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Has “Value” Changed in Our Businesses and Community?
March 26, 2011 - Ernest Hohmeyer
Value? Who’s Value?
I remember one evening, when we bought the family business in the mid- 1990’s, my wife and I were busy working on our first brochure. As many of us do when we are in business, we agonized for months about the layout and key words. We were very proud of our efforts and were admiring our new marketing tool over a nice glass of wine when my father walked in. Now most of you do not remember my father but let’s just say he was from the old school where a hand shake was a tighter bond than a cumbersome legal document and you always spoke the truth in front of your family or your customer, no matter how much it hurt you - or the business.
“What’s this?” he said in his direct, blunt tone. I began to gulp my wine while sliding under the dining room table. “It’s our new brochure, isn’t it great?” I tried to sound convincing but its hard to do that when you are gagging on your wine because your head is bouncing off the floor mats.
“A brochure?!” My Dad’s voice a booming thunderclap that scurried my wife to the kitchen stove, something about “need to get dinner ready” even though we just ate. “You don’t need a brochure!” he cannoned out. Your mother and I have been running this business for almost 30 years and we never needed a brochure! We ran 2 ads every year: In the spring ‘We are open’ and in the fall ‘We are closed, thank you.’ We had a very successful business. We knew by the day who was staying with us and who was coming for dinner because they came back every year!”
“There not coming back now Dad” I said as I was trying to crawl to the door.
“Why not? Are they complaining? I know you younger generations aren’t running it like we used to.”
“They’re dead Dad, literally.”
Value – Then & Now
My parents business survived on a group of folks who would visit the Adirondacks every summer. They were a combination of retired summer residents and visitors who came for 1-2 weeks at the same time, every year.
As my father’s generation has passed on, the sons and daughters of these camps were both working and could not afford the time as their retired parents did. Both parents became involved in the work force working resulting in shorter stays. The average visitor stay in the Adirondacks now is about 2.5 days. Camps that were passed down were used less frequently and as taxes rose, the combination created a new phenomenon, the vacation rental.
Suddenly you could not rely on the long term seasonal home family or week-long repetitive visitor. As everything shortened, tourism based facilities needed to reach out to capture a wider audience. A constant environment of turnovers became the norm and customer loyalty to a tourism property or the Adirondacks began to wane.
Advancements in travel from better roads to airfare and information from other mountain resort areas coming into your living room through the internet were among many factors that changed the visitor market.
At the same time as there are more choices for that “nature experience.” Travelers are becoming more choosey with spending their tight money on diverse value-based experiences. And as our area has become accessible to new visitors from places like China or India, the concept of “value” is not the narrow term it once was.
Value? Whom am I Speaking To, Please?
Cost may be only one factor.
Authentic and indigenous based experiences are popular valued vacations for some travelers as well as diversity from shopping to outdoor adventure. Customer service, feeling safe both in terms of family and regional stability are also factors. An appreciation of the different customs of what were once remote customers is also valued. China and India are one of the fastest growing visitor markets and what they value or expect may be different than Canadian or European travelers. Do we have a solid understanding of what this emerging visitor market may value and what key words may attract them?
Foremost thinking of the lives that are at risk in Japan, what about those that make their family living on tourism? Will people’s concern for the after-effects of radiation and turmoil be a consideration in traveling there in the future? What types of value will there approach need to consider when they get back on their feet again?
How the business landscape has changed in the Adirondacks and all over the world frankly. Now, I feel like the old generation.
It was not that long ago, I walked into our office and found my wife talking over the phone about a Facebook marketing campaign. I bellowed out “Facebook! We never needed a social media campaign to make our business successful! We rely on personal contact! That’s what people value! How come we aren’t running this like we used to? Where is my father when I need him anyway?”
Times have changed and they are changing faster. Some business principles are still paramount: providing a perceived good value, excellent customer service, consistent product and delivery are just some of the traditions of business that we ought not to avoid.
It’s a Moving Target
But understanding what value means to your customer and how it may change are important strategies to consider. Most organizations are businesses whether they are self-employed, a school, a municipality or a civic organization. The question of are you providing “value” to your customer can ultimately be a major factor in your success. Making sure you are doing that should be an on-going process for all of us.
Knowing your customers and what they value may have they changed or died with them like my father’s. What the hot buttons on value are is different for each of us. But, that experience or feeling that your customer may want can change in a heart-beat and it is important to stay on top of trends.
For example, in our marketing campaigns should we emphasize “it takes you less than one tank of gas to explore a different world” or “Come to the Adirondacks, a safe place to get away.” What folks may type in for key words may change rapidly and key words such as “safe travel places” may become important.
Should any of these trends necessitate the consideration of possibly re-positioning your experience or at least the key words in your definition of value? Sometimes it’s more about staying consistent with your product or service but how you talk about them may change and it’s not always about price. With all the recent world calamity and tension, “safe” and other similar connotations deserve consideration.
Look at the Seeds of Value this Spring
And spring in the Adirondacks may be a great time to be sure you understand what your customer considers “valuable.” I wonder if we can suggest to local government and community organizations to join us in doing the same each spring. Perhaps this examination for all of us may lead to opportunities or solutions we hadn’t considered.
National Geographic Traveler ran a story “Family-run Hotels: Endangered Species?” and talked about how these types of businesses are “becoming less common.” The article quotes that “a little more than a third of family-owned businesses are passed successfully to the second generation and only 16% make it to the third generation.” “Soaring taxes…the pressures to sell out to developers” are a few of the factors cited “that ultimately an important touchstone in our heritage (family businesses) is at stake.”
This article was written in 2008 when times were good. How many family based businesses have I talked to that have remarked “I don’t want my kids to run this business, I don’t want them to struggle like we are.” It wasn’t long ago that the entrepreneurial dream was a quality of life enhancement and not a drag. It can be a bright future, but it is a challenge to stay ahead of the curve especially when it’s a change-up.
One way for all of us to that whether we in the business of being self-employed, a civic organization or a municipality is to determine what our customer today perceives as value. Spring seeds new life and this shoulder season is a great time to re-examine your enterprise.
There are many resources out there both real time and on-line to do this. Need a hand in getting started or perhaps your know of places? Let me know.
Ernest is an award winning national and state certified business and community professional for 25 yrs. and an Adirondack entrepreneur. E-mail MountainCommunityVisions@live.com
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