Listening for the Need

Surprised child

Photo (CC 2.0) by Jay Ryness, on Flickr

How many times have you asked yourself, “What do our customers want?”

I hope you answered that by saying you consider that question every day. Or maybe once a week. At least I hope it’s once a year as you set up your goals for the year.

Yet I suspect that often our answer revolves around thinking we know what the customer wants. And that can be a big mistake.

So what should be the answer to my question? I would hope we would answer “This is what our customer wants BECAUSE WE ASKED!!!!!”

We may think we know what the customer wants or we may treat a part of the issue but do we get to the cause.

This video, from Stanford eCorner, tells the story of how Intuit realized its product was used as much in the business world as it was for its designed market, taking care of our personal finances.

Watch it and then ask yourself again, “What do your customers want?” I suspect your answer will be, “We better go and find out.”

Savor the Surprise

And don’t think you only ask once. Your market will change

Local Foods Offers Taste, Freshness and Stronger Communities

Farmers' Market

Photo by USDA

Each year, people across the country anxiously await spring and summer and the local foods that become available. While there is the possibility for some form of local food practically year around, it’s this time of year when baskets are overflowing.

Local food has seen tremendous growth in recent years. In 2014, local foods sales were estimated to have topped $11.7 billion according to the USDA. In 2008, sales were less than half at an estimated at $5 billion.

People access their local foods in many different ways. Direct-farm sales is one. Others may enjoy it at restaurants where it is a current culinary trend. Schools have been including it more often in their offerings. More grocery stores have local food sections where you can shop. And still others are members of a CSA or community supported agriculture endeavor where you purchase a share that brings you a basket of local items on a regular basis, often weekly.

One of the largest supply sites are farmers markets. Today there are over 8200 farmers markets across the country. They range in size from those having just two or three producers meeting weekly to those that operate on a daily basis in multiple buildings or cover several blocks.

Local foods are a great way to connect with your local producer. Local foods is identified as supporting over 163,000 farm families. This is the connection where local foods not only provides for our needs but it builds families and the communities where those families live, go to school, and shop.

While local foods offers a direct connection to enjoying local foods, it also does things such as building community as people to town. Local markets become a gathering place where you may also find entertainment, food vendors and a festive atmosphere. It is not uncommon to hear grocery store owners comment that people come to their store after visiting the local market to purchase other items needed to complete a planned meal.

Local foods represent a win in so many ways. But probably the most important win is what your taste buds say when you are eating them. So get out and experience local foods. Your taste buds, your local producers, and your community all appreciate your support.

Food as a Business Idea

Food truck competition

Competition (CC) Bob B. Brown (bit.ly1o2905w), on Flickr

If asked, many business advisors would say starting a business around food is probably the most common request they get.

Why is it so popular? One reason is that friends and relatives often comment on how much they enjoy a certain item and encourage that person to start a business. It may come from a long-standing family recipe or something the person spent hours working on. Food reminds us of our heritage and our years growing up. It also can take us to new places. We can be easily engaged as a consumer in our food and beverage experiences, yet we can also look at it as something we can grab quickly that will keep us going until we can take a longer break. Today we hear about local food, slow food, and all sorts of suggestions on how to change our diets for more energy and better health.

Yet making it in the food business is difficult. In grocery stores along some 20,000 new items hit the shelves every year. That number does not take into account the new restaurants opening each year, the recent trend of food trucks, and more and more farmers markets and consumer trade shows where food booths are plentiful in numbers.

So can you make it as a food entrepreneur? Yes.  Will it be easy? No. One of the first things such small business owners need to realize is that making a batch of something at home is nothing like doing it on a commercial basis. For one thing, doing as a business means needing a commercial kitchen or having a co-packer produce it for you.

You can find resources to help you get started. The Cooperative Extension Service in many states has materials on starting a business. If you have been a regular attendee of our Power of Business First Friday chats, you will have heard from several food based businesses. (past chats are archived here.)  At North Dakota State University Extension Service, we have:  Food Entrepreneur: Your Resource Guide to the Food Industry. Oklahoma State University, through its Food and Agricultural Products Center, and Penn State offer regular trainings for startup companies.

Selling online is one approach that many food entrepreneurs consider. If that interests you, check out these two resources from University of Nebraska Extension and NDSU Extension:

You also can find bloggers and other online sources of information. One blogger I follow is Jennifer Lewis, Small Food Business. Two recent articles that I enjoyed looked at convenience store food sales and where people go to buy specialty foods.

The challenges are great. Remember though there are resources available.

It won’t be easy. On many days you will want to give up. Planning, passion and persistence plus knowing your market and getting your product in front of that targeted group of people are keys to making your food idea a business success.

Business Ideas – Keep Your Eyes, Ears and Mind Open

Opportunity Sign

Photo (CC) by One Stock Way, on Flickr

This post may bring a few smiles and maybe some chuckles.  I know when I read it a smile came to my face.

I also suspect that several of you will say, “I could have thought of that.” How many times haven’t you seen a new product only to proclaim, “I had that idea,” or that you had already saw this was a need.

So what was this idea? The Tooshlights © story can be found in the Sept issue of Entrepreneur, p.82. We have all been there, entering a public bathroom only to wonder what stall is open. Did we ever dream of developing traffic lights? And what really caught my interest was their plan to add an app (what would we do with out our mobile devices) to get a sense of how busy the bathrooms are at any one time.

Business ideas. For many potential entrepreneurs coming up with an idea is the hardest thing to do. This article represents just one way to do it, we experience it.

A way I recommend for rural business owners is to take a ride. Go to several towns that sort of match where you live. Drive around and see where the lines are long. Each one of those might be something you could duplicate in your town.

The challenge is being creative and looking at the world in a different way. Ask yourself what might be.  It means opening your eyes and ears and all your other senses. Perhaps more crucial, it means opening your mind to what might be.

What brings out creativity? That varies by person. In terms of opportunities, it can be anytime and anywhere. You just need to be ready to see the possibilities.

Most ideas, in fact probably very few, are not huge leaps forward or even little jumps. Many represent just a small step at taking something and improving it. Think about how brooms have and continue to change. It seems simple enough but they continue to evolve.

So looking for an opportunity? Open your senses and let your mind wander around the possibilities we come across.