Is Your Small Business a Follower or a Leader?

Four Examples of Success

By Susan Slovic, author and lecturer,

My motto has always been:  ”Me too” business ideas rarely become great businesses. The businesses most likely to take off are created by entrepreneurs who see a need in the market that isn’t currently being met, and who figure out a way to meet that need. Now, that might mean inventing a new product, creating a new industry, or simply figuring out a better way to provide a service or bring a product to market. Think about these examples.

Belts to the Rescue
Former social worker turned inventor Talia Goldfarb needed a belt to hold her potty-training son’s pants up when he wasn’t wearing a diaper—one that he could easily manage on his own. After her sister and she searched everywhere, to no avail, they decided to create one on their own. The result: Myself Belts. A cleverly designed belt that snaps around one of the kid’s belt loops and uses Velcro as a fastener. Goldfarb told me she couldn’t believe no one else had thought of the idea because it was so simple. Myself Belts are now in more than 700 stores around the world, and they are available on the Internet, where the founders say they do the majority of their business.

A Trans-Mission
A successful entrepreneur sees a market opportunity and creates an entirely new type of business. Anthony Martino recognized that eventually most cars would need transmission repair or replacement. And while car dealerships and gas stations focused on selling cars and gasoline, respectively, he realized that no one was focusing on transmissions—so he launched AAMCO Transmission Services. His franchise became the world’s largest transmission specialists.

Shoes on Demand
You are probably familiar with the popular Internet shoe site, Zappos. Founder Nick Swinmurn certainly didn’t invent shoes—or the Internet. He simply changed the way people purchase shoes. Frustrated with department-store offerings and unable to find his favorite boot in the right size and color, Swinmurn developed an idea. Instead of hoofing it all over the place, why not cre- ate an online megastore that would offer shoes in all styles, colors, and sizes? For busy and frustrated customers like himself, he provided something a traditional retail store could not offer—a virtu- ally stress-free environment in which to shop for shoes.

From Dimes to Dollars
Sam Walton approached the Ben Franklin dime-store chain in the early ’60s about his idea of establishing discount business operations. He recognized a unique market need, but Ben Franklin’s management didn’t. So, instead of working with the chain, Walton struck out on his own, and he opened his first Wal-Mart store on July 2, 1962, in Rogers, Arkansas. When was the last time you shopped in a Ben Franklin store? I bet there’s a Wal-Mart within a couple of miles of where you live. Sam Walton didn’t copy and compete; instead, he changed the nature of the business forever.

Now take a close look at your business operations.  Are you delivering something unique to the market?   Wherever there is a gap between what customers want and what is being delivered to them, there is a major opportunity for your business.