The New You

When customers ask for more, change your business focus without losing it.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the October 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Having a brilliant idea at the start of your business is one thing. Finding a way to shift your idea toward what your customers ask for-that's another kind of brilliance. It's what Joey Roer-Chancis did with her company, Joey New York.

Roer-Chancis launched her line of skin-care products in 1993 and had a strong niche at stores like cosmetics retailer Sephora by 1996. But customers kept clamoring for a whole cosmetics color line, so she considered the possibility. "We developed a cult following through our [skin-care] treatments," says Roer-Chancis, 36. "So [by] listening to what [customers were] looking for, [the color line] became of interest to us."

Even after hearing how much her customers and retailers wanted a Joey New York color line during the first three years of business, Roer-Chancis and her team took two more years to introduce those new products from their Aventura, Florida, locale. Making sure her color products would complement her brand and still be different from other products on the market required a lot of R&D. So, in 1998, when she launched the color line, she made sure it also had the "good for your skin" element of her original line.

That's the right way to modify your focus, says Vickie Sullivan, a business-growth expert for professional service firms and founder of Sullivan Speaker Services, a market strategy firm in Tempe, Arizona. "Look at your brand," she says. "You don't want services or products that don't fit the overall brand."

Spend time researching the impact a new product or service direction will have on your original business, says Sullivan. Ask yourself: Will it be additional profit, or will it take away from your core business? Will it grow and strengthen your overall brand? "[See] if it's going to cannibalize or take away from your current offering," she says.

When you decide that a new direction is good for your business, use those customers who clamored for the new product or service in the first place as a small test market. Do this before you fully launch, and get extensive feedback. The key to making a successful business shift? "Be open to the market. If you're starting up, the market is going to tell you what they want," says Sullivan. Don't be so in love with your original idea, she adds, that you can't see the opportunities that change can bring.

For Joey New York, that willingness to change brought yearly sales well into the seven figures. Talk about adding a little color to the business.

Listen and Learn?
Though listening to customers is important in any business, it's not necessary to shift in response to their every whim, says Vickie Sullivan, a business-growth expert in Tempe, Arizona. "The customers are not looking at it from your perspective, [as in] is it profitable for you to give them that?" she says. "They're just asking for what they want, so it's up to you to make sure there is a profit margin on the horizon."

Thank them for their comments, says Sullivan, and reiterate how much you appreciate their feedback. Say something like "Thank you for your suggestion; you've given me a lot to think about." Then, go about the "Is this good for my business?" analysis privately.

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