An old dilapidated gas station in town gets purchased. It is torn down and a new one with a food-center for snacks and sundries goes up in its place. The station is reopened.
The place shines. People are overly friendly welcoming you into the store when purchasing a drinks. The pumps gleam. There is fluid and windshield squeegees in the containers. There are gas mitts to use so your don’t smell when you are on your way to work. There are lines of happy customers in the store and at the pumps (and really who likes paying for fuel). It is the model gas station convenience center.
The place looks like it needs a cleaning. When you enter the store no says hello or makes eye contact. Four of the eight pumps are labled “Out of Order”. There are no squeegees, and the containers that do have them are dry and without fluid. Gas mitts and paper towels gone. The trash is overflowing in the containers outside. The store is half stocked.
It is the stereotypical experience of convenience stores everywhere.
When I moved into my house the previous owner told me that the chimney had not been cleaned in some time. I scheduled an appointment with a local chimney sweep.
The day of the appointment the sweep showed up on time and explained to me what he was going to do. He was a in his mid thirties and very professional. The one thing that I noticed was he looked very tired. We chatted during the process and I asked how business was. He explained that business was good but not growing. He told me he was swamped between October through December and then business was non-existing. He was sometimes doing 14-18 houses a day seven days a week (approximately 1450 customers) and that if he could not fit a customer in he lost the business.
I let him finish and I offered to help him with his business. He was worried about technology solutions and platforms and I tried put his mind at ease that this was not about the technology but about how he could be more effective. “Can you send email I asked, can you make a phone call?” If so we will do fine. I asked him if he had email addresses or phone numbers for his clients. Not many was his response. He did have all the names and addresses though.
We devised a 2 stage plan to spread his business out over the year to provide room for growth.
Phase 1 was to reach out to his customers and get current contact information.
1. Update his current website with a contact form that captured email and phone number into a MailChimp account.
2. Create a postcard mailing to all of his customers asking them to fill out the form online or to call and update him with their current information.
After a couple of weeks I touched base with him. 93% of all his customers responded and provided their information. It was late January. Now came phase 2.
We looked at the list and divided into local geographic section. We composed and email offering his customers a 10% discount to have their chimneys cleaned early in the season starting in April right after the major heating season was over. We would then take the next group and do the same for May and June and July. This would hopefully spread his work out more effectively. For those who had phone numbers (and no email) he would reach out to 5 -10 of them at the end of every day and offer the same offer. He called me back a few weeks later and said it was working. Many of his customers appreciated getting the work done early in the season and loved the discount. He was able to start working much earlier in the season and do some larger repair work for many clients that he had not been able to before due to time constraints.
Every time he went to a new clients he captured their information with his phone and continued the process. When peak season came around he was able to take on additional new clients because he was able to effectively spread the work around.
The following year when he came to my house to do a cleaning I asked him how was business. He was ecstatic. His current client count was hovering around 2,500. He was able to able to work throughout most of the year and his customers could not been happier.
Is your problem with growth or is something else holding you back?
This week I learned the the product I make called blocs for Apple TV was being “reproduced” by a company called Tinsel & Timber. There are not a lot of accessories created for the AppleTV so when the review came up in my RSS feeds I was anxious to see what another company had created. Unfortunately I learned they had created their version of the bloc which is hardly unique. I reached out to the company only to get a response from their “professional industrial designer” that he only saw a few things in commom. From the response:
We do design and manufacture an apple TV holder, though this is not the product that you have available on your website. Aside from the fact that the two products both contain an Apple TV and are both manufactured from wood, they have little other design similarities.
I will let you be the judge.
My review of the product on the website yielded very different feelings:
almost exatly the same dimensions
created from 2 of the 3 species of wood I use (Maple and American Walnut)
a slot to hold the AppleTV remote (even the same orientation as the bloc on the right side)
instead of one large smooth bowl finger pull they have two smaller versions.
instead of the four rubber feet on the bloc they have four cork feet
also made in the USA
uses the same language I originated, calling it the “home for Apple TV”
To be fair there are some minor differences:
their unit has square edges and does not use the same radius corners
you have the option to select the color felt to line your remote holder with (I do not have felt)
their unit is more expensive (must be the felt)
I’m sad to report that today when anyone makes a new product there is a high degree of probability that it will get knocked off. I have seen this over and over. The product category makes no difference. Software, hardware, accessories, clothing, nothing is immune. Stereotypically you would expect to see this being done by re-producers in Asian countries.
When I speak of copy cats I am explicitly speaking of products that at first glance you can not differentiate from the original. This behavior creates such distrust within ourselves and the buying public at large.
There is another category of products where an existing product is reenvisioned and made it better. Mobile/cellular phones existed before the iPhone. Apple sought to change the way we interact with the our mobile products. From the shape and size to using touch to interact with the device. They got rid of phycisal keyboards, changed the outward appearance and combined services in a phone that had not really existed. This could be considered an extreme an example. Cell phone cases have gone through this as well. Some have taken a standard design and made them different, or better. Withstanding drops better, maybe they are thinner, maybe they have integrated a wallet into the phone case. They are still cases but they are different.
Many of you reading this may feel like this is just another sour grapes post. To some degree it is. I am disappointment at the lack of respect that many creators have for existing products and services and those who actually create them. “Altering” a design slightly to call it original to me is akin to changing the color of the toner in a copy machine. Not only is this insulting but it really begs the question of their professionalism and actual design skill and talent. If your only ability is to tweak someone elses hard work there are plenty of companies who will hire you as an employee. If you feel good about “creating” this type of work and calling it your own then I hope you can sleep well at night.
Last year I decided to keep track of all books I read. I have a few notes for each book in a notebook but this post is not about rating of them. I only read non-fiction. I get a lot of grief for that. I struggle to get into fiction but I am frequently told I should explore outside of my comfort zone in order to help me relax more. The problem I have is I do relax when reading this style of book.
Regarding the selection of books some read to learn about a topic, fill a curiosity void or just check out someones writing style.
Below is a list of books I finished for the year. The order is strictly the order that they were completed because many times I have two or three going at the same time. Without going into specifics the ones that are bold are the ones I enjoyed the most.
I am not a large proponent of New Years resolutions. Goals are good but I dont think they are mutually exclusive. During 2013 when writing for ThoughfulDesign I found myself boxed in by the blog title. I wanted to write about other topics, and not limit myself. Even though it was purely in my head it was a block for me. I used this as an excuse to not write.
I have been spending a lot of time trying to come up with a better site name. I settled on using my own to allow me to just explore new topics as I decide to. Some of the topics I plan to write about revolve around customer service, design and user expereience design, and the Apple community. But if I want to write a review about LED lightbulbs or bathroom fans, a la Marco Arment I will have that freedom.
I hope you will continue reading and share your thoughts with me.