retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Necessity, as we know, is the mother of invention and more often than ever, differentiation is the path to success. With that in mind we need to consider a real odd couple - domestic diva, Martha Stewart and Grinnell College basketball coach David Arseneault each of whom have defined interesting routes to success.

Most of us had never heard of Arseneault or possibly Grinnell College basketball until one week ago when Grinnell player Jack Taylor racked up an incredible 138 points in a single game. (If you aren’t a basketball fan this is all you need know: most entire teams don’t score that many points in a game!) It’s likely that many might have shared my first reaction, which was why would a team do this to an opponent. But my concerns about a college team running up the score quickly changed.

Jay Hart, a columnist for Yahoo! Sports explained the scoring outburst and Arseneault’s coaching differently and provided the business lesson. Apparently, when Arseneault took over the Grinnell program in 1989, he found a team more likely to disappear than make the national news. The Division 3 school was a constant loser, student-athletes had little interest in playing and fans were scarce.

Like many small business owners, Arseneault knew he needed to change the status quo. So he settled on a frantic style of basketball that features pressure defense, an emphasis on rapid-fire offense and near constant substitutions to keep his players able to sustain the pace. Since making the shift Grinnell has become a consistent winner and the team frequently draws crowds nearly equal to 50 percent of the student body for home games. (Granted, Grinnell only has 1,700 students, but that’s still a fantastic rate of success.)

As Arseneault told Hart, “Once we became more different, we became competitive." That’s a line many successful businesses would happily offer.

Against that backdrop, Taylor’s prodigious effort isn’t quite so obscene. (In fact, it was more remarkable that he had the stamina to do it.) The scoring outburst was a logical extension of a philosophy that has produced success in every way the coach wanted: in winning, attendance and player involvement. Sometimes the path to victory requires a turn in a very different direction.

Martha Stewart might agree. According to an article in the New York Times, Stewart has found a large new following in a very unexpected place: the heavily tattooed denizens of New York’s hipster community. Although these new fans are unlikely to read any print magazine including Stewart’s or won’t follow her on television, they still find her lessons in crafts, baking and more both useful and compelling.

In staggering numbers Stewart is reaching her new following on line, with videos and on smartphones. She has inspired groups that meet to discuss her ideas and has found an entirely new following. In turn, Stewart’s magazine and website feature more stories about start up businesses using her ideas.

This new fan base has an especially takes a different perspective on Stewart’s brief time in jail for lying about a stock sale. While many of her traditional fans abandoned her after her sentence, the new followers forgive it and, in fact, believe it gives her street cred. As one fan said, “She’s such a Suzy homemaker and also did some time in the joint. That helped cement her iconic image. Before she was someone your mother would follow.”

Now obviously, jail time is hardly the traditional recipe for success. What’s more, like many businesses Stewart’s struggles with how to monetize all this on-line attention. But Stewart, like Arseneault, reminds us that many businesses need to constantly look for new paths to success, need to constantly reinvent themselves and find ways to reach the emerging audience.

The results can be surprising.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
KC's View: