Three Ways To Innovate In Your Business

Aug. 7, 2015

Business as usual will ultimately destroy you. As a business owner, operators must constantly analyze the strategies with which they go to market. They must also know that the successful programs they use today will eventually wither, leading to a slow decline in sales. Therefore, operators must be vigilant in innovating their business model by assessing opportunities and voids in their area.

This constant evolution of strategy is a fundamental business practice of many successful operators. In discovering ways to differentiate themselves and grow revenues they look to three areas, which help them determine the best course.

Innovate by looking at customer needs 

Since service is at the core of any good vending, micro market or office coffee service business, looking to the customer for ways to enhance service is a must. “Be an innovator based on customer needs,” said Jonathan Scott, CEO of Capitol Coffee Systems, headquartered in Wilmington, NC. When his father first started the OCS business, he made a strategic operations decision that seemed simple, but wasn’t. Give the customer what they want. Many customers had been forced to order entire cases of a single type of beverage or flavor of snack, even if the location was rather small. Customers didn’t want to order that much of a single product, so Capitol Coffee Systems offered customers delivery of mixed cases. It was something no one else in the area was doing, recalls Scott, and truly met the customer’s need for variety. “Being able to offer customers the chance to customize their service at the product level gave us a leg up,” explained Scott. He has continued this innovation by always analyzing opportunities, especially as it relates to customer needs and providing high-quality service.

Relatively small but impactful changes can produce a huge advantage. This is especially true for smaller operations, which can be nimble and tailor products or service to ever-changing consumer trends and adapt more easily than large, more corporation-type competitors. It’s all about what you can provide, says Scott. “No matter how big you are, you have to have other things to offer the customer,” he said. Offering more to the customer leads into the second way to develop a business action plan based on other operators.

Innovate by looking at competitors 

“You probably aren’t the only game in town,” said Jeff Deitchler, general manager at Prairie Fire Coffee Roasters, headquartered in Wichita, KS. “You need to find out what other service providers are doing.” Sometimes sales staff can ask questions about services when prospecting or receiving a rejected proposal. Loyal, long-time clients approached by other operators will often share the proposals they are given. No matter how an operator goes about finding out about the competition, Deitchler recommends doing one of two things — top them or exploit their weaknesses.

“Beat them at their own game,” said Deitchler. “Do what they are doing, but be committed to being better than they are.” Whether it’s the product offerings or customer service guarantees, a commitment to excel will pay off with loyal customers.

The other option is to analyze competitors’ service and identify the weaknesses. Once identified, operators can take advantage of those weaknesses. “If they don’t have regularly scheduled route days for example, you should have them. If they are slow to respond to equipment breakdowns, you should implement a service timeframe guarantee,” suggested Deitchler. This technique also works in reverse, where an operator can analyze what a competitor might say about his or her operation. This leads us to the third place operators can look for inspiration to innovate — within.

Innovate by looking at yourself & your operation 

“In my opinion, competitive advantage comes from people and passion,” said Paul Tullio, O.C. branch manager for Gourmet Coffee Service out of Van Nuys, CA. People drive a business forward, so having the correct people in place is a key aspect of success and having an advantage in business. Look for hard workers who have passion. The people servicing customers, from drivers and technicians to the receptionist and client representatives, will determine if an operator can gain a competitive advantage or if they are just another service provider. “Passion is what makes people go above and beyond to create an experience for your customers,” said Tullio. In fact, he believes it is an essential aspect of a successful operation.

If passion is waning, Tullio suggests stepping back and remembering what inspired the business in the beginning — get back to the soul of the organization. Then channel that passion forward and it will be catching to the others in the company and beyond. “Never be afraid to show your people and your customers how much passion you have for your business,” he said. “People will see how much you care about your customers, your employees, your business and the industry you represent. They can be inspired if you are truly passionate about your work,” he added.

Whether business is good or bad, it’s tempting to be complacent. Change involves uncertainty and risk, but it’s an important part of driving a business forward. Operators should look to customer wants, competing service offerings and even within their own organization for opportunities to innovate. Even small changes in the way a company does business can lead to substantial growth.