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Change that your business can believe in

In the midst of conversation about change (hard to avoid that word these days), the “kings” of business came to mind.

Names like Woolworth, Sears, Wal-Mart, Barnes and Noble. Technologies like fax, Palm Pilot, Walkman and Yahoo.

Barack Obama Nashua Rally 37
photo credit: No. Nein

No one could beat Woolworth … until Sears came along.

No one could possibly rival Sears … until K-Mart came along (and later…Wal-Mart).

No one could possibly rival Waldenbooks … until Barnes & Noble came along (and later, Amazon).

No one could break into the big three television networks and become the leader in their bread and butter – the news …until CNN came along (and later, Fox News and MSNBC).

Nothing could possibly rival the fax machine … until e-mail came along? And then RSS, Twitter and blogs.

Nothing could possibly rival the Palm Pilot … until Windows mobile Smartphones and the Blackberry came along.

Nothing could possibly rival the Walkman … until the iPod came along?

The music stores were indestructible, until Wal-Mart came along. Recently, iTunes replaced Wal-Mart at the top of retail music sales.

Yahoo, once the 500 lb gorilla in the internet world, is now garage sale material in the eyes of Microsoft and worse, Wall Street. One thing that is consistent about business is constant change. The power of the internet to force that change is even stronger.

But it isn’t just about big monster Fortune 500 and Inc 500 businesses. It happens in small business too. The long-time leader in the studio software business when I entered it was a DOS program… as late as 1998! A few years later, our software and others in the market had that owner moving into real estate sales. I’m sure you can look around in your market and tell similar stories.

Break the mold
photo credit: paper by design

When Wal-Mart started up, you can bet that Sears thought “Who do those guys think they are???” even though they had made Woolworth feel that way only a few decades earlier.

Rain Man was right about K-Mart, but it still took Wal-Mart to put them in their rightful place.

Do you think ABC/NBC/CBS felt they were unbeatable? Palm? Sony and their Walkman?

Complacency is a great weapon for an upstart newcomer. Complacency is dangerous, often deadly. Kmart is the role model for the “totally complacent, dont get it, have no clue” business.

Are you the big cheese in your business niche? Getting complacent, not adjusting to change (in fact, not PURSUING change) and (here it comes), not pursuing the slight edge CONSTANTLY is what keeps you out of trouble and forces your competition to constantly play catch up.

Yesterday, I was talking with a programmer friend about some new mobile technology. He said “My clients never asked me for that stuff.”

I told him it was his job to show his clients why they need to use the technology – if it really does offer them an edge.

If they have to ask for the new tool, it’s likely because a competitor is already there. Someone else is teaching clients about new tools in that market. That’s the player you want to be.

Dont play catch up. Be the lead dog with constant change, constant improvement and pursuit of the slight edge.

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Green is about saving money – and your business

Earlier this year, Safeway “went green” with their entire fleet of trucks.

Way back in January, this seemed like a good idea with a decent ROI (return on investment).

The Rack
photo credit: mattieb

Given the increase in fuel prices in the last 2 weeks – I suspect they are thrilled with the decision now, a mere 60 days or so later.

Over a decade ago, when 3M implemented some green projects – for what they would admit was experimental or even political reasons – they were surprised to find that the waste eliminated from their manufacturing processes actually resulted in a net cost savings. I mean, it does make sense.

Think back to your grandparents. They “made do”. They were recycling before there was a word for it, because they had to.

With the change in fuel prices and no end in sight for those changes, think a bit about how your business may change and how (as I spoke of earlier this week) your customers’ behavior may change.

You can see hints of it in the quarterly results coming out of some businesses. You can probably see other hints in your own behavior. For example, Amazon just announced – in the middle of what the media says is a recession – earnings that are up 30 percent.

Not all of that is people shopping online instead of driving to their local bookstore, but you know the thought process is there.

Yesterday, I was meeting with a client who has 1000 local customers (a lot for our rural area). He wanted to work on getting more business from the 80% who buy infrequently. His business delivers “stuff” to his clients and drives right past the businesses of occasional purchasers of his goods.

Imagine the results his outside sales force will have when they combine the occasional purchaser address list with the regular delivery route in some mapping software, and have it light up the businesses that don’t even require an extra 1/4 mile of driving by the delivery crew. That gives the outside sales force a finite list of people to talk to – where they can offer free delivery AND save them time since they won’t have to go out to another business to buy consumer-grade products at the same or higher price.

That is the kind of “green thinking” that will not only improve your bottom line, but protect you from the impact of next year’s fuel prices and altered customer behavior.

So…how can you “green up” your business?

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Amazon responds to print on demand (POD) changes

Day 106 - I am a librarian
photo credit: cindiann

About 5pm Eastern late night, I received a note via my contact page from Amazon’s Drew Herdener. I appreciate that Drew (ie: his assistant) went to the trouble to chase this post down, much less to respond (Business is) Personal-ly:) Of course, an identical note was sent to others, including Writer’s Weekly, who broke this story last week.

Given your interest in Amazon Print On Demand, I want to make sure that you had an opportunity to read a letter we published today about what we’re changing and why. Here’s a link to the letter:

Hope this helps.



Drew Herdener
Senior Public Relations Manager
Office: 206-266-1913
Cell: 206-459-6761

It appears to speak for itself. It is a little late now, but let’s go there anyway. Hindsight is always 20/20, right?

Wouldn’t it have been a better idea to contact all your publishers and authors BEFORE this flap? That way, you could explain what is about to happen, rather than creating a firestorm and having to respond in defense of actions that I suspect were not made on a whim. Get them in on the plan, get some feedback, find a win-win, and so on.

No matter what the response is now, backpedaling or not, you’ve managed to tick off authors, publishers and more, much less generate a pile of bad public relations (hey, but we are talking about you, so I guess that’s good).

I can appreciate the efficiency argument and the desire to simplify what can be simplified, however I think it’s important to note two things:

  • Independent authors and POD publishers are your customers too.
  • The long tail that these authors and publishers provide for Amazon is one of the key differentiating factors between you and the local bookstore that can’t afford to carry 3 million titles.

Every major bookstore has access to the Ingram catalog. What they can’t do nearly as well as Amazon does, is make the long tail (provided by independent authors publishing via POD houses) as available as you do. But…when the long tail gets stepped on and leaves Amazon, how will you differentiate?

I’m not sure that smart (and appreciated) emails noting that other people like myself who bought book A tended to buy book B is going to be enough. Any programmer can make that happen for a bookstore with a database.

Maybe iTunes should start selling books. They’ve already beaten Amazon at the music game.

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Amazon launches their weapon of mass destruction, steps on the long tail of independent authors

No Known Restrictions: President Woodrow Wilson Addresses Congress, 1917 (LOC)
photo credit:

People continue to have this idea that companies like Wal-Mart, Amazon, Apple, IBM, Starbucks and Microsoft are bulletproof.

Folks, it just isn’t so. You might also have thought that UCLA was bulletproof Thursday night against Western Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, except that no one told WKU about it. Top-seeded UCLA pulled it out in the last 4 minutes, after leading 12th seeded WKU by only 4 points with 5 minutes remaining.

David and Goliath plays out every day, if David is clever enough.

These big companies that small business owners love to complain about are great at building giant customer lists and then turning right around and crapping in their corn flakes. They do it everyday. All you have to do is look around (one of the reasons I mentioned the Google Alerts thing yesterday).

It’s Amazon’s turn. They just got punched in the word of mouth.

What am I talking about?

The Amazon print on demand (POD) story at

And the Wall Street Journal, TechDirt, Washington Post, TechCrunch, Computerworld and Publisher’s Weekly. And so on.

Before you think that this only affects big print on demand publishers, don’t forget that little (and some not so little) independent authors sometimes see the bulk of their sales via Amazon and POD.

If there are fewer authors able to sell on Amazon (because of their demands), what happens? Does the record industry try to do this next? They’ve already lost control, but there is leverage out there if they want to use it (movies, for one).

What about your ISP? Perhaps they will require that all websites updated from your DSL account must be hosted with their web hosting services. They can easily control this.

The upside is that the market always has a way of sorting this stuff out. Somewhere out there, there’s a little print on demand house just rubbing their hands together.

Oh yeah, and I just realized that my Google Alerts are not covering enough bases.