I’m not a big fan of business slogans.

The reason isn’t so much the message itself, it’s the people who really subscribe to this stuff.  All it takes is one type-A asshole to turn “We work hard and we play hard” into “You’ll mostly be working 12 hour days because it’s *important*. But there will be free pizza on Friday. Cool?”

One of the slogans I dislike the most is the overused “Grow or Die”.

Notwithstanding the morbid implications one can think of when reading that on a motivational poster (I guess there wasn’t enough room for “grow if you ever want to see your family again”), my dislike is more for the awful way that is to run a business.

Kidding aside, I do understand the overall concept. If you aren’t moving forward, you are ripe for competitors to pass you. That’s 100% valid.

The problem I have with the slogan is it is always defined literally, in a revenue sense, and not figuratively, in, you know, a growth sense.

99 executives out of 100 will define growth as more revenue, more locations, more employees, more square footage, more customers, etc. More, more, more.

The want of growth, just for growth’s sake, is silly. And it’s the death knell for many companies. Growing too fast, before you are truly ready, is not good. Because then, all you do is focus on more growth. That becomes the goal, even if the business model or operations are suspect.

One of the more well-known stories is Blockbuster video. Blockbuster did one thing better than anyone – they opened more stores in more places than anyone else.

But in that mad rush to “grow”, they never once really learned the finer points of the video rental business, and what really worked. I had a small advertising company in the early 90’s that I developed a “video store” product for (advertising on the rental boxes!) So I did a ton of business with mom and pop video stores in a four county-area, and got to know all the owners.

And you know what happened in every town? The local mom and pops beat Blockbuster. Town after town, they shrugged their shoulders at Blockbuster as a competitor. That’s because aside from opening more stores, the mom and pops did everything else better. 

Where local video stores quickly learned that pricing older movies really cheap was a gold mine, Blockbuster never moved off their more expensive price point. They flat-out didn’t care if older movies sat on the shelf unrented because nobody would pay $4.99 to rent Weekend at Bernies

Where local video stores rented new movies for one night, Blockbuster insisted keeping their two-night rental, meaning new releases rented Friday weren’t back Saturday. That led to a lot of unhappy Saturday renters who then went elsewhere to get a copy of Titanic or whatnot. And once they start leaving your store unhappy… well, no store wants that. But again, Blockbuster didn’t care. Not when they were focused on more stores. 

Once the dust settled, it was clear Blockbuster had a lot of stores, but nothing beyond that. They were almost never the busiest or most profitable video store in their areas. So they started to die (despite growing!) Then Netflix came along and killed everyone (goodness, this is a morbid post.) But Blockbuster’s demise was already a certainty by that point. 

Growth (in the way I’m talking about it) just for growth’s sake is silly. Blockbuster would have been better served by not “growing” so much in a number’s sense, but maybe growing more in an operational sense.

Is streamlining your processes growth? Is investing in a new POS system growth? Is making your employees happier growth?  I say they are. In fact, all of those things might be better than just increasing numbers. 

A better slogan is “Improve or Die“. Or maybe the less morbid “Improve or Wither”. 

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with more revenue or more locations or whatnot. But growth in that sense is much better, and much more sustainable, if it’s built on a solid foundation. Don’t forget to grow that too.