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Key Idea: Listen To Customers

Big companies spend millions of dollars trying to find out what customers want. As a small business owner you probably think you know what your customers are thinking because you work with them day-to-day. On the other hand, most of us don't ask our customers the hard questions.

Key Question:

A: 

From your customers.  They will tell you what they need and want if you ask them.

Q:  Why don't we ask our customers more questions?

A: Fear and lack of time. You think if you really ask the question, "what would you like us to be doing that we're not now doing?" you'll actually have to change. So, what happened when Don was really scared he may have to give in to the CD craze?

He turned his total attention to his devoted customers He said they told him, "You have a great product. There's no better vinyl record manufactured anywhere in the world, but we feel it can be better,' because there are places that are making a thicker, heavier record, a record that--the typical record weighs about 110 grams, and there were places that were making phonograph records that were 180 grams, which is about 50 percent heavier. And our customers were saying, `If we had an RTI pressing on a 180-gram record that would be just great for us, because we could really sell that, and we would also be willing to pursue more licenses for product.' "

Q:   Should you wait to listen to your best customers until competitors with a new technology nearly eat your lunch?

A: No, no, no. That is arrogant, solipsistic and just plain stupid. Don't ever wait to dig into a customer's mind. Instigate a plan whereby you ask two questions on a regular basis. Number 1: Did we give you exactly what you expected? Number 2: What can we be doing for you that we are not now doing?

This takes courage but you've got that or you wouldn't be a business owner. Now you have to find time to do it.

Q: What did Don do when he heard what his customers wanted from him?

A: He took action but he didn't go so fast that he sacrificed quality. He said, "It took us nine months of experimentation and tinkering and so forth to get the product to meet our standards." Don had a "Name Our New Product" contest for the employees. The winning name turned out to be HQ-180 which of course stands for high quality and 180 grams in weight which is what the customers asked for.

Think about it

When was the last time you asked a customer what they think of your product or service?  When was the last time you asked a customer what they think you should be doing now that you are not now doing?  How could you get more genuine feedback from customers?  What steps could you take to get your customers to create your next product or service?

Clip from: Record Technology

Camarillo, California: Meet Melody and Don MacInnis; they're  "making it in America."   They manufacturer and export to the far corners of the world because they are now known as the best  record manufacturers -  vinyl, phonograph, long-playing records -- on earth.  Most kids today do not even know what what a vinyl LP record is.  Most think it is a dead technology.  But talk to any audiophile, and  you'll hear them wax euphorically about the fullness of the analog quality of the sound.

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Record Technology, Inc.

Don & Melody MacInnis, Owners

486 Dawson Drive
Camarillo, CA 93012

Visit our web site: http://www.recordtech.com

Business Classification:
Manufacturing

Year Founded: 1992

Listen To Customers

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Don was either prescient or optimistic, he predicted that once some people tried CDs, they would tire of the metallic sound and return to vinyl. He was right. The company is growing. With 37 employees and sales headed to $5 million, life is good. Or should I say, life is groovy.

DON: We try to keep a very close watch on our market and in constant contact with our customers, and I spend a lot of time on the phone, talking to our customers, talking to people in the industry. And when vinyl was--or when the compact disc was finally making a huge impact on our operations, which was 1990, 1991, what I was hearing from our customers, particularly our audiophile customers, was that, `You have a great product. There's no better vinyl record manufactured anywhere in the world, but we feel it can be better,' because there are places that are making a thicker, heavier record, a record that--the typical record weighs about 110 grams, and there were places that were making phonograph records that were 180 grams, which is about 50 percent heavier. And our customers were saying, `If we had an RTI pressing on a 180-gram record that would be just great for us, because we could really sell that, and we would also be willing to pursue more licenses for product.'

HATTIE: Record Technology had the name in the business of being the best.

DON: Absolutely.

HATTIE: And I asked you, `You mean, you're telling me that you make the best grooves in the world?' And you said, `yes.'

DON: Yes, we do.

HATTIE: So your customers knew you made the best grooves, but they were aware that these heavier records were becoming a fascination with people. So your customers sort of designed a product for you?

DON: Yeah. Yeah, they did. They said, you know, `Could you do this?' And we said, `Well, we'll give it a try. We'll see what we can do.' It took us nine months of experimentation and tinkering and so forth to get the product to meet our standards. That was very important, that we had something that we were proud of before we introduced it into the market. And then we approached one of our customers who had expressed interest in this, initially, and told them that we were ready. And that was in very late 1990, because we made records for them, and they were introduced at the 1991 January Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and it was a big, big hit there.

HATTIE: Did they say, `Record Technology's done it again'?

DON: Well, there--it was certainly well-known that it was our product. And we had thought about that, too, that, `What do we call this product and how do we identify it as ours?' And we came up, through sort of a contest within the company, of coming up with a name for the record. And we came up with HQ-180, or HQ-180. And that basically means high quality, 180 gram. And we registered that as a trademark. So our 180-gram LPs that we manufacture for our customers carry that designation as a premium record pressing HQ-180 trademark, Record Technology, Incorporated.

HATTIE: (Lightbulb In the Studio) Record Technology's niche is quality. Experts agree they make the best vinyl records in the world. Defining yourself clearly is the secret to making riches in niches. Don has never tried to be the funkiest or the fastest. Through thick and thin, real peaks and valleys, Record Technology has stayed true to its original mission: They'll never be the biggest, but they'll always be the best.

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