I bought a new car yesterday. Mine was going on 10 years old and was beginning to show those little warning signs that it was heading downhill. Advocate for proactive action that I am, I decided that 10 years was a good run and that the car and I should part as friends. I know this will come as a shock to you but today’s post isn’t a screed about how my salesperson mistreated me (he didn’t) or how the paperwork takes forever (well, only about an hour) or how I had to negotiate my butt off to get a fair deal (we agreed on numbers in about 30 seconds – yay for the internet bringing transparency).
What has surprised me instead is how much more complex the car is. The decade has turned our vehicles into rolling computers. The owner’s manual – which comes in a few volumes – is roughly the size of a paperback edition of War And Peace. It should have a “hernia hazard” warning on the cover. The car has radar on all sides so that there is no longer a “blind spot”. I can set the cruise control and the radar in front of the car will keep me at a pre-determined distance from the car in front of me regardless of the speed I’ve set. The car will also hit the brakes if it thinks I’m moving toward an object too quickly – useful for idiots that are texting and driving I suppose, but also in case the car in front of you stops short.
I have the ability to connect via Bluetooth, which I had in my old car, but the functionality is much more advanced. In addition, I can link in via a USB cable and have the car perform dozens of functions through my phone and the car’s software. I can install apps in the car, which has its own ISP address. Of course, that’s assuming I can understand how to use all of this. The media center has its own rather large manual as well. My favorite passage in both manuals so far? A warning not to test the collision avoidance system. I suppose some moron thinks driving at a wall doing 40 to see if it works might be fun.
Why am I bring this up? Cars are very complicated machines and while I’m certainly a long-time user of them (as well as a relatively sophisticated user of digital products) I’m kind of overwhelmed. Part of what we need to remember as we introduce new features to current users or our product to new users is that they need help. Jargon isn’t helpful nor are explanations written by technical writers who are engineers first and consumers second. I would have loved a short pamphlet that showed the “Top Ten Things You Will Want To Do First”, written in plain language, highly illustrated, and backed up by a newcomers’ hotline I could call if I ran into trouble. Expensive to support? Sure, but cars are expensive products. Could the dealer have sat with me and provided that service? You bet. Did they? Nope.
Selling the product is only part of the process. Making sure the customer gets every bit of value out of what you’ve sold them is just as important. I’m off to figure out just what I’ve bought here. At least I knew how to get it home!
While you’re probably aware of the loss of jobs in the coal mining sector, you might not have been paying attention to what’s going on in retail. Department stores alone have lost 18 times the number of jobs when compared with coal miners since 2001. That doesn’t include all the smaller players that have gone out of business nor the number of jobs lost among those who are support people at shopping malls – cleaners, etc. The term you see most often as you begin to research this topic is “apocalypse.” If you’re in the media business, the music business, or many others, you might think of it as just another incidence of disruption.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the most disturbing things I’ve read recently was as study by GetApp, which reported that
Two out of three business owners who currently run both an online and physical store believe that they will close their physical store’s doors within ten years and operate their business solely online, according to new research conducted by GetApp.
In fact, there were over 3,500 store closings from Macy’s, JCPenney, K-Mart, and others this year. It’s happening because of technology and globalization. Ask yourself when the last time you went to the mall to go shopping. The only times I’ve been have been when I needed something in my hands immediately, and even that reason is being addressed by Amazon and others. It’s not going to get better, either.
So what do you do if you’ve invested millions of dollars building malls or other large retail spaces? That’s really the situation many businesses find themselves in. Not with respect to owning physical space but in having to expand their thinking. Landlords who thought of themselves as containers for retail are now having to think about servicing a different clientele. Churches, movie theaters, medical offices, gyms, and other tenants can move in while others move out. I drove through what used to be an outlet mall this weekend, and while it was pretty deserted (and kind of depressing), there appeared to be a couple of small start-up companies who had leased space. I’m wondering if the space was less expensive than comparable space in one of the many start-up hotels that have popped up seemingly everywhere. Of course, servicing these other tenants will require a different set of services and skills but that’s what disruption breeds, isn’t it?
The retail apocalypse is just one manifestation of what’s been happening for the last 25 years. Every business is ripe for disruption and it’s really a case of how far along it is in the process. The real question is how prepared are you as it’s happening?
If you’ve been wondering where the screed has been for the last couple of days, the post below from 2009 will explain everything. Originally titled “The BOA,” the “meeting” I’m attending is an incredibly valuable gathering both for me and for my clients because it helps me be a better advisor. Enjoy!
I leave tomorrow morning on an annual trip I take to Myrtle Beach. In theory, it’s a golf outing but it’s more of a 5 day stay in a rest home getting my batteries recharged. 13 of us go, 12 of whom play golf. The other guy is a “social member” – most golf clubs have them – who enjoys the non-golf activities – cards, movies, and general guy banter. Like “Fight Club“, the first rule is we don’t really talk about it. However, what I can talk about that these are the guys whom I trust, to whom I can turn for advice, and who are honest – often brutally so – with me about everything from my golf game to my attitude. For all of the social networking tools available out there, nothing beats the face to face contact with this group for me. There is a business lesson in this as well.
Every businessperson needs a “board of advisors” for themselves, not their business. While your significant other is a great start, like a business BOA, you need multiple diverse points of view. My group has a few lawyers, an accountant, a few “money” guys, a restaurateur, another digital media expert – you get the idea. Ideally, these are people who can get past how you say things and hear what it is you’re saying. They are comfortable enough with you to know that their candor will be taken in the open, supportive spirit in which it’s offered. When their advice isn’t taken, they’re not offended and are smart enough to hold their tongues when it turns out their advice was right.
So off I go to meet with my BOA. I’ll try to keep posting over the next few days but if I don’t, please understand it’s because I’m in a Board meeting. When is your next meeting? Do you have a board to gather?
It’s Foodie Friday and the topic this week is brunch. You might not have noticed, but having breakfast late is a thing. In fact, many restaurants are adding a specific brunch menu while all-day breakfast has contributed mightily to McDonald’s improved financial results. Consumer research shows the growth of brunch service in restaurants around the country as customers enjoy breakfast foods all day and night long.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
According to its 2017 MenuTrends report, Datassential reveals brunch was available at 4.9 percent of all chain and independent restaurants in the United States in 2016, compared to 2.0 percent of restaurants ten years prior. Over the past four years (2012-2016), brunch service in U.S. restaurants increased by 43.5 percent.
In other words, restaurants are catering (pun intended) to the desires of their customers for breakfast foods around the clock. I’m willing to bet your local diner has always served breakfast all day so this isn’t exactly a surprise or huge innovation. What is an interesting development is how many places have responded and added a brunch or all day breakfast menu.
Contrast this with a place I know that opened as a casual lunch business, got great reviews, but not enough business. The owner didn’t want to change his business hours to include early supper to take advantage of the increased foot traffic in the neighborhood after 5. He wasn’t able to make a go of it. The flaw wasn’t the food or the service or even the location. It was in not responding to the realities of the market and the opportunities those realities presented.
Your business might be making similar mistakes. What are your customers telling you? What are market trends showing? It may be overly simplistic, but if customers are enjoying breakfast foods all day long, your job, if you’re in the breakfast business at least part of the day, is to serve them all day as well. You can fight your competitors but you can’t fight your customers’ tastes! Make sense?
We closed on the sale of Rancho Deluxe yesterday. I lived in that house for 32 years (almost to the day) and it holds a lot of happy memories. The pictures you see are the view from the yard when we moved in and the day we moved out. As you can see, quite a bit changed. While the core of the house is pretty much how we found it, we added on a few times and changed the old kitchen into office space when we built the new kitchen/family room.
The core of the house itself is over 100 years old and, as with most older homes, wasn’t without issues. Over the years we replaced the furnace (twice!), the roof, fixed sills, removed asbestos, and landscaped. There were also hundreds of little fixes and improvements. We did all that without tearing down the original structure as so many in our town have done. We like to think we left it better than we found it.
That’s really the business point. We often get pulled into situations or projects where there is a lot of history that predates you. One approach that many people take is to just blow everything up and to start over. That ignores the good in what’s been done already. It can also cause a backlash from the people who invested their efforts to get things to where they are when you walk in. The challenge, both with old houses and old business situations, is to leave things at least a little bit better than you found them.
That’s not to say that some things are beyond saving. Sometimes a situation is in such disrepair that gutting it and starting over is the prudent and less expensive course of action. I think, however, that we often get more focused on a solution that may be more expedient and different as opposed to better.
Think about the things on which you’re working. Are you making them better or just patching things up so you can cross them off the list? Is the team happy with what’s being built or are you painting things a color that everyone hates but which was on sale at the store?
I’ll miss the old place while at the same time not missing the almost non-stop series of items on the “to-do” list. It protected us from hurricanes, blizzards, countless minor storms, withering heat, and freezing cold. I always felt that we had to protect it a little. I’m walking away knowing it’s better than I found it and hopefully in good hands for the next 32 years. Can you say the same about what you’re doing?
Foodie Friday, and the topic is disasters. Like anyone who does a fair amount of cooking, I’ve had my share of disasters in the kitchen over the years. No, I’m not talking about the time I dropped a full pot of soup on the way to the fridge. I mean those times when the best-laid plans of the cook, as Robert Burns said, gang aft agley – often go awry.
In my case, there is a seafood sausage that has become the stuff of legend amongst those who were (un)fortunate enough to have seen it made and attempted to eat it. There was also the time that egg rolls refused to stay rolled and sent the cook (that would have been me) into a utensil throwing rage since I was cooking for my new bride and my parents and was pretty embarrassed.
There is a business point within my true confessions today. First, each of these things was a learning experience. Second, each has become a story that’s been retold over the years. While our main goal in business shouldn’t be to avoid being a bore at cocktail parties, having a few self-effacing tales in your repertoire isn’t a bad thing. The bigger takeaway is the first point.
Disasters are often the result of pushing the envelope. Hopefully, they don’t originate in sloppiness or willful ignorance or haste but rather is boldly going where you’ve never gone before, whether in the office or in the kitchen. When we fail in the latter venue, there is always some take out food we can get to serve. When we fail in the office, we can use the experience to rethink how we plan, how we prepare, and how we execute so that it becomes a teachable moment and not a complete waste. Besides – you just got another great story to tell at the party where you’re celebrating your company’s latest success!
I think most of us can distinguish between cost and value. Buying something at a lower price improves the cost, but if the item breaks and needs to be replaced in a month, the value of what we bought at that lower price is quite low. Smart shoppers do that cost/value equation in their heads as they shop, which places the onus on us as businesspeople to provide superior value no matter what business we’re in.
How can we do that? It’s not just by lowering the price, although if what you’re selling is a commodity, the price differential becomes pretty important. To a certain extent, that’s something I deal with as a consultant. You might have noticed, there are a lot of us out here. What I need to do, when talking to potential clients, is to help them to understand why I’m worth the premium I charge when compared to many others out here. I do that by adding value in some of these ways:
- Understanding their perspective. I see my business through their eyes which means I must research them, ask a lot of questions, and then present myself in a way that is meaningful and valuable to them.
- Giving them something for nothing. Sometimes it’s just a series of articles I’ve found that are relevant to them but those articles demonstrate how part of my service to them is to help them stay informed and ahead of the competition.
- For existing clients, I’ll often do many of the “little” tasks that end us distracting my client from their main purpose. That can mean writing up brainstorming sessions, breaking our their web analytics, or updating their website. That helps them by reducing anxiety, by keeping them focused, and because I’m generally not as rushed and more experienced than they are, improves the quality of those lesser tasks.
Adding value needs to be as basic as breathing for any of us in business. The real challenge is in making the type of value you add correlate to the needs of each customer. How will you do that today?