When does your product require servicing? Right after you sell it! It is then that your customers begin to experience it, not just the product you sold them, but your true intentions. Was it simply a trade, your product for their money? Or was it the beginning of a long-term relationship?
It is the later that really speaks to the customer about how valuable you think they are. Do you think your relationship is over when they buy your product? Or do you see their initial purchase as an opportunity to demonstrate the kind of concern for their continued satisfaction that will turn them into loyal customers and advocates?
We advise all new product start-ups to never sell more than they can service. In fact, in the beginning stages, we like to say, “Don’t sell your product further away than you can drive to in one day to apologize!” Because when you get started selling that world-changing, disruptive product of yours, you will quickly find out that you will have to take the blame for a myriad of foul-ups that affect the customer experience, most of which are not your fault.
If your product is out of stock, for instance, they won’t blame the store – they will blame you. If your product is mispriced, they won’t blame the store, they will blame you. If your product is crushed, marred, or mishandled, they won’t blame your distributer, they will blame you. And that’s how you find out what “service what you sell” really means. It means that you have to fix it – and fast!
We advise new product start-ups to start slow in a small, limited market to find out what kind of service is required to deliver the excellent customer experience you aspire to. You will find out that the cost of sales will include expenses to fix distribution and retail problems you hadn’t even dreamed of.
This was a huge wake up call for us! We thought the retailer or the distributer was going to fix those kinds of problems!
So there really are no branded product businesses without including service businesses. We think not supporting sales is the # 1 reason that new products fail. It’s not because the products are flawed, overpriced. It’s because distribution issues go unresolved. Don’t even think about expanding your product business until you know what really needs to be done and who will do it.
Unfortunately, most inventors and new product producers are in love with their products, and perhaps rightfully so, but once you get into the distribution channels, it takes a lot more than a great product at a great price. It takes constant vigilance and lots of elbow grease just to get your product on the shelf and keep it there.
When you’re selling a consumer product, you are in the service business. For us, the service was more important than the production. When our customers knew that they could rely on our product to always be in stock and always be priced right, they became advocates. The quality was there for sure, but what made them advocates was our dependability. They could recommend our product to others and it would be available at the quality and price they expected.
This unsung, heroic, behind-the-scenes work is taken for granted by your loyal return customers. Still, your success depends on the time and effort you invest in servicing what you sell.
Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders