More on Recasting

“The only place opportunity cannot be found is in a closed-minded person.” – Bo Bennett

I rarely write about the same subject twice in a row. Today, however, I’m going to make an exception. I just read an article in Time that was too good to pass up, because it so well underscores what I said in my last article for ETR about unconventional thinkers who recast businesses in their own image.

In that article, I discussed how Steve Wynn transformed the Las Vegas hotel industry into one of luxurious, self-contained mega-resorts. And how Howard Schultz turned a coffee-bean retailer into the Starbucks worldwide chain of designer coffee shops.

Now, along comes Tomas Maier, creative director of Bottega Veneta, the high-end Italian leather-goods retailer. Bottega Veneta is owned by PPR, parent company to many other luxury brands, including Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent.

Playing the maverick role to the hilt, Maier made the decision to take Bottega Veneta in a direction that’s completely opposite that of the rest of the world of high fashion. The theme of his recasting can be summed up in one of my favorite words: understatement. And Maier is making it work.

He opened 18 Bottega Veneta stores last year, with 10 more planned for 2006. Sales skyrocketed 66 percent in 2005 to $190 million, and are expected to hit $238 million this year.

What I like about Tomas Maier’s design-and-marketing philosophy is his belief that high quality wins out over splashy logos – a concept that ties to Bottega Veneta’s slogan, initiated back in 1966 by the company’s founders: “When your own initials are enough.”

Maier’s strategy is almost unthinkable in this day and age of in-your-face marketing. He banks on big-spending customers being smart enough to recognize quality rather than logos. And when you’re selling handbags that cost from $2,000 to $75,000, your quality had better be very high.

Believe it or not, in my early twenties I actually designed men’s outerwear. Most of my ideas were pretty radical, even though I came up short on the talent side of the equation. Still, I’ve always felt that the trend toward company logos on clothes and accessories is demeaning to the customer, because it turns him or her into a human billboard – and I’ve openly expressed my displeasure. (I even have a Tommy Hilfiger doll nailed to a dartboard on my office wall.)

The phenomenon of logo-saturated apparel could rightly be referred to as the Yuk Parade: Abercrombie & Fitch… Nautica… Banana Republic… Gap… Gucci. Heck, even Cheeburger, Cheeburger sells T-shirts with its name and logo on them.

Notwithstanding this tacky approach to marketing, I make it a habit to focus on the opportunities inherent in every bad situation. And what I see here are endless opportunities for imaginative entrepreneurs to buck this trend and carve out a big slice of pie for themselves in their respective industries. When everyone has “Me, too” on the brain, it’s an open invitation for someone to come in and attract both attention and customers by implementing a contrarian approach.

As a rule, I try to avoid making predictions. So many complex factors are at play in today’s increasingly insane world that it makes predicting the future a high-odds proposition, at best. Nevertheless, I am compelled to opine that in the not-too-distant future, an army of contrarian entrepreneurs will go against the grain of today’s accepted standard operating procedures for customer service in virtually every industry.

Everyone reading this article has had more than his share of frustrating experiences trying to get a customer-service rep on the phone. What you get instead are robotic voices that make it clear the company totally disregards the value of your time. Consider:

Robotic, lying voices that tell you they appreciate your business, but are “currently experiencing an unusually high volume of calls.”

Robotic, lying voices that tell you to press a number on your telephone keypad to speak to a company rep, only to be funneled into another voice hole with six or seven new options.

Robotic, audacious voices urging you to go to the company’s website for answers. (Meaning, “Leave us alone.”)

Robotic, insulting voices leading you from menu to menu to menu … often in a loop that takes you back to where you began.

Robotic, rude voices that say, “Sorry, but you have pressed an invalid number. Goodbye.” Click … they’re gone. From the company’s viewpoint, you were the equivalent of a crank call.

Now, put on your entrepreneur’s cap and think about this modern-day nightmare for a moment. One hundred percent of the buying public hates being victimized by the audio torture chambers that practically all companies now use. Hint: Where there are unhappy customers, there is also a business opportunity.

So, my big prediction is that new companies in virtually every industry will spring up in the coming five to 10 years that will offer, for a slightly higher price, something novel: real, live customer-service reps who will quickly answer your call and actually speak with you. They will be highly paid, well-trained people who will not “redirect” your call to a robotic voice that leads you on a wild goose chase or just hangs up on you.

Would you pay an extra $5 a month to a telephone company that offered this kind of service? I would. Or $10 more for a computer that would free you from the Dell, Hewlett-Packard, et al. robotic-voice mazes?

There are a handful of companies that still use live customer-service reps, but they are shrinking in number every day. Soon, the last of the holdouts will get on board, and that’s when the pendulum will swing back in the other direction.

If you analogize it to the stock market, the customer-service situation in businesses across the board has just about hit bottom. And at or near the bottom of a cycle is the best time to invest.

If you already own a business, I suggest that it may be time to start thinking about investing in a live customer-service department. Then, use this valuable service as your most persuasive marketing tool.

Likewise, if you don’t own a business but are thinking about starting one, consider how easily you could set yourself apart from the competition through a marketing campaign that boasts about your emphasis on respecting your customer’s time. I’d wager that if Tomas Maier were in your shoes, he’d be doing just that.

Stories of nonconformists who ignore conventional-wisdom business models and recast entire industries can be found daily in magazines and newspapers that are readily at your disposal. Read as many of these stories as you possibly can, because they will help expand your mental paradigm and get your creative juices flowing. After that, it’s up to you to formulate a plan and to implement your ideas by taking action.

At the same time, make it a point to resist hanging on every word spewed out by industry experts. True, successful people usually have a great deal of knowledge about their businesses. Nevertheless, I know from personal experience that once a person becomes successful and entrenched in any field of endeavor, it becomes more and more difficult for him to have an open mind when it comes to fresh and exciting new ideas – especially ideas that have to do with recasting his existing industry.

[Ed. Note: Not sure how to revive, recast, and create a whole “new” and profitable industry? Check out Robert’s personal-development books on CD. And if you are not presently a subscriber to Robert Ringer’s insightful, wisdom-filled e-letter, A Voice of Sanity in an Insane World, CLICK HERE to sign up for your free subscription.]