetry company had won House Beautiful’s inaugural Kitchen of the Year competition and Peacock’s work was installed in a glass conservatory where thousands of tourists could gape at it. Oprah Winfrey saw it, loved it, and invited Peacock on her show. Things couldn’t have been better. Then, he got a call from his partners in England: “You have to shut down the company.”
The situation was complicated—you’ll have to listen to the latest episode of the Business of Home podcast (sponsored by Universal Furniture) to get the whole story—but in the end it came down to one thing: the recession. It wasn’t Peacock’s first—the British-born cabinetmaker had started his company in Connecticut in 1992, in the midst of another economic downturn. He survived that one, and 2008’s as well. And if the hand-wringing on CNBC is to be believed, he’s planning on surviving the coming slowdown too. Here are a few things Peacock has learned as a bona fide recession warrior.
Don’t go down-market. In 2008, Peacock was in the same boat as many high-end companies: No one was buying. He considered going after a lower segment of the market, but ultimately held out. “I can cut my prices, chase every job. [But] I thought I’d undo everything I’d achieved—I was going to undervalue myself and my product,” he tells podcast host Dennis Scully. “I believed business would come back, and I thought: When it does come back I don’t want to undercut myself because I’ll never be able to sell at the prices I need to sell at.”
Treat the slowdown as an opportunity. Boom times make for busy times, which is mostly a good thing. But slowdowns can be an opportunity to refocus and take a close look at what you’re doing. “When you’re growing year on year, it’s very easy to focus on growth and not focus on efficiency and cost effectiveness,” says Peacock. “What [the recession] did was it allowed me the luxury of time to stop and analyze things. … When we started up again, every penny mattered.”
Balance your pipeline. Longer-term projects can sometimes be a slog. Take them anyway. “It’s that mentality of booking seats on a plane: You want to have the business class seats, which you sell for a lot more money and that’s where the profit is,” says Peacock. “Then at the back, we have a few multi-unit projects, which are not as profitable but smooth out the ups and the downs. It’s the combination that makes for a healthy business.”
Think outside the box (or the kitchen). “What I had to do was figure out ways to sell more things to less people,” says Peacock of the 2008 marketplace. Up until that time, his business had primarily been in designing kitchens. The great recession spurned him to move more aggressively into other areas of the house. “Every client we had was an opportunity we weren’t necessarily maximizing, so I reinvested in the showrooms by putting in dressing rooms and bathroom displays and libraries so that when a client came in, they understood we were a solution for the entire house.”