Strategies for survival in ‘THE NEW NORMAL’

Editor’s note: This special report by BizTimes Milwaukee examines how southeastern Wisconsin companies are adjusting to the “new normal” business climate in a post-recession economy. Staff writers Alysha Schertz, Eric Decker, Andrew Weiland and Steve Jagler compiled this report.


As the economy begins to slowly climb out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression, many business executives are awakening to find that by necessity, rather than choice, they are confronted by a “new normal” business climate.

Businesses that continue to operate as they had before the recession may not survive. But those that can evolve in the “new normal” could seize opportunities that others will miss.

“Embrace the change. Get ready for it. Accept it. Find the opportunity in it. Deal with it,” said Gary Billington, vice president of client relations at Plunkett Raysich Architects, LLP in Milwaukee. “It is human nature to resist change, but like some very high-profile retailers who have recently found an inability to find ways to adapt to it, it can be terminal.”

Multiple retailers and other companies have gone out of business during the recession, often because they could not make changes quick enough to survive the downturn. Many of the firms that have survived the recession have made operational changes and have found new opportunities.

Many companies have taken a figurative “hair cut” in revenues, and several have had to lay off staff, often forcing their remaining employees to try to do more with less.

Brookfield-based QPS Companies Inc. used the downtime during the recession to completely re-think the way its does business. As part of the staffing industry, QPS was under severe stress during the recession as many businesses were reducing staff and few were hiring, said Scott Mayer, president and chief executive officer of the firm.

How could a staffing company survive when so few companies have jobs to be filled?

“Instead of throwing in the towel, or sitting around waiting for things to pick up, our company decided to use the downtime to get back to the basics of our core mission,” Mayer said.

In August, the company decided to change its name from QPS Companies Inc. to QPS Employment Group, to better reflect the services the company provides to its clients.

“We are traditionally a very quiet company,” Mayer said. “Our customers know who we are, but from a name recognition standpoint, we had to take a hard look at what we wanted to portray. We feel the name now better explains who we are and what we do, which is really what we are trying to get across.”

The company also invested money into new software for the operations of its internal mechanics and has invested significantly in training for its employees.

“A lot of people cut back on those types of investments during these times,” Mayer said. “But we looked at it as the perfect time to do this. We were able to spend a few extra dollars and really get back to the basics of what we are and what we do. We were able to focus on the core competencies that make up our firm.”

The staff training focuses on customer service and employee development, Mayer said. It is being done to get all of the employees on the same page with the company’s goals and direction.

“It is an incredible time for our company to see some really good growth and be on the leading edge of a lot of new ideas,” Mayer said. “I truly believe that because of the adjustments we’ve made and our new focus, we are positioned to come out of this recession a leaner, more efficient and more effective company.”

Executives at West Allis-based Sleep Wellness Institute Inc. also decided rethink their business model during the recession. The Sleep Wellness Institute has concentrated on diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders for the last 15 years. However, increased competition and the beginning of a recession forced leadership at the institute to mix things up, said marketing director Steve Gardner.  

Sleep Wellness Institute opened its first retail store in Franklin to sell continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) equipment for people with sleep apnea. Due to the store’s success, the company is now on the verge of launching its third retail store in the area.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive” said president Mark Stoiber. “From a business standpoint, we knew we could get good deals and good locations for retail space. After we knew that, we just needed to decide if the consumer market would exist even with the economy.”

Sleep Wellness Institute executives were confident that patients were going to purchase the products, Stoiber said, because many of the products in the store are covered by insurance, and because they offer a 30-day comfort guarantee.

“Looking at the market and our selection of retail space, it was worth the risk of opening the stores, even during the downturn,” Stoiber said.

The Sleep Wellness Institute has positioned itself for future growth in retail and new ventures related to neuro-feedback technology and insomnia treatment.

“In tough economic times, you can never count on what you have,” Stoiber said. “You always have to build and diversify. The stores are part of that philosophy. If you mix it in with hard work, a vision and a little bit of luck, that is how you survive. It is always a challenge, but it is a challenge we are willing to undergo.”

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