business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

For years now we’ve been writing about the importance of standing out in the marketplace, of being distinctive and offering points of differentiation. If you don’t, you have to recognize that you are at risk of irrelevance and worse.

Not surprisingly, there are companies out there figuring this out and their examples are among the things all businesses need focus on these days.

Just last week, Kevin wrote about the problem of hotels basically fading into beige - in other words, offering no distinct reason for a consumer to choose one over the other. Kevin wrote this knowing I had a recent experience that went way, way beyond beige.

Due to reasons too complex to detail here, my wife and I had to decamp from our house to a nearby hotel in suburban Maryland. To our surprise we found a hotel called Even, and it was, well, Odd and wonderful in numerous ways. First off, at Even there are no rooms with odd numbers. But then the distinction goes much further.

Even is a wellness hotel, meaning that every room comes equipped with equipment and videos to take a guest through a great morning exercise routine. The theme can be found everywhere in the hotel. For example, climbing the stairs to our room we were constantly egged on by motivational quotes on the landings urging us to consider all the good walking does for us. Even the hotel bar reflected the theme; its name: “The Cork and Kale.”

Even isn’t for everyone, but that’s the point. To get beyond beige and stand out from the crowded field, we might need to lose some customers so we can delight and hold others ever tighter.

Oh, by the way, it works. USA Today recently wrote about retailers that are posting significant growth in the moment (including Costco), led by three that are outpacing Amazon. It’s a list worth pondering.

Each of these retailers succeeds by having a clearly defined niche with an emphasis on differentiation. None of those ideas are new in business, but they are certainly worth considering when survival is at stake.

Let’s start with Gaia, a company that I never heard of before, yet it managed to increase sales by more than 50 percent last year. Gaia offers subscribers 8,000 videos focusing on yoga, meditation and alternative healing. That might not excite you, but it has enabled Gaia to build sales of nearly $44 million.

Next on the list is Etsy, which brings together people looking to buy and sell unique and usually crafty items. Again, it’s a very specific niche, but when has that stopped success before? Etsy has nearly 40 million active buyers, two million sellers and revenues nearing $4 billion, up 40 percent in the past year.

You’ve also likely heard of Wayfair, which now boasts sales of nearly $7 billion in sales, an increase of almost 44 percent in 2018. Wayfair features home goods from more than 11,000 suppliers and has done a wonderful job targeting women between 35 and 65 with household incomes ranging from $50,000 to $250,000. Now that sounds like a niche virtually every retailer would love to pursue. Wayfair aims to simplify shopping for home décor and based on my scientific sample of my own home, it’s a formula for success.

Just in case you needed any additional motivation to consider the importance of going beyond beige, the fourth fastest growing retailer on the USA Today list was Amazon, with sales rising 31 percent. In case you need the reminder, food is high on the ecommerce giant’s own shopping list.

Sounds like it’s time to get colorful in all new ways and go way, way beyond beige.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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