Recently I co-hosted with Heidi Ganahl of Camp Bow-Wow a webcast for the American Pet Products Association titled "Innovate or Die.” We were really pleased with the turnout, which meant there were a lot of folks out there that want to be innovators versus "me too” copycats--which this industry can sometimes "breed.”
Heidi talked about how important it is to validate your new idea. Just because you or your team think it’s a good idea, doesn’t necessarily mean a customer will buy it. Just because you think bringing in a new line of foods/toys/accessories is a good idea, doesn’t mean your customers will buy them. Just because you think adding the latest craze in pet services to your business sounds like a good idea, doesn’t mean your customers will pay for it.
It continues to amaze me how many people throw money after an idea just because they think it’s a good one. Does it really matter if you like the idea if your customers aren’t interested in that product?
This is where an "advisory council” comes in. I distinguish between the terms advisory board and advisory council because, in my experience a board is created to help you through your business issues versus a council, which is designed to help create and validate products and services. For example, when I owned Avian Adventures I had both an advisory board and an advisory council. The board consisted of three wonderfully wise people who I paid a reasonable sum of money to fly into Dallas three times a year to meet with me and my team. The purpose of the board was to hold us accountable, brainstorm ways to improve the business and leverage their years of experience so I could grow the company. I loved having these guys as part of the team and they got a kick out of helping this little ol’ bird cage business (which is now owned by Midwest Homes for Pets).
I formed my first advisory council in 1999, three years after founding Avian Adventures. Since I had already sold my retail and distribution company, I no longer had easy, direct access to the front lines--the customers who buy my products. To address that problem, I formed a group of six "council members”--bird store owners, breeders and avian veterinarians who could give me first hand feedback on what customers were asking for, what products were missing from the market, trends in the industry, which of our products were selling well and making sure we addressed any health issues around our products.
Our council members were honored that we invited them to serve in our group. We flew them in the night before the meeting and had a group dinner. Meetings were one day, and then they usually flew home that night. We paid them a small fee for their services, paid for their travel expenses, gave them freebies and discounts, and put their profiles on our "Advisory Council” page on our website. Our best-selling product ever, the Poquito Avian Hotel, came out of a brainstorming session with our council. It was a win-win experience for all parties involved and I wouldn’t operate another business without implementing the advisory council concept.
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