About six weeks ago, I asked whether window and door retailers were getting in the habit of “channel blurring
,” a concept whereby former product specialists or niche-targeted retailers start branching out to carry seemingly unrelated products for the convenience of their customers. Like the Home Depot carrying laundry detergent or a window specialist carrying fencing or something along those lines.
At the time, almost half of poll participants said window and door companies are beginning to carry unrelated product lines. This week, I’d like to turn the question around.
In a blog I recently stumbled upon, author Jason Fraler argues
that there’s no room in the marketplace for the blurred business model. Because of certain market dynamics—including the internet and increasingly-complex building products—he argues that customers now expect the specialized knowledge of specialty retailers.
Six weeks ago, I contended there’s room in the marketplace for both approaches. Fraler’s blog presents the contrarian view. What do you think? Will generalists in today’s marketplace be gasping for their last breath? Will specialists emerge as the winners in the survival of the fittest? Please send me an email or post a comment below to share your thoughts.
Survey Results as 06/28/2011:
Are building product generalists a dying breed?
Yes, specialization is necessary to be competitve today.
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No, the generalist business model is still valid.
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I'm not sure
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Thanks to our voters this week, we see that more than half of participants believe specialization is the key to success in a competitive market. I’ve already shared some of my thoughts in these last couple of Talks, so I’m going to include a few comments I’ve received in response to this topic.
One reader writes:
“It sounds to me like some are painting all generalists with the broad brush of incompetence. I am not a generalist, but as a manufacturer I can say that if you know your products (as any good rep should), you can provide a valuable service to your customers. After all, Walmart is a pretty good example of what happens when you already have an established market and then simply offer more and more items. Where they fall down is not hiring competent help and not having a training program to make their employees ‘experts’ on everything that they sell. One-stop-shopping will never die because there will always be buyers who are too busy to research and shop and others who are simply too lazy or ambivalent to do their jobs.
Also, how risky is it for a business to put all of their eggs in one basket? In today's world of global exposure, how soon will it be before your product is in direct competition with someone from overseas who has the advantages of low manufacturing costs and the political leverage to invade your market? If you don't have some way to diversify or augment your product line during the lean times, you could be signing the company death warrant.”
Offering an overseas perspective, another reader writes:
“Many of our customers are window manufacturers and installers and the ones that are growing are doing so by adding additional products into their ranges. This could mean anything from roofline (fascias and soffits) or external services such as decking and garage doors. In fact, there is a significant shift taking place in the UK with general builders being asked to install windows and doors, add bathrooms, replace kitchens, etc. The reason for this is trust; if a householder can develop a relationship with a tradesperson, then they seem to be willing to go back to that person or company time and again.”
So perhaps the generalists are still alive and kicking.