I knew they were crazy firing me

Business and job lessons from a niche market I started 15 years ago that lead to my boss practically firing me. See how and why the business went broke after I left and laugh at my pain when I discover that he and his partners’ businesses are going ‘gangbusters’ using the very ideas that I was fired for.

Years ago I was sales manager for a fruit and veg providoring firm. I had resigned from there about a nanosecond before they fired me… there’s lessons in this post so bear with me. I bumped into one of the owners the other day and when I asked what he was doing now he told me the company went broke and he was supplying exotic/organic fruit and veg to restaurants, hotels etc… and this is why they fired me all those years ago!

As a sales person I was hopeless… the only way I can see us getting ahead was having a clear and distinct difference to the 17 other competitors we had supplying the same fruit and veg to the same marketplace. I needed an edge that wasn’t price, service or quality related. So I did some research and found things like exotic mushrooms that grew wild here in Australia (porcinis, ceps, morels), I was the first person to introduce salad mix or mesclun to our state, I found growers of baby vegetables… you get the idea.

weird broccoli I used to stock So when I would visit a restaurant on a sale’s call, I had a some incredible stuff to offer them to make their menus more exotic and give customers something to rave about. The result was we picked up new business and started to create a great reputation. We didn’t make a heap of money out of this stuff but it did get us in the door to sell the onions and potatoes etc. To cut a long story short, we were bought out by another company and the new owner asked me how much a box of lettuce was… I had no idea. I never sold on price! Then he pointed out that this exotic stuff was not making us any money (even though it was the reason customers would change to us)… so the writing was on the wall and I quickly quit.

Here we are nearly 15 years down the track and one of the guys that was against all this exotic stuff is now selling it and making a great business out of it. That really bugged me… because for a few years after this incident my confidence in my abilities was really rattled. Everything inside me said that carving a niche was the right way to go… I guess I was a few years ahead of my time. Now you can buy salad mix in every supermarket and at one stage we were the only guys who had it.

So here’s the big lesson: Build your customer’s loyalty on what you do, not your price.

So if I was in a job interview and the subject of salary came up I would say to the interviewer:

Before I answer that can I ask : do you want your customers to build loyalty to what you guys do, or your price?

The company I used to work for went broke because it went back to competing on price. I’m not saying that it would have succeeded if I had stayed there, but the fact that my old boss is carving a niche out for himself with his exotic produce says that there must have been some validity in my ideas.

And now, my whole life is about carving niches out of all sorts of business and ideas. It’s what I do best.

Published in: on November 5, 2005 at 10:14 pm Comments (35)

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