Finding the “Cheese” in a Changing Market One Man’s Opinion

finding_the_cheese_couple_ages Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson, has been the World’s #1 Bestselling Book on change with over 21 million books in print. A simple story reveals profound truths about how change impacts people and organizations and provides a quick and easy way to succeed in changing times.

This is an enlightening story of four characters living in a “Maze” and looking for “Cheese” for nourishment and happiness. Two are mice named Sniff and Scurry and two are mouse-sized people named Hem and Haw.

“Cheese” is a metaphor for what you want in life – whether it is a growing business, a good job, a relationship, possessions, health, or spiritual peace of mind. “The Maze” is where you look for what you want in business, an organization, family, or community.

In the story, the characters are faced with unexpected change. Eventually, one of them deals with change successfully, and writes what he has learned from his experience on the maze wall. When you come to see “The Handwriting on the Wall” you can discover for yourself how to deal with change and enjoy more success and less stress in your life.

So, what does this have to do with building water features, controlling algae, or water clarity? Everything… But, it’s not your usual water gardening article. The sole purpose of this article is to share some thoughts you might not have considered, or that one might find useful to better understand all the driving forces in today’s market, and be able to develop individual business plans that make finding the “Cheese” a little bit easier.

As with all industries, we are dealing with economic change and shifts in how we market to the change in buying preferences of Gen X & Y versus the Baby Boomers. Some blame just the economy for moving the “Cheese.” A few recognize both. However, I don’t hear a lot about the third one, which is where we are as it relates to the age of our industry and the laws of the marketing curve. Each one provides its own set of challenges, but to deal with all three at the same time is like the perfect storm. The good news is there is a very bright future ahead if we understand and act on how each of these challenges impacts our business.

The Economy – if anyone has a crystal ball on when the economy and consumer confidence will improve please let me know because my broker could use some help. The fact is 90+ % of the population is still working and water feature projects are still selling. The Freedonia Group continues to report a projected 6.8% growth per year in hardscape features, with water features being a key element thru 2015, or even 2020. Other areas of strong growth are statuary and basins, Just-A-Falls, commercial features (even smaller ones), and lake and pond aeration.

Diversification is the key to growth. Water garden projects will increase as the economy improves, but because our industry now provides so many water feature options, water gardens will always be a smaller percentage of the total pie. Expansion of our industry is really good news. If you have continued with a single focus, it might be time to check out where the rest of the “Cheese” is.

Another way of looking at the economy is tough times create opportunities. In this case, it would be what I call the “Rebuilding of America.” Neglected foreclosure properties, and new homeowners will be looking to renew the neglected landscape and outdoor living areas. Even without the economics, Gen X & Y are buying homes as the Baby Boomers down size. Keep a record of the “For Sale” listings; it will prove to be a good area for target marketing. Team up with realtors, and banks. Realtors usually provide a thank you gift after a purchase. A statuary fountain and basin feature works well, or even a discount coupon for any water feature. And, does your community still have a welcome wagon?

Gen X & Y – The Rest of the Story – You’ve probably read some of the same articles as I have over the last couple of years comparing the Baby Boomers to Gen X & Y. These articles share what social issues shaped Gen X & Y, how it impacts the way they shop, their likes and dislikes, and how this differs from the Baby Boomers’ shopping and buying habits.

As for a social shaping of a generation, they weren’t too kind to the Baby Boomers when they entered the work force and age of consumer spending. If you recall, they were called the longhaired, hippy freak, drop out generation that didn’t want to work. This wasn’t true of all Baby Boomers and some of the things being said about Gen X & Y aren’t true for all either. Once the Baby Boomers took on the responsibilities of home and family, it all turned out pretty normal. So it will be and actually is with Gen X & the up and coming Gen Y.

If I am selling concessions at the ballpark, I really don’t care what highway the customer took to get there. What I care about is what foods they like, how do I get their attention, and how they like to be served. The total number of buying consumers, age 25 to 55, will change very little over the next ten years, however, the “Cheese” will no longer be found in one location, (Ponds). Due to the growing diversified mix of the consumers, their desires, and the broader selection of water features, the “Cheese” will be found in a number of locations. If you’re not diversified now, and know how to market to each group, I would encourage you to consider expanding the different types of water features you offer on a regular basis.

Other than the short term issues on the economy, the pace of life and how we research products and services are key areas to not only know about, but to act on. The pace of life for some has increased their desire for low maintenance landscaping and water features. This means more opportunity for Just-A-Falls, statuary & basins, and hardscape spillways. All three-generation groups don’t have the time to sit in a one hour seminar or read long books anymore. So, the web is the quickest and preferred method of gathering information on a project. However, on improvement projects they still prefer to connect locally. To close the sale you will have to earn their trust. Your own web site and the use of informative You Tube type clips, in addition to your other forms of advertising, are very important in connecting with your customer.

The Marketing Curve

Since pond construction really took off in the early 90s, there has been a rapid succession of change. So, if change always moves the “Cheese” why is finding the “Cheese” more challenging today? Part of the answer is the laws of the marketing curve.

During the early period of rapid growth in pond construction the demand was brisk. New products and improved methods were changes for a single product, “Ponds.” So, the “Cheese” was always in site and fairly easy to find. As the category continued to gain recognition, more providers competed for the same customer base. When the category diversified further into “Water Features,” with the introduction of pond-less water falls, statuary and basins, spillways, and lighting, new customer preferences enter the market. This makes marketing and advertising more important, and more challenging. Those that fail to diversify and fine-tune their marketing found it harder to find the “Cheese.”

The marketing curve is at a point where everyone will have to work harder to understand their market and what tools to use to connect with a wider range of customers. Having a business plan that makes sense for you is a must. Understanding the new mix of customers and their preferences is critical. Diversification of product offerings is a necessity. Actively marketing with the use of a personal web site, digital marketing tools, and community connections is a must in order to connect with your customer. And, always promote your “Brand.” It is what sets you apart from the other guy and what customers come to trust.

Wishing Everyone the Best of Success in 2012 – Rick Smith

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