Small businesses changing directions

Small businesses changing directions

Businesses change directions all the time. Some businesses drift. Others are deliberately nudged in different direction.

Back at the beginning of the 1900s, automobiles were arriving on the scene. Vehicles were replacing wagons and buggies, as well as the horses that pulled them.

The venerable Studebaker company had been making wagons for decades. Management decided to begin manufacturing automobiles. The company deliberately changed direction to address a new market.

Meanwhile, the market adjusted to the lessened demand for horses. As time passed, there were fewer and fewer wagons and buggies. Fewer horses were needed.

Farmers who produced the grains eaten by the horses suddenly found themselves with a surplus of grain. What to do with the developing glut?

The response of the marketplace was to change direction. Those grains that the horses once ate became the breakfast cereals that we still eat today.

Valuable lessons are to be learned from this. When the marketplace changes, your business must change with it. You can change what you produce, like the Studebaker company. Or you can change how a product or service is perceived and purchased.

Example: A small machine shop had been a family operation for many years. The machines were computer-driven to produce the products for various customers in several industries–aerospace, medical, and other corporate operations. Then along came 3-D machines that could print many of the products. The machine shop owner did not jump into 3-D printing, but he did add one of the latest machines and trained his employees in the new technology. This machine shop is now at the leading edge of a revolution in manufacturing.

Technology can sometimes offer your business the opportunity to make a quantum leap forward. No matter your business, watch for technology improvements and social changes that can affect you industry.

Example: Food is always on everyone’s mind. Not only must we eat, but today the concern has moved to what we eat. A small farmer today can make a good living growing and selling fresh produce to local markets, restaurants, and others. One I know is currently bringing to market a product completely new. Along with lettuces, spinach, and other greens, he is offering the flower buds produced in spring from last year’s kale crop. It’s fresh, it’s local, it’s new–elements that excite the marketplace. Chefs and other buyers use the kale buds in omelets and other high-priced preparations. (You can do the same with day lily buds and milkweed buds.)

Think outside the box to come up with ways to change the direction of your business. Or if your business is drifting, made sure it’s drifting in a direction you want.

But exercise care. If you wave goodbye to your present business and set off on a new ocean, make certain you can predict and weather the storms ahead. Although Studebaker made automobiles for over 50 years, they didn’t make it through the storms in that industry.

(c) Al Warr



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