"Be the best. It's the only market that's not crowded."
—George Whalin, Retail Superstars: The 25 Best Independent Stores in America
Tom's Credo: "Commodity" is a state of mind—a loser's state of mind. A-n-y-t-h-i-n-g can be significantly (dramatically?) differentiated.
Some time back I met a senior IBM sales exec. She said her breakthrough had come years before when she was a rookie salesperson for Moore Business Forms. Her product was about a third more expensive than that of their primary competitor. "Our bosses told us," she said, "that it was up to us to dig into the client's operations, be helpful, and find a way to merit the price premium." That is, she and her colleagues were effectively told to de-commoditize a rather ordinary product. "The lesson has stayed with me and paid off throughout my career," she concluded.
The local plumber or electrician does not provide a "commodity service" ...
• if he/she knows the job
• if he/she is learning new tricks all the time
• if he/she has a good disposition
• if he/she shows up on time
• if he/she is neatly dressed
• if he/she has s spiffy truck
• if he/she fixes the problem in an elegant and timely fashion—and clearly explains
what was done and why it was done this way or that
• if he/she cleans up so that after the fact the client could "eat off the jobsite floor"
• if he/she volunteers to do a few tiny tasks outside the one at hand—gratis
• if he/she calls 24 hours later to make sure all is well
• if, perhaps, he/she even goes so far as to create a blog with occasional posts
featuring practical tips for his clientele—a tiny Virginia swimming pool company became a literal "best-in-world" following this social-media strategy
He/she ain't a commodity!!
(I call such personal de-commoditization ... DWPF/Distinction Worth Paying For.)
My mind returned to that hypothetical plumber/electrician a few days ago as I write. I was on my way to pick up plans from a local engineering firm for a septic system repair. I was driving through a moderately populated suburban area about 50 miles south of Boston. I passed a modest-sized quadrangle with shops and offices. The roadside sign included:
• Quilt shop
• Wedding-cake provider
• Swimming pool sales, service, and installation company
• Tailor offering alterations
• Medical billing service
• Solo lawyer
• "Be Fit"/Fitness center
There are thousands upon thousands of such setups around the country—fact is, they employ the majority of us. And another fact is that each and every one has the opportunity to be no less than a local ... Superstar. No, not a jillion-dollar "unicorn," but to be like that hypothetical plumber/electrician cited above. To be special. Very special. To "be the best." To be an "employer of choice," too—not hiring dozens, but with sustained stellar performance and growing reputation, increasing staff size from, say, three, to five or six or nine. And the "jobs added" would be damn good jobs. Probably not high-paying jobs, but moderate+ paying jobs at a "great company"—the three or five or six or nine employees of this little "be the best" outfit would learn a bushel of good habits and pick up precious hard and soft skills that would increase their "employability quotient" and, thus, serve them well in the years, even decades, to come.
Despite at first blush what appear ordinary-sounding services, none of these operations has to be a "commodity." "Special"/"Excellent"/"Wow!" is not an opportunity open to a chosen few! These differentiating attributes are available to anyone with a vivid imagination, a sterling work ethic, a passion for improvement, and a caring attitude.
Oddly enough, after picking up my septic plans, I went on to get a much-needed haircut. I was a bit early, and sat down to wait. As fate would have it, there was a small framed motto on the magazine table next to me: "When you support small business, you support a dream." What a fitting end to my wee local journey.
Excellence or bust!
Be the Best!
Become an employer-of-choice!
(DREAM BIG/BE THE BEST/PROGRAM ONE MILLION [GOOD!] NEW JOBS: ONE MILLION SMALL BUSINESSES [<10 EMPLOYEES] COMMIT IN 2017 TO PROVIDING THEIR CUSTOMERS WITH A LEVEL OF EXCELLENCE AND "WOW" SUCH THAT EACH OF SAID BUSINESSES WILL PROSPER TO THE POINT OF HAVING TO HIRE ONE NEW EMPLOYEE—WHOM IN TURN THEY WILL TRAIN IN EXCELLENCE/"WOW" TO THE EXTENT THAT THE NEW EMPLOYEE'S LIFETIME JOB PROSPECTS ARE EXPONENTIALLY IMPROVED. BOTTOM LINE: F-R-O-M-I-N-D-I-V-I-D-U-A-L-TO-C-O-M-M-U-N-I-N-I-T-Y-T-O-N-A-T-I-O-N-E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E-W-I-N-S- B-I-G-T-I-M-E.)