You can dress up a pig, but in the end it is still a pig!
After 35 years in business consulting working across multiple industries and numerous geographic regions, I have come to the conclusion that I am not a great fan of most investment groups and asset management companies. I have seen, all too often, how an asset management or investment firm raises money, buys a business to round out its portfolio, and then proceeds to mismanage the firm to the point of bankruptcy and an ultimate liquidation.
Not all they time, there are some stunning positive success stories, but on average, one or two companies out of a portfolio of a dozen provide a significant return, 40% break even, and the rest seriously under perform. The percentages work, at least for the investment company, as the couple of winners help cover their losses on the others, which are usually dressed up for a sale.
I don’t consider this a business, it’s more like a way to make money through trading. These firms are mostly run by accountants and bankers, who know very little about actually running or operating a business. But boy are they good at balance sheet tricks to make an under-performing company look good. They treat the business like an asset, and to them that’s all it is.
Actually, if you are a business owner, with real skin in the game, and understand how a business really operates, then you know the one hard and fast rule of business:
The only real asset is the customer.
Everything comes from the customer. All employee salaries are paid by the customer. All growth is financed by the customer (you may get a loan from a bank, but it’s only through the customer that you are able to pay off the loan plus interest). All new products succeed or fail because of the customer. Band value is determined by the customer, not fancy advertising campaigns. Your future as a viable enterprise depends on the customer. The customer is your only real business asset.
The customer doesn’t make his or her decision to shop in your company based on the robustness of your balance sheet or your share price. Customers spend money (or not) based on quality, price, value, customer service, convenience, how “cool” your products are (Apple mania), etc. If an investment firm really wants to guarantee their ROI, they should find the best people possible to manage and take care of the real asset, the customer.
And customers are not stupid. They can tell a quality operation from a dressed up pig! They may be drawn in by the hype or discounts, but they will return in droves and become loyal customers (possibly even raving fans) if the business focuses all its efforts on fulfilling the needs of that one critical asset, the customer.
Here’s a great example. If you live in England and walk down any High Street in any major city, you will pass by a Vision Express store and a Clark’s Shoe store. Both have dozens, if not hundreds of outlets across the country. Both hire from the same local demographic areas, both spend a fair amount on staff training. Both are looking for repeat business. But here is where they differ.
C. and J. Clark International Ltd, trading as Clarks, is a British, international shoe manufacturer and retailer based in Street, Somerset, England. For the year ending January 2010, the company made a profit of £125 million on sales of £1.2 Billion, making it the 33rd largest private company in the UK. It is 81% owned by the Clark family, with the remaining 19% held by employees and related institutions. In 2011, the company had around 1,000 stores in 160 countries.
Vision Express is one of the many companies in the global portfolio of Grand Vision, a French based conglomerate that operates over 550 opticians under various brands in 11 European countries, 212 Photo Chain photographic equipment stores, and 215 Photo Service stores, selling and developing film, etc. Revenues in 2011 were approximately 2.5 Billion Euros. The company is publicly quoted on the Paris Bourse and is itself owned by a larger company, HAL Holdings BV.
Both big companies, delivering valuable retail products. But in my mind, Clarks fully understands the one true corporate asset, the customer, while the people running Vision Express seem far more concerned with the balance sheet than the customer experience. See my recent experiences with Vision Express: A Visit to Vision Express, Vision Express, Again and Again, The Buggy Whip, Traditional Publishing and Vision Express
I’ve had experience with both companies as a customer. What is your comparative customer experience between Vision Express and Clarks?
The only real asset is the customer, the rest are figures on a balance sheet!
Tight Lines . . .
John R Childress