Daily Archives: March 14, 2008


Every year, I spend 3 hours with people outside my world.

Got your attention, at least to make jokes.

A friend does training for a retail cooperative. New managers from stores that are part of this cooperative come together for training. As part of the course, they work on a case study, preparing recommendations for turning around a retail outlet that is part of this cooperative. At the end of the one week course, they make a presentation to another group and a couple people from the main office of the cooperative. I serve as a facilitator for a couple of the presentations each year.

I know nothing about the business from the inside. I know it as a customer. And that makes this project fun.

To make the project even more fun this year, I was at the library yesterday and checked¬† out “small is the new big” by seth godin. I read a bit last night and then walked into presentations from small business people facing competition from big boxes. What I heard today made me more optimistic about the presentations in any time in the past 6 years of doing this.

Today, one of the groups said, “We want to be the information source for ___”. Another group said, “we could take laptops with __ software out to the customers and design right on the spot.” Another person said, “We won’t do television advertising, but we can take pictures of our customers working and put them on our website.” Another group spent the bulk of their time talking about the people side of the solution, the staffing changes that would need to be part of the solution for the company in the case study.

Here were mostly department managers from comparatively small business saying that what can make them successful is moving out of the product business into the information and relationship business. They aren’t selling hammers and nails, they are selling houses and homes and lives.

I did my best to encourage them, within the confines of my role. I wanted to say, “YES!!!” In taking on big, you can try to undercut their margins which will fail. You can try to duplicate their advertising budget, which will fail. You can try to out program them, which will fail. Or you can try to outlove them. (I know, it’s business, but at the core of relationship marketing must be relationship, which, at some level, has to be about love.) And the big boxes, whatever their industry: food, church, hardware, furniture, departments, are not fundamentally about outloving anyone.

I always wanted the biggest box of crayons. It was always a really cool thing to have. But as I think about it now, someone that would have taught me how to color, to actually do something with 8 crayons, that could have changed my life.  I might have moved from being a consumer to an artist.

Big is about consumers. Small is about artists. Big is about changing people to your world. Small is about preparing people to change their world.

Just a little thought.