For many companies, the answer to that question is simple: “Survive.”

We’re seeing this stance from all kinds of companies: cabinet manufacturers, millwork shops, furniture makers, even traditional publishing companies. They’re just trying to last out the crisis.
Maybe that’s your priority and it should be. But the plans you make now could have a big payoff in the near future.

American architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham was quoted as saying, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”

If your business is poised for action when opportunity comes, you may be able to outmaneuver your competition. Especially if your competition has just emerged from the storm and into the sunlight demasted, rudderless and confused.

The McGraw-Hill Construction Outlook Report for 2010 forecast an increase of construction starts of 11 percent in 2010, following a decline of about 25 percent for 2009. According to the report, single family housing will increase 32 percent in dollar terms in 2010, and multifamily construction will grow 16 percent. After a steep drop in 2009, commercial building construction is expected to decline by 4 percent, and a 1 percent gain is forecast for institutional building construction.

There are also proposals to expand the first-time homebuyer tax credit to April 2010, which could also help home sales.

There are still problems out there that may delay a housing recovery and dampen an economic rebound.

And there are some long-term concerns: weak fundamentals and a ballooning federal deficit that will likely spur inflation and a lower value for the dollar.

The unemployment rate is likely to remain high throughout 2010. Unemployment starts to decline only when a recovery is well underway.

Publicly traded furniture manufacturers see lower sales in the near future and a delayed recovery, since furniture purchases are in the category that is “postponable.”

Look ahead, not back

Start by looking at your own market and related markets for opportunities. How will the market be different six months from now or a year from now? Many companies we’ve talked to over the past two years have refocused in some way (furniture to millwork, retail to high-end residential, etc.)

It’s not the time to be spending a lot of money, but some companies have used the slowdown to improve their production process in some way. Maybe they didn’t outfit a whole new plant, but rearranged the floor plan or made sure their employees received training on a new technology or new process.

As you look ahead to 2010, think about new sales and advertising to target what could be growth areas as the economy recovers.

One thing’s for sure. It’s better to have a plan and to change it than to have no plan at all. Even if it’s a small plan.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.