Thursday, October 29, 2009

Inventing A Successful "New" Business Model

Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep a business going year-round in a resort area? I remember reading several years ago that the summer population of the town where I live is 20,000; it goes down to 5,000 for the winter months. If you consider that the peak season is no more than 10 weeks long, with “shoulders” on either side, you begin to understand the problem. Add to that the difficulty of finding housing for seasonal workers, and you have a prescription for small business woes.

Having emphasized with the businesses where I trade for a long time, I was intrigued with one I ran across recently. Two young women have invented a business model that allows them to solve the seasonality problem. The video is about two years old, so the statistics are out of date, but the energy and charm of these two entrepreneurs is much in evidence.

Megan Murphy and Catherine Bean have a single retail location in downtown Hyannis. That’s a high-visibility tourist destination and their store obviously does well in the spring, summer and fall months. Their website supports the retail store, but it does more. They close the shop from December to March, but they don’t cease operations; they just shift to the Internet. They stay fully occupied running online parties and fundraisers. When I
talked to Megan a few weeks ago, they were booked through Christmas. I checked the site and they are now booking for February and March 2010, so they continue to move right along.

How did they invent this business model—one which is different from the usual Bricks & Mortar? As stay at home Moms, they gave product parties in their homes, so moving parties online didn’t seem like too much of a stretch. They found a supportive marketing services supplier, and they were off. From a few email addresses collected in the store, they now have a list of over 20,000 that grows with every party.

What is the moral of this story? Give eparties? While I think virtual events have a great future, it’s more than that.

These two women used their own experience, their own background; they just moved their offline activities online. Think about your last online retail experience. Did the site “suggest” other items to you the minute you put something in your shopping cart? That’s what a good retail salesperson does, just moved online. That’s the moral—move successful offline marketing activities online.

There was a blog post last week by Mack Collier that got a lot of mileage on Twitter. I don’t disagree that we need fewer social media stars and more great social media ideas. My reaction was, “How do you know it’s really a great idea?” And then I thought about Megan and Catherine. Product parties had already worked for them in one context. They moved the same winning idea into another context, one where they could achieve even greater reach.

It’s a great example of not having to reinvent the wheel to develop a winning business model!

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