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Strategy

Another happy client

Businesses face difficult decisions every day about what direction to go.  I was fortunate enough to help Eskenazi Health with a strategy analysis that involved an opportunity cost analysis and risk matrix to help their form their decision.
eskenazi healthEskenazi Health is a comprehensive safety-net public health system with an acute-care hospital, a network of primary care centers, mental health services, community education programs, and many other services. Located in downtown Indianapolis, Eskenazi Health’s mission is to advocate, care, teach, and serve with special emphasis on the vulnerable populations of Marion County.

How to Beat Amazon

vs amazon

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.

 

What is Strategy Consulting?

Strategy

One of the services I offer is strategy consulting.  However, the name is quite vague so what is strategy consulting?  It is a lot of things.  It varies by the needs of the client.  Some clients need help developing an overall strategy for the business.

Say they have a product but not much else.  So they need everything from naming of their product, research on where to sell their product, team building, etc.  Naming might require a psychographic analysis of branding.

If they are a little farther along, it can be an audit of what they’re already doing, or analysis of where to go next.  A business might be looking at weighing the pros and cons of expanding to a new market, introducing a new product, do a product overhaul, etc.  Product overhaul might require a net present value calculation of multiple alternatives.

Every situation is unique so let’s talk and figure out what you need.

Quiksilver bankruptcy

quik wipeout

tl;dr

  1. Surfing isn’t seen as cool as it used to be
  2. Recession hurt consumer spending -> moved to fast-fashion retailers such as H&M and Forever 21
  3. Rossignol purchase drained their cash reserves
  4. Continued to expand stores even though market tastes changed

Read the rest of the article here

Pricing strategy

sales price

Pricing is such an important element of sales.  How much?  It can make or a break a deal.  It is used from branding (i.e. “prestige pricing”) to selling of soon-to-be discontinued product lines.

So how do you price your product/service?  There’s cost pricing which just covers your costs and expenses and maybe leaves a little margin.  Then there’s prestige pricing which sets the price very high so the customer can feel special for paying so much.  There are many other strategies too.

For example if you want to sell a $25,000 car you sell it next to a $40,000 car.  Suddenly $25k doesn’t seem as expensive.  This is an example of Anchoring.  Anchoring is the human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information (i.e. the “anchor”) offered when making decision.

This great article from Blue Perks discussed the many more pricing strategies you should and shouldn’t use.

Product/Service life cycle

I was asked by a student for help on their franchise business plan assignment.  One of the elements of the assignment was determining where on the product/service life cycle curve the franchise sits.  It is always helpful in any Industry and Market Analysis to get a macro view of where the product/service is in its life cycle.  What is the product/service life cycle?  Glad you asked!

It is the birth, growth, progression and ultimate passing of any product/service.  For example a CD came into the market around the early 90s.  This is the birth/introduction stage.  It gained popularity and was one of the most preferred method of data transfer until recently.  So for the next 10 years it was in the growth and in the early 2010s entered the maturity phase.  Now in the second half of the 2010s it is in the decline phase.  Last week I purchased a new laptop and installed Microsoft Office via online.  No more CDs.

Of course, not all products/services will die out.  They may die out eventually, but will make one or two more resurgences.  Take for example, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).  The earliest use of naturally forming sodium bicarbonate was used by ancient Egyptians as a component of the paints they used in hieroglyphics.  Sodium bicarbonate was also used in the 1800s in commercial fishing to prevent freshly caught fish from spoiling.  Baking soda continues its long life cycle in many many uses including cleaning, cooking, neutralization of acids and bases, not to mention the elementary school volcano science experiment, and more.

revenue_time_curve

Maybe there’ll be a new use for CDs that will revive the CD but without major modification (which will essentially change the actual product and will actually create a new/different product) it will be unlikely.  Wherever your product/service is in its life cycle, with enough investigation, a new spin could be created to find a niche demand (market segment).

The power of a good team

Yesterday I was watching the documentary Supermensch:  The Legend of Shep Gordon.  Shep Gordon is an ubermanager that managed Alice Cooper, Blondie, Groucho Marx, helped create the celebrity chef with his management company ‘Alive Culinary Resources’ (subsidiary of Alive Enterprises), and many others.

It reminded me how much entrepreneurs need a strong team around them to make their vision a reality.  In Shep’s case, his entrepreneurs were the musicians.  They were talented people that were passionate about what they were creating but in order to continue to create it and eventually profit from it, they needed a manager.

A lot of times an entrepreneur just has a vision.  An idea and little more than the passion to make it come to reality.  However, there are lots of technical skills that have to be utilized to make an entrepreneur’s vision come to life.

Lots of my clients have the same issue.  They have a great product but don’t have a team to make it happen.  I advise them to find all the areas in which they don’t have the knowledge/skills to make to launch their business.  Then hire the necessary person or hire/outsource that task.

If you don’t have the funds to hire someone, then you will likely have to offer equity within the company.  This is MUCH easier said than done.  Most people cannot afford to go without a steady paycheck for long periods of time in the hopes of future revenues.  That is why you gotta go through lots and lots and LOTS of candidates to find the right match; in skill sets, temperament, and even personalities (if you bring on the wrong person you will suffer, like one of my clients).  You have to sell yourself and your business to this individual.  You have to convince him/her to take this chance on your business.  Being persistent and persuasive is once of the most important skills an entrepreneur can possess.  You’ll need persistence and persuasiveness when finding partners, getting financing, negotiating rental terms, the list goes on and on.  In business school, I took a negotiating course and one of the themes was “You don’t get what you deserve.  You get what you negotiate.”  How right it can be.

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No one said starting a business will be easy.  It is not for the timid.  Nonetheless, for those that make it, the rewards are tremendous.

 

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