I like, no, love, businesses that surprise with imaginative services—such as the Home Depot case above. It perhaps gets better. Consider Jim, my favorite Australian these days.
Jim (Jim Penman) sports a Ph.D. in cross-cultural anthropology. While working toward the degree in 1984, he did some odd jobs mowing lawns. Found he had a knack for it—and started Jim's Mowing.
To make a long and glorious story short, "Jim's Mowing" morphed into Jim's Group. It now provides an array of home services for busy families—including mowing, cleaning, handyman jobs, fencing, paving, pool care, and even dog walking. It also "morphed" from Jim to 2,600 franchisees in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
In an "industry" not exactly marked by standout people practices, Jim has shined as much with management skills as with his overall business concept. For instance, in a huge departure from standard practice, a franchisee can leave the fold and start a competing business—at will with no restrictions attached. Penman's contrarian reasoning is that he can't imagine having unhappy franchisees in the fold. But there's also a tough side, and it involves client service. His franchisees typically have zero or one customer complaint per year. (Ye gads.) Every complaint is investigated, and franchisees who don't get with the program get the boot.
Though I lifted this story from Australia's Management Today (Jan-Feb 2006), I confirmed it with Aussie execs at a recent seminar in Adelaide.
"Wallop Wal*Mart" is one of my persistent themes. I'm a great fan of Wal*Mart, but the point is that there is, in any arena, invariably room for someone who does it differently. ("Dramatic Difference," swiped from our pal, Doug Hall, is the term I prefer.) Superb, focused Community Banks can "compete effectively against" (beat the crap out of) BankAmerica. Inspired retailers can "own" a community—even with a Wal*Mart right down the road. And Jim Penman can cobble together a 2,600 unit franchise operation, almost flawlessly performing mundane tasks that others ignore.
Good on you, Mate.
(Attached you'll find a brief Special Presentation, "Jim's Plus," that includes the PPT slides associated with this Post.)