Date a business concept for a while before marrying it

Hydroplaning west through Kansas City in a Flxible, I alertly noticed a warning sign announcing the imminent arrival of a left turn.

Dave Millhouser

The view from driver’s seat of Interstate 70 was scary. It was pitch-black midnight with driving rain and standing water. The highway ahead was clearly visible — through the passenger-door glass.

Did I mention the highway was elevated? It seemed important to get the oncoming pavement into the center of the windshield in time to negotiate the turn.

The intuitive thing to do was crank the wheel left, but the reptilian part of my brain remembered something about “counter steering.” Closing my eyes, I gave her right rudder, and regained enough traction to do a slide through the turn.

Intuition would tell you that this is about hydroplaning. Nope.

Sometimes the correct solution to a problem is counter-intuitive.

Please understand, things get to be “intuitive” by being right most of the time. If you want a bus to go left, turning the wheel that way almost always works.

Years ago, there were three major coachbuilders in the U.S. Number one had 70 percent of the market, but I sold buses for number two. In the middle of negotiating a multi-unit deal, I whined to the boss that common sense dictated we needed to drop our price.

He said, “If you try to win on price, the big guys will beat your brains in. Do your job and convince the customer we’re worth more.”

Easy to say, hard to do, but he was right (perhaps that’s why he was the boss).

The Laffer curve is the economic principle indicating that lowering tax rates increases revenue by stimulating taxable economic activity. In some businesses, dropping price increases sales to such an extent that profits rise.

Counter-intuitive, but accurate.

If you do the same things your competitor does, the only way to compete may be price. But trying new things can be risky. Ugly dilemma.

I’m confused, but if business were simply a formula, everyone would succeed.

There might be a middle ground. Experiment with new services and technologies and see what works.

It’s a bit like dating. Try some dinners and movies together to see if you’re compatible before proposing marriage.

Aircraft builders sometimes must “bet the company” when developing an expensive new product. That’s a bit too scary (and unnecessary) for our business.

There are two things to keep in mind.

First, trying new stuff only works if you are honest with yourself. Date a new concept for a while before marrying it. If it’s not working, drop it.

Dating many people over the years offers great insight into what you do and don’t want in a long-term relationship. Business concepts can be the same if you’re discerning.

Second, how heavily you commit to a new program should be determined, in part, by how risky it is. If you lose all the money and energy you invest, how bad will it hurt?

Many charter operators responded to the economic downturn by starting line runs. Underemployed people were more likely to buy a ticket than charter a whole bus.

For some companies this worked out well. For others, nah. The reward for successful scheduled service can be large, but the economic risk of roaring down the interstate with half-empty buses is huge.

The same can be true for luxury service and low-density seating. It is successful in some places, but “some” is the operative word there.

A ham-and-egg breakfast is a sacrifice for a chicken and a total commitment for the pig. Total commitment to any concept gives it too much control over your destiny. Better to be chicken.

New Internet technology is available that sort of combines sales and marketing for charter operators. It might be worth looking at.

It also might be tempting for those folks who love operating, but hate selling, to delegate their entire sales function to a service like that or to subcontract for GBBs (Great Big Bus Lines).

Attractive as that might seem, the sales function helps articulate the soul of your company.

Intuition says a broker or GBB is like hiring a salesperson and frees you to work on the operating end. But, as my boss pointed out, when you sell you give thought to what makes you a value.

Conversely, over the years, many tour companies were great at selling seats, but rented charter coaches. In an effort to control quality, some later tried operating buses. How hard could it be?

Innovation often comes when folks ignore intuition and try new things. Which starving soul was brave enough to eat the first lobster?

Darwin usually rewards intuition/common wisdom, but the dinosaurs were pretty set in their ways, and that didn’t work out.

The trick seems to be trying things, while managing risk. Don’t marry ideas without a successful courtship.

Dave Millhouser is a bus-industry marketing consultant and freelance writer. Contact him by email at





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