Opportunity abounds in times of great change.
This is true in many industries today, especially trucking, which is poised offer amazing growth potential for companies who position themselves wisely now. For many fleets, this means expansion — usually through acquiring smaller fleets that operate in coveted geographic areas or that have specialized capabilities or serve specialized markets.
But acquiring a company and integrating its culture, people and practices into your own is an all-consuming process for executives —one that comes with tremendous risks as well. There is the all-too-real possibility that in integrating a new company and learning about new markets and business practices, you’ll divert attention from the core specialties that brought you to the point that you’re successful enough to go into expansion mode in the first place.
This happens all the time. And even two of the great innovative companies of our times are learning hard lessons about what can happen when you divert too much time, money and resources away from successful business divisions in order to focus on new products or markets.
Take Amazon, for instance.
I’ve always been an avid reader. In the early days of the internet, way back in the mid-‘90s, when I first heard about a website that specialized in selling books, I was immediately onboard with the concept. I loved the ability to go onto the then-new Amazon site, look at the latest releases in subjects and genres I read, check out customer reviews, easily find books by authors I like and find obscure or even out-of-print books with a few clicks of a mouse. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that I learned how to purchase products on the internet and got a glimmer of how powerful a business tool that new communication form would one day be during my early sessions on Amazon, purchasing books (and then waiting 7 to 10 days for them to be delivered).
Amazon has since moved on to become one of the most powerful commercial forces on the planet. But that business tsunami has carried the company’s book division along with it.
Frankly, if you look at the Amazon Book page today it’s a mess. It is disorganized, cluttered and difficult to navigate. Overall, the look and the feel of the page hasn’t changed much, but now you have a glut of vendors trying to entice you into buying their products and the whole thing feels both outdated and woefully chaotic. Lately, I’ve had such a difficult time finding books I’m interested in on the Amazon page, that I’ve gone to competitive pages to conduct my search, and then back to Amazon to make the purchase — simply because they have all my shipping and billing data queued up and ready to go. But I can’t help but wonder how long I’ll keep doing that.
Another good example is Apple’s iTunes, which completely transformed how people purchase and listen to music when it debuted. This was revolutionary stuff back in the day — the ability to organize music in ways that had never been possible before and take it with you anywhere. Apple’s funky, insanely stylish iPod became a cultural phenomenon in its own right — an instantly recognizable sign that its owner was hip, modern and cool in a way that somebody fumbling for a compact disc could only imagine being.
But, just a couple weeks ago, Apple announced it was shuttering its iTunes division and replacing it with an app people can use to transfer their music to and (presumably) keep accessible and organized.
Again, I wasn’t surprised when I heard the news. It seemed like nobody had been minding the shop at iTunes for quite a while. Downloads were sloppy, with lots of duplicates, mismatched album art and an organizational mess.
Ironically, Apple, one of the leading technology innovators on the planet, had done next to nothing in keeping up with the fast paced of change in the music industry. They were quickly overtaken up live-streaming music providers like Spotify, Pandora and even Amazon to the point that someone (like me, even today) carrying around an iPod with a bunch of music on it seems hopelessly out-fo-date and uncool to the point of pity.
Now, obviously, Amazon and Apple aren’t hurting. They’ve done quite well in other commercial endeavors since launching their respective books and music businesses. So well that it seems that management had decided those divisions weren’t worth investing a lot of time, money and personnel in, given everything else they have going on.
But truck fleets probably won’t have the luxury of being so successful in new routes and with new customers hauling new freight that they’ll be able to ignore and eventually shutter the core business competencies that got them into the acquisition and expansion game in the first place.
By all means, expand your business. But remember the original customers who brought you that level of success and keep serving them well. If you don’t, somebody else most certainly will.