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business model

The Importance of Planning

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Excess inventory, cost management, and other issues are a reality for most businesses.  When uncontrolled, a business can face inadequate cash reserves and even bankruptcy.

To mitigate these issues, proper industry and market research coupled with financial planning for contingencies is crucial for any business.  Whether you’re an the ideation phase or are already up and running, knowing how much to allocate to the various activities a business engages in is difficult so contact me and let’s create a strategy that works for your business.

Festivals, Farmer’s Markets, Conventions, oh my!

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Ultra Music Festival – Miami, Florida

It’s summer and festival season is here.  Events are big business with over 87 million people attending trade shows, conventions, & conferences; while 32 million people attend music festival.  Some annual industry and market stats:

  • Trade shows, conventions, conferences
    • Number: 284,600 annually
      • There are 248 convention centers in the US with a total of 56.29M prime exhibit space.
      • The majority of conventions (21%) have 1,000 – 2,499 attendees
    • Participants: 87,728,000
      • Average attendee spends 8.3 hours viewing trade show exhibits
      • 81% of trade show attendees have buying authority
  • Music festivals, fairs, and other festivals
    • Number: 1,413 annually. Music festivals alone total over 800 annually
    • Attendees: Over 102 million people annually. 32 million people go to at least one music festival annually.
      • Attendees spend on average, $207 a year on live music events and digital music/streaming
      • 1/3 of all festival fans go to more than one festival per year
  • Farmers’ Markets
    • Number: +8,400 markets that convene regularly
    • Attendees: 310,800,000
      • Farmers’ market shoppers spend a mean dollars/week was $25.38
      • Shopper visit an average of 6.12 times/month

 

What It Means To You

Events are targeted.  So attendees are in your market, many in your target market.  Renting a booth, depending on the event, can be fairly inexpensive.  This is an economical means of raising awareness for your product/service for the following reasons:

  1. You are not locked into a commercial lease contract
  2. Can test the viability of your product/service
  3. Get targeted market feedback

Some of what you may need depending on the event:

  • Mobile merchant services such as Square
  • Email collection method
  • Banners and booth appeal
  • Ready-for-market product/service
    • Or compelling marketing materials (videos, images, samples) of your product/service.

Read more about festivals and marketing.

Contact me and let’s see what strategy works best for your business.

The importance of niche-ing

Question:  How should new products/services be created?

A)  Make a novel untested product/service then find customers for the product/service?

Or

B)  Find a group of customers, find one of that group’s unmet need, then create a product/service to address than unmet need?

Answer:  B

Reason:  The development process of the product/service will take time irregardless of choice A or B.  However, with choice B, the likelihood or having to rework the product/service to make it more closely meet the needs of the target market is lower.  Also, with choice B, you have a better idea of the size of the target market.  Having a market large enough to grow your business is very important.  More on that below.

A great example of choice B is Girls Auto Clinic.  Girls Auto Clinic is a brilliant combination of female-focused auto repair shop and salon.

Founder Patrice Banks felt what many of us feel when car issues come up:

“I felt like an auto-airhead. I hated all my experiences going in for an oil change, being upsold all the time for an air filter,’ she said. “Any time a dashboard light came on, I panicked.” – Patrice Banks, Girls Auto Clinic Founder

Of course many people come up with business ideas like how Patrice did:  through personal experience.  However, where most people fail is that their own experience might be too niche.  In other words, the market might be too small.  How do you know if your market is too niche?  Market research.  Market research is a process of analyzing factors such as demographics, purchasing habits, direct and indirect competitors, macro and microeconomics, and other elements.  As much art as science, thorough market research is a critical step before moving forward with any concept.

Market research is one of the many services I offer at the most competitive prices in the industry.  Contact me and let’s find your niche for your new business.

Market adjustment in the retail space

According to a new Credit Suisse report, up to 25% of U.S. shopping malls may close in the next five years.

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What are the reasons?  Of course Amazon and online shopping is a major reason.  However, another factor is mall overexpansion.  Currently there around 1,200 malls in the US.  Between 1970 and 2015, the number malls grew more than twice as fast as the population.  As such, it is predicted that within the next 10 years, that number will decline to 900.

Of course brick-and-mortar retail stores will never completely disappear because of the needs listed above and because of the fact that humans are social by nature.  Just the type and make-up of retail stores will change.  Possibly pop-up stores (a strategy utilized with great effect by Halloween stores) will become more common?

 

Another considerationmacys_dep_store

What to do with vacant buildings?  That’s a lot of land that could be used for other use.  Maybe mall owners will lower their rental rates.  In some areas of Manhattan, retail rents have declined 10-15%.

More housing? Closures from major chains like Macy’s and J.C. Penney are pouring up to 37 million square feet of space back into the market.  That could reduce some housing costs.  Although, generally more expensive housing markets have greater discretionary spending which is often used for shopping.  Also, the time and cost to demolish existing structures, rezone, and rebuild into residential properties along with its infrastructural linkages is not insignificant.

Some mall owners have indicated that vacant properties will be renovated and updated in efforts to attract new tenants and raise rental rates.

 

What to do?mindmap-2123973_640

Who knows that the future will bring but keep in mind that juggernauts like Walmart, Macy’s, and Sears are affected.  So starting a service or online store that doesn’t compete with what Amazon sells is a safer option.  Brand your own product (e.g. Bonobo, Dollar Shave Club) and controlling your own distribution is another option (of course be aware of knock-offs).  B2B businesses (e.g. no one buys industrial components at malls) is insulated from mall closures.

Services such as dentistry, restaurants, car mechanics, large difficult-to-ship products such as mattresses, etc. will remain (so far) an insulated industry.

Analyses such as what I have done above is a small and cursory part of the industry/market analysis and strategy consulting services I provide to clients.

 

Business PLAN vs. Business MODEL

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Image courtesy of Max Pixel

 

Sometimes my clients ask for a business plan but aren’t yet seeking funding or aren’t beyond the ideation/conceptualization stage.  This is where a business model is helpful.

“I have an idea for a product/service.  How do I monetize?”

At this stage, you don’t need to exactly know the details of marketing strategy, distribution channels, location, etc. unless it is crucial to your business model.

At the ideation/conceptualization stage, you need to know who your market (i.e. customers) is, growth rate of the industry, who your competitors are, the major costs to bring your product/service to market, and any other major hurdles (e.g. regulatory) that might be a barrier to entry.  Business models are 30,000 foot views for seeing if the business is feasible and viable.  Why decide on the color the napkin if you’re not sure if there’ll be a wedding, right?

Once we have a good understanding of IF the business is likely to succeed, then we can investigate further and do a feasibility study.  Feasibility studies go even deeper to include details of the operation, marketing, product/service, and other pertinent information specific to the industry/sector that your company will occupy.  Feasibility studies can be easily adjusted into a business plan by adding revenue projections and investment asks.

Business model should not be confused with revenue model.  Revenue model is a piece of the business model.  In other words, how the company generates revenue:  production, subscription, advertising, commission, etc.

 

 

Live by the sales projection, die by the sales projection

Creators of the board game The Contender: The Game of Presidential Debate raised $140k on Kickstarter but ended up $40k in debt due to inaccurately predicting future sales.  This caused them to order more games than they could sell and ultimately caused them to go into the red for some time.

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So how do you predict sales?  Forecasting is as much art as it is science, finding a right method that is accurate will greatly enhance the efficiency and profitability of any business:  over-ordering materials, under-allocating resources, etc. all undermine a company’s operations.

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The selection of a method depends on many factors—the context of the forecast, the relevance and availability of historical data, the degree of accuracy desirable, the time period to be forecast, the cost/ benefit (or value) of the forecast to the company, and the time available for making the analysis.

When a company forecasts for a particular product, it must consider the stage of the product’s life cycle for which it is forecasting. The availability of data and the possibility of establishing relationships between the factors depend directly on the maturity of a product, and hence the life-cycle stage is a prime determinant of the forecasting method to be used.

All my business plans come with projected financial statements.  I use a combination of industry growth data, historical sales data (if my client has any), seasonal adjustments, advertising expenditures, and other factors pertinent to my specific clients.

Which method is right for you?  Send me an email and let’s figure out how to plan for your company’s future.

 

Adjusting to market demand

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This is what allowed Zara founder, Amancio Ortega to become the richest man in the world (for at least a couple days).

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Fast fashion:  Customers wanted the latest fashion, yesterday.  Zara’s competitors were taking too long bringing the latest designs to market.  Other retailers try to decide what to make, then produce it.  A push-model of product development.  For example, GAP and H&M will take 5 months to make, design, and distribute new products.  Zara listens to what their customers are asking and buying.  A pull-model of product development that takes Zara 3 weeks.

Of course it’s not as easy as just asking what each customer wants.  Lots of times, people don’t know what they want until it’s shown them.  Henry Ford once said if he asked what his customers want, they would’ve responded with, “a faster horse.”  Also, changing from a push-model to a pull-model requires overhauling a company’s supply-chain.  Raw materials purchases buy 6 months out or more.  Trying to get a refund on 100 gallons of dye is not as easy as it sounds.

Although Zara is not considered inexpensive, lower-market competitor Forever 21 has taken it to the next level.

Cheap:  In addition to fully embracing fast fashion, Forever 21 offers their products at very low prices.  This has allowed Forever 21 to have revenues of $4.4 billion in 2015.

 

Take away

So how do you incorporate market feedback in your business?  Generally, smaller companies have an easier time making adjustments because it is a more agile company with more one-on-one contact with vendors and customers.  In business school I asked billionaire Leonard Lavin, founder of Alberto-Culver (maker of Alberto VO5 hair products) about his education background.  He said he had an MBWA.  Master By Walking Around.  This meant, he walked around his business and talked to his employees, his customers, his vendors.  He conducted market and industry research everyday.  If you don’t take the time to talk to your customers, it might be detrimental to your company’s success further on down the road.

The Lean Startup

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Last week a client asked me about the Lean Startup.  As a small independent baker, the did not  Learn Startup methodology didn’t really meet his needs.  Actually for many small businesses, they’re already utilizing some of the Lean Startup’s principles:  split testing (e.g. which new cupcake idea is selling better), pivoting (e.g. advertise better selling new cupcake), build-measure-learn (e.g. ask customers what they like about each cupcake, why, etc. then adjust the recipe if needed).

The Learn Startup is more applicable to large/new & complex products and/or services.  When you have hundreds of ideas, tweaks, iterations, it can very easy to get caught-up in the labyrinth of product/service development.  Essentially, it comes down to starting with a minimum viable product (MVP), have users play around with it, gather data on (i.e. with actionable metrics, interviews, use studies, etc.), decide on which steps to go next.  This measured, calculated, and insightful process prevents over-developed products/services that do not necessarily have a market/meed a need.

As mentioned, the Learn Startup method might not be useful for all entrepreneurs but if you are in the processes of developing a large/complex product or even a brand new/novel product, it might be worth your time to check out this book and install some informational gathering and pivoting processes to make sure that it closely meets a market need.

How to Beat Amazon

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With Sport Chalet closing and even Walmart showing losses, Amazon is the clear competitor to beat.

So far no one has a clear winning strategy:  click and mortar, brick and mortar, online, no one is safe when it comes to retail.  However, there are some that are surviving and thriving by offering something online purchasing cannot match, a visceral shopping experience.

Retailers have to make their stores into a destination.  Funky decoration, unique customer experience, seminars/lectures, a sense of community, etc.  This is really where the personality of the business (the “brand”) is shown.

One example is The Last Bookstore, a bookstore in Los Angeles.   The photos below show a stark difference from Barnes & Nobles.  These aren’t Bookstore temporary holiday decorations but long-term attractions that draw crowds.

This piece invokes a sense of fantasy and imagination that some fictional works brings to readers.

Like other bookstores, there are stationery/craft goods for sale.  The wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented…just tweaked to a unique way.

This “nonperforming” space, in the traditional retail paradigm, would be scrapped in conventional stores.  The book tunnel is a big draw for shoppers.

The current version of The Last Bookstore is actually its 3rd stage.  First opened in 2005 in a loft, it quickly expanded into the former Citizens National Bank’s 22,0000 sq. ft. downtown space (an insane space for any retailer let alone an independent one).

Experiential shopping obviously has a bunch of challenges; you may need a unique space, maintenance of store fixtures, uniquely trained staff, only local reach (for the time being which I will get into at the bottom of the article), possible higher insurance, and other differentiating factors which all can result in tighter margins.  However, having a challenging strategy is better than having none at all.

Implementation

  • The Last Bookstore:  They are known as the largest independent bookstore in Los Angeles.  They have a crazy interior.  They also sell used books for $1.  This price point is important because buying a used book online will not be cheaper after shipping is factored in.  Also, books offer a fundamentally different tactile experience from eBooks.  So customers walk in to check it out.  They wander the vast selection, and take pictures of the funky decor.  They  wander through the store they touch items, a psychological factor in sales.
    • Now they’re are not just a consumer.  Now they’re a consumer at a super hip, independent, small business.  They feel good about themselves.  They tweet to their friends about it.  Repeat.
  • Clothing Retailers:  Using my client Maitri Yoga as an example, a yoga clothing retailer; don’t sell too many existing/famous brands.  About 40-60 (name/unknown) mix.  You’re not going to be able to compete on price and there are also covenants on discount pricing for name brands.  People already know the sizing for these brands so they will use your store as a showroom (like Best Buy used to be before offering price matching).  Sizing and other factors are not uniform throughout clothing, so the product needs to be felt and tried on.  Therefore you have to offer goods that aren’t known and aren’t sold on Amazon.  They come in for a Prana top but see a new unknown brand.  Now you’re the hip store that sells up and coming brands that aren’t offered on Amazon.  In order to do this, you and your purchaser/procurement officer has to know market trends, know which brands have good quality, nice design, etc.

The work doesn’t stop there.  The store has to be laid out in a manner that draws in the customer.  New items in the front.  Focal decor near the front and in the center/back.  You’re going to have to go to estate sales, yard sales, furniture store liquidation sales, etc. to purchase furniture, decorations, accent pieces that fit the company’s brand.

Additionally, you have to build community engagement.  If you’re a Williams Sonoma, you have to offer cooking events.  If you’re a Nike, you have run Clubs to build engagement. Potential customers will come in for the event but may purchase something that caught their eye.  The costs for holding public relations activities such as events can grow beyond the return on investment so keep an eye on public awareness expenses.

The good news for small business owners is that the unique, boutique atmosphere each independent retailer has cannot easily be matched by larger companies.

Every industry is different so I would have to consult with you on an individual basis; then look at industry & market trends, the culture of the brand, the company’s financials (look at its performing items and overhead), etc.  This is all under my strategy consulting services.

 

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