Small is never a good word to use with the male of the species, unless you are Steve Jobs announcing another Ipod.
Words do count.
Sensitivity around words is why “Developing Country” became the phrase to use rather than poor country. Small Business needs a similar re-branding because it just gets worse with terms like “micro-lending” (code for lending to females). Next on offer could be “teensy-weensy lending” or “children-around-her-ankles lending.”
A big mistake owners make is to allow the “Small Business” tag to box in their ideas to two years ahead, max. Have you noticed how sheepish owners become when describing their big dream if their office is their basement and there is one employee? What they need to say is why their product or service is staggeringly different from all the others. They should say it boldly and often to their customers, their families and that one employee, and soon it will become the DNA of their business. They should also keep in mind that many an extraordinary business began at the kitchen table, Martha Stewart and Body Shop being two obvious examples. Here in Canada, there’s Victoria Sopik who created Kids & Company childcare, now a national company, and the three parents in Kelowna who started Club Penguin and sold it to Disney for $350 million (that’s right, million. Say it again with an Austin Powers accent.)
Ralph Lipschitz started with a line of ties but he talked the big dream even to his first customers. He described ‘aspirational’ living; he sold the Ivy League lifestyle and the lift from this original concept has carried for 40 years. The woman or man buying a product from Lipschitz’s company instinctively knows that it hints at an aura of old money.
Ironically, although Lipschitz was from a poor neighbourhood (also Calvin Klein’s old hood) he had a soul of refined living which emerged through his brand – Ralph Lauren. Even as a teenager, Ralph drew comments about his choice of expensive suits. He had passion and took that to get inside the heads of his most desirable customers, the Ivy Leaguers. What would encourage them to spend money? A shirt that looked as though it had seen the rugby fields of Eaton?
Under what brand name, Lipschitz or Lauren? Ralph got over his own origins and was never sheepish about his vision. All Small Business owners need a daily dose of Ralph’s chutzpah!
The big vision and the nails down the blackboard, excruciating attention to detail are what separate the winners from the losers. Ralph Lauren excelled at both. If you check out the movies of Robert Redford, you might suspect that Ralph was a serious stalker because there’s the Ralph Lauren catalogue: The Way We Were – Robert unattainable in the Ralph Lauren Ivy League line; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – Redford all manly in Ralph’s Chaps casual jeans and cowboy boots.
It’s as if Ralph were a lepidopterist, capturing Robert Redford in his net and pinning him like a butterfly under his magnifying glass. All the details involved in the different seasons and places of the wealthy and beautiful in these movies were transferred by Ralph Lauren into accessible products. Now suddenly, you no longer need your own grandfather, complete with Boston pedigree, in order to have the perfect cashmere sweater made in Scotland. You can buy it from Ralph Lauren and, as a bonus, it does not come with that annoying mothball smell. Now the great unwashed masses can choose to adopt the Harvard look and play dress up, blend the educational classes and cross the cultural divide, just as Ralph Lipschitz did. And, boy, did the customers buy the big dream!
Take a leaf out of Lipschitz’s book. You are not just a small business (with one line of ties), you are so much more.