"People don't need our s---. That's what I tell my people all of the time." So said Peter van Stolk to me in a conversation that I'd had the pleasure of having with him at the Management Briefing Seminars held by the Center for Automotive Research in Traverse City in August. Van Stolk was at the event to be a presenter in the Low-Volume Vehicle Production session. He was introduced to me by John Waraniak, about whom I've written in the past. Waraniak, now the vp of Vehicle Technology for the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA), is passionate about niches, personalization and other alternative approaches for going to market in this industry, the sort of guy of whom there are too few in this industry. Waraniak made the connection between van Stolk and me by pointing out something to van Stolk that you've probably noticed if you peruse this page on a regular basis: I tend to read a lot of books. Van Stolk asked, "Did you read Treasure Hunt?" (yes, the subject of my column in June '06). And then we were off and running on a tear, talking about "death in the middle" and other ostensible factors of the contemporary market, factors that don't necessarily bode well for some people within the auto industry. Which led to the slightly edited quote from van Stolk that I opened this with, and how van Stolk says he works to help make his people realize that the success of their company in the market is not a given, nor is it something that they can expect to continue by doing what they did yesterday tomorrow.
The New Reality is that the customer demands that you be extraordinary. And by "customer" I don't simply mean the person to whom you sell products, but in the broader sense of all of those with whom you interact as you participate in the process of whatever it is that you do for a living. To be extraordinary means to do something that goes beyond the expected. This is something that you need to do consistently, which seems to be somewhat oxymoronic: How can you regularly go beyond what is normal—doesn't that, then, become normal? Well, sort of. But it is a problem that few people in few industries have to be concerned with. At this point in time, there are a whole lot more of us who need to concentrate on elevating what we do and how we do it, elevate what we bring to the market, than there are those who need worry about spinning out into some alternative universe. We need to focus on what it is that we provide to our customers and how we can regularly exceed their expectations such that they come back to us for more of what we offer. By continuing to make something that is better, we continually provide a means by which we can derive revenue. If we don't, then what we have is a situation wherein we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to convince people to buy what we have to sell, and so our resources are moved from developing something better or more appealing and to inventing incentives to persuade people that they can't afford to pass up our "deal."
You may be thinking about Peter van Stolk and wondering what car or supply company he works for, or maybe whether he has something to do with a SEMA-style aftermarket firm. Nope. Van Stolk is founder, president and CEO of Jones Soda. That's right: the company that produces upscale, unique carbonated beverages that are found in venues from extreme sports events to Target. No one needs soda. The company just had a record quarter. And when it gets right down to it, no one needs your car, your part, or this magazine. You have to follow van Stolk's thinking. The alternative is mediocrity. And how long can you sell that?