If I were to ask you what you were in the business of, you might respond with a vanilla answer of something like: “We provide exceptional quality residential kitchens to the Upstate New York market”, or “We’re the leading drawer box outsource in the Northwest”. But really, it’s more complicated than that, isn’t it? Or maybe better said, if you can see the nuances in what business you’re really in you’ll have an advantage in your space.
To show you what I mean, let’s look at this in a few ways. First, let’s break down the business. Let’s look at a hypothetical residential cabinetry shop. A business exists to add value somehow to someone. Value can come in a myriad of currencies. There’s the currency of power, money, freedom, knowledge, etc. Maybe your business exists mostly as a way for you to learn. That’s ok, as long as you understand which types of currencies are gained at which points along the way, and you agree to the deal.
Let’s talk about the currency of money. A first stab at a formula for the cabinet shop would look something like: “We’ve figured out how to turn raw materials into finished kitchens, which customers pay us money for. We pay that money to our employees and vendors to pay for the cost of the product. What we have left over is our profit.” Simple and straightforward.
But it’s more complicated than that, isn’t it? Are you a master salesman that is less talented on the shop floor? Then maybe you’re really in the business of selling expectations, up-selling high-margin add ons, and selling employees to work for less than they normally would. Are you an engineer at heart? Maybe you’re really in the business of converting efficient shop floor layouts and custom machinery to profit. Are you in a tough labor market? Maybe you’re really in the business of recruiting and retaining employees. I don’t mean to over simplify here, but the point is, you can benefit greatly from evaluating yourself, your team, your location, your market, and figure out what you’re really in the business of. If you understand this, you can throw more fuel where it’s really needed.
Now let’s look at the products and services side of your business. Are you really in the business of hanging boxes to the wall? Many sectors already understand this concept better than ours. Movie theaters are really in the concessions business. They provide a sensory experience so they can sell us popcorn and Red Vines. They compete against 7-11. They’ve found a way to one-up their “competition” using experience. Cruise lines (RIP) give us water slides, dolphin excursions, and the wind rushing by so they can sell us Alcohol and gambling. They compete against bars. These models show us that products and services aren’t always the focus they seem to be.
We sometimes like to over-simplify what business we’re in because it limits our accountability and therefore culpability when things go wrong, as they inevitably will. It’s more comfortable to shrug our shoulders and say “welp, I did my part” than to take on an audacious responsibility. If you’re only in the business of hanging boxes to a wall and something goes wrong, you just have to fix that small part of it. By contrast, if you’re in the business of making your customers happy, there is a lot more chance of failure.
But what if… What if you expanded the meaning and scope of your business? What if you upgraded the typical “just delivering a product/service” to an experience? I’m not a big fan of going to Disneyland/Disneyworld (sue me), but we can learn a lesson here. How do they get away with selling my family an $85 lunch (consisting of 5 small baskets of poorly cooked fries, 2 corn dogs, 2 baskets of chicken strips, and a terrible cheeseburger)? Because there are stormtroopers walking around, and Cinderella is right over there. The terrible lunch and the price tag are somehow not even up for dispute, and we all know it's not really Cinderella. The long line to the counter and the fact that it’s hard to find a table tells you that it’s working. It works all day, every day. The money just keeps coming.
Disney can teach our industry the importance of being in more than the business that you think you’re in. I’m not necessarily advocating that your install team wear stormtrooper uniforms to every install. (Wait, why not, If it can somehow tie in to what the customer deems as valuable?) I am challenging you to think about how you can switch your business from a boring and oversimplified version of itself to one that is focused on the overall customer experience. People will pay real money for a terrible lunch if there’s an experience. They'll choose you and your mediocre products over your competition in the same way.
Your homework is to analyze your business, strip it down to what you’re ACTUALLY currently in the business of. Then, have a creative brainstorm about what you COULD be in the business of. Ask yourself the question: “If I were my customer, what things would I want my company to do for me, no matter how crazy or seemingly unrelated?”. Ask a kid to join you in this exercise. They haven’t been jaded with the skepticism and pragmatism that you have. Should you be stocking the cabinets with groceries before you leave? Should you be leaving cookies on the countertops you just installed? Do you send the homeowner to get a massage while you install? Does your showroom need a slushy machine? Get creative and make that leap. Your customers will talk, and there’s nothing more valuable today than attention. Disney creativity leads to Disney profits.