Small Business Marketing

How To Be A Titan Of Industry

Imagine an industry. You can pick any industry, but we’ll go with furniture making. For years and years and years, the furniture industry is essentially stagnant. New players enter the market and older players leave. Some businesses get bigger, others fold. There is balance.

For the purposes of this little story, we’ll say there are 100 players in the game. We’ll assume they, like any other stagnant industry, operate on a bell curve. A few radical players at each end of all the spectrums, and a whole bunch in the middle.

Then something happens that changes the way the furniture making business works. We’ll say it’s the green movement. All of a sudden, the market is demanding green products. People are going bananas for Mother Earth.

What happens to the players?

All the dudes in the middle flock to the eco end of the spectrum. Instead of a bell curve, you have 99 newly minted vegans and one neanderthal who clubs his breakfast to death.

This is not ideal, but it’s probably not going to bankrupt anyone.

But what happens next?

Seeing their success, a bunch of other dudes think, “Hey, I heard there’s money in green furniture” and they hang up their shingles as the makers of bamboo coffee tables. Instead of 100 players across the eco-spectrum, you’ve got 1000 players all at one end. The market is flooded, but that’s cool for a while, because bamboo coffee tables are all the rage.

But what happens next?

The customer cannot differentiate between Tree Huggin’ Harry and Granola Munchin’ Mike. They are confused, and so they do nothing. They make do with the coffee table they already have. Harry and Mike are living in their Prius.

Now imagine you had one guy who said, “Screw the environment. I’m killing elephants with nothing but my bare hands and a tractor wheel and then I’m gonna make lamps from their trunks. BOO-yah.”

What happens to that guy?

He gets really, really rich.

Because now, while you have 1000 people competing for 90% market share (the newly eco chic), you have 1 guy with the other 10% (Sarah Palin) all to himself.

Thank you, Naomi. What’s the point?

Make a very consistent branding statement. Consistent to the point where it makes you a teensy bit sick. And make that branding statement the polar opposite of what is favored by everybody else.

Fear, Failure, Opportunity, Success, and Po Bronson

Because I’m the type of person who gets my wisdom from Starbucks:

“Failure’s hard, but success is far more dangerous. If you’re successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and opportunity can lock you in forever.”

— Po Bronson

It’s tragic that instead of this being required curriculum at every school in the country, we have to read it on coffee cups.

A Marketing Lesson For My Local Sex Shop

So I’m in a sex shop today, because that’s the kind of thing I do on a Tuesday morning. (And they ask me why I work for myself.)

It’s fairly new, and it’s one of those women’s only deals that markets nice things, not sleazy things. Body balms, belly dancing costumes, very lovey dovey. It’s a good idea, and from what I can tell, business is going gangbusters. (Do things “go gangbusters” or do they “do gangbusters”? Is “gangbusters” really a word I should be using when discussing sex shops?)

So I go in and it’s all pink lighting and nice displays and there is a zero sleaze factor. There’s even a sign on the door that says, very politely, that they don’t sell novelty items so don’t even ask. Everything is going well. My could-be shopping experience is all good.

There is a charming little dog that comes up and sniffs my shoes and then goes back to biting his chew toy. There is a woman behind the counter talking to someone on the phone. The person she’s speaking to appears to be her girlfriend. She says the F-word a lot, but in a nice way, like I do.

By all accounts, this is the kind of a place I wouldn’t mind shopping.

So I head over to the books, the DVDs, the massage oils. There are even locally made massage balms that come in 100% post-consumer recycled tins. What more can you want in a sex shop? I mean, really!

I pick up a set of three of these little balms, very much like the Body Butters that you buy at the Body Shop. These things are so classy I would give them to my mother-in-law in her Christmas stocking. They’re beautiful. They have little testers that smell heavenly. I’m a little bit in love. I turn over the tin to see the price, bracing myself for something I imagine will be terrifying.

Oh, it’s terrifying alright. There’s no price.

Hmm. Weird. I look at the other ones. No price. No price, no price, no price. No price on the movies, no price on the books, no price on the belly dancing bindi things. There’s a sign that says clothes and candles are 50% off, but 50% off what, we’ll never know.

Everybody’s heard the term, “If you have to ask, it’s too expensive.” This is true when it comes to high-end call girls and Lamborghini’s, but I don’t think it should be true in retail stores located between a teapot shop and a dog groomer. We’re not exactly on Saville Row here, people.

Here’s a little lesson for sex shops everywhere:

“How much for the pink vibrator?” is not a question anyone ever wants to have to ask.

I’ve said it a trillion times before, and I’ll keep saying it until I’m dead.

Eliminate barriers to purchase.

Making me say “vibrator” in front of my toddler constitutes a barrier to purchase. If I feel uncomfortable, I’m going to leave. If I’m going to leave, I’m not going to buy. Bottom line.

Lesson for everyone who does NOT run a sex shop: Have someone impartial and inexperienced check your sales process for barriers. Have them try to buy something from your online store. Have them try out the Contact form on your website. Listen to what they say. You might be surprised.

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Originally published in 2008.

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