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  • 08.28.09

Knowing the Signs

Recognizing the hints of a market shift and responding to it

Recently here in San Diego, a famous sports bar chain
located in prime spots around the city closed down, its stores gutted and
employees laid off. While perhaps a more common occurrence in these lean times,
I submit that the demise of this very well-known and once-popular business was
primarily the result of its management team’s inability to recognize changes in
their market.

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Here are some reasons why I think this way. In the nearly
20 years that I frequented the chain, I never saw a change in its menu or décor
one bit. Moreover, while this company was unquestionably the local pioneer of
family-friendly sports dining in town when it opened, several competitors have
since come on the scene and are now flourishing, bringing with it stiffer
competition. I would venture to say that the chain’s executives never took
these nuances seriously enough.

Sensing Change

Market shifts are an interesting and guaranteed
phenomenon in business. They often occur without great fanfare or forewarning.
I’ve seen the same thing in our industry of television listening devices; with
the level of competition from also-rans growing significantly since we launched
our operations more than a decade ago. I believe part of the reasons for this
was a bi-product of our own success; we at TV Ears proved there was a lucrative
market to be had. Though I feel that these rival products on the whole are
inferior to ours, it does not mean that I simply discount the signs they show.
So before the next business executive scratches their head in wonderment of
their company’s misfortunes, I offer the following tips to help them recognize
when their market is changing:

Respect competitors for the value they bring. Many
companies disregard new competitors as not worthy of concern. Though that may
in fact be the case, their presence can provide valuable information on
emerging market trends that must be addressed, particularly if these competitors
show traction for their price, feature or function differences in their product
over the incumbents.

Recognize the potential in looking beyond the current
market.
It’s not uncommon for a company to focus on a particular niche at the
expense of larger opportunities. While getting a “toe-hold” in the early stages
is important to gain interest, adoption and positive cash flow, disregarding
other potential customers in the process could prove hazardous to the
organizations’ overall future health. For instance, we knew early on that while
we initially targeted our assisted listening devices toward audiologists and
hearing health professionals, we would need to break into the retail market in
order to continue our growth. That’s exactly what we’ve done over the past 10
years; for we knew that if we didn’t satisfy that base, someone else would.

Recognize potential market convergences. I’ve seen
instances when a company creates a new market with its product or service only
to have some multi-national firm sweep in later with a comparable offering at a
lower price and drive them out of business. Entrepreneurs can mitigate this
risk by protecting intellectual property while also focusing on innovation and
staying one step ahead of customer demands. If they’re successful at this
strategy, several things can happen; among them being that the “Big Boy” stops
competing with them altogether or makes an offer to acquire the upstart,
thinking it’s better to join them than beat them.

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Avoid Complacency

They point in all of this is for an entrepreneur to act
like one everyday and treat each day as if it were their first day in business.
They should also never be satisfied with the current success of their product
or service, but instead continually strive to improve. Of course, organizations
should celebrate their achievements along the way as they are hard earned, but
nonetheless keep up with the changing environment by using the skills that made
them viable in the first place.

 

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