Imagine this scenario for a second.
You’ve come across a great product. You know there is a market and more importantly, exactly where they are and how you can get in front of them.
But there is a lot of competition and your buyers could see you as just another supplier which makes you a commodity.
How could you break in and get a slice of the action? And more importantly, make the competition irrelevant? Completely obliterate apples to apples comparisons and raise yourself to the status of an authority figure in this market?
This is the story of a client, John Braden of Academy Supply. I’m telling it because I’m sure it will generate ideas for growth you can implement in your business.
When John came to us 6 months ago he’d just decided to start selling furniture to schools in Australia.
Not just any furniture though.
This furniture is ergonomically designed and made to very high standards by one of the world’s leading manufacturers in the USA. Designed specifically for children and young adults, the furniture has been proven to improve student learning through enhancing circulation, movement (some chairs rock) and general comfort.
And equally importantly, the furniture can be placed in a variety of configurations which allow flexible learning spaces (which is a current theme in education).
But at the end of the day, furniture is still just furniture. A simple Google search will throw up plenty of competition. Box shippers all.
Moving from box shipper to flexible learning space consultant!
If you’ve read any of our stuff you’ll know our primary mantra. Move from “mere supplier” to “authority figure and consultant” in your niche.
How? By claiming the position and then acting as if the mantle belongs to you.
At first we thought, “Become an expert on how furniture could help improve learning”. There’s a whole heap of scholarly research on the topic available, so collate it and present it to schools.
But there was one flaw in this approach. Was this a problem schools really wanted to solve? Would they buy new furniture to accomplish this?
As it turned out, this would be a hard sell.
Then fate intervened as it often does when you take action in spite of your instinct screaming and telling you to pull your head in!
John’s in Adelaide. He’d committed to and paid for a stand at a major school conference for senior leadership teams in Sydney in March this year.
Money was tight. But he decided to fly up anyway.
But boy, was it the right thing to do because it opened up a completely new paradigm, new strategic marketing alliances and even a couple of large potential sales.
This is what happened.
A common theme around “creating flexible learning environments” emerged from the visiting Principals. John cottoned on and talked to them about how he could help create these while using existing classroom spaces more effectively.
They saw John as an authority in this area.
But it gets better.
John “invited” people from the next stand to come and try out the “rocking chairs”.
They loved them and thought they’d be great for students with special learning needs. So a potential marketing alliance with the Autistic Children’s Association was born.
And finally, John went to see one of the schools he met.
Having done his homework beforehand, he took sketches of how the furniture could be configured for specific classrooms this school had. They loved it! The Principal commented, “We don’t want to have to think about how to do this. We just want the solution presented to us.”
So now they’re asking John how to design the whole space including what colours to paint the walls!
They don’t care what furniture goes in. They just want the result.
And John’s giving it to them. On a plate. So there is no competition!
But it doesn’t end here.
Due to John working with us to create and implement his new positioning strategy, one of Australia’s leading architectural academics who’s heavily involved in researching and designing educational spaces is actively promoting John, providing additional credibility.
And there is a final irony to this story.
The furniture has to a certain extent become irrelevant.
John’s clients are interested in a solution to their problem. How to create flexible learning environments. They look to him for leadership and will buy whatever furniture he recommends.
John has successfully moved from a peddler of furniture to a respected consultant who commands a premium price to design spaces and of course provide the furniture to fill them.
Let me be more explicit here.
As a mentor of ours is fond of saying, “The tiger starves last in the jungle”. John has moved up the food chain to claim a spot where he commands and defines the outcomes.
It’s an enviable position to be in. But like any great leader in history it will only be yours if you take it.