The Next Big Thing 

There’s that aphorism that if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got. But that’s not really true in this business. In our business, if you always do what you always did, with each passing year you’ll get less than you did before.

Looking at the overall landscape of my dealer network, I have customers whose business have been trending upwards year over year over the past few years, and ones who are trending downwards. There are diverse reasons why that is, and they vary, case by case. But broadly speaking, the ones who are struggling are still focusing on the products and services they always have.

An exercise I frequently engage in with my own dealer customers is to ask them what their best selling products were five years ago, ten years ago, or fifteen or more years ago. Unsurprisingly, even five years ago the products that they made money on are unrecognizable today. Go back ten or more years, and they’re extinct.

I can both sympathize and commiserate with them, because it’s a common experience for all of us in this industry. In these discussions with my dealers I remind them that I made my living in the 1990s selling portable tape and CD players, camcorders, VCRs, tube-TVs and huge CRT rear projection televisions. Those categories were a big business long ago, and every single one of them is gone today.

It should go without saying that anyone trying to open business today to try and sell those categories today is setting themselves up for failure. What should be equally obvious then, but often isn’t, is that industry pros shouldn’t expect that what’s hot today is going to carry them through next year, or the year after that.

That means going on a quest, maybe several quests at once, to discover what’s going to be your company’s new profit driver, your Next Big Thing.

Searching for new products and services is essential but daunting. Sometimes those new choices don’t work out either. It’s almost a corollary that in order to hit a home run you’re going to have to strike out a few times, and that costs both time and money. But it’s essential to keep looking and experimenting with new ideas in a meaningful way. Obviously, a new category should be a good fit for your company, and not a Hail Mary play that’s too far out to be successful. If only it was easy to tell which is which from the outset.

Talk to anyone who’s been in the business a long time, and you’ll hear from them how the business they run today looks very different from how it did when they first started out.

Earlier on, I had alluded to the difference between my dealers who are trending upwards and those who are trending downwards. Perhaps the best way to characterize my dealers who are prospering is that they’ve gone through all the stages of grief over formerly profitable products and services, have finished mourning their passing, and are now willing to date again and look for new opportunities.