“Anything you have to do often, you shouldn’t have to do at all”

Bruce Barrington* allegedly said that was his philosophy regarding computer programming, but I see it applying to a lot of other things outside of the geek world. Or at least it should.

A few examples…

Why do I have to go to the grocery store to haul home a 37 lb bag of dog food? Can’t they look at their database, see how often I buy it and offer to deliver it a couple days before I typically buy?

How about computer paper? Staples surely has a clue how often I buy a box of 10 reams and which paper I buy. They also know how often I buy toner and imaging units for the printers here in the office. Despite that, no one contacts me to setup a subscription delivery program. They already deliver, so they already have trucks roaming around. Why not make the trips more profitable?

Coffee? Good coffee, that is. And any other premium food product that won’t spoil.

Dry cleaning? They know how often I drop by, on average. If I miss a week, why don’t they offer to pick it up, or at least call and make sure they havent managed to goof up my clothes.

Oil changes? When is someone finally going to remind me that I’m overdue and just haven’t noticed? Or just offer to pick up my car at the office, change the oil and bring it back?

Water softener salt? Culligan does offer a delivery service (they even “install” the salt), but they are alone in that business. Some drinking water services do this as well.  Why just them?

Animal feeds? When I go to the local feed store to get softener salt (ours isnt the standard sodium-based stuff), there are any number of large, bulky or heavy items that are clearly expendable on a regular basis. No delivery or “subscription” service.

Why didn’t my florist contact me and ask what I wanted to send for Mother’s Day? They know I’ve sent flowers before. Make it easy for me. Call me, send me a postcard, fax me or email me and give me an easy way to start a subscription, or at least, say “Last year, you sent your mom flowers. What arrangement did you have in mind for this year?”

The marketing and management angles are obvious. Predictable cash flow, an easy way to exclude other businesses who are too lazy to deliver/ship, flatten cyclical sales dips, shrink purchase frequencies that lengthen as we forget to change oil, get salt, etc.

* Bruce Barrington -Barrington is the founder of Clarion Software Corporation. In 1992, Clarion was merged with Jensen & Partners, International (JPI) to form TopSpeed Corporation, a leading provider of database software development tools and services. In 1974, Mr. Barrington co-founded Huff, Barrington, Owens & Company (HBOC), a leading provider of enterprise-wide healthcare information systems, which merged with McKesson Corporation in 1999.