From the 1998 Matt Damon and Ed Norton movie “Rounders,” about the underground poker world of Boston, we can take to heart one of the best business quotes of all time: “A lion survives by being a lion and a mouse by being a mouse.”

It seems lately during almost every conversation this quote jumps to the sketchpad of my mind. Why? Because many independent business owners, feeling the pressure of the difficult economy, are flailing around looking for the miracle cure to what they believe ails them.

Joey Knish, the movie’s card-shark philosopher, was trying to explain to Mike McDermott (Damon’s character) that the only way to win at cards and in life is to be who you were designed to be.

You didn’t become the dumbest person in the world overnight just because your sales are down. However, the flip side of this coin means you probably weren’t the smartest person during your last growth cycle. Growth comes from somewhere outside of your control, but that is another post (one I’m looking forward to writing.)

Assuming you haven’t changed policy, procedure, product, or promotion of your company just before business got tough, I for one will say, “It must be some outside forces causing this decline.” Great. It’s not your fault. But the bank, your employees and your customers still want what they want and expect you to continue to deliver it.

Which leads me to what I believe is the single biggest problem facing independent retailers all of all types: inventory control. Inventory management in the furniture business (my area of expertise) is so out-of-whack that many store owners and merchandise managers have apparently forgotten the old adage that cash is king.

I know dealers who are over-inventoried by more than 20%, who have decided to cut their advertising, turn off some of their showroom lights and lay-off employees rather than do whatever it takes to reduce this inventory!

When offered consulting services that will cost $10-20k over a twelve month period of time focused exclusively on trading $275,000 of excess inventory for the same amount in cash, I’m told, “We can’t afford it.”

Back to Rounders. Knish explained to Mike, “In a heads up match, the size of your stack is almost as important as the quality of your cards.” This lesson could easily be rephrased, “The size of your cash reserves is more important than the size of your inventory.”

A little more sage advice from Rounders is this, “Throw in your cards the moment you know they can’t win…fold the hand.” For those of you who ARE NOT GOING OUT OF BUSINESS, I would tell you not to lay down and get you head beat in during this downturn! If you’ve decided this isn’t worth the work, then contact me to discuss how to get the most out of your going out of business sale.

The last bit of advice from Rounders comes from a conversation between the two lead characters, Mike and Worm, as they discuss the fallacy of a lifetime, that is, “People insist on calling it luck.” Winning at cards or making money at retail is almost never about luck!