This is neither an idle question nor a gratuitous vulgarity. The fact of the matter is that any business prospers by solving problems that others are unable or unwilling to solve. Some businesses achieve modest success by solving modestly distasteful problems. But if you want big success and loyal customers, look for the business equivalent of a flaming bag of poop on your customers’ doorstep. Solve that and win big.
First example: Wal-mart. Their retail competitors in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s chose to not compete in small towns. These locations were logistically difficult to serve and customers there were loyal to the local merchants. So K-Mart, Sears and other competitors stayed away from those small towns, just as you’d step around a flaming bag of poop on your doorstep. Wal-mart developed the logistics expertise to serve small and midsize towns and, in doing so, grew into a behemoth. The embraced what their competitors considered a flaming turdbag and consequently defeated those competitors.
I know not everyone likes Wal-mart for various reasons. Whether you like them or not, they became the world’s number one retailer by innovating on multiple fronts. Much has been written about their innovation in information technology and logistics. But the innovation that really mattered was embracing a flaming turdbag.
Second example: Fedex. Guaranteed overnight delivery anywhere isn’t easy. For UPS and USPS in the 1970’s, it was about as attractive as a flaming bag of poop. So they stayed away from it. Fred Smith of Fedex, in contrast, built an entire business around that promise. Urban legend says that his business plan got a C in graduate school. We know this isn’t true because Smith never attended graduate school. But the story sounds credible because business school professors, like venture capitalists, like things that scale easily, infinitely, and without a lot of sweat (which is why they love SaaS, software-as-a-service, models). They certainly don’t like flaming turdbags.
Embracing a flaming turdbag doesn’t guarantee success. In fact, it’s a sure road to failure if you embrace the first one you see. Nearly all of them can and should be stepped around by customers, competitors and you. Fire is dangerous. Poop is stinky. Combine the two, and who wants to deal with something like that if they can avoid it?
But when you see one that customers can’t avoid and competitors repeatedly refuse to solve, look at the situation carefully. How can you solve it? How much will customers pay you to solve it? How much of a lead in the market can you get? If you look at examples like the music industry, you’ll reach the conclusion that competitors will let you get pretty far ahead before dealing with a flaming turdbag like digital downloads.
Do you have a flaming turdbag competitive strategy? If not, is your competitor going to take your customers by embracing one?