Putting the ladder against the right wall: are you making the right stuff?

Topics: Business Strategy, Category Strategy, E-Bulletins / Newsletters, FMCG, Sustainability

In the third article in the series on Business Regeneration, ShopAbility discuss how to determine whether your business offer and product types need changing.

–  By ShopAbility for Retail World Magazine


Last time, Alex discussed measuring your business performance as part of a crisis assessment. This assumes that you’re in the right business in the first place. Ie, that the things being measured are the right things.

In the first article, Margie alluded to determining your core business proposition as a core part of determining your diagnosis and what needs curing. We’re going to explore this further here.

Why is your business here?

What business are you in? Yes, the old clichéd management questions that are currently being jokily used in a banking ad on television are the ones we’re going to dig into here.  This is the first one.

Defining your core business proposition sounds straightforward on paper but is more difficult to define simply. Define your business too narrowly and you miss opportunities and the market might move on without you, like the American railroad company in the late 1800s who defined themselves as being in the railroad business rather than the transport business. In Australia Cobb & Co did the same thing, they thought they were in the stagecoach business not the courier or mail delivery business. Defining the medium can narrow your options.

On the other hand if you’re too broad in your definition you lose vision and flounder in a morass of indirect competitors. An example of this might be if you’re a confectionery manufacturer, and you define yourself as being in the ‘happiness’ business. This puts you in competition with a whole lot of leisure categories such as toys, games, entertainment, and escape/indulgence services like day spas. Useful to look for distribution opportunities and links perhaps, but not a clear proposition for consumers and difficult to do meaningful competitive analysis.

Your business definition needs to be easily understood by your staff, your retail customers and your end shoppers and consumers. It needs to consider the history of the sectors you’ve traditionally played in and the likely future of these and allied sectors.

Keep it straightforward and free of fluffy marketing waffle. Answer the question ‘why are we here?’ by answering ‘what do we do?’ and ‘what need does it satisfy?’

Using confectionery as an example, Figure 1 below provides some levels from a category and consumer perspective to help you pinpoint how wide or narrow you want to go.

BusRegen#3-Defining the business u in

Defining your business based on needs and capabilities may uncover sector or channel opportunities. Using the chocolate example above, if a chocolate manufacturer defined themselves as being in the desserts (occasion) business as well as treats business that opens up a whole lot of foodservice applications and opportunities. Or if defined as the ‘ingredient component’ business then the chocolate can be applied to ice cream, biscuits etc.

Making the right stuff

So now you’ve defined the business you’re in, are you making the right stuff to fit that definition? What new opportunities exist?

How is the market performing? Are the categories you are in – or now want to be in as a result of your new business definition – up, down, or static?  Static or even growing share of a declining category spells death in the long term, cash cows die eventually. If you’re in this situation – can the category be turned around? What would that take?

For the categories you are or want to be in, will you drive change or follow it?

What will it take to be truly innovative, vs merely renovating what you already do with line extensions and brand extensions?

To be clear here, the majority of ‘new products’ in the FMCG sector are flavour or pack size variants of existing brands and lines, and therefore have a reasonably high degree of cannibalisation and substitutability. Trying to turn your company around by doing line extensions is like trying to save yourself rich. It’s incrementalism, and perhaps playing the existing game a bit better, but it’s not changing the game.

What is the role of brand to you? Do you need more brands or new brands? Should you be a company playing in brands or in private label, or both?

How extensible are your brands? Traditionally FMCG uses umbrella and sub brands (Arnott’s Tim Tam for instance) where companies like Virgin use the same brand across diverse categories (airlines, credit cards, mobile phones).

If you’ve identified new category or sector opportunities as a result of your business definition you need to determine whether your existing brands can play there or whether you need new ones, or at least new sub-brands.

How full is your innovation (not renovation) pipeline?
BusRegen#3-Brands and Markets

Doing the right stuff, for the right people

Once you’ve defined your business and therefore product and brand opportunities, it’s time to review who your customers and consumers should be, and the best options for servicing them.

Who are your target consumers, based on the occasions and categories you’ve identified? Where are they? Where will they buy and consume your product? What are the implications of this for who your retail customers should be?

By reviewing your consumer and shopper targets there will be both channel strategy and  route to market implications. This may throw out opportunities to amend your supply chain, eg to backward or vertically integrate. Or alternatively, to divest or outsource elements of your supply chain so you can be more focussed on manufacture.

This is also an opportunity to identify all potential channels you could be in and to size/prioritise them based on what the product/brand offer in each would be and what the degree of difficulty is in servicing them – barriers to retail entry, competitors etc.

This requires a review of the parts of the route to market you operate in – manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, reseller, retailer.

In Summary

The above is a set of thought starters to get you thinking about your business at a broader level and get you out of the day-to-day. This type of review should be done every few years, not just waiting until the market has changed and the train has left the station.

Looking at your business purpose, your product offer and your customers (both consumer and retailer) is core in determining whether you’ve still got the ladder against the right wall, or even in the right room.

Next time: Risk Management. In the meantime, we welcome feedback from you. Email us at enquiries@shop-ability.com.au