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George Clooney or Olympians? Build a successful business by being different

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The importance of maintaining an attitude that is driven and focused, yet open to new ideas cannot be underestimated. In my 30 years in the retail industry, I have seen numerous businesses that, in somewhat closed-minded fashion, base their business model directly on that of an already established, successful company.

The reality is that startups and scale-ups don’t need to follow the model of bigger, more established brands, and doing so potentially risks the ability to be flexible and “think outside the box”.

Experimenting and trial and error has been a hugely important part of growing our business, and following a template too closely can scupper the ability to innovate. I would argue that doing something different can still mean success, whilst also helping you develop a more unique position within the market.

In no area of business is this truer than when startups feel they need to make as much “noise” as their more established competitors. We, however, have found that it is savviness that will really help your venture get off the ground – not salesmanship, clamorous announcements, over-exuberant sponsorship or bloated marketing projects.

Here are my top tips on how businesses can do something a little bit different:

(1) Challenge conventional business models

When starting a new venture do not assume the conventional business model is the right one for you and your business – challenge the status quo to find the right setup for you.

For many young companies, especially in the early stages of growth, an online-only direct distribution model can have a wide range of advantages. It means no percentage of sales will be lost to middlemen, greater control over your brand, and a more personal relationship with your customers. Your staff will also establish better technical knowledge, company loyalty and focus, and will be able to communicate with your customers more quickly.

Of course, every business is different and will have different needs. But an online-only model will further reduce overheads, while still opening up international markets and permitting a 24/7 retail operation. In Christopher Ward’s case, an online-only direct sales model has enabled us to have a close relationship with our customers and grow quickly in to international markets.

Why 2016 is the year of the challenger brand

Celebrity endorsements and big name backing are often seen as the most effective means of building brand equity. Yet the often exorbitant costs of “brand ambassadors” (George Clooney reportedly earnt $40m from his deal with Nespresso) vastly increases overheads.

The result is that these costs are ultimately passed onto the consumer; we have learnt that in the watch industry, many brands will charge anywhere between seven to 12 times the cost of manufacture for the product. Removing these ambassadors and their associated costs will help keep the costs down making the product more attractive to the consumer.

The reality is that consumers are increasingly seeing these endorsements for the marketing ploy that they are and failing to see the value in these deals. Additionally, it is often that the star far overshadows the brand. Ultimately, it could be argued that if the product is good enough, it will speak for itself.

At Christopher Ward we made a decision to only support up-and-coming talent through our Challengers Programme, with Team GB Olympians Amber Hill and Will Satch both involved. We chose to do this because we like to support grassroots British sportsmen and women that need support to achieve their dreams.

These stars are inspirations in their own right, and having them wear our watches is an honour. In addition, this programme allowed us to have a connection with extremely talented inspirational stars, without paying vast amounts of money, which would ultimately be transferred onto our customers

Continue reading on the next page for the remaining lessons on building a business differently, which includes avoiding the Apple approach to recruitment.

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