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Small businesses account for a major percentage of product and service innovation. In fact, as local, regional and national markets evolve, one thing is inevitable. To keep pace, your company will need to expand its own offerings, even if your firm is relatively new.
Refine Current Offerings
Take a moment and think about your business – where you are today and where you want to be in two or three years. Ask yourself these questions:
Then think about simple ways you can change how you currently do business:
Think about ways you can deliver information more conveniently; consider posting product manuals, warranty information and how-to guides on your website. In short, regard your products and services not simply as "items" but as comprehensive solutions for customer needs. Then, adapt to meet those needs.
Develop New Products and Services
Once you've tweaked your current offerings, it's time to consider adding new products and services.
Start by extending your current offerings. If you sell products, think about complementary items that leverage the items you currently sell. A simple example: if you own a motorcycle shop, it makes sense to sell helmets, leathers and other accessories.
But other products make sense, too, including repair manuals, travel guides, cleaning and storage products, outdoor gear, pre-packaged food items for long trips – even financing and insurance. In some cases you may not be able to stock certain products, but you can partner with other companies to help make your establishment a one-stop shop.
If you provide services, think about complementary services that leverage current skills or equipment. Providing repairs or maintenance for some heating and cooling products can be a natural extension for plumbing contractors, for example. Here are additional guidelines:
For example, many book manufacturers provide a "preflight" service, checking customer files well before the production process begins to ensure there will be no delays due to file preparation issues. Those manufacturers provide a tangible value, since publishers can better control delivery schedules and avoid costly delays. The manufacturer charges for the service and avoids delays and schedule hiccups as well.
Apply this thought process to your own situation. Consider how you can add value – half-price carpet installation for two rooms or more, preventive maintenance on electrical appliances, flexible return policies, prior consultation, etc.
Say you provide heating and cooling services for large buildings and facilities; consider offering system diagnostics, an energy audit or other services that generate revenue and also give you a chance to prove your skills to a new customer.
You can do the same where products are concerned, but make sure you don't "cheapen" your brand by offering entry-level products that damage your overall brand perception. For example, a high-end watch company would never add inexpensive digital watches to their line of products for fear of damaging the brand.
The key is to consider your customers; you may decide that those interested in performing some repairs on their own are unlikely to ever use your shop. In those instances, selling maintenance guides simply generates additional revenue.
New product and service development is not as difficult as it may seem at first. In many cases your customers will tell you what they want, so take the time to listen and act on what you learn. Not only will you grow sales, but you will also build greater customer loyalty.