by Simon Lord
last updated 23/07/2009
Tapping Into Traditional Values
by Simon Lord
last updated 23/07/2009
In 1989 the car company Mazda launched a new two-seater sports car called the MX5. In those days, the market for such a car was thought to be dead because of changed safety legislation in the US. Mazda proved that a safe, affordable open-top car was possible, but they did more than that; they tapped into a rich vein of nostalgia for classic sports cars. They borrowed the shape of the Lotus Elan, reproduced the transmission whine of the MGB and studied the exhaust note of over 100 classics to produce a vehicle which had all the character of 1960s sports cars with none of the drawbacks. Despite being designed in the US it was rapidly acclaimed as ‘the most British sports car Japan has ever made.’
Of course, the cars that Mazda was supposed to have copied were pretty awful by modern standards – and some of them weren’t so hot even when new. The Lotus was notoriously unreliable (Lotus was popularly supposed to stand for ‘Lots of trouble, usually serious’) while the MG’s of the 1960’s were not fast even by the standards of the time. By the late 1970s, changes to make the MGB compliant with later regulations gave it a 0-100kph time of around 18 seconds. But those cars had a free and easy feeling about them, offering the freshness of open-air motoring to those who couldn’t afford the curvaceousness of the E-type Jaguar or the sophistication of the Aston Martins of the time. And it was that feeling, more than any other, that the MX5 brought to a new generation of car buyers. The fact that it now came with built-in reliability, a hood that didn’t leak and a level of handling designed to put a smile on the face of a Buckingham Palace guard helped to win it numerous awards. By 2000, the Guinness Book of Records recognised it as the best selling sportscar of all time and over 800,000 have now been sold.
There is an MX5 in my garage as I write this. I have owned it for four years and it takes ten years off me every time I drive it. In terms of smiles per gallon, this is the most eco-friendly car on the planet. And I’m sure the drivers of the Elans and Midgets of the past felt exactly the same way.
What has this got to do with franchising, you may ask? Well, there’s a new franchise in town called jones the Grocer (the lower-case 'j' is deliberate). ‘Grocer’ is a word you probably haven’t heard much recently. It’s redolent of a pre-supermarket time when every town had its specialist shops – the sort of shops that chains are accused of putting out of business. jones the Grocer, though, is indicative of the way that franchises enable the small operator to fight back. It’s not quite the same as the grocers of old, of course, as it specialises only in high quality goods and, particularly, cheeses. But it exists to serve its local market in the same way the old grocers did. As it has already proved in Australia, where there are 10 stores so far, jones the Grocer becomes a valued part of the community by filling an emotional need as well as a physical one – just like the MX5.
The editor enjoying some traditional values
Another new franchise that has carefully re-invented an old theme is The Fishmonger, which began in Remuera in 2004. Rather than just selling wet fish which the urban dwellers of today have little time to prepare and cook, The Fishmonger offers pre-prepared food from mussel chowder and seafood kebabs to salmon lasagne and smoked fish pies – as well as quality fish and chips. Again, it’s drawing on tradition to meet the future and, just like jones the Grocer, it’s creating a niche that the supermarkets can’t fill.
Specialist quality outlets are hardly a new invention, but what is interesting in the case of jones the Grocer and The Fishmonger is that the owners have had the vision to expand their businesses beyond a single outlet through franchising. By doing so they can increase their brand value and buying power while retaining the personal attention of an owner/operator. The brand can command a premium price over the supermarkets, enjoy lower costs than other independents and still be a true part of the local community.
This sort of reinvention of the genre is actually quite common in franchising. Hire A Hubby brought branding and reliable service to the handyman business, Kiwibank restored financial services to the local post office and Jesters even re-invented the humble (often deservedly so!) Kiwi pie. All offer a product from the past better packaged and better suited to the 21st century, and all have managed to make a connection with their customer base because of it.Traditional needs never die. The challenge is to spot the opportunity and develop the product or service to fill the niche, as Mazda did so successfully with the MX5. If you have done that in your own business, you might consider franchising it. It’s a rapid and effective way to grow.
An abridged version of this article was published in NZ Business, March 2007
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