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Looking Around Corners

by Jeff Gau on January 6, 2011

Thirty years ago Marco could never have imagined a world without typewriters. This was the company’s economic engine contributing to most of our revenue and profit.  In fact, our original name was The Typewriter Shop.

But the shift in technology made the typewriter business unsustainable. The emerging personal computer would prove to be an inflection point in the future of office technology.  This would require Marco to modify its’ strategy in order to survive.

What would happen if your industry went away? Would you be prepared?

At Marco we’ve made “looking around corners” a priority for anticipating the future. I believe business leaders need to be in tune with their industry trends and continuously analyze the impact these changes could have on their business model.

Strategy Shifts
So, what did Marco do? Our strategy shifted from a product-focus to a customer-focus enabling us to expand our product offerings to our existing client base. This model still holds true today. For example, Coborn’s Inc. was originally a Marco typewriter customer. Today we provide the grocery chain print, voice communication, and video surveillance technologies.  

Other industries certainly have seen similar changes. We are currently experiencing dramatic shifts driven by technology. For example, let’s look at the telecommunications industry and the shift from landlines to cell phones. The next generation will determine that outcome.

And whatever happened to brands like Encyclopedia Britannica and World Book? The book series once filled almost every home in America and served as an essential research tool for students. Today’s generation relies on the Internet, social media, and tools like Wikipedia.

Acknowledging Change
Staying relevant in the marketplace requires leaders to keep their business contemporary and keep their eyes wide open toward industry changes. Here are some ways that help us keep Marco dynamic:

  • Don’t ignore key signals in your industry. Be proactive. Take an interest in your industry beyond your day-to-day operations. 
  • Participate in industry groups. For me that means being actively involved in best practice groups within our respective businesses. As an example, we have a 15 member national copier dealer group that shares everything from financials to marketing practices.  This has been very beneficial to Marco because it keeps us in tune with our industry on a national scale. If you’re not in one, join one. If there isn’t, start one.
  • Stay well-connected to your suppliers and industry partners. Obviously their livelihood depends on effectively producing products that the marketplace demands. These relationships can be a good resource for developing strategies for your business. At Marco, we actively participate on national dealer advisory boards for Sharp, Konica Minolta, HP, and Mitel.
  • Connect with your customers. This is another good resource for providing direction in market trends. Where is the customer spending their money? What business processes are they looking to improve? What are their pain points? What are our competitors doing that they like? What’s happening in their respective industries? The point is, talk to your customers. They’ll be glad you asked.
  • Listen to your customer-facing personnel. For Marco, this is our sales representatives, our service personnel, and our client care staff. They are on the front lines and can provide an inside look at where there’s potential and where there’s decline in product and service segments.
  • Know where you’re making and losing money. Typically there are parts of your business that are stronger than others. Our philosophy is if it fits your strategy and is not making money, fix it. If it doesn’t fit your strategy and it’s not making money, get out of it.

Prepare for the Inevitable
At some point, there may be parts of your business that will go into decline and could ultimately go away altogether. During my career I’ve seen a series of products go from infancy to absent. The fax machine – once a door opener in our industry – is virtually nonexistent today with the advent of email and networking.  As product shifts like these happen, it’s important to identify what new revenue streams can replace diminishing product lines.

It certainly is easier to ignore negative trends and hope they go away than it is to apply the resources necessary to start a new business unit or change your strategy.

The good news is that usually the shifts aren’t a light switch. If you make a habit of “looking around corners”, odds are better you’ll see them coming – and more importantly, be able to take action to secure your organization’s future.

Topics: Leadership, Strategy, Change

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