Falling Far from the Tree: Are You Doing Too Much?

What do you do? What are you doing?

No, this isn’t a question for your Facebook page. It’s a question about your business. And many retailers are likely to answer it more quickly than manufacturers. 

That’s because successful retailers long ago figured out what they can and cannot do. If your store is in Idaho, you’re not going to make a living selling saltwater plugs. If it’s on Lake Guntersville, your fly inventory is probably extremely limited.

But sometimes manufacturers have a hard time nailing an answer to that question down. “We make fishing lures,” some say. “We make sunglasses,” says another. “But we also sell t-shirts and hats and our own collection of fishing-based steel guitars.”

You get the idea.

Sometimes, manufacturers are manufacturing too much. In the hunt for a new product line, they fall into the rabbit hole and get lost.

Beware the rabbit hole

This problem wasn’t born in the tackle industry. In fact, about half of you (according to statistics) are reading this article on the unlikely result of a famous instance of what we’ll call Wonderland syndrome—an Apple device.

Way back in the mid-’90s, the Goo Goo Dolls ruled radio, Hulk Hogan was turning Hollywood, and Apple Computer, the world’s most valuable company today, was busy making a bunch of crappy crap. Apple was still a few years away from the return of Steve Jobs and the introduction of the first iMac: a desktop computer that would resurrect them from the brink of bankruptcy and eventually help usher in wifi, iPods and, in turn, the iPhone. In the mid-90’s, Apple was about as relevant in their industry as the steel fishing rod is today.

Their product line was overpriced and underwhelming. Nobody wanted that tired, old junk.

Compounding Apple’s problem was a genuinely overblown product line. They weren’t just making computers, they were manufacturing printers, drawing pads, landline phones, and a forerunner to the Palm Pilot (remember that gem?). They were less Apple computer and more Apple garage sale. And because of this lack of focus, everything they made basically sucked.

Get a grip

iMac-ad-Sorry-no-BeigeBecause their products were hot garbage, and because nobody wants to buy garbage at any temperature, Apple very nearly ceased to exist by 1997. But in 1998, that all changed with the introduction of Jobs’ brainchild, the aforementioned iMac. It was colorful, it was friendly, and it was the flagship of a trimmed down product line.

No more printers. No more landline phones. Just a handful of computers … really good computers.

Bolstered by a focused, identifiable product line—and a hell of a marketing campaign (Think different.), Apple rose from the ashes. There’s a good chance that you’re wearing, carrying or looking at one of their products right now, but it never would have happened if a mid-’90s computer company had remained lost in the rabbit hole of doing too much.

That’s a cautionary tale for retailers and especially manufacturers. If you make bass lures, make the best bass lures on the planet. If you’re a tackle store on the Salton Sea, be the best barely-habitable-water tackle store you can be.

But don’t try to be something you’re not. If you’re Apple, selling a crappy printer will stop people from buying your flagship computer. If you’re a tackle manufacturer, selling something you shouldn’t could sink your flagship product too.