Ten principles for established businesses in growing markets

You can be a recognised player in an evolving market, but it doesn't mean your status is safe. Here, Jeremy Torz explains how to maintain your edge.

Being an industry pioneer can be a scary as well as an exciting place to be when you’re introducing a new product or service to an existing market; there’s no guarantee it’ll take off. But if you can do so successfully, your business will be in a wonderful position to shape the tastes and habits of consumers, and your business will be rightfully seen as a leader, a paradigm changer.

But this position doesn’t necessarily last forever and even the most innovative and successful businesses are at risk of complacency creeping in. Being at the cutting edge is a great place to be, but without keeping a watchful eye on the market, it’s all too easy to fall behind. This is particularly true in sectors experiencing sudden and rapid growth in popularity among consumers.

These industries, of which craft coffee is one, are a fertile ground for new companies that make the most of the zeitgeist, and existing businesses who don’t react risk losing ground.

Borders, Kodak, Blockbuster. All of these companies once led the way, but failed to adapt quickly enough to the rise of technology and to consumer demand. In short, without careful planning and attention, an industry leader can become an industry follower in the blink of an eye.

Learning to adapt in a growing market is something we as a company have had to do recently. While we were among the first companies to introduce artisanal and speciality coffee to the UK back in the early 90s, since the arrival of the big chains coffee has taken off and even – shock horror – overtaken tea as the UK’s hot beverage of choice.

Then came the craft revolution – people turning away from the chains in search of better quality, better provenance, more sustainable practices and a better experience. As an established player, this has been great for business. However our task has been, and continues to be, to adhere to our core values and to maintain our position in the market against the newer companies that have disrupted it. The key is to develop the depth and integrity of your brand story as a defence against the news, less-knowledgeable or copycat companies that offer strong branding over substance.

To achieve this we had to answer interesting questions. How do we, as an established business, make the most of our established position in a growth market, and most importantly, how do we stay at the forefront of it?

With this in mind we wanted to share the following ten principles of being an established business competing with start-ups in a time of industry growth:

1. Be the voice of experience

The longer you’ve been in a sector the more knowledgeable you’ll be. Make the most of this in how you communicate to customers and to the industry at large. Asserting and using your experience is not only an important way to see things in perspective, but gives you an incredible competitive edge.

2. Focus on the long term

When a sector takes off, all manner of new companies will enter the space with different ideas of what the customer wants. Remember, you’re the voice of experience and know the customer inside out. Also, because you’re already a player in the market, you’ll have seen first-hand how consumer demand has evolved, arguably leaving you better placed to forecast the future.

3. Lead, don’t follow

This is crucial. When new competitors pop up, some of them may earn some quick success with new tactics, tempting you to follow suit. Be careful about this approach and stick to what you do best wherever possible.

4. Remember that a rising tide lifts all boats

A growing industry usually brings with it an influx of customers, benefitting all in the market, new and established. As long as you don’t shy away from competition, your business will be in an excellent position to take advantage of this. It’s also worth remembering that you may well be able to learn something from the fresh perspective of new entrants to the market.

5. Focus on what makes you different

Avoid commoditising your product or service and instead focus on what makes you and it special. If your USP, for example, has always been high quality, or sustainable sourcing, keep it that way and make sure the whole world knows it.

6. Innovate on your own terms

Any good business is analytical about what they are selling and will always strive to provide better. We’ve always been known for selling the highest quality coffee, but that doesn’t mean we don’t work extremely hard to continue looking to source even better.

7. Get involved in new trends, but not just for the sake of it

Sometimes a new trend can seem to be the be all and end all, but as with most things in life, this is usually transient. Steve Jobs put it better than I ever could: ‘You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new’. That’s not to say, however, you shouldn’t continue to listen to your customers to pick up on any significant change in tastes and opinions.

8. Build your existing community

In the digital age, it’s never been easier to create a sense of community with your customers. Whether it’s social media, e-newsletters or direct contact via customer events at the office, building on your existing relationship is a great way to retain customers, as well as attracting new ones.

9. Make the most of your allies

As an established player, you’ll already have a network of suppliers, manufacturers, producers and other peers. These strong industry relationships put you in a position of strength moving forward – make sure you nurture them!

10. Follow the golden rule

Be unconditionally clear about what you want to achieve, and pursue it relentlessly. Test everything you do against your goals and don’t get distracted!

Jeremy Torz is co-founder of Union Hand-Roasted Coffee

Further reading on competition

Alan Dobie

Alan Dobie

Alan was assistant editor at Vitesse Media Plc (previous owner of smallbusiness.co.uk) before moving on to a content producer role at Reed Business Information. He has over 17 years of experience in the...

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