Article by Jonathan White, White Coffee
I travel for many business conventions. As part of these conferences, each organization usually hosts a series of seminars relevant to their members and topics within their industry. For many years, most of these seminars were very technical, detail oriented presentations; while they may have offered helpful specific information, the overall impression was quite forgettable.
Today, many more seminars focus on general business topics that encourage you to work “on your business” rather than innovating “in your business”. I have found this far more helpful as it gets you to think about the big picture. Common topics are strategic planning, unique selling propositions, and hiring the right people. But at a recent coffee convention, the organizers wisely chose a theme of “innovation” that I believe is the most critical focus point for a business to survive.
Innovating is the key to survival. The fact that a business has a stellar reputation and overwhelming market share is no guarantee of future success. The halls of business are filled with top-tier companies that failed to adequately adapt- and over time, their fate was sealed (see Kodak, Sears and Blockbuster, to name just a few).
Innovating is hard work. It involves both concentrated effort and often extended time for “things to gel”. You want to get multiple perspectives and research the various angles- what others are doing, what legal hurdles there could be, what practical considerations there are in producing a product, and what are the costs involved to begin and maintain this venture. Clearly if one can take “baby steps” this allows for an easier path to try something- but in some cases this won’t work, and a more significant investment of time/money is required.
Where can you get ideas for innovation? Trade Shows can show you what your competitors are doing, but merely copying/minimally modifying their products is hardly innovating. Instead, one might be better off asking your customers what their customers are looking for, or where they think the market is headed. Another good potential source of ideas is in your kitchen cabinet. See what other companies in comparable (and sometimes not even nearly comparable) industries are doing with packaging, ingredient formulation, marketing and preparation method.
Innovation can be personal as well- how are you providing a service that didn’t exist before? What skills can you acquire and apply, for your and your company’s benefit?
Sometimes items that at first blush seem to be totally impractical can be the best place to begin. Ten years ago, if you had polled most major participants in the retail coffee industry, they would have said that consumers would never spend $20-$30 per pound for their everyday coffee (when they were used to spending a small fraction of that). They believed that the concept of single cup brewing was merely a fad. What industry insiders underestimated was the value of convenience- and what consumers would be willing to pay for this on a long term basis. Today, nearly three in ten consumers consume coffee prepared by a single cup brewer, at home, every day. And the innovation in coffee has spread to other beverages as well.
For many years people commonly used the expression of “thinking outside the box”. Now people often suggest to act as if there “is no box at all”. Today’s world is not only hyper-competitive, but hyper costly, and changing faster than ever. The internet allows information to be gathered and exchanged quickly- which only speeds the process along. There is nothing more important to prioritize in your activities- for both your short and long term survival.
Jonathan White is the Executive Vice President at White Coffee Corporation in Long Island City, NY. Learn more about how Jonathan and his team can help you at WhiteCoffee.com.