Commoditization, is it happening to you?

28 11 2007

“We are living in an era where there are too many retailers serving too few customers and where there is no longer any brand loyalty or retail loyalty” Kevin Burke, President/CEO. The American Apparel and Footwear Association.

From this comment by Mr. Burke I believe the apparel and footwear industries are in the midst of an important struggle, to move away from their current status of a commodity business.

The winners will be those with strong design, distinct brand, and smart developed distribution systems. The same can be said for almost any current industry.

Too many retailers and points of sale? I doubt it. What I interpret from this comment is that there is intense competition between retailers, and instead of seeking exclusivity or innovation to attract and maintain customers, they are using the oldest,simplest trick known….lowering product prices and with it, the quality of the shopping experience.

It is a classic example of commoditization.

Manufacturers are also to blame. The rush to sell their product to high volume buyers insures loss of control of the marketing and retail channels.

The rush to sell everywhere, to everyone, at the same time allows and promotes price competition and price wars between the various manufacturers and retailers.

Too few customers? The real problem is overproduction. Current manufacturing focuses on high volume production and this encourages the standardization of product. The desire to reduce fixed costs drives manufacturers to seek out cheap world labor, increase productivity through mechanization (which encourages product standardization) and the outcome is a mountain of finished products, created all over the world, that are indistinguishable from one another.

Commodities. Most apparel and footwear companies focus on low cost, high volume manufacturing, they sell to wholesalers or retailers that also focus on volume. So suddenly branded products can be found in department stores, boutiques, grocery stores, flea markets and the Internet. The product is everywhere, consumers have learned that one should just look for it where the price is lowest.

This also makes it easier to pirate and sell a product to a growing network of sales outlets focused on offering a brand name for less.

No brand or retail loyalty?
If there is no customer loyalty (read as no perceived advantage to shopping with you versus the competition), and loyalty is important for continued growth, profit and success, then it’s time for a serious reevaluation of how one is doing business.

How can one stand out from the crowd, do something different and unique, and create a sense of exclusivity and prestige for the consumer?

This is the future.

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Using positive reinforcement to win customer loyalty

22 02 2007

We respond positively to positive feedback, recognition, and reinforcement of our behaviour and activities at work or home.

We get angry or lose interest in an activity, goal or organization if we don’t receive this “pat on the head” or “cheer-leading” on a continual basis.

Our customers also need reinforcement and recognition in order to maintain their motivation and good feelings toward your company or products.

What are you doing to make sure they get it?

Does the customer feel like you are just “going through the motions”?

Does it feel real?

Are you really showing that you care?

What sets you apart from your competitors AFTER the sale?

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The easy way

9 10 2006

Despite all the attention on the power of marketing in order to create and maintain a successful product and business, there are still many organizations and people who don’t want to, or don’t know how to market their products.

They want others to buy their product because they are less expensive than the competition.

It’s the easiest way to sell, requires no planning, no marketing, no effort on the part of the salespeople or the organization. Quick short term results.

Everyone is in the market with the same goods, all screaming and shouting for the customers attention. The customer finds the seller by accident or luck, and proceeds to bargain and negotiate for the lowest price in the market. Very colorful.

It shows a lack of responsibility, lack of marketing, and lack of imagination on the part of the seller.

The owners say: “We need more profit, cut costs and sell more”.

The sales managers say: “We can sell more, but the product is a commodity, what can we do, cut the costs and we can corner the market”.

Production says: “We’ll cut costs, get cheaper raw materials and tweak the design”.

Buyers tell suppliers: “We can try your raw materials or products and see if the market accepts that price, but you have to give me a better price if you want me to buy more”.

Salespeople tell the sales manager: “I don’t know if I can meet that sales quota, it’s not up to me, it’s up to the market to decide”.

Salespeople tell the customer: “We’re cheaper than the competition, buy now”.

The competition is doing the same thing you are.

The customer faced with similar products and lack of information says: “Give me the one that costs less”.

Where was the marketer during all this?

What should they have been doing and saying to the organization and the customer?

If your product isn’t distinct, different or better than the competition. If you are not educating your customer about the advantages of your products and services. You will never have to the chance to market your products.

You will only be able to offer them for sale.

Related Links

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Showtime – how do you want to live your life?

8 09 2006

I’ve had limited experience in show business. The highlights of my entertainment career include the magic show I produced and starred in at age 8, various band performances, and a walk-on supporting role as a wise man in a Nativity play. Oh wait, I forgot to mention, my biggest show business role. I was involved in retail sales.

Retail sales can be a limiting and brutal environment, physically and emotionally. But it is one of the best environments for learning and practicing how to perform with and for others.

Retail sales is all about people, it is not about merchandise. Listening to what people want and helping them find it. You are performing all day, and when you realize this, it can be an exhilarating and fun experience. You can prepare, rehearse and modify your performances daily.

What am I talking about? Performing? Exactly. If you assume the role of an enthusiastic, informed and helpful person you can give something to each person you encounter during the day. You will feel great about yourself and the client or co-worker walks away with an unexpected gift of meeting and connecting with a positive human experience.

I was involved in the fresh flower industry. Olga and I opened a “bucket-shop”, which at the time was an innovation, and dedicated ourselves to making every customers experience distinct and important.

No one buys flowers because they have to. They are sought when one wishes to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, birth of child, graduation, religious holiday, or wedding. They might be using the flowers to recognize an illness or death, as a thank you, to recognize a special person, to say I love you or I’m sorry, or as a emotional pick me up.

Flowers are objects that represent an emotion. Customers were not buying flowers. They were seeking a symbol of their feelings or the feelings they wished to transmit. Isn’t that true about most consumer items?

Understanding this, how can you NOT be enthusiastic about coming to work and giving your best performance?

During the time clients were in our environment, we were part of their search to represent their emotions, our advice was of great importance in order to find the right symbol, the perfect flowers. It was much more than a commodity transaction.

It’s important to recognize that false enthusiasm isn’t going to work. You have to believe in yourself, your abilities and knowledge. You have to believe that you are going on-stage everyday, and that your “performance” has to be genuine. You have to listen to the people around you, and determine what they are really seeking, and help them get it.

People used to stop in and visit us to get a shot of enthusiasm and positive attitude. There was always a smile, a greeting. The environment was light, fun, open, accepting. It was an amazing experience for us and for the clients. We gave a positive attitude, and customers gave us back more positive attitude.

All it took was our dedication to providing the best “performance” we could manage, everyday, no matter who was in the audience.

It’s “showtime” in your life every morning (remember Rob Schneider’s performance in “All that Jazz”?). It’s your decision to assume the role you are going to play. Will it be the angry, grumpy, distracted, negative you? Will it be the upbeat, enthusiastic, focused you?

It’s “showtime” right now.

It’s always “showtime”.

Related Links

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How to systematically analyze any situation for better decision making

24 08 2006

The ability to analyze and make decisions is one of the most important qualities of anyone in a leadership and management position.

How to systematically analyze any situation

  • What does the information I have really mean or reflect?
  • What are the questions I should be asking in order to increase my understanding of the situation?
  • Who are the people who have the information and answers to my questions?
  • Ask the questions and accumulate the required information.
  • What are the fears, expectations, limits and points of view of the involved parties?
  • What have I learned, and what am I going to do about it?

Example: Imagine that your salesforce reports that customers are demanding delivery of your products to their store two times a day, at 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM, instead of the current delivery schedule of 3 times a week. What do you do?

Begin the analysis.

What does this mean? The customers needs or desires have changed. Our salesforce has detected a change in the marketplace.

What questions do I need to ask to understand this? Why is the customer requesting the change? Who requested the change, is it driven by costs, lack of inventory space, new management, competitors? What do our people think about this? What customers are requesting the change?

Who are the people with the information and answers to my questions? Your sales-force and logistics department. The CEO, purchasing managers and warehouse managers of our customers. Who is going to contact them and get more exact information about the situation?

Expectations and points of view of those involved? The sales-force knows that without this change they will lose customers and market share. The customer’s executives and purchasing managers have found an method to reduce inventory and stocking costs with your competitor. The warehouse managers are losing personnel and control and are unhappy. There are significant costs associated with implementing and operating the program. Your competitors are aggressively investing in order to take away your market share.

What have I learned and what am I going to do about it? You discover that a competitor is providing deliveries twice a day, and stocking the customers shelves, reducing costs for the customer. They have made significant investments in trucks and personnel in order to provide this service. Your top 20 customers are affected now. Failure to provide equal or improved service will result in the loss of the customers and your market share. It’s time to bring in the company decision-makers and create an appropriate solution and response.

Related Links

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Build your organization, don’t destroy it

14 08 2006

Pragmatic business people know that strategies must be reviewed before, during and after implementation. Difficult questions must be asked and answered throughout the organization. Results analyzed and reviewed in order to identify flaws and errors.

Many times this exercise can push us into seeking and identifying problems instead of solutions. Too much time spent on what can go wrong and not enough focus on what can be created. Gridlock sets in, no solution is good enough, there is always a flaw.

All to often we find ourselves criticizing the work of others and the efforts that did not succeed as expected. We spend time taking things apart to find out what went wrong, and seeking to identify who was responsible for the “failure”. Our days are spent destroying the ideas of others.

Why not focus an equal amount of time on the positive aspects?

What did or will work, and why?

Creation is much more difficult than destruction. Support the creation of ideas and solutions in your organization, make your first analysis focus on the successful or positive aspects.

Ask yourself, “what am I creating today”.





Sales and marketing terrorism

10 08 2006

The recent media coverage of political terrorism throughout the world has me reflecting on terrorism and extreme sales and marketing tactics in the business world.

Every industry has individuals or organizations that use drastic, pointless, unethical or dangerous economic tactics in order to increase income or market share in the short term. This use of drastic and irresponsible actions can be called sales and marketing terrorism.

The goal of sales and marketing terrorism is to create immediate change, instill panic and chaos, or further the goals of one group who cannot or are not willing to work with the current system of rules, regulations and norms.

Many times the reaction to these isolated incidents will severely impact the industry, market or specific businesses. Reactions can result in increased government legislation, more government or industry intervention, increased costs of doing business, loss of revenue and reduced customer confidence in the organization or industry.

Some examples of “sales and marketing terrorism”:

A competitor who initiates a campaign of extreme discounts or low prices (dumping) in order to eliminate a competitor or increase market share.

A marketing campaign that uses lies and innuendo to reduce the reputation of a competitor or industry segment.

Products of extremely poor quality (below expected consumer beliefs or expectations) substituted for products known for their quality.

Don’t confuse sales and marketing terrorism with innovative ideas and paradigm shifts in how to do business. The difference is that a sales and marketing terrorist has no plan other than disruption.

Sales and marketing terrorism is a short term strategy or single event that has no regard for long term collateral consequences. They believe their actions will be justified because of short term increases in profit or market share. Rarely do they succeed, but often create chaos and disorder in the marketplace that have an impact on the industry and consumers that can last for a long time.