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When it is Time to Make a Change

Deciding to Make a Change in the Product Lines You Carry

In baseball there is a tradition that occurs when the pitcher is having a difficult time. The first part of the tradition happens when the catcher asks for time out and goes to the mound to attempt to help the pitcher collect his thoughts and focus.

The game continues, but if the catcher's efforts do not succeed, then the bench coach will be the next to ask for time out. The bench coach will usually jog out to the mound and make an effort similar to the catcher's.

Again the game continues. If both of these efforts fail, you will then hear the manager of the team holler for a time out as he slowly climbs out of the dugout. As he makes a slow walk to the mound, he will look toward the bullpen where the reserve pitchers are. He will use one hand to tap on the other arm. If he is tapping on the left forearm, this means he wants the left handed pitcher to come into the game and pitch. And the change is then made.

Running a power equipment shop and selecting the lines of equipment that you sell and service is much like the task of the manager. You have to make a decision as to whether a certain product line is doing its job and bringing in sufficient profit to your shop. There may be a line that becomes available to you because another shop has decided to drop it, or worse yet, because the other shop is closing. And there has been that occasion when a new line comes into the market place.

Twenty years ago, deciding what product lines to carry was fairly easy. Most of the brands stayed in one or two price ranges, as well as the fact that you saw little, if any of their products in a chain store such as a Home Depot, Lowes or Menards.

Selecting product lines then was also easier because there were fewer manufacturers and most definitely there was not all the selection of products. If you stocked walk behind lawn mowers, riding mowers, chain saws, and edgers, from two or three manufacturers, you had a fairly complete shop.

Perhaps one of the biggest decisions was if you would provide service to product lines that were sold in the mass merchants. Today, those lines who have reserved themselves exclusively for the independents are the definite minority. And with the stick equipment, perhaps the only option that has not been added is that of making it into a toothbrush. How are we now to decide when it is time for a change or addition?

To decide to add or drop a product line, we would suggest this exercise to help you to see if a change is in order. The first step is to list all of the competitors in your trade area. This should include any businesses that you have seen equipment from being brought into your shop, even if the other business is 50 miles away. For the exercise, let's give each of them a number to make it easier to refer to the competition in the three charts we are about to create.

With the first chart, let's use some paper that is easy to see through and create a large "L" with the line going from left to right being our point of reference with regard to the number of products carried by any competitor. The line going from bottom to top is our point of reference for the number of lines a competitor carries.

Within this "L" chart, draw a circle to represent your impression of where each of the competitors are in your market place. Some circles will be larger than others, while some will look more like an oval than a circle. And within the circle put the number of the shop it represents. It is OK for circles to overlap or even have a circle that is completely encompassed by another. The purpose of the exercise is to see where your customers see your competition with regard to the product offering and availability.

Now, on another piece of paper let's create a second "L" chart with the left to right line representing the hours each of the competitors is open and the bottom to top line representing the level of customer service they provide on their sales floor. Again, create the circles/ovals to represent each of your competitors and number accordingly.

And for one last piece of paper with a graph, let's have the left to right line represent the depth of inventory and the bottom to top line representing the quality of service in their repair center. And for one last time, create the circles/ovals to represent each of the competitors.

The idea of the easy to see through paper now comes into play as we overlay the three sheets with each other so that each of the three "L" charts line up with each other. Instead of seeing a variety of miscellaneous shapes you are likely to see groups of circles. In looking at the marketplace represented by the whole of the area with the "L" chart, most of your competitors are meeting a small part of the marketplace needs.

Notice that through each of the three exercises we did not ask you to include your business. Part of the reason for this is that most of us have a difficult time providing an impartial view of our business. The rest of the reason is that this exercise is to help us determine if we should add a new product line by seeing what is missing in the marketplace; not to see what we are doing.

The lesson learned by many of our counterparts around the country is that too often we decide to "fight" the competition by going head to head with them. Unfortunately, when we decide to go head to head, the competition becomes obvious to the customer as we use price, both in products and service, as our weapons. Of course, all the combatants lose profit and sometimes the customer loses because the best business is driven out of business by a price war.

Look again at our "L" chart. This time however, don't look at the circles, but look at the open space between the circles. Many businesses that we have suggested use this exercise find there is a lot of space between circles. And now is the time to look at your business. Would the circles drawn for your business be filling those voids? Or would your circles overlap with some of those already drawn?

If your circles are overlapping with others, perhaps you are already engaged in that battle with the competition. Instead, a slight shift in your business, by adding or dropping a product line, would allow you to occupy a space all to yourself. And as the old saying goes, "If you are unique, you have no competition".

So, your business has been out there for years, making the "pitch" to customers for their business. Is it time for you to be the manager to walk out of the dugout and make a change? Play ball!



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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.
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