Getting to the Bottom of your Overhead

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I overheard two employees in awe over the low produce prices at a nearby competitor. In response to the one employee's reciting of the sale ad, the other employee commented, "Well, they don't have our overhead. Our unnecessary overhead."

Granted, this grocery store, one which I frequent most often (mostly for the convenient location) is appealing to the sight, smell and touch...wide open floors, soft romantic lighting and display furniture nicer than my living room furniture. Immediately upon entering, you are warm and comforted from the scent of melted butter and sugar (yah, you know the one) coming from the bakery.  In addition to these teasers, there are chef demonstrations, a milkshake bar and an olive oil bar. All evoking emotions that will hopefully make me buy more.

But will people buy more because of this fluff and fanfare? Or will they stick to their list, thus their budget and see through the fluff to the real reason why they are there; to buy food to nourish their family at a reasonable cost.

Sadly, when companies look to cut costs, marketing is usually first on the chopping block (Bamboo, $50, Aisle 97). Most make the mistake of placing marketing in the fluff aisle. Alright, some of it is fluff and solely their to tug at your heart strings and your pocket strings. (ooh, that's pretty - aahh, nice cocktail napkins). But to really maximize marketing and make a case for why it is a main ingredient to your company's strategic success, here is a list to consider on your next cost cutting trip:

  • Fluff is big expensive ads. Reaching a large audience on a minimal budget is not fluff. That means placing smaller, yet more noticeable ads in very strategic mediums and utilizing less costly methods of reaching your audience such as email campaigns and social media.
  • Fluff is exhibiting at multiple trade shows with enormous displays. Again, be very strategic on which shows to attend. Some shows you may be able to just attend and get a feel for competition and what people are craving. And if you do exhibit, place your investment more on the quality of information, the presentation, and the take away collateral - all of which are very economical and memorable - more so than a giant circus tent exhibit that everyone forgets about a week later.
  • Fluff is guessing at what the market is wanting, what your competitors are up to and what people really think of you. This is the valuable marketing dollar, friends! This information is critical in creating your marketing message, your selling tactic and your short term and long term strategies.  What is more important than that?
  • Fluff is fancy letterhead and colorful tchotchkes. Do you want to stay in the minds of the customer? Give them a message that sticks. Solve their problem. Prove that you can. Give them a sample, provide free work or boast your customer testimonials. There is not a tchotchke out there that can take the place of your true work, product and service.

So you need to cut costs? Take a look at your true overhead, even if it is just in the marketing department. Stick to this list. Stay within budget. Then head to the express lane to success.

How My Bathroom Remodel Changed My Business Model

It started so innocently. A tiny corner of wallpaper taunting me, "go ahead and try". Two commercial breaks later, my powder room wall was stripped bare. Now what? I had no plan. No hardware, plumbing or paint color picked out. No measurements. No budget. Just ambition. And so it started - my quest for a beautiful bathroom on a tight schedule and even tighter budget.

Local Rocks

I believe in eating local. But buying home goods? If it's quality and cheap, I'll travel or ship. But the harsh realities of poor customer service, inflexibility, lengthy waiting times and nightmarish returns are very punishing.

I needed a 16-inch towel bar. Apparently this bathroom was last updated in the late 20's, as the standard for towel bars today is 18 inches. Have our hands grown over the generations? I scoured the internet and visited two national chains. Nada, nothing and zilch.  Then, on a pleasure visit to a local public market, I came upon beautiful, hand-forged steel sculptures and a friendly, knowledgeable and passionate owner.  Somehow we got to talking about bathrooms and he was able to make me a 16" towel bar to my liking, to match the image I was trying to achieve and also make matching hardware for the rest of the room. It was a custom, quality solution. It was going to be a conversation piece. Well, maybe just a 'thought' piece for those in there alone.

Save vs. Splurge

A tight budget meant no $150/hr professional consultant and installer. No fancy chandeliers, granite countertops or marble floors. I divided what was most important to me with what just needs to be functional. Like a toilet. It needs to look like a normal toilet and function like one.  But a sink and lighting and an 'mmm' smelling handsoap would improve my overall image of the room, making it an enjoyable and memorable visit.

Some of the Best Projects Have No Plans

I knew this project was on my to-do list, but I never got around to a plan. And I'm glad I didn't because I learned so much along the way and had fun doing it.  I knew the sooner I got this project done, I would feel better and my house would look better.

I invested time in researching the internet for solutions, visiting stores for comparison pricing, talking to experts (and handy neighbors) in learning how a bathroom works and snooping around fancy restaurants and store bathrooms for ideas. This extra time resulted in a much more exciting and interesting bathroom than the original picture in my head.

So here are my lessons learned for my future business model:

1. In an impersonal world, sometimes it's nice to be personal with someone you trust doing business with. A little face-to-face interaction brings a new level of trust and opens the door to new relationships and possibly new business opportunities. Nothing beats a nice word of mouth referral. Plus, local vendors are usually more flexible and willing to work on a custom solution.

2. If it affects my business image or reputation - I splurge on the investment. If it is something that needs to be functional and reliable - I splurge. If it is something that goes unnoticed or brings little or no value to my clients...I skimp.

3. Sometimes plans hold you back. Sometimes they narrow your vision. Sometimes they don't predict an economic downfall or a change in customer preferences or an emergency that will dip into your marketing budget. Commit to being flexible and enjoying the adventure.