Thursday, February 23, 2012

When There's Not a Lot To Like About "Rimz"

The other day, fellow blogger Dick Howe and I looked out at the now-empty storefront (it may have been empty for a while, but bear with my sense of what's new) of the storefront formerly known as "Rimz-U-Like" at the corner of Jackson and Central.

I remarked that the store's demise wasn't a hard one to predict -- after all, they were hawking an expensive, functionally useless* product during bad economic times. What's more, they were doing it an area mainly populated by the fixed-income elderly and young urban professionals who don't tend to adorn their vehicles with rims other than the ones the cars came with. Dick added that they were selling a car accessory in area without adequate parking, which led to a bit of speculation from us about why certain stores succeed, why others fail, and where the resultant credit or blame should lay.

Of course, there are no easy answers to this, and no equivalent of a scientific autopsy to determine a precise cause of death for a small business that goes belly-up. I hope to gain a much better understanding once I formally start studying E & I (Entrepreneurism and Innovation) before taking those lessons back out into the *real world,* but the first strong hunch I have is that many small businesses which ultimately fail have more to do with the owner's dream -- or pet hobby -- than they do with a determined, researched market need.

I'll admit that I'm shooting from the hip here (I have no idea who owned Rimz-U-Like, who worked there, what their business plan was, or how brisk their sales were, and I state that as a caveat to whatever else I say), but I would speculate that the owner of Rimz-U-Like was some kind of a "Rimz" enthusiast, with specific industry knowledge, discriminating taste in the spinners with which cars could be decorated, and a stylish set on his own auto.

That's all important (that type of knowledge and enthusiasm might even be a necessary condition for success) but it's not sufficient. If downtown Lowell wasn't emitting a "demand signal" for rims, then even the most knowledgeable, personable, and determined rim salesman was bound to ultimately wind up like the proverbial air-conditioner salesman up in Eskimo country -- busy and purposeful, sure, but successful? Not so much.

While people don't necessarily like what they say they like (just ask the TV news execs about what the Nielsen boxes show when the programs switch away from people named Kardashian or Hilton or towards things like South Sudan and Greek bonds), some initial money spent on consulting or just flat-out talking to people about what they would support with their dollars might go a much longer way to success than would the realization of one owner's dream, whether that's Ming Dynasty vases, used books, fancy-pants cocktails, or, yes, even rims.

* Yes, I called rims "functionally useless." While still being careful not to judge the way other people spend their money, the fact remains that rims -- much like many of the things you and I buy -- serve no practical, day-to-day function.

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