The summer has come to a close, with Labor Day past and big time college football under way. As is true with business regardless of the economy, some companies are doing gangbusters and others are hurting. But regardless of your situation, the velocity at which business transactions take place is increasing everywhere. In the time since I started in business,
we have gone from paper records, electronic desk calculators and landline phones to Excel spreadsheets, touchpads and Skype. Negotiating and signing a contract used to take weeks with back and forth snailmail. We can now negotiate and sign a contract in a day with people on the other side of the continent. The psychological impact of this increase in the rate of change was given the name Future Shock by the author Alvin Toffler in 1970. That was 43 years ago. If he wrote today he would probably call it Future Shock and Awe.
If you're a business owner you have to deal with the reality of constant change in technology. Have you tried to find 3.5 inch diskettes lately? But I believe the greatest impact on business owners comes not from technology, but from the expanding circle of competition. Think about the owner of a long-established screen print shop in a midwest suburb. In 1995 the only competition was either another local screen printer or a more distant printer with wide-ranging sales reps. The world was comfortable, his competitors were familiar.
Now, that same screen printer is potentially competing with every printer in North America. His long time loyal customers are shopping prices on the Internet. Some of his apparel blank suppliers are also selling direct to his customers through their own decoration channel. Different specialized companies are nibbling away at his team sports accounts, spirit wear, special event tees and church accounts. The web and overnight shipping have diminished the distance factor.
It is likely to get worse. Three years ago, I came across an apparel company which was setting up a web store where customers could create their own custom shirts on line--pick the style, pick the colors, select the logo and the threads on screen. Here's the kicker: When the buyer clicked the 'Submit' button, the order went straight to a cut-and-sew factory in Vietnam where it was made and embroidered. Delivery? Guaranteed to be in customs at LAX in Los Angeles in ten business days!
When we began EmbTrak in 1999, the typical golf apparel company promised 5 days on rush orders. We have a customer who has leveraged EmbTrak to cut order turn time to six hours. Call in by 10:00 AM, ship by 4:00 PM with routine handling--no hand carrying. We are talking now with companies who want to ship orders in 45 minutes.
Where will it end? It won't, so get used to it. The winners will be those who can improve all three elements of the business equation: Service, Quality and Price. As Johnny Cash sang, "get tough or die."