It Takes A Prophet To Make A Profit: 15 Trends That Are Reshaping American Businessby C. Britt Beemer, Robert L. Shook
Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player of all time, once explained the secret of his success: "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been." Anyone in business today needs the same combination of speed, acumen, and agility to succeed in what has become a rapidly shifting and highly competitive marketplace, says C. Britt Beemer, founder of
Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player of all time, once explained the secret of his success: "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been." Anyone in business today needs the same combination of speed, acumen, and agility to succeed in what has become a rapidly shifting and highly competitive marketplace, says C. Britt Beemer, founder of America's Research Group and a leading authority in the field of market research. The businesses that thrive will be the ones that can not only adapt to but also anticipate powerful forces that are reshaping the American marketplace. Whether you're a business owner, an employee, or an investor, It Takes a Prophet to Make a Profit shows you how to gain this competitive edge by capitalizing on fifteen critical trends that are changing the way we do business.
Through a lively combination of anecdotes and examples, It Takes a Prophet to Make a Profit analyzes the seismic shifts that have been happening in the American marketplace, identifying the forces behind these changes and showing how savvy businesses can find creative ways to attract and keep customers. The trends range from changes in our society (Trend #2: The Gap Is Widening Between the Haves and Have-Nots) to changes in our psychology (Trend #6: Consumers Are Reluctant to Pay "Full Retail") and culture (Trend #12: Gaming Casinos and Lotteries Have Joined America's Mainstream).
Beemer and coauthor Robert Shook discuss which trends are likely to have lasting impact and how they relate to each other (for example, Trend #11: Today's Consumer Wants Brand Products is a direct result of Trend #1: Consumers Have Less Discretionary Time), and offer concrete and practical suggestions. For example, to take advantage of Trend #7: More Americans Are Caring for Their Aging Parents, the authors suggest different ways in which businesses can cater to caregivers who are especially pressed for time and money. Stores can benefit, they say, from starting sales in the middle of the week so that time-conscious shoppers can avoid weekend crowds; travel agencies can offer shorter vacation packages, such as spa visits, as "escapes" that are closer to home; and businesses can target the growing presence of senior citizens online, where company Web sites can offer information or services to help build customer loyalty. Taking similar simple but imaginative steps with any of these fifteen trends can put your business ahead of the competition.
C. Britt Beemer's expertise in successful trend forecasting has worked for clients ranging from Warren Buffett's Berkshire-Hathaway companies to General Electric and other major corporations. In It Takes a Prophet to Make a Profit, business owners and employees alike will find an invaluable resource to navigating the marketplace ahead %151; and profiting from it.
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Read an Excerpt
A student once said to his professor, Albert Einstein, "These are the same questions you asked on last year's test. Nothing has changed."
Einstein answered, "It is true that all of the questions are the same. But this year, all of the answers are different."
The element of change is at the core of all trends. Past trends and current trends impact future trends, yet you can be assured that future trends will be different. It is those differences that make them difficult to spot. Still, it is possible to read the tea leaves, and those who can will enjoy an advantage over the competition.
In today's high-tech, fast-changing world, trends come and go at an increasingly rapid pace. To recognize their influence, one need only look at the huge corporate graveyard filled with companies that failed to adjust: Studebaker, Eastern Airlines, Railway Express, Gimbel's.
That's a mere handful of former greats that have been laid to rest. A full 40 percent of the Fortune 500 disappeared from the list between 1990 and 1995. The common denominator of these enterprises: their inability to anticipate trends in the marketplace.
Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player of all time, was once asked to explain his success. "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been."
Businesses should heed this wisdom. To survive in our highly competitive marketplace, business owners must tune into prevailing trends. Unlike hockey, business has some historical perspective; nonetheless, it's reckless to presume that history will repeat itself. Rather, history creates some useful guidelines.
Trends can be anticipated by studying patterns of the past, thus developing a historical perspective. As founder and CEO of America's Research Group (ARG), C. Britt Beemer has studied consumer behavior patterns for the past two decades. In this capacity, he has conducted more than 4 million interviews with consumers and businesspeople. His impressive list of clients includes General Electric, Kmart, and Barnes & Noble. At ARG, a trend is anticipated by observing consumer traffic patterns. The firm develops research mileposts, noting how consumers respond to certain issues over a period of time. The beginning of a trend is like a tiny beep that gradually gets louder. If it goes from a tiny 3 percent to 7 percent in a few months and then quickly to 10 percent, a trend is probably developing. In general, a single major factor doesn't indicate an upcoming trend. Instead, a lot of little clues signal its arrival.
While ARG produces research mileposts based on regional and national trends, it's possible to calculate do-it-yourself time lines for a small business. This requires keeping good business records and tracking a lot of things that may seem insignificant but that over the course of years will become important information. A retail store might track hourly transactions, the daily number of individual shoppers versus groups, the number of men compared to women in those shopping groups, the average time each customer spends in the store, how frequently each customer shops, and the average shopping time compared to money spent per customer. Obscure but perhaps critical data include a customer's time at the checkout, the store's advertising program, repeat customer business, and so on. In three to five years patterns will emerge, showing management what to expect in the future.
Fifteen major business trends are presented in It Takes a Prophet to Make a Profit. These are national and global trends, and, depending on what you do, several of them are likely to impact your business. Consequently, you will be compelled to act on them. One thing is certain: you cannot remain an idle observer. Failure to respond means disaster.
Note that we have selected significant business trends. We purposely excluded those that are obvious and have been repeatedly covered by the media, such as America's physical fitness craze, the attitudes of Generation X, and political issues. Nor are phenomena such as the graying of America included. Living longer, having fewer children, and experiencing other changes are demographics, not trends. These demographics do, in turn, stimulate trends, as you will discover in Trend 7, "More Americans Are Caring for Their Aging Parents."
Many trends are interrelated. It Takes a Prophet to Make a Profit illustrates how one trend may spawn others, some of which may surprise the reader. For instance, you will observe how Trend 1, "Americans Have Less Discretionary Time," keeps surfacing in other trends, especially Trend 4, "There Is a Growing Obsession with the Internet," which begs the age-old "chicken or egg" question: Are Americans surfing the Web because they have less time and wish to maximize their communication and shopping experience or is the Internet actually consuming more discretionary time? And in Trend 11, you'll discover that today's consumers are buying more brand-name products. Is this because they don't have time for comparison shopping?
Likewise, the rising number of adult children taking care of their elderly parents (Trend 7) results in less discretionary time for this group. Another trend that has transpired as a result of the time crunch is Trend 9: the number of dual-income families in America has been on the rise since World War II, and we're now seeing a trend toward single-income families. Finally, a desire to budget one's discretionary time has stimulated a growing number of people to set up home offices and telecommute (Trend 14).
It doesn't take a prophet to recognize that the ability to spot trends is vital to all managers and entrepreneurs. Ultimately, their success or failure rests on business decisions they make concerning the future. These decisions range from the inventory they carry to the messages they advertise. In short, a business thrives by anticipating and then planning what will be, which is why understanding trends is essential.
Copyright © 2001 by C. Britt Beemer and Robert L. Shook
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This is a most unusual book. It builds on contemporary consumer research to identify some new trends that are less well covered by the broad-scale media and suggest potential ways that businesses can respond. Although its selective focus keeps it from being a primary resource for all of your trend planning, the insights from where the authors look are useful. I have never seen a book on trends that is quite like this one. It excludes demographic changes (such as the aging population, smaller families, and delayed child bearing) but includes the consequences of those changes (such as more people taking care of elderly parents). Go figure why that distinction makes sense. My guess that this is based on C. Britt Beemer's expertise being in consumer interviewing (to a carpenter, every problem looks like a nail, and s/he hits it with a hammer). I was also surprised by what the authors considered not well covered by the media. One of the findings is that 'The Number of 'Paper Millionaires' Is Mushrooming.' I doubt if anyone will find that surprising in light of the rapid growth in the stock market over the last decade and burgeoning home prices. All of those books about millionaires that sell so well also make that point. Are any of these news to you? 'The Gap Between the Haves and the Have-Nots Is Widening' 'Community Involvement Enhances a Company's Reputation' 'American Companies Cannot Expect Employee Loyalty -- They Must Earn It!' 'Consumers Are Reluctant to Pay Full Retail Price' 'Gaming Casinos and Lotteries Have Joined America's Mainstream' 'Home Offices and Telecommuting Are Redefining America's Workplace' 'There Is a Growing Obsession with the Internet' The book is valuable, though, in documenting the degree to which people have a time crunch (time for family vacations, exercise, reading, television, and shopping are all down) and are skeptical (they find rudeness wherever they go and are doubtful about the goodwill of those they work for and who serve them). The book makes a great case for providing brand name goods and services that take less time, are less error-prone, come with good advice and customized attention, and are rapidly available. Small businesses will get valuable ideas for how to fend off the national chains with better service and differentiated branding. Larger businesses will learn ways to overcome the presumption of being uncaring. The principle of the book is to be like Wayne Gretzky, the NHL's great scorer. 'I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.' In pointing out these general trends, the authors pretty much leave it up to you to find out what you should do to respond. Some help is provided. For example, one finding is that 'Today's Marketing Efforts Are Not Keeping Pace with Changing Consumer Demands,' and they describe how you can conduct your own focus group with customers once a quarter to test your marketing effectiveness. Naturally, a limit of this kind of book is that if every business pursues these same trends, then competition just meets at a new place. Greater profitability may not follow (as many dot com
Forgive me for being so bold, but 'It Takes a Prophet' is the best book to understand which trends will decide the winners and losers in small, medium and large size businesses today. We went one step further to discuss the impact of each trend and how any business can take advantage of knowing this information first. My research suggests 9 out of 10 companies are out of touch with their customers which is why business executives need to go back to the basics and listen to their customer. If you learned that nearly 40% of your customers felt 'invisible,' how would treat them differently. What would you do to earn their loyalty if you now knew doing that something special would make them 'customers for life?' If a big segment of your customers were taking care of their aging parents and they had no time to shop for themselves, what would you do to keep them buying at their current levels? This is practical 'stuff' but you need to know which trends affect your customer. Not knowing will result in you making unsound business decisions and being in the 90% group who no longer know their customer. I believe you will be challenged by what you learn in 'It Takes a Prophet.'