Published on: May 17, 2011by Michael Sansolo
There is a very, very painful question you need to ask yourself this morning, but in many ways, it may be the most important question that can be asked of any individual or any business. It’s a simple question with incredibly profound implications.
Is your business pursuing greatness that simply doesn’t matter anymore?
The question was posed at last week’s Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Future Connect conference in Dallas by former Acosta CEO Gary Chartrand as he talked about the history of his own company. As Chartrand explained (and as we reported here last week) Acosta faced the question at a time when it was a top performing regional food broker. Once Chartrand realized the answer, he took his company through a high-risk transformation, turning it into a North American-wide sales and marketing company. Today Acosta is one of only three such companies dominating a market that was once served by thousands of brokers.
The point seemed particularly compelling given so much of the other discussion at Future Connect. For instance:
• Is your company pursuing excellence in traditional store formats? If so, Dan O’Connor’s comments on the cataclysmic changes coming to the retail landscape should shake you to the core. O’Connor talked about the increasing portion of the shopping public making decisions based solely on price and who are, thanks to economic realities, unable to expand market baskets in traditional ways. If that prediction is true, today’s state of the art superstores might find themselves at a competitive disadvantage against small price-oriented merchants.
• Add on to that point, the growing urbanization of the US and the world and the growing need for smaller formats that fit into these markets. Again, this is a painful point to consider if you run 80,000-square-foot stores to perfection. Are you building the format of the present and ignoring the future? That may give you pause to look at experiments like Tesco’s Fresh and Easy with newfound interest.
• What shoppers are you serving? This question takes on all kinds of implications is you consider the enormous diversity (think Hispanics) and size of Generation Y (s bigger than the Baby Boom.) The challenge is are you building stores that appeal to today’s 50-year-olds, but somehow don’t connect with 20-somethings.
• If you think that’s not an important discussion consider the large chains that withered through the 1980s and 1990s with formats that appealed to today’s mature generation and didn’t connect with Boomers. Remember it wasn’t that long ago that Walmart, Costco, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Dollar General and Starbuck’s together accounted for hardly any share of sales. In different ways, those companies served needs that existing companies simply missed or never saw coming.
• Who are you employing and how do you manage them? Again, the future looks far different than the present thanks to those same demographic trends changing shoppers. The face of America is changing and that means the face of your company needs to change. Ask yourself if you are an attractive employer of these new groups or if you could possibly be out of touch?
There are so many other points to consider, but you have to start somewhere. And it’s why Chartrand’s point matters so much. There’s a wonderful speech in an otherwise forgettable movie called Other People’s Money. In it Danny DeVito reflects on the last company that made buggy whips and just how great that last whip must have been, only to find that no one needed it.
Ask yourself, are you building a company for the future or are you simply perfecting the buggy whip? The wrong answer could doom you.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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