I've always believed that the best way to find new business is to pay close attention to the problems people are having, and then find a way to make those problems go away, but you have to be very careful when you do this. For instance, I was waiting on a bench at an outdoor mall for The Lovely Marianne to come out of The Christmas Tree Shop. I watched people pushing their shopping carts loaded with cheap stuff from the store toward the parking lot. Now that's a problem for the store because they have to hire people to go out into the lot to bring back the carts. That's an expense for the store, but if they ignore it, the lot will fill with carts; people will have fewer places to park, and they won't find a cart when they finally get to the store. Not good.
So someone came up with a new business to solve that problem. The shopping carts at The Christmas Tree Store now have wheels that lock if you push them beyond a certain point outside the store. They do this electronically with something like an E-ZPass, but with brakes (EZNoPass).
There's a big sign a hundred feet or so beyond the store that tells you you're about to be stopped, but most of the shoppers ignore that sign, figuring it doesn't apply to them because they're special. They push a bit faster as they reach the border and I enjoyed watching each of them fall right into the cart when the wheels when stiff. I'm easily amused.
Most of the people would get this incredulous look on their faces and then push again, harder this time. When they realized the wheels had locked, they'd look at the sign, and push harder still. The more resourceful ones would get in front of the carts and pull them rather than push because it's easier to drag a locked-wheel cart than it is to push one. Some left skid marks on the sidewalk, and everyone cursed. They cursed the store where they had just dropped a bunch of money on cheap stuff. They turned to the passersby and complained about the cart and the store. They shouted about how they couldn't get their heavy purchases out to their cars and what the heck were they supposed to do now. I enjoyed every moment.
The store's solution was the customer's problem. It was a wonderful thing to consider while waiting for The Lovely Marianne on my bench. I sat there thinking about a business that would solve both the shopper's problem with the locked carts, while still solving the store's problem with the missing or unreturned carts, and I came up with what I think is perfect solution.
See what you come up with.
If you watch people, and if you pay attention, you'll never have trouble finding new business. I came across an article about a study that an insurance company in the U.K. had just completed. The company wanted to know if young people had any Do It Yourself skills. The answer to that, as you might imagine, can affect an insurance company's bottom line.
What the company learned was interesting, and even though the results are from the U.K., I'll bet they also apply to the current younger generation here in the U.S. They found that more than half of the people under 35 years old lack the basic DIY skills necessary to wire a plug; 63 percent of them wouldn't attempt to hang wallpaper, and more than half (54 percent) don't know how to bleed the air from a radiator. Imagine that.
But wait, it gets better. Forty-five percent can't hang a shelf. Thirty-six percent don't know how to mow a lawn, and 65 percent of them call good old Dad to do get the job done.
The insurance company did this survey because they're concerned about the condition of the homes they're insuring, especially when Dad is no longer around to do the work for the kids. They're worried about problems stacking up until the whole works tumbles down and they're holding the bag.
They estimate the average cost of fixing a job botched by someone under 35 years old to be $3,852. Compare this to the average price of a job botched by someone over 45 years old, which is just $292. About 20 percent of those under 35 carry no insurance (compared to only seven percent of those over 45), so that's what they're facing.
Look around, do you think we have a similar situation here in the U.S.? And if so, do you see an opportunity there?
I talked to my 29-year-old daughter about this. She thinks it's true for the U.S. as well, just based on what she sees with her friends, and she thinks things will get worse within the next few years. "Parents have really been coddling their kids since 9/11," she said. "Just look at the way they'll fight with teachers, even when the kid is absolutely wrong. What will these kids be like when they're adults?"
You think there's a business in all of that? If I were you, I'd start by sharing this story with your contractor customers. The part about the $3,853 average-claim cost for those under 35 might be enough to encourage some young person to hire a pro rather than take on that project himself. What's the true cost of doing it yourself?
Beyond that, think about what this apparently mechanically incompetent generation will do once Dad is on the other side of the lawn. Whom will they call then? Who's going to pick up the pieces? Think there might be a good business in that?
Do you think they'll be looking for adult education? If so, who will teach them, and what form will that teaching take? Books? Videos? The Web?
Will social networks spring up around these people to offer them support or guidance as to how to find good help? Who might get that going?
Will there be more business for your contractor customers from these people? Could you bring the two groups together? Would that add value to your company? Could you sponsor local clinics with your pros and the young people? Could you turn that into dollars?
Do you see yourself fitting into any of this? If you can, that's great. If you can't, then think of something else. The important thing is to see the world as it is right not, and think about how you might make a profit by offering solutions to the real problems people are having.
In 1956, Malcolm McLean, a truck driver from North Carolina, noticed how long it took stevedores to empty a ship. He came up with the idea of putting all that stuff into a container that would fit onto a truck or a train, and inside of a cargo ship. That's where all the containers came from. There are now 26 million of them and they all came from the mind of a truck driver who noticed a problem, but that's not the end of the story because problems never sleep.
Rene Giesbers is a heating-systems engineer from the Netherlands. He has nothing to do with the shipping industry, other than he has this idea that those containers weigh too much and take up too much space when they're empty. He recently invented a collapsible, fiberglass-composite shipping container that weighs 75 percent less than a standard steel container. One person on a forklift can collapse one of these composite containers to 25 percent of its opened-up size in 30 seconds. It also floats, and it doesn't corrode.
Right now, many of those 26 million containers are floating around empty on crowded cargo ships, so Mr. Giesbers' idea seems like a good one to me. What do you think?
What does all of this have to do with heating? Perhaps not much, but it has a lot to do with business. Keep looking for those problems. There's an opportunity in each. It's always been that way. See problems; think business.
Now go to the mall and sit on a bench.