I’ve been around the wedding and event industry long enough to see many different business models, from solo-preneurs (we used to call them Mom & Pop shops) to large businesses with many employees and/or locations. None of them is right for everyone. Your business model can, and likely will change throughout the life cycle of your business. I know many DJ’s, planners and photographers who started out as just them, grew to many employees and then decided to go back to just them, later in their business’ life cycle.
When I started my private practice of speaking, sales training and consulting, I made a conscious decision not to hire any other speakers, trainers or consultants. I was at a point in my life where I didn’t want to have those other responsibilities. That’s why my website is AlanBerg.com and not our official company name (Wedding Business Solutions LLC). Had I wanted to have other speakers, consultants or trainers on my staff, I would have chosen a different business identity. That would be different. Not better or worse, just different.
But that’s not the way we do it!
Every so often a new company pops up that has a different business model than yours. I’ve seen it may times, in my 25+ years around this industry. Early in my career selling wedding advertising I had a customer with a wedding photography business. The owner didn’t shoot weddings, although she had been a wedding photographer. She just ran the business and had a stable of photographers from which to match with couples. She had a large, successful business. The solo-preneur photographers in her area hated her. They had all sorts of reasons why, which mostly came down to some variation of: “That’s not the way we do it!” Maybe not, but did that make it wrong? If her customers were happy with what they were getting, then it was right for them.
I was VP of Sales at The Knot when David’s Bridal was started. The small dress shops hated them, complaining of cheaply made dresses, lack of customer service, etc. Their prices were undercutting the local shops and brides were shopping there, despite the lesser quality merchandise and customer service. It was certainly different, but did that make it wrong? I had that discussion with many independent dress shops at the time. They threatened to pull their ads if we allowed David’s Bridal to advertise. While I felt their pain (their world had been rocked), pulling their ads was only going to accelerate their pain. Cutting off their own life-line of leads would make their situation worse. The answer was for them to evolve into a world of co-existence with this new business model. Beat them at the things they could do better (quality, the customer experience, etc.) and the customers who valued that would buy from them.
You can’t win them all
It always comes down to the priorities of the customer. If they don’t place a high value on quality and the customer experience, and that’s all you have to offer them that’s different, then the lower price will win, almost every time. If they perceive that buying from you is the same as buying from a lower-priced competitor, then the lower price will win. We all go through the same thought process when we’re the customer. All new cars will get us from point A to point B, with reliability and safety, yet some people pay more for some brands, anyway. Similarly, you’re looking to attract customers who value the differences between the experience of buying from you versus a competitor.
There’s always someone with a lower price. As a matter of fact, when you were new in business, it was likely you that had the lower price. I remember having that conversation with my friend David Merrill (an extraordinary event designer and producer) at ILEALive in Denver last year. David started his business in his garage and has grown it to an international success. He said that he can’t now look down on someone who does the same thing now, just because he’s a success. Sure, their business model is different than his, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. His business model has surely evolved over the years.
Make your own business obsolete, before someone does it for you
I’m always trying to reinvent my business, partly to keep it fresh for you, and partly to keep it interesting for me. Whether it’s a new logo, updated website, presentation topic or book, I want to avoid becoming stale or outdated as there’s always someone out there who wants a piece of my audience. I’m in the process of rebranding my sales training to YourPersonalSalesTrainer.com. What are you doing to stay current? What makes your customer want to come back and see what’s new, whether it’s on your website, in your social media or in your shop/office?
Thanks for nothing!
I once got a call from a friend who runs a 9-piece band. He had just received his annual Couple’s Choice award. While he was happy about it, he thought it had less value because a competitor, who is a large, national company that books DJs and other services, had received theirs as well. If they could get it then, he supposed, it diminished the value of his award. I disagreed with him. His customers were not their customers. Someone who is shopping for a value-priced DJ is not the same person shopping for a 9-piece band, which was many times the price of the DJ. His customers were judging the value of what they received versus what they had paid, and so were the other company’s customers.
If the other company was delivering a product, service and experience that satisfied their customers, for the price they paid, then they too deserved their award, and it didn’t dilute his award. Just because it was lower-priced didn’t mean their customers weren’t happy with the value they’d received. Nordstrom’s exists in a world with WalMart and Mercedes Benz exists in a world with Kia. Some of it has to do with price and some not. You’ll likely see Mercedes Benz cars in a WalMart parking lot, and Kia cars in a Nordstrom’s parking lot. Just because you can afford to pay more doesn’t mean you will. I highly recommend reading/listening to the book “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz for insight into how people make decisions.
The latest offender!
I recently had a long-time consulting client complaining to me about a new competitor. Their business model was very different than his, their prices much lower and, in his view, their tactics were unethical. But were they? They are certainly different, but that alone doesn’t make them unethical. Are they playing by different rules? Maybe, but that too doesn’t make it wrong, just different. I told him that the customers were validating their business model. If there wasn’t a market for what they were selling, the competitor would fade away. Just as brides continue to buy from David’s Bridal (despite their recent financial troubles), couples are buying from his new competitor. The competitor is using outside contractors to provide their services, and those contractors are validating the business model by accepting the work. If there were no contractors willing to work for those rates or under those terms, the business model would fail. Different doesn’t mean wrong.
Adapt, don’t adopt
One of the common themes I hear at my National Speakers Association conferences is: “Adapt, don’t Adopt.” Look at what others are doing and then adapt what you see to fit your business… or don’t. What works for the other company may, or may not work for you. Just copying what they’re doing could be a recipe for failure for you, even if it’s wildly successful for them. Want to sell more? Lower your prices to match the competitor. Can you sustain your business that way? Probably not, that’s why you charge what you do. Can the competitor? Maybe yes, maybe no. Just as with an iceberg, you don’t know the full story, only the part you can see. The swan is gliding gracefully across the water, but you don’t see it paddling frantically under the water. Your mission is to go about being the best YOU that you can be and find customers that value your uniqueness. There will always be new competitors, but don’t chase every shiny new object. You don’t want to be like the Lemmings, following each other off a cliff! And, last metaphor, it’s said that if you’re not the lead dog in a dog sled team… the view never changes. Be the leader!
© 2019 AlanBerg.com & Wedding Business Solutions LLC
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“We have been in business for over 60 years but Alan had our team looking at things with fresh eyes.”
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