Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Offer More Value to More Markets

A popular definition says that insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. Mo's Chowder in Newport, Oregon was a thriving fisherman's hangout, serving hearty fare to the men who cast their nets in the waters surrounding this very active fishing community. As happened to many communities with a single-industry focus, however, things began to change. Fishing became less of a going concern. The founder sold the restaurant to her granddaughter and the new generation was sane enough to realize that if they wanted to keep the business afloat in the community, they had to jump from the sinking ship of a mere fisherman's dive.

Building on their longstanding legacy in Newport, the owners decided to remake the restaurant, and now Mo's caters to families, not just fishermen. What was once a place shrouded in the smoke of hard working, hard-drinking fishermen is now a family-friendly place where families—dads, moms and kids—enjoy a meal that includes all the tasty fare of days past, but in an atmosphere that is as welcoming as it is bustling. The sanity of the owner’s decision speaks for itself. This now kid-friendly place has expanded from one location to three and the popularity of its namesake chowder graces the menus of other restaurants, as well.

If your sales are sluggish, maybe its time to cast your net a little wider or into new waters to attract a bigger pool of customers.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Innovation is Always in Fashion

It's Fashion Week and for me it is an annual kick in the derriere. I have friends who design and manufacture clothing and in our video library we have the story of the Nicole Miller Fashion House. While I am aware that this event is happening, the fashions they are showcasing have little place in my life--or my closet. Instead, I buy my clothes off the rack, but I do pay attention to how these designers--name brands and newcomers--weave a vision into the looks that define more than what we wear on our backs. Their inspiration is the tapestry of our culture, defining trends, influencing mindsets and fueling an economy driven increasingly by young consumers.

The lesson is that even if you are not a clothes hound or fashionista you can learn something from those who are in that business. They know that they can’t rest on past creations for this or next year's sales, and they teach us that if you want to keep growing your business, an annual effort to reinvent your products and services is essential.

Some owners wait until their business financials are threadbare before they get creative. That describes Bart Mahon who nearly lost everything before he changed his products and his method for reaching customers. Some owners like Bill Sugars do extensive research to find out what is working in other places before they implement something new. And by far the best way to add new products and services is to listen to your customers as they do at Joe T. Garcia.

If the wear and tear of day-to-day operations has worn down your sense of innovation, watch the New York fashion world on line where every seat is runway perfect. The truly unique creations offered up by both big and small designers will wrap you in the inspiration you need to put your business back in fashion with customers.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Opposite of Paris Hilton

Paris Hilton is back thanks to John McCain. It just proves that in the world of marketing, you can get a lift--or a blow--from some pretty unexpected places. When John McCain used a two-second image of her in an ad, that ad received major buzz. Quickly Paris used the free marketing McCain gave her and turned the two seconds into hours and hours of self-promotion.

Most small business owners don't have much in common with Paris Hilton when it comes to promoting themselves. There are 17 million one-person companies in the U.S. and in those businesses, a bit like Paris, the owner is the brand. We've all seen the local celebrity car dealer owners who do their own TV commercials, and are more recognizable than the car brands they sell. However, self-promotion is not the path taken by most strong owners. Why? Because it is can prevent you from growing your business in ways that benefit customers and you.

Most companies that consistently deliver for customers year after year are run by owners who focus on others, not themselves. And consciously or not, they have learned what Paris knows very well: what they're really selling. A great customer service experience? A product that meets a unique customer need? Innovative and creative resources to help others solve their business problems?

One owner we know is just as good looking as Paris. He has a big, quick smile and when he walks in the room people are happy to see him. Lupe Fraga built an office supply business from nothing to more than $50 million in annual revenue by promoting his team's service, not himself. Understanding what it is that customers really want and delivering it consistently is the best promotion you can do for your business.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Snap Out of It

Snap out of it and stop feeling sorry for yourself. I say this because every day I hear how bad things are going. Right now I am creating a video companion for a Pearson Prentice Hall textbook about entrepreneurship for high school and college students called How To Start and Operate a Small Business. The author, Steve Mariotti, is the founder of NFTE, the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship. I've already done video companions for over 40 college books but reading Steve's book and thinking about his target market put a smile on my face.

That smile caused me to snap out of it. Like so many people, I've had a strange dull feeling that perhaps my work isn't very important and that maybe I should just give up. The smile came to me because Steve's book reminded me of why I'm in business in the first place. We all must be in business to create and keep customers. Actually that is Peter Drucker's definition of business and I memorized it years ago.

When things get hard and you get discouraged, it is best to go out and talk to customers. When Don MacInnis did this, his customers told him exactly what new product they wanted him to develop. That product is now his number one seller.

Snap out of it and go talk to your customers.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Our Spiritual Mentor Died Yesterday

Sir John Templeton was our hero. He was an elegant Christian who practiced his faith and he put his money to work on what Bruce would call the fundamentals. John Templeton made his money as an investor and as the Wall Street Journal writes today, he was an optimist who invested enthusiastically when others were too pessimistic to put a dollar in the market. As Christians ourselves we understand the source of Sir Templeton's optimism on capitalism.

In 1972 Sir John Templeton put in place a way to recognize "a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works." His annual Templeton Award is a cash prize and always larger than the Nobel awards because Templeton felt that spiritual matters are more valuable to us than other topics of study.

We are proud that we have in our library two special episodes with Michael Novak, a Templeton Prize winner. We consider Novak an apologist for our work. While today it is very popular to praise the work of small business owners, when we started the series we were told by big shots in New York City that, "Nobody wants to be small." Novak explains why small business is crucial to a civil and prosperous society.

Sir John Templeton's life encouraged me and the scholarly work of Michael Novak helps me understand the value of my own small contribution to the prosperity of others.

To celebrate John Templeton's life, Bruce is working with a small cadre of mathematicians and engineers on,  The Big Board for Our Little Universe.  This is a teaching tool for math and science teachers and the tag line for it is:  It's time to take God out of a box and put science in one.  The goal is to show kids the bigness of God and the smallness of science.  He wants kids to stop being afraid of science and to start seeing the vastness of God's creation.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Change When Margins Get Too Low

There's a big disconnect for me when it comes to all the doom and gloom being peddled by the media about the national economy. There's not a parking place to be found when I go to the mall, and just the other day, I heard one grandmother complaining that the newest version of Wii was nowhere to be found in the entire state of Ohio. So, she was on a desperate hunt for the high-tech game (retails for $379) many states away. Yes, for a game. Truly, these are tough times when grandma is the hunter-gatherer for procuring what overindulged grandkids can't seem to live without. It just proves that where there's a will--or at least a willing pocketbook--there's a way.

It's also an underlying principle of our economy. If there is demand for a product at a price the customer is willing to pay, there will be sales. From heads of lettuce to houses, the market will act in its own best interest--distorting regulations notwithstanding. This doesn't mean that as the producer your margins may be smaller since the price of gas is up and this is driving the price of food up, too. If you can't pass increased costs for your current products on to customers, how do you find a way to get some of the cash that people clearly are spending at the mall or on Wii?

When Reid Pigman saw the profits being squeezed in his father's pilot school, he abandoned the school business and moved into the fixed base operation niche and now his company, Texas Jet, provides all the ground-based services required by aircraft owners and operators. If you're feeling the profit squeeze in your business, it may be time to make changes, find a new product, a new service or a new bundle of products and services that your customers will be happy to pay you for, and make your bottom line stronger as a result.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Summer Interns Increase ROI

English philosopher Francis Bacon once said that "Young people are more fit for new projects than for settled business." It is summer so high school and college students need work, and chances are, your business' technology could use some updating, too.

While you and your older employees have learned to use the Internet to get work done, 16-20 year olds have used the Internet for play. That means they have experimented a lot and have probably discovered some tools and sites that you should know about. Technology is second nature to them and you could gain tremendous advantages simply by tapping into their computing knowledge to have them build databases or do web research for you.

Not only are today's young people technically savvy, they can be a cost-effective solution to help you with short-term projects in the business. Nicole Miller, the New York-based fashion house, and Mir, Fox & Rodriguez, a CPA firm in Houston have put interns to work, teaching them business principles that will serve them well in the future, as well as nurturing the next wave of talent.

Is there a project in your business that could tap into our youth's expertise and increase your return on the dollar you pay out to employees at the same time? Try a few summer interns. You'll be doing both of you a big favor.