Radicals lead the recovery in the West
"They can't outspend their rivals, but they can out-think them".
"When the recovery comes, it can't be back to business as usual."
"Don't wait for your ship to come in, swim out to grab it."
Have you noticed it? The cold winter air is thick with warming business mottos. Everyone from the small greengrocer to the funky digital start-up is being urged to "think out of the box".
Nowhere more than here. A new site launched today by Business Link South West. I think of their advisors as the Doctor Finlays of Enterprise; firm but friendly hands guiding small businesses through the tough times. They've been flat out over the last two years of course, but now they think the patient is recovering.
I see dozens of businesses in my job," says Chris Simpson, one of their advisors based in Bath. "Every day they ask me when the recession will end. But I tell them all the same thing: don't wait for the sun to come out."
Chris and his organisation are sure that recovery will not come to firms who wait.
So today their website showcases a "Challenger Business". It's an old fashioned bookshop, Toppings of Bath. Robert Topping hates business jargon so much he won't even use the word "customers".
"They're friends, book lovers, people, for heaven's sake!" And when Chris and I meet him, he explains gleefully how he breaks the cardinal rule in bookselling.
"They call it stockturn. Every book is meant to sell five times a year, so it's not on the shelf for long. That way, by the time you have to pay the publishers for it, you've already sold it. But then you don't have books people actually want."
Mr Topping knows the industry rules from the inside, having worked for Waterstones, who sacked him for being too much of a maverick. His shop is now crammed with books, many of which haven't sold for years. But go in for something unusual, and he'll have it.
I meet a behatted, bookish Bathonian who loves the place. "Nothing is too much trouble," he gushes. "Free coffee, a recommendation, and if they haven't got it - which is extraordinary - they'll get it in for you double quick."
It sounds old fashioned, quaint even. But in the year that Borders went to the wall and high street booksellers really struggled, Toppings made good money.
There'll be another Challenger business along tomorrow, and every day for 100 days.
But what's the point? What's the message?
"Challengers can take on and beat their larger, more established rivals," says Ian Muir, one of the brains behind today's campaign. "They think and act differently. They see niches in established markets or enter new ones unhindered by tradition."
The hallmarks of a challenger? They attract the best people, not by paying more but by making an "inspirational working environment". They beat the competition by "being innovative in everything they do." They have effective marketing "embedded in their DNA".
OK, time for the sceptic-check. Hands up the boss who tries to make their workplace depressing. The MD who hates innovation. The CEO who thinks marketing is a waste of time. Is all this just a fancy piece of Business-Think Motherhood and Apple Pie?
"Every business says it," Chris Simpson, "but these firms actually do it."
In the end, the best proof is the examples. Cult Clothing. Majestic Wine. The Tobacco Factory. Xmos micro-chips. Bart Spices. Bottle Green Drinks. Renishaw Engineering. Ecotricity green power.... West Country firms with inspiring leaders, and remarkably healthy balance sheets.
"We found close on 100 inspirational firms round the table in a couple of hours," Ian goes on. "There are so many, we've been able to pick and choose our examples from across the West Country."
The campaign will be featured regularly on the South West Business site, so if you want to follow the stories it's a good place to check up on.
You'll have your own challenger heroes, maybe your own top tips. Why not share them here? It's not an advertising space - the blogteam will filter out any blatant plugs. But this will be the space where the West's entrepreneurs share their wisdom. And hey, if you still want "blue sky thinking", I recommend my colleague Ian Fergusson's Weather blog.