One of the skills I need to rely on the most in my job as a turnaround authority is creativity. When I’m presented with companies that are in dire straits financially, with creditors pounding at the door, coming up with a creative solution that can work for everyone can be the answer.
So I love reading stories about business owner who came up with their own creative solutions. Here are three stories about using creativity to conquer the competition.
I recently read the obit for Robert Taylor. You may not know his name but I guarantee you’ve been using his product for decades and probably have several in your home right now.
Robert invented bottled liquid soap dispensed by a pump. Tired of the mess his bar of soap left on the counter, he knew he had hit on a good idea. Now that’s smart. But what he did next is even smarter.
Any inventor knows that if his product has a market, his idea can be copied and mass-produced. On “Shark Tank,” the show where entrepreneurs appear before investors looking for money for their inventions, that is often the first question asked. “What is to prevent someone else coming along and bringing the exact same product to market?” one of them will ask the hopeful inventors.
Robert anticipated that happening. So he borrowed $12 million and used that money to order 100 million little plastic pumps for his soap dispensers. Well, guess what? The back order on the pumps was so huge that any potential rivals could not get the part they needed to create their own product for at least a year.
Because he successfully cornered the market for so long, the worth of his brand increased. In 1987 he sold Softsoap to Colgate-Palmolive for $61 million.
Another clever gentleman figured out an innovative way to discourage shoppers at his appliance store from stopping at other stores to comparison shop after they left his. He bought a freezer and filled it with gallons of ice cream. As customers left, he gave them each a free carton. They were excited at the unexpected treat, and of course, had to rush straight home to put it in their freezers.
Urban Outfitters, which had $2.8 billion in sales last year, beat its competition by hiring artists rather than business people to manage their stores. While most retail establishments look the same whether you’re in New Mexico or New Jersey, every Urban Outfitter store looks different as the managers are given the freedom to arrange their stores as they see fit. The founders believed that their core demographic, college students, would appreciate the difference. And even better, if their strategy were successful, their more traditional competitors wouldn’t want to fire all their current managers to copy their idea. It worked. Sales at the retail giant continue to grow, with an increase of 13 percent last year.
If competition is proving to be a problem for the growth of your company, you may not need to change your product. Try being creative in your approach and see what happens.