Don’t Be A J.A. Vendor

lightbulb-0215There’s a blight that affects every last segment and channel in the industry. It’s so prevalent, so part of the background that, like the sky, you take it for granted and stop really noticing it unless you step back and refocus your perception.

It’s a blight that’s holding the entire industry back, regardless of which channel you’re in, keeping us all from reaching our full potential.

It’s not The Race To Zero, although that’s bad enough. It’s not even the endless patent infringement lawsuits, whether between industry players and patent trolls, or each other. I’d even argue that the blight I’m talking about has a worse effect stifling innovation than the patent wars. What is this blight that I’m obviously so passionately opposed to?

I’m really glad you asked.

I call it the “J.A.” syndrome. Which is short for Just Another.

You can see it on display at every trade show for every channel, covering the show floor like black mold in an HGTV home renovation program. “Oh, look,” an observer on the show floor might say, “There’s fifteen different vendors here showing their iPad mounting bracket.” They’re all J.A.B. (Just Another Bracket).

“It was depressing,” a coworker returning from CES opined, “I saw more than four hundred vendors trying to sell the same black thermoplastic polyurethane iPhone case.” A classic example of J.A.C. (Just Another Case).

“Fantastic,” my old boss once said, sarcastically, at CEDIA Expo, “There’s twenty seven different vendors here showing white 8-inch in-ceiling speakers.” They’re all J.A.F.S. (Just Another F*** Speaker).

My old boss always talked like that when he was annoyed.

My current boss just returned from CTIA, the big wireless show a week ago and said, “There was absolutely ZERO innovation on display this year.” How sad is that?

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I look at one vendor and ask, “Why should I do business with you?” then I look around at the rest and think, “Why should I do business with any of you?”

There’s an aphorism (somehow there’s always an aphorism) that says, “you don’t need to build a better mousetrap to get rich; you just need to build one that works.” I blame that attitude for the embarrassing breadth of J.A. products clawing away at each other for a tiny fraction of market share.

And all that clawing doesn’t even work. The biggest players in the industry, though they too can be guilty of copycatting, are the biggest players because they actually make an effort to innovate. Maybe not every year, but often enough to give dealers and end users a reason to want to buy their stuff.

I’m all in favor of competition, and the more the merrier. But competition is supposed to spur innovation and improvement, not forty versions of the same thing that are indistinguishable from each other.

I’m not even talking about features. Every J.A. product has “features.” That’s just Marketing 101: inventing features out of the obvious. Give me a bag of marbles and in five minutes I can write down ten “features” that will market this bag of marbles as a “must have” for dealers and end users.

If you want to make a name for your company in the industry, you need to stand out. Don’t just badge your logo on the same boring, generic 8-inch in-ceiling speaker everyone else is selling.

Do something different. Create a product that is so remarkable that dealers and end-users will say “I want this. No, I NEED this.”

If you can’t do that, maybe don’t rent a trade show booth until you can.