Your business should always be working on the next “new” thing. If your business makes things, you should be working on producing something new. If your business is a service business, you should have a new service in development. Even if your business is purely retail, you should be looking for new items and presenting them in new ways. All businesses can come up with fresh ways of doing business. Consider the revival of lay-away since the credit crunch hit.

Retail businesses should be changing displays constantly through January. New, fresh displays scream new item. Change window displays, change end-caps. Change signage. Change the position of goods within your store. Keep moving.

Make sure you have enough help [I prefer talent] on duty to keep your store reasonably neat. When the shelves get messy, the goods not only look picked over and less desirable, but those same goods are subject to theft. When the store is a mess you lose sales and inventory.

Have plenty of gift boxes. If you facilitate the gifting process, you will sell more goods. A can of soup will sell on December 24th if it comes in a box. I’m always amazed at stores that run out of boxes during the holidays. Why not get some Flat Rate boxes from the postal service to facilitate 2 day shipping?

If you make a product or products, you should be looking at new versions of your product now. I can assure you, your competition is doing so. While yours has a manual switch, theirs will have an electronic switch. Consider making your product smaller, tougher, stronger, faster, easier or prettier.

How do you figure out what the market wants? Don’t ask, tell. Look at Apple’s huge success under Steve Jobs. Does Apple ask the market what it wants? 10 years ago would anyone have said yes to a $200 portable device to play music that you throw away after a couple years when the rechargeable battery wears out? Would you have said yes to a ‘laptop’ with a touch screen, no hard drive, no CD drive and about 1/10th the capability of a ‘real’ laptop—at twice the price?

Knowing what to develop [new] or improve requires knowledge and intuition of your market. What do you think would be a big hit? Don’t ask the market [customers]. They don’t know. They’ll have ideas, but they don’t understand manufacturing and never consider cost when they say they would like to have an item that […].

You have to get ahead of the market. Your customers don’t really know what they want. They especially don’t understand costs as I mentioned above. So they probably aren’t willing to pay more for an over-featured product. Try to develop features that add unmistakable value. In other words, when someone sees your new feature, it must self-justified in terms of price. You want to hear “I want this because the added X more than makes up the price difference.”

In short, if you have to explain it through a lengthy cost-benefit analysis to prove the value, you’ll lose. Create value the customer can see for himself.

Lastly, before you develop a bunch of new stuff, make sure you understand exactly where you fit in the market. If your product is highly price sensitive and you have positioned your product as a price leader, don’t add a bunch of luxury features that drive your price up. On the other hand, if you’re positioned at the higher end of the market, make darn certain there is a huge gap between the quality and features of your product and the guys at the bottom.

Think about what would really appeal to your market and make the quality feature gap as wide as possible while narrowing the price gap.

Service businesses need always be developing new services. Always. Consider a service as basic as an oil change. 15 years ago, you either did it yourself or went to a garage. Someone turned oil changing into a billion dollar drive-thru business.

More money is made servicing networks than in the sale of networks. Airlines cut fares and charge for baggage. If you’re in a repair business, offer a new spin on service contracts. If you’re in a training business, think about online webinars. Just offer new services.

Those of us in the service end of the market have it the easiest and yet are the laziest at offering new services. Why? If a new service offering fails, what’s the big deal? And  if it succeeds?

Got it?

New is the new new. New sells if you get it right.

Chris Reich