Rush Hour

Leaders Of The Pack

Efficient, yes. But isn't the trimming of inventories a potentially risky maneuver at a time when consumers are loath to wait for the product of their choice? What if something as unexpected as, say, a UPS strike slows down the wheels of delivery? "In doing this high-wire act, [businesses] have become a lot more dependent on everyone else to do their jobs and do them on time," says Peyton. "If you look at it as a vulnerability, then that's the price we pay for the privilege of having a system that's more attuned to ultimate consumer demand and has succeeded in squeezing out some of the inventory costs that used to be there."

On the plus side, entrepreneurs may find themselves in a position of advantage in this business-be-nimble, business-be-quick era. "Small companies can notoriously move faster than large companies," says Ted Lewis, author of The Friction-Free Economy: Strategies for Success in a Wired World (HarperBusiness). Lewis, who heads the Salinas, California-based high-tech consulting firm Technology Assessment Group, recommends a two-pronged approach to stay ahead of the pack. First, make your own products obsolete before another company does. And second, if your company falls behind in its industry, adapt the latest innovations in your own way and extend the innovation further. "A small company that has an expertise or niche in the market can always compete against even the largest companies," Lewis assures, "if they stay ahead of them."

But aren't instant-gratification-seeking consumers focused exclusively on speed, speed, speed? Not necessarily. It's imperative for a company to stay on the cutting edge because modern-day consumers don't just want what they want when they want it--they want exactly what they want, too. "Just having a good product at a good price worked in the past, but it's not enough for the new millennium," cautions Blackwell. "The consumer reins."

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This article was originally published in the February 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Rush Hour.

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