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.

Related Links

The easy way

10 top reasons for poor customer service and their solutions

Give this away

Are you listening to what the customer needs?

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Get the mission statement off your website

24 11 2007

Do you read the corporate mission and vision statements on websites or in corporate promotional material?

I don’t.

In fact, I find them to be insincere, ambiguous and completely useless to the customer, and most of the time useless to the company itself.

So why do many corporate websites include them?

Does someone in the sales and marketing department believe that customers find this information important or believable?

Objectives, goals, mission and vision are important in an organization.  They define where we are going, and help in making decisions about how to get there.

You don’t need a mission or vision statement to be successful.You will need to make certain everyone in the company knows where they are going and are focused and motivated on getting there.

Customers will see the results.

You don’t have to tell them what you are trying to do.






Are you listening to what the customer needs?

9 09 2007

I have been involved in a series of meetings with business owners regarding problems in their companies. 

Declining sales and market share due to international competitors, inability to compete or a decline in the entire industry sector are some of the reasons mentioned.

Solutions that were discussed and debated including cutting costs of raw materials, increasing worker efficiency, lowering logistics costs, streamlining the administration and related costs, government intervention and protection, outsourcing and even forming alliances with the international competitors.

What struck me as incredibly odd was that not once were the customer’s needs mentioned.

Not once did anyone mention creating new ideas, products or services for the customer.

There was no discussion of investing in new technology because “things are difficult now”.

There was never a comparison made between the marketing and promotion, branding or image of the competitors versus the company’s marketing, promotion, branding and image.  Why not? 

Every comment or observation focused on lowering production and logistics costs to the customer, never on increasing the benefits to the customer.

All that mattered is “how can I sell at a lower price”.

That’s right.  The entire future of these companies, and in some cases entire industries are focused on how make their products for less.  How to beat the Chinese, Indonesia or Brazil or whatever developing country has access to cheaper raw materials or labor. 

Common sense tells us this is not a viable, long -term solution.

Each of these companies has stated in their publicity, website and in their mission statements that their focus is on the customer and on customer service.  Why aren’t the customer’s needs and future needs part of the search for solutions when sales are declining?

If the customer really truly cares only about price, your product is a commodity. 

If the customer only cares about price, they don’t care about your company’s service, advertising and promotion, attitude or participation in their business.

If you really think that the low price will guarantee the sale, cut out the customer or technical service.  Take away financing.  Take away delivery and logistics.  Forget environmental and worker protection.  Reduce your inventories.   Standardize your prices and order sizes.   Cut down on sales and promotion. 

Call me when your sales skyrocket and the money pours in. 

I suppose it’s normal when sales fall, to attack costs, and costs are a fundamental element in being competitive in certain goods and services.

It is not the only element.  It may not even be the most important one for your customer. 

It probably is the easiest area to change quickly, and requires no investment.  People like easy solutions that don’t require investment. 

The relationship with your customer, the ability to meet their needs with your product or service and allow them to make a profit is what makes business click.

How well do you know your customer? 

What problems are they facing?

Is your contribution to their product important, significant or fundamental in their success?

Do they see you as simply a supplier of a commodity or an integral part of their supply chain and future?

Have you explored how you can work with them to make them more competitive?

Once this has been accomplished, bring the results to the boardroom and start the discussion of how to aid declining sales and deteriorating margin.

Don’t stop with the easy solutions.

Look for the difficult solutions, the ones that require compromise and long-term commitment.

Look for solutions that require investment of resources; time, money, and ideas. 

These are the solutions that the competitor focused on cost is not interested in. 

These are the solutions that will provide confidence and mutual opportunities for growth.





Broken promises

28 06 2007

“The best way to keep one’s word is not to give it.”  Napoleon Bonaparte

It’s too easy to make a promise.

We promise the customer that the product will work, solve their problem, and maybe change their lives.

We promise our coworkers that our part of the work will be delivered on time.

We promise our business partners and suppliers that we they can count on us.

We promise to follow up after the initial sales call, that we will always be there with customer service.

We promise that our priority is the customer and the customers satisfaction.

We promise to hit the sales goals and meet the budget.

All our promises are all full of good intentions, it’s what people want to hear, it’s what we want to deliver.

But, can we guarantee that we will deliver?

Never take a solemn oath.  People think you mean it.  Norman Douglas

The best way to ruin your reputation and lower your ability to lead and manage others is to promise something and not deliver.

We make a promise because it gives others confidence, it seems to make negotiations easier and it reflects our hope that all will go as planned.

“All promise outruns performance.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

A common error of new managers and leaders is the perceived need to make promises to their organization and team.

Don’t promise it.

Promises are very powerful compromises, but extremely fragile and difficult to achieve.  Take care when offering them to others.  

In the place of promises, offer firm plans, describe actions and possible outcome, dedicate the time and resources required.

Do more than you say you will.

Perform, don’t promise.

“It is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises but only performance is reality.”  Harold Geneen





Oil and water

30 05 2007

Oil and water don’t mix.

That’s what I believed until today.  Oil and water do mix after all

In an organization there are departments that don’t mix well, or not at all.  Sales, finance and production departments are notorious for having problems or “not mixing”.

Each of these groups has a different way of thinking, they create very different processes and final products, it makes sense that they will not agree to, or understand what the other departments are doing.

Tension, misunderstandings, frustration and chaos can result if left unattended.

Sales and marketing is concerned with creating or identifying demand for the product and negotiating an agreement.  It’s about people and relationships, emotions, taking advantage of opportunities, being creative innovative and adaptable, exploring new ideas, making sure the customer is satisfied.  Uncertainty is a large part of every business day.

Finance focuses on numbers.  What did we do in the past, what are we doing now, what will we need in the future and how do we reduce or eliminate our risk.  Structured, predictable, logical, they label everything.  Their evaluation and decision making is based on guaranteed outcomes and not on uncertainty.

Production is concerned with efficiency and is also numbers driven.  Processes are studied, analyzed and standardized in order to maximize control and eliminate  errors.  They prefer set plans and actively resist rapid or constant deviations and modifications.  Believers in contingency plans and backups, logical, not fond of uncertainty.

The goal is to acknowledge that every group is very different, with different points of view, and that these differences are essential to the success of any organization.

The entire system (organization) benefits from the interaction, questioning, and controls required by each department.

If there is total agreement, all the time, something is wrong.

Leadership’s role is to provoke, question, listen, analyze and push this chaos toward a goal.

Successful leaders know how to make oil and water mix,  and make it happen on a regular basis.

Related Links 

New Scientist – Oil and water do mix after all

Are we killing team performance by over communicating 

Leadership, want the job or just the title and benefits

Leadership – who do you want to lead





How we react to unethical actions and behaviour

21 03 2007

There are a number of reasons why individuals and organizations refuse to perform in an ethical manner or raise their voice against unethical behaviour.

6 Reasons why we don’t object to unethical actions or behaviour.

1. Ignored and Ostracized. We will be eliminated from the “group”. Showing opposition to an idea that was created by someone with power or the power of persuasion can result in being ignored and left out of future decision-making.

2. Fear. Not on board with the company philosophy? You might get fired. Fear of unfavorable personal consequences.

3. Demoted. Will lose power, prestige, and income if you speak up or oppose the idea or practice.

4. Insecurity. Perhaps we are not sure if the means justify the ends. Inability to clearly see the situation as unethical or wrong.

5. Reward. We see a payoff (money, power, prestige) that overwhelms our sense of ethics. Justifying wrong in order to receive personal gain.

6. Lazy or uncommitted. Unwilling or unable to challenge the group or idea.

5 Reasons why we should speak up and question unethical actions or behaviour.

1. Be true to yourself. Stand up for your own beliefs.

2. Be a leader. Others in the group might believe the same thing, but are timid or afraid of voicing objections. Create a dialogue and open a discussion of the issues.

3. New point of view. The group might not have thought of the consequences, or not see the situation as an ethics related decision. Open their eyes.

4. Protect the organization. Your intervention might save the organization from scandal, embarrassment, legal and financial problems.

5. Clarify. If you are unsure, voice your concerns and let the group present their case in order to clarify and resolve any doubts that you might have.

Related Links

Is your company noble, moral, ethical or virtuous

Sales and marketing terrorism 

Corruption, bribes, mordidas and tips – Doing business in Mexico

Where do you draw the line





Don’t find a solution, find a way to make it better

12 03 2007

We make a large error in our business and personal lives if we believe that every problem or situation can be solved immediately or in the short term through our decisions and application of resources.

Theoretically it’s possible, but our focus on solution instead of optimizing and making changes to make it better can blindfold us toward evolutionary processes that in the long term provide better, stronger and long lasting solutions.

I’m suggesting that every situation should be initially evaluated based on two basic criteria; can it be solved now, or can it be improved now.

The situations that can be solved now or in the short term, should be. The organization should dedicate the time and resources toward the solution.

An example would be a delivery service that has 3 trucks and cannot cover the current delivery area on-time due to an increase in customers and package volume. A possible swift solution would be the purchase of another vehicle and hiring of a new driver.

A situation that cannot be solved now or ever should be approached by identifying areas where improvement should be made. The time and resources of the company should be focused upon the improvement.

An example would be government’s attempt to eliminate poverty or disease from a population. A perfect solution is not possible or practical, but by focusing on specific areas one can find great opportunities for success or enormous impact (vaccinations for children against polio).

When we look at every situation as a problem that needs to be solved right now we may be missing the best solutions and strategies required to resolve the situation over the long term. Ask yourself:

  • Can we solve the problem quickly and efficiently with simply modification of variables or a shift in technology? If the answer is yes, then set the process and resources in motion.
  • What if the problem is not able to be solved quickly or has no practical or economically viable solution? This is where the approach of resolving and modifying parts of the problem comes into play.

This evolutionary approach to problem solving is not often requested or expected in business (the quick fix is always applauded and sought after), but often the best long term strategy is optimization and gradual modification.

This evolutionary problem solving process will provide new opportunities for change and solutions to be developed in the future.The identification of areas, processes or resources that are the bottlenecks in your organization become areas of opportunity.

Modifying and improving these bottlenecks will automatically create new bottlenecks, in new areas. The focus on identifying and solving these “new” situations leads to a process of continual improvement and a better, stronger organization.

This is one of the fundamental ideas behind the Theory of Constraints (TOC).

Common sense tells us that in a complex world not all solutions are simple, quick or painless. The “quick fix” is a great idea, but not often found in everyday life.

Observation of science, technology, philosophy and business ideas and strategies show us that change occurs through the rare revolution (paradigm shifts and new discoveries) and through the more common evolution (gradual modifications leading to continual change.

What can be changed, fixed or modified today to make the organization, process, product or service incrementally better?

Related Links

Why don’t they?

Starting over

How to systematically analyze any situation for better decision making

AGI Institute – Theory of Constraints

Evolution (Disambiguation)