Change…It’s a Good Thing (as long as you see it coming)

Let’s say you have a small business.  You have a retail shop where you sell baskets from all over the world.  You’d been successfully established for over ten years when you notice that basket sales are down compared to previous years.  Interestingly, a few years back you brought in stuffed bears of every shape and size, including those children can build, because people were always asking for cuddly animals to put into the baskets they purchased.  You even rolled with it and changed your business name to tell the new story.  For a few years, the bears actually outsold the baskets but then they started to lose momentum as well.  You began to think that perhaps your shop had run its course but decided, before throwing in the towel, to poll your customers as they left the store.  An informal poll showed you that the demographics of the shopping population were changing with the growth of more retail shops on your block.  Wisely realizing that customers were the key to your success, you hired a firm to do a few focus groups, surveys, and analysis.

To your amazement, the demographics of your customers and wanna-be customers had changed radically.  You started your business as an out-of-the-way shop in an off-beat environment catering to a particular client base with financial means and large homes.  When the base changed, you were well positioned with the bears to accommodate the newer client with young families.  Noticing the market trend shift again, your consultant revealed that your new customer base was largely tourists brought into the now hugely popular area because of the exponential growth of retail establishments, restaurants and attractions.  When you recognized the character and makeup of your new customer base, you changed your product line and your name to accommodate their wishes.  Business boomed and yours is now the oldest established business in that area, and going strong … but not without your finger always, always on the pulse of your ever-changing customer base.

So, here’s the bottom line to my story (which, by the way is a true story of a small, but very successful business in Georgia):  Sure it’s great to understand the market, get a feel for what your competition is doing and certainly get a handle on where your industry is going in said market, but that’s nothing without a deep understanding of your customers.  Face it, without your customers, well I hate to say it, but…you’re nothing.  Are those words a bit strong for you?  Better to hear the words than deal with a harsh reality because customers weren’t given enough credit for the success of your business. 

Simply put, there’s more than just the text book learning and even the quantifiable ‘facts’ when running a business.  There’s ALWAYS a person behind the business, product, service, concept, etc and without taking the time to understand their needs and wants there’s little need to even bother opening your doors.  Now, do not be alarmed.  All is not lost.  This is where ethnographies and qualitative research come into play.

By understanding the story behind the person you are able to best fit your product line or service into their lives.  YOU CAN GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT, NOT WHAT YOU WANT THEM TO WANT!  Again, just to make sure that was understood…by understanding the story behind the person you are able TO BEST FIT your product or service into their lives.  Now how simple is that?