Are You Pursuing Best Practices, or 'Next Practices'?

Why are we trying to steer a new course by paying such close attention to the rearview mirror?

February 2013, - WebXclusive

by Bill Wade, Wade & Partners

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Thus far, no one seems to see a static future for the heavy-duty parts and service business. While solutions are elusive, the top disruptive issues are not:

  • Mega-distributors flex their scale and consolidation ability, while new, unexpected entrants deliver essential end user value in new ways.
  • Smarter, more demanding customers are increasingly product and price knowledgeable, while suppliers are blazing paths directly to these end users.
  • The uneven economy makes financial access to fund your traditional role as providers of local time and place utility more difficult.

These alone should shake our industry to its core. As Thomas Friedman warns in the book, "That Used To Be Us:"

“Continuous innovation is not a luxury anymore – it is becoming a necessity. In the hyper-connected world, whatever can be done, will be done. The only question for a company is whether it will be done by it or to it: but it will be done… So a company that does not practice continuous innovation by taking advantage of every ounce of brainpower at every level will fall behind farther and faster than ever before.”

The Edge of a Black Hole is Where the Action Is

Reinvention requires a fresh perspective. Like a politician, every day we fight a gravitational pull to the center – to what's comfortable and practical. Yet, the best way to stay on the leading edge is to look and move toward the fringe of what we know and don't know. This is where the roots of innovation grow.

Scientists call this area the event horizon. If you want to find out what it is you don't know that you don't know, you need to hang out with people who might already know it. Innovators like Steve Jobs used this approach. “It comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best humans have done. And then try to bring those things into what you are doing.”

Look Outside the Industry… That’s Where Our New Competitors Are.

Look in the mirror. The truck parts and service business is getting old (mature if you’re sensitive). New leaders must begin the process of transformation. Tech companies retool or transform every three to six years. The average HD distributor relies on the same business model that's served them in the past... sometimes all the way back to Dad. That puts them in serious trouble in an ever-changing world.

As a whole, the distribution industry is years behind in innovation, business model design and entrepreneurial spirit. HD is no different. As a result, traditional distributors are being disrupted by the likes of Amazon, Home Depot, Grainger, UPS and others.

Nuke Nostalgia and Beware the Paradox of Expertise

Like old vacation slides, legacy thinking can be creatively deadening. Some refer to the "paradox of expertise." Deep knowledge of what has existed in an industry can make it harder to challenge long-held assumptions or consider out-of-the-box strategies.

As an innovative distributorship idea takes form, there is a strong will and determination to adapt to changing circumstances, as well as to listen to and even anticipate the needs of the customer. Capture this essence…this is where you can innovate and create something out of nothing.

Rekindle the Entrepreneurial Spirit of the ‘70s

Every distributor and wholesaler began as an entrepreneurial venture. This spirit is the engine that solves customer problems and creates opportunities. The business creations and expansions of the HD aftermarket in the 1970s were fantastic… a real golden era!

But over the years, most distributors and shops retreated to risk aversion.

They built the company to a point where it's sustained as a "lifestyle" business rather than a vibrant, growing, self-driven venture. This attitude and direction ultimately sucks the life out of any "lifestyle" business…and they eventually go out of business.

We need to find new ways to rekindle the entrepreneurial spirit within our businesses… and our whole industry.

Can you bring the mindset of a hot Silicon Valley startup to your business? This is how we will all escape the hold of the past.

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