Last week we looked at some advantages of either specializing or diversifying your business.
This week I'd like to relate a few anecdotal examples of specialists I've observed over the years to see if there is something in their experiences that could benefit you in your business.
'You can do many things averagely well, or you can do a few things superbly well'
-Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism - The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Perhaps my favourite is Grant's Ladders in Penticton, BC. Grant used to run Grant's Painting - a new construction painting business with happy contractor clients. But for various reasons (that I suspect had to do with lifestyle, health and family considerations) he opened a small shop specializing in top quality ladders, scaffolding, and all related parts and equipment. In the south Okanagan you can get a ladder at a hardware store, or you can go to Grant's. They serve different markets. Grant's never has a sale. But he offers great products and knowledge. With possibly the worst retail hours ever, he is only open from 8:00 - 9:30 am M-F, but his cell number is on the door if you need a ladder in an emergency situation. Otherwise he has plenty of time to have coffee with friends, play with the grand kids and relax on his pontoon boat in the summer. I think the reason why Grant specialized is to free up his time.
Another of my favourite examples is JHM Drywall Repairs, also in Penticton. It's all in the last word in his business name - repairs. John is a capable drywaller and can board and tape with the best of them. He can frame, insulate, vapour barrier and paint as well. But he markets himself as a drywall repair specialist and often subs out everything else. This means easier work physically, quicker turnover for his cash flow, less competition, positioning himself as an expert problem solver. It also means his competition, other drywallers, don't mind sending work his way. Most are busy with larger projects and they can safely pass along small jobs that would be a nuisance to them. And he can refer larger jobs back. Choosing to specialize allows Jon to hit the gym and walk the dogs before work, get a decent day's work done and still be home at a reasonable hour. I think the reason why Jon specialized is to distinguish his business in the market and allow him to work on his terms.
One more of my favourite examples is...
Kelowna Ceiling Specialist. Gerry ran a busy painting business for years. But he wanted to free up more time and streamline his painting business. So he focused on promoting himself as a ceiling repaint specialist. He developed effective systems to repaint problem ceilings. He can and does take on other painting and staining jobs but prefers to focus on this core business. He wanted to free up time to pursue other business opportunities, and for his hobbies that he is passionate about. He specialized by reducing his offerings and focusing on the most difficult part of interior painting. He developed systems to make it quick and profitable. He has no real competition if someone is having trouble getting their ceilings to look good. Gerry even gets business from other frustrated painters!
Another example from a different industry. In the early 90's the Alberta government allowed a small number of privately owned wine boutiques to open. Eventually the entire retail liquor system was privatized and many of those boutiques changed their license to allow them to sell beer and spirits as well. Soon they were competing with hundreds of private liquor stores. A few chose to continue on and import wines they sourced themselves and build loyal clientele. They each specialized in certain wine regions, carrying an interesting selection you could only find in their store. But eventually there was over 15 000 wines available on the market. Some stores took it one step further. Calgary's Merlo Vinoteca, for example, decided to only carry wines from Italy. The variety of wine from that one country alone was enough to fill the shelves and specialize. They intentionally reduced the width of their offerings to go deep in one category, reducing competition and becoming a destination shop. They don't have to be open until 10pm or later like a liquor store because they are not in the liquor business, they are in the Italian wine business. Their reason for specializing, I suspect, was to cater to a unique market and differentiate themselves in a saturated market.
Specializing is an intentional choice a business makes in order to differentiate themselves in a market. It takes your offering out of the 'commodity' category and makes it something special. This in turn allows you to make your work simpler or more profitable or on your own terms. As a side note, the reason I didn't provide links to the examples above is that they don't really have websites. Sometimes specialists operate at maximum capacity and don't need to invest much in marketing. Their happy customers do the promoting on their behalf.
It takes your offering out of the 'commodity' category and makes it something special.
I hope this examination of reasons and methods to specialize will get you thinking about what options you currently have to tweak your marketing and business to reach your personal goals.
I've always felt that painting trade is complex enough to offer opportunities to specialize. Depending on the market, a business could specialize in exterior painting, or wood staining, or furniture restoration, or deck coatings, or floor epoxies, or having a spray shop for doors, or...
Next week in part three we will look at some examples of micro businesses that have strategically diversified. Diversifying has its own unique benefits. We will also consider what the 3 key factors are when marketing your business as either a specialist or a multi-solution provider.
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