Silence is golden – and profitable too

Imagine it’s a beautiful weekend afternoon, and you’ve invited friends and family over for a backyard barbecue. The volleyball net is up for the kids. Your guests are enjoying a little happy hour in the freshly cleaned lawn chairs. The conversation is amiable and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.
That is, until a neighbor starts his lawn mower. Or worse still, his lawn service shows up with two mowers you can hear in stereo. All of a sudden, the ambiance is destroyed. People just don’t seem to be having as good a time anymore.Have you ever wondered why your neighbor could have started his car, and you would never have noticed, but his lawn mower, which has far less horsepower, makes an intolerable racket? If he’s smart, he wears ear protection while using it.Muffler technology has existed for decades. Why wouldn’t lawn mower companies want to make them quieter? Do you know anyone who likes listening to them? No doubt, muffling the noise would add costs and take a little power away, but don’t you think the average person would prefer quiet lawn mowers?There’s no reason for it to be any louder than the average car. If lawn mower sales are sluggish, quiet mowers might be a good sales stimulant. They could even make retro kits for their most popular models. If you have a new mower, you probably wouldn’t buy another, just to get rid of the noise, but you might buy a noise reduction kit to install on it.I’ll bet some folks would even buy them for their neighbors. Lawn mowers are a “mature” industry, and no doubt the housing slump is part of the problem, but even mature industries can be stimulated with a little desirable innovation.Thy own customer beSo you don’t make lawn mowers? No problem. Whatever product you do make or service you provide, try becoming your own customer and see what it’s like. Is there anything that might be annoying in the use of that product or service? If so, you might have found a key to stimulating sales.Try speaking to some customers and see if they can think of anything at all to complain about. Complaints are no fun, unless you use them as clues to making more money.Improving a product or service doesn’t have to be rocket science, and you don’t need a Steve Jobs to help you figure it out.For instance, do you ever get frustrated trying to empty a jar of spaghetti sauce? Many food suppliers switched to large-mouth jars, so we can store them upside down, when nearly empty. This enables the remnants to settle near the mouth. Great idea, but a spoon can’t get at significant remnants. A slight redesign can produce a new feature, which could stimulate sales.The problem for many companies is that they’re trying to conserve cash because of the tough economic conditions. Anything that doesn’t have to be spent doesn’t get spent. That often includes improvement efforts, and if none of their competitors are trying to improve, they might not have a problem.Even so, this economy is perfect for any company that dares to make a bold move, spend some money on improvement and take their competitors by surprise. If the market isn’t growing, we have to get new customers by stealing them from our competitors.If you’re too scared or asleep at the switch, it just makes it easier for your competitors.Economic conditions don’t seem to be getting much better very quickly. You can only conserve so much for so long. The longer you wait, the tougher it will be to make an investment to bust out of the box.Don’t wait; do it now.Ronald J. Bourque is a consultant and speaker from Windham who has had engagements throughout the U.S. and in Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871;; or