An exspurt was advising potential small business owners not to go for
new ideas but rather copy something already existing on the market. There’s nothing wrong with this but it’s not a nuanced argument.
Where the exspurt is correct is that new ideas, completely new ideas, usually emanate from research and development. If you think of the humble Post-It note here was a product that was brand-new. Why was it brand-new? Because the chemical glue was developed in a laboratory that had not been on the market before.
One of the employees at the company decided to stick it on pieces of paper and use it for book marks. The market for those that notes quickly spread. Now this is where copycat incomes in: many other manufacturers started making similar notes, a crib on the existing thing. Low low-cost competitors climbed into the market and have come out with cheap and lookalikes. Try these imitation products and you’ll see a sticky substance on your prized gloss book where your bookmark sticks.
Take a simple service like an Italian restaurant. There are many lookalike Italian restaurants but each is slightly different. Some are run by Italian owners. Others use authentic Italian-sourced ingredients. Italian food has been franchise and now you can’t step out onto the pavement without bumping into an Italian pizza franchise. Italian is spun-off in various ways but the basic idea of Italian cuisine remains.
What would you say to a prospective small business owner, someone with an existing business, who wants to start something new?
And here comes the conventional wisdom. You probably say, take a look at the marketplace and see what is doing well or could do well in the future. Find something different and provide this to potential customers.
The difference could be, for example, in the material used. Let’s take a simple household items that you will find in any kitchen – a spatula. Traditionally spatulas come in metal such as stainless steel. But now they are available in hard plastic, wood and even compressed bamboo. Material substitution can create a new market based on an existing product.
The real challenge today is not so much in coming up with a totally new product offering, something that is better than what already exists on the market. Nowadays replication of business ideas is rapid, especially with businesses on the Internet. The real differentiation is about the customer experience. It would be worthwhile to see how you can provide better value, higher service levels and inject some fun or theatre in your offering that makes it exciting to buy from you.