There are many very important words that translate to into many languages; words like Love, God, Jesus or War. These are huge and powerful words. All of them are used so often that they tend to lose their significance in how they influence us. But certain words really could help us direct our lives.
Daily, we hear many certain words or phrases. Almost every hour we get e-mails or posts on Social Media that are supposed to give us inspiration. You have probably noticed that there is no shortage on opinions about how to live your life, how to think, or what to say. It’s gotten so common that most of us don’t even pay attention to it any more. They’ve lost their significance.
Then there are certain words that are used to describe everything. Comedians, Rap Artists and many actors use a certain four letter so much that it has lost its meaning or at least the shock value of hearing it. I’m old enough that I can remember the first time I heard that word in public. Oh no, he said that in front of everyone, including the girls at the party. Many words are so overused that they’ve lost their meaning.
But I believe there is one word that is totally underused or even thought about. The word WHY should dictate our whole life. If we successfully answered that before every decision, there would be far, far less failures in everything we do.
Let me start with a disclosure here: My background and experiences may differ greatly from what you are involved in, but I learned a long time ago that if you teach an astute person a solid, basic principal, they can extrapolate that into a thousand different applications. So please relate these principals to your own situations.
Since my main professional background has been in starting businesses, growing them and then selling them, let me start by explaining what I mean from a business perspective.
So, you want to start a new business, buy another business or expand an existing business into another category. Let’s first look at the reason why. Of course, you’re doing it make money, but why will your new venture succeed? Are you filling a need?
Is this a business or product that will really help your target customer or are you inventing a need? Not that you can’t invent a need; Soda manufacturers do it all the time. But that’s a hard sell and you must have a lot of money to make that work. Most of us don’t have that luxury.
Maybe you live in a medium to small town and there is no place to buy hardware, rent equipment or get dry cleaning done. That’s excellent but is there enough consumers to support what your planning. That was how I started one of my first businesses. In the very late 60’s, South Orange County in California was just starting to grow and there wasn’t a Rental Center where contractors or homeowners could rent equipment to put in lawns, build patios and decks or even rent trucks to move into the area with. I filled a real need and the business was a great success.
A little while later, we were not only renting equipment but since there wasn’t anyplace to buy Construction Equipment in that part of the County, we started selling what the contractors needed. Again, a success. Both were profitably sold to a much larger company that saw a need for them to expand in that area. For them, buying us was easier and less expensive than trying to start from scratch and go head to head.
While we had those companies, we noticed that a certain Landscape Rake, which was needed at that time for putting in Lawns was very poorly made. So, we designed a far better Landscape Rake, called the Great Rake, which eventually ended up as part of a whole line of 350 specialty tools for the Hardware, Irrigation & Landscape industry. During that time, we designed several tools that made things like digging trenches for sprinkle lines much, much easier. Almost every product we designed or made solved a problem. That company was sold 18 years later and still thrives as part of a much larger company.
Consider U-Haul who realized in 1945, that after World War II, Soldiers were coming home and now had interest in moving to other parts of the US, parts they had been introduced to during the war. U-Haul saw a need and now 73 years later, still dominate that category of business.
Amazon is a great example of filling a need. Now you order almost anything you need for many categories, with a full selection of product and you never leave your home. Yes, you may pay a little more, but the selection, time savings and ease of shopping is making them Super Successful. Amazon saw a need in the current environment where almost all households work two jobs, try to raise children and have no time to shop several stores to find or compare product that they need.
On the flip side, there are MANY examples of companies who saw a need at the time and did exceptionally well for decades but didn’t keep asking WHY or What their consumers needed. Sears started in 1892 and for 70 years dominated their category. They filled a real need for the rural and urban consumer. At one time you could buy everything needed for your home including the house itself from the Sears catalog. Heck the catalog itself filled a need out in the Out House. Must have been colorful!
But somewhere along the line, many of these huge entities lost focus on WHY they were important to their customers or how to stay more important than their new competitors and ended up going out of business or at least losing money for decades. We’ve seen that over and over through the decades. Businesses thrived for a while when they started, but new competitors did a better job of asking why.
I believe one of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is duplicating what someone else is doing in the same geographical area. If you are offering the same product or service, then either you better be doing a LOT better job of whatever you do at the same or nearly the same price or be less expensive. It’s very hard to make money being less expensive because then that becomes a price war or a competition to who can offer the cheapest product. Everyone loses there but we see it all the time.
Today with all the acquisitions happening, chains of stores, especially Building supply chains, find that offering a good service at a good price, but being available wherever the contractor might go, is solving a problem for the contractor. They know what they can get, what the cost will be, and they probably have a credit account so all they must do is sign. They have made it easier for their customer than the competition.
Bottom line is you must either fill a need or have a very compelling reason for customers to buy from you. Not understanding this basic principal is why 8 out of 10 businesses go out of business within the first 3 years. Though many don’t understand my thoughts on this, but I believe one of the main challenges we face today is that it’s too easy to get into business in the US. No one is forcing potential business owners to answer the reason WHY. Yes, Banks make sure you have the money to pay them back when something goes wrong, but most don’t care if you’re filling a need.
Marketing & Selling
A different aspect of business that really disturbs to me is the lack of understanding in our Marketing and Sales departments. For the past seven years, I’ve enjoyed being a Manufacturers’ Representative. Prior to that I helped several small businesses start up or expand into new Categories. In both situations, I was always astounded by the lack of understanding by owners or their Marketing Departments about WHY their customers should buy their product or WHY they should even do the venture.
On a Distribution level, I would be approached by a new manufacturer to represent their company and take their program to all the distributors that were appropriate for their product. My first question was always WHY? They would answer, why what? Why should anyone buy your product or program. Often, they would reply, “Well, we have a very competitive program”. “So……………”
I’d reply, “so because you want their business, they should disrupt their existing program of which they have been selling to all of their dealers for quite a while, just because you want their money?” Remember, every buyer or business owner today is overworked thanks to Modern Technology. They are not looking for something else to do, especially changing from an existing program, perfect or not, to a new one.
A common response is “well, we’re 3% less expensive”. My reply has always been, if it’s not at least a 7% difference, why would they go to the trouble, actually it should be more.. There must be a serious reason why anyone will consider making a change.
Now if the current vendor is underperforming for whatever reason; maybe isn’t supporting them in marketing or sales support, isn’t shipping at 95%, doesn’t have the latest models or technology, then you have a sellable reason for them to listen to your program. But you must know all that upfront.
Your program presentation must include all the reasons WHY they should consider your program:
· Are you the latest style, technology or methodology?
· Do you have the ability to give them 95% fill-rate?
· What is your lead-time?
· Is your cost competitive or do you have a price advantage?
· Are you able to offer all the back-side that the Distributor needs? (Terms, Rebates & Advertising)
· Are you able to ship product on a prepaid basis at an amount that makes sense for your customer.
· Can you provide all the competitive data necessary to show why you’re the best option?
On a Retail Level, it is much more direct. Have a sign or endcap saying only $XX or saving 50%, what does that accomplish if the consumer doesn’t know what the product is, what it can do for them or if they even want it. 50% off something they have no idea why they should buy it means nothing. And consumers don’t really believe discounts any more because to many have just increased the cost to give an inflated discount.
Many retailers rely on the manufacturers packaging to sell the product. Yeah, do shoppers really go up and down the aisle reading all the boxes to see if they have interest in it. And now that manufacturers have trilingual packaging, there’s no real room for much explanation.
Successful manufacturers and retailers have added explicit Point of Purchase signage explaining what a category and/or product does. A good example would be the Bulb Section at Lowes. The signage directs you to the right category and then helps gives the consumer direction as to what they should buy.
To me, a great example is U-Haul again. First of all, the name U-Haul is self-explanatory. I’m sure everyone of you have seen their trucks and trailers going down the road. They are moving billboards explaining why you should rent from them. They unabashedly tout that they are the best. On each of their box trailers, across the back where everyone following can read, it says: Low Profile-Easy Loading, Tow with any Vehicle, Fuel Efficient. Their trucks not only show that they have Very Low Decks, but many show a picture of the difference between theirs and their competitors. The U-Haul website gives complete details on their products, how to load them and even the advantages of renting vs buying. They make sure you understand WHY you should use U-Haul in every possible detail.
To be continued…………