If Your Business Sucks, Don’t Blame the Market

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Awakened Abstract: Market’s don’t turn businesses bad, failure to respond to markets does…

Over the last year, I began to notice I was holding books a bit further away. And, getting headaches with increasing frequency.

Now, I’m 44 years old, I don’t wear glasses or contacts and the last time I went to an optometrist, my vision was 20:15. In fact, the guy laughed, sent me on my way and told me clients like me made it hard to pay his kids’ college tuition. Flash forward 5 years and it appears I’ve entered what’s known as the mid-40s vision-drift crowd. Still 20:20, but I now need reading glasses when writing or reading for long periods.

I learned this while visiting a new optometrist last week. After the exam, he shared, I’d love to sell you something, but my glasses range from $300-$700 and frankly you’d be better off grabbing a pair for $20 at CVS.

Thanks, I replied, then added, So, are you going anywhere for the holidays?

No, he said, business is really tough right now.

I’m new to this whole glasses thing, I replied, but I’m curious, what’s making it so hard? Is it the internet? Can people buy what you’re selling for a lot less online?

Bingo, he snapped back. You can’t imagine how many people come in, try on every pair of glasses in the store, write down every bit of information, even ask for model numbers, then, after using up an hour of my time, split never to be seen again. I’ve got retail rent to pay, inventory to carry and staff to take care of. But, the internet is killing us.

Little did he know, on the drive over, I’d actually called an eyeglass-wearing uber-geek friend and asked how the whole glasses thing worked these days. And, that friend confirmed the optometrist’s lament, sharing how he goes into the local eyeglass franchise, tries on glasses, buys for 70-90% less online then goes back to the local biz to get free adjustments.

I’m hearing a lot of people complain about how the market’s left them behind lately…

So, when my new optometrist friend brought up his “business” issues, my mind began to spin.

Okay, I said to him, from what you’re telling me, the market is moving strongly away from the model that supported the industry for generations. That’s something that doesn’t seem all that changeable and you don’t have any real interest in joining the fray online and trying to bang out a living by competing on price.

Yup, he replied, I like the people aspect.

Well, I added, if the trend you mentioned keeps on, it seems like you’re not going to be in business five years from now (yeah, I’m blunt like that, as my consulting client’s have discovered, lol). My question is, how can you tap the CHANGE in market to change your business model and provide a solution that is either still needed or has increased in a substantial way BECAUSE of the move to buy glasses online?

What if, I asked, you offered a new service?

Right now, web-buyers are the bane of your existence and you’d do anything to get them out of your store, so you can stop wasting your time on people who have no intention of buying from you. What if you looked at these folks differently and saw their new patterns as economic opportunities? New problems to be solved?

With the massive, demographic driven growth of the Boomers, the need for glasses is about to explode way beyond the size of the current market. But, unlike other “pure” commodities, potential buyers are very concerned about how their glasses:

  1. Fit, and
  2. Look…


And, once chosen, their glasses must be further customized with prescription lenses, so they want to choose right before ordering.

But, they also know they can order for a fraction of the price online.

So, let me ask you this, I said, what would happen if you kept your $50 exam service and credited that amount to purchases like you do now, but then added a second service that specifically accommodated and even reached out to all the people who are now the bane of your existence?

What if you launched a new web-purchase try-on service?

Charge somewhere between $35 and $50. People could come in, they’d get up to one-hour with a consultant to try on as many frames as they likeed. Then, they’d leave with a printout of every brand, model and list of 5 websites where they could buy them online. You’d also email them a copy with links directly to those product pages. They’d also get a photo-sheet of how they looked in their top 5 picks.

These folks could then either go home or buy online, most likely using the links you included in your email to them OR…they could buy online using the kiosks you’ve set up in your store that link through to the  most reputable discount eyeglass websites. Either way, the links you provide them would be affiliate links, so every purchase would also give you an additional affiliate fee.

This new service would potentially:

  • Capture revenue from an endless stream of people who are now “using” your store as a free try-on service with no intention of buying.
  • Allow you to keep a way smaller inventory,
  • Dramatically reduce carrying expenses. And
  • Likely make you far busier, because now instead of people feeling awful about “scamming” you and knowing you know what they’re really up to, they’re feel great about it and will be far more likely to come and refer friends.

Well, what about the fee, came the reply?

I can’t answer, I said, I don’t know what the right price point for something like this is and I don’t know your business model well enough to make a seriously educated guess or understand the break-even and profit points. But, what I’m saying is…

The market is telling you that a service like that has value. Your job is to do something with that.

And, because they’re saving so much money because they can now buy the “commodity” side of what you’re selling for a good 75% less online, I wonder if they might see the expense of a high-touch try-on service as something worth paying for?

Plus, a certain percentage of those new people, folks who’d never have wandered into your shop in the first place, will end up getting an eye-exam ($50 upsell) and taking a liking to you. They’ll feel a sense of reciprocity, a need to support the little guy AND, because we tend to be addicted to the notion of “now,” a percentage of people who intended fully to avail themselves only of your try-on service will end up wanting their new glasses from you…now. And, they’ll realize they really do want a local guy to help them out when needed.

So, you’ll likely end up with higher traffic, selling those people in the store.

A few seconds passed as my new optometrist friend contemplated the idea, then, as most folks who’ve been wedded to an industry, a course of dealing and an age-old business model do…he laughed it off and moved on to something else.

Shame. Really.

Because when a market moves away from you, it’s not the market’s fault when you end up out of business.

It’s up to you to respond. That may mean changing your model, assumptions and solutions. And, yes, that may also mean short-term anxiety, pain and risk in the name of a renewed sense of long-term opportunity.

But, it also may do something else that terrifies many of us…

If the new model, assumptions and solutions, the ones the market now wants, no longer hold the same level of passion appeal to you, then it may be time to either innovate more or, painful as it may be, move into a different profession with a better mix of economic potential and passion satisfaction.

So, my question to you, as you gear up for 2010, is...

  • Have you taken the time to look back at how your market has changed over the last year? To see where the pain points, needs and desires have moved?
  • And, if they’ve put pressure on the way you’ve been doing business for years, have these changes opened up new opportunities that might require a bit of a leap of faith, but might also deliver both you and your business into the next generation?
  • Or, have they stripped the essential qualities that made you come alive out of the business, leaving you with some bigger picture decisions to make?

Maybe it’s time to stop bleeding and complaining, maybe it’s time to evolve….

As always, just thinking out loud. What do YOU think?

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46 responses

46 responses to “If Your Business Sucks, Don’t Blame the Market”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Fields, remarkablogger. remarkablogger said: RT @jonathanfields: If Your Business Sucks, Don't Blame the Market! http://www.jonathanfields.com/blog/business-sucks-blame-market/ […]

  2. Hiro Boga says:

    Brilliant! Your optometrist was lucky you walked into his office…and maybe when he’s had time to think about it, he’ll begin the sometimes-painful process of evolution.

  3. Thanks for saying this, because it has to be said. It’s not the market’s fault your business sucks. Mom & pop outfits can beat the big guys. How many of those businesses failing and blaming the market don’t even engage in email marketing? It’s crazy.

  4. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by jonathanfields: If Your Business Sucks, Don’t Blame the Market! http://www.jonathanfields.com/blog/business-sucks-blame-market/

  5. liza says:

    I would pay for all those services. I am too shy to walk into
    a store and ask them to adjust glasses I bought on the internet,
    and some (not all) of the workers do have a service to sell when it comes to
    advising on frames.
    Too bad he could not “hear” you.

  6. Naomi Niles says:

    Funny, my husband and I just went through this sort of thing. He had to get an eye exam and glasses. The place where we got the eye exam, which shall go unnamed, made it really hard for us to get the glasses online.

    First, they didn’t give him the subscription at all, just the receipt. He didn’t realize it until he got home. Then, they didn’t want to give us the appropriate info we needed to buy online (the sphere measurements and all that). So, finally we got that info, but the girl wrote it down so bad we couldn’t read it and had to go back, yet again.

    The third time the girl was nice and we got the info, but at this point, I wouldn’t want to buy glasses from them if the cost was the same as buying online.

    I love your idea. They need to start fighting the market changes and find a way to go with it. We all do, actually.

  7. Great story Jonathan, I especially liked the three questions at the end. Everything in life is fluid and subject to change, resisting only puts us way behind the curve. The ability to adapt to change is hardwired into us all. For some reason, the tendency to resist change also seems to be part of our programming. You know what they say about doing the same thing again and again, and expecting a different result.

  8. Great post! It is amazing so many small business owners are unwilling to change when the writing is on the wall. The “going down with the ship” mentality only really works at sea if you’re the captain.

    Rob – LexiConn

  9. Tisha Morris says:

    Bingo! Great post and perfect example! Our world is so very quickly evolving and businesses must evolve with it or die. In only 2-3 years, we are living in a new world and this is only the beginning!

  10. Rita says:

    As always, your post is jam-packed with excellent information and advice. The fact that you took the time to talk to the optometrist at all should be an alert to any of your readers that one-on-one care is still so important – particularly in health care. As a glasses wearer (3 pairs necessary), when I get a change in prescription, I have the new lenses put into my old frames. I guess I’m not vain enough (or well-off enough) to buy new frames.
    I have actually had the opposite problem with my jewelry business. When selling at public venues, my prices were so low that people scoffed at the fact that things that I were selling could possibly be real, despite the diamond, gem and gold testers I had on premises to re-assure them that I was selling the real deal. Though sales were brisk for a while, I DID have a few returns when people went to their local jewlery stores and were told that I was selling “fake goods” and that they should come into their jewelers if looking for an item. I was so miffed at one jeweler that a letter from an attorney with a “stop and desist” order was necessary. That left me with a conundrum: raise my prices, which went against my marketing strategy or go to the net where people have the mind-set that everything they get there is a “deal.” I turned to the net and sales quickly returned. I have had no send-backs, and have gotten notes from people who got appraisals which proved that what they had bought from we was worth more than just the gold in the item.

    I will not change my selling strategy or my marketing plans. Growth has been OK and it was never my intent to “make a killing” in the business, but to prove that a new piece of jewelry COULD be purchased for the price of a good meal for four or a new pair of leather shoes. Bottom line: though sales have increased, I miss the daily interactions with actual human beings. Now, my jewelry is sitting in cyberspace and though I can track the viewership of each piece, I can’t talk to the person or offer them advice or suggestions. THAT is the heartbreaker for me in having moved to the net.
    Great post as always – thanks for sharing it.

  11. Cathy says:

    Fascinating article. One, as a customer, I had no idea you can get glasses online for a fraction of the price you pay at well-known retailers! (An example, I suppose, of how we can get into mind-ruts, although it’s been about 5 years since I last got a prescription update.)

    We may be hardwired to be adaptable — we’re here alive now because our distant ancestors adapted to life’s conditions, but man, we sure do stay easily in our old habits! It’s definitely easier to blame the economy than to make changes in your biz.

    I hope this guy rethinks his position.. I would definitely use such a service.

  12. Hugh says:

    What a great story! I was thinking of my employer the whole time I was reading this. The company has been in business for decades and has been very strong recently. But over the past couple of years, we’ve been growing aware that, for several reasons, we may need to adapt and re-invent ourselves more than we ever have.

    No wonder you’re a consultant – this seems like the perfect solution to the optometrist’s problem.

    “A bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn.”


  13. David says:

    This is an example of how you need to look at things differently to see new ways to not only survive, but to grow.

    I wear glasses and think the current “eyeglass industry” is a racket. The small, independent shops can have very good service, give great advice on picking the right frames and provide high touch after-sale services, but the prices tend to be way too high. The mass market brick-and-mortar stores tend to run fairly good discounts; however, most of the people who work in the stores do not seem to be professionals at what they do so you are on your own re the right frames, fit, etc. The internet stores are great if you know exactly what you are looking for and have all the technical data for your prescription(as people have pointed out – good luck in getting that info).

    If one of the local optometrists offered the services described I would definitely be a loyal customer. In fact with the cost savings I would likely be a more frequent customer than I am now – with glasses so expensive I tend to have 1 pair and wear them for years. If the costs were lower all the way around, I would likely have at least 2 pair and might change them out more frequently.

  14. I have absolutely no sympathy for the eyeglass industry. They’ve been ripping people off for years. There is no reason why anybody has to pay $300-$700 for glasses, as has been the norm until now. This business will go the way of Blockbuster Video or full service brokerage firms once competition from online outfits becomes more mainstream.

  15. […] If Your Business Sucks, Don’t Blame the Market by Jonathan Fields […]

  16. George says:

    Outstanding post! I agree 100%. People are blaming the economy for all of their financial and business problems, when the economy and the market is the source of all the solutions.

    The world is changing incredibly fast now, and so the window of opportunity is moving fast as well. There is not much demand for people to run vinyl record presses. Soon CDs will be gone as well. Hanging on to outdated business models is about as effective as looking for a job running a vinyl record press.

    The flip side is the incredible opportunity. People with no capital and little experience can start businesses and grow them to whatever level they wish. We don’t need any money to buy a factory or printing presses, but we do need to get a handle on Twitter.

    The opportunity is there. The question is, will we take it?

  17. Too many people blame outside factors. I actually caught myself doing this the other day. I wrote a post that just flopped. I told myself that people are too busy (holidays and all) to check out my site.

    My post flopped because it sucked. Now it’s up to me to make sure the next one was a hit. It was so I breathed a short sigh of relief.

    We have to own up to what we do and keep adjusting to people’s needs.

  18. John Bardos says:

    I have recently bought eye glasses in Japan for a friend in Canada.

    Glasses seem to be about 1/3 to 1/2 the price in Japan and better quality. Retail is not dead for glasses. There are just too many middle companies increasing costs and not adding any value.

    I’m with Mario above, eye glass companies have been ripping off customers for years. (A family friend become very rich with a retail glasses store. Margins were great.) Those days are over.

  19. Thaddaeus Moody says:

    Great post! If you talk to the guy again, don’t forget to mention that thecoming Boomer boom in glasses is accompanied by a massive number of people who are not comfortable with computers. Providing a little help with the online ordering could also have huge appeal to that market if it was presented correctly.

    The way you have trained your eye to see opportunities like this is impressive.

  20. Wow! That was a very eye opening post. I agree that businesses need to be more biological and evolve with the changing market. But most people get rooted in their ways of doing things and find it hard to see the benefit of change. People HATE change. It’s a sad but true fact. I guess it’s up to consultants to help these people see the bigger picture and change their business while it still exists!!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      It’s not so much that people hate CHANGE, they hate the uncertainty and anxiety that comes with it. But, I’d rather be an uncertain success than a certain failure any day!

  21. Well he had one hell of an opportunity but his perceptual blindness at this time did not lend him to a possible way to grow his business with the changing market. Thanks for posting those questions at the end. I am going to keep those to ask myself at times.

  22. Ed Gandia says:


    This is a brilliant post. It’s a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Two things that come to mind. The first is a mind-bending quote from a now-famous Tony Robbins presentation:

    “Most people think resources or the lack thereof hold them back. In fact it is not lack of resources but rather lack of resourcefulness that truly prevents people from achieving their dreams.”

    Second, we’ve become lazy as businesspeople and solo professionals. Too many business owners complain about the down economy. Yet they don’t spend enough time thinking — REALLY THINKING — about their business and how to restructure or refocus to turn it around. Why do you think so many freelance and solo professionals are doing better than ever before? Luck? I don’t think so.

    Just as bad are many mom and pops who think people should buy local…just because. Just today, I got an email from an established local wine store that’s a few blocks away from a new mega-discounter wine shop. Naturally, this Goliath is putting a serious dent on this small merchant’s business.

    I feel for them. I really do. But rather than dreaming up innovative and value-added ways to recapture much of that business (and grow it even further), all they could muster up in this email promo was, “Don’t be fooled by the Johnny-Come-Lately stores around town; Acme Wine has been your go-to source for true value and honest-to-goodness quality for over TWENTY YEARS!”

    Are you kidding me? Is that the best you can do? Please!!

    • Jonathan Fields says:


      I’m reminded of the famous Mark Twain quote, “the world owes you nothing, it was here first.” Times change, we sometimes need help changing with them

  23. […] a recent blog post, Jonathan Fields wrote that “If Your Business Sucks, Don’t Blame the Market“. In this blog post, found through DWF member Seshu, Fields discusses how a traditional […]

  24. […] Local Business with Social Media” written by John Jantsch (American Express Open Forum) 4. “If Your Business Sucks, Don’t Blame the Market” by Jonathan Fields […]

  25. So true!

    I live just north of New York City and there are quite a few store closures in my little town – but every one of the stores that closed actually didn’t deserve to be there anymore. I know that sounds harsh but they were shops I’ve always walked by and wondered ‘who goes in there? How is that place making any money?’

    Some were stocking out-of-date merchandise, some were too expensive, and one was staffed by an old couple so rude that I never went in for fear of getting snapped at.

    Not one of the stores I go in frequently has closed.

    • nora says:


      I agree. There are quite a few empty storefronts in my town too, people blame the mall nearby or the economy, but I felt the same way about all the shops that closed as you did. Either they were out of touch with the changing demographics, too expensive, or just plain rude. There are plenty of shops in town that seem to be doing really well, and they all have fresh ideas and merchandise and friendly service, and are doing interesting events and community things to get us into the shops even if we may not need something there.

  26. charlesbrooks says:

    Often we forget the little guy, the SMB, in our discussions of the comings and goings of the Internet marketing industry. Sure there are times like this when a report surfaces talking about their issues and concerns but, for the most part, we like to talk about big brands and how they do the Internet marketing thing well or not so well.

  27. […] Fields has a great article called  If your Business Sucks, Don’t Blame the Market about the tough times retail eyeglass businesses are facing and some ideas to fix the […]

  28. Great post, Jonathan. This sentiment is applicable in so many instances. Thanks for putting this out there.

  29. Leah says:

    What you are saying is right on!

    I think that staying tuned into what is working and what is not is key. I say tune into where you are getting the most energy back and go in that direction…even if it looks totally different that what you were expecting. hell…I apply this idea to life in general too.

  30. Ben J Barra says:

    This concept seems like complete common sense when you lay it all out like that. Working for a large corporate entity, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard lamentations about the state of the market. What is even more frustrating than the complaints is the massive resistance to change and the ridiculous amount of time/energy/money expended on the facade of change (new packaging, slogans, etc).

    Thanks for sharing this awesome example of how to look from a whole new angle.

  31. Ramon RAy says:

    Jonathan simply WONDERFUL insight….wow.

    Ramon Ray, Editor & Technology Evangelist, Smallbiztechnology.com

  32. This is very true. Smart businesses are taking advantage of market conditions by focusing on relationships when others are too scared to do anything.

    Now is the time to build relationships that will pay off when things come back.

  33. […] about the questions we ask ourselves every day. Because the WAY you frame the questions you ask yourself often determines not only what your […]

  34. nora says:

    I’m looking for new glasses right now. I’ve looked online, in local stores, etc. (what can I say, I’m picky… I wear my glasses 24/7 and want to look good)

    I would TOTALLY pay $35 for an hour with someone who really cares and can tell what shapes/styles look good on my face and let me walk out with a print out of all the models so I can buy them wherever. I’d be willing to bet a lot of people end up buying them from the place just for convenience.

    The downside is that this place would have to have a really good selection – the local shops I’ve been to, even the nicer ones, for the most part, have very small selections of eyeglasses, which I can understand to a certain extent, small businesses don’t have a lot of money. But sometimes you have to invest to make money.

  35. […] towel and saying, “screw it, I’m done.” You’re rising up and taking full ownership of the outcome of your efforts. And, that’s something astonishingly rare in a time defined increasingly by […]

  36. Nick says:

    Hmmmm…I do see your point but there is a muich larger problem at hand. I know of many small business, even with a web presence, are still struggling. Some reasons:

    1. Web traffic isn’t easy or cheap to get via PPC as Google caters to the larger companies who can afford the advertising. Good luck with SEO for organic listing.

    2. Many books and web sites point out how free trade and health care costs have caused a net loss in jobs:
    http://www.hsdent.com/the-dent-method/#The Spending Wave

    3. Middle management is vulnerable to job loss in the event of restructuring. Typically a reconfigured company sheds forty percent of its jobs. The computer revolution is most pronounced in the manufacturing sector. A world with fewer and fewer workers is a disturbing trend:

    3. Jobs are not coming back anytime soon:

    The internet business model is still based on one of consumption. You still need a product or service and a consumer. The problem being that the bulk of economic growth in the last 10yrs was based on easy credit and consumers using their home equity as ATMs. Now that has dried why do you think the internet will save small business? How do fight the increasing fees, taxes, workers comp, insurance costs? Not no mention the new health care bill that will hurt business large and small.

    I don’t see an advantage to being a small “anything” as the larger goliaths create very aggressive competition. This benefits the consumer not the small business.

    Sorry for the doom and gloom guys but a lot of my friends have lost their business or jobs or homes so I am not seeing the cup 1/2 full at the moment.

  37. james says:

    After electric, other utilities, ads, rent, payroll and taxes…our store has to show a profit of 550 per hour to break even. Even if you charged 50 per customer, and considered that 50 profit, there would be no way we could bring in 11 customers per hour and have the employees needed to wait on them. Your idea is great but it won’t work in the real world.

  38. […] long ago, I posted about the lament of a local optometrist and how taking a much broader view of that industry and the role the i… and potentially reinvigorate his […]

  39. Fred says:


    Great post, as always. I agree with you and see what some (like Nick above) are stating, in playing somewhat of a devil’s advocate. The biggest thing for people to remember is, these are new times and just because something worked for you or your business in the past, that doesn’t mean it will keep up. The reason it worked then is probably because it was innovative and you were ahead of your time and implemented it with perfection.

    Knowing that, apply that same way of thinking to the new times, and as your example above: adapt!

    Fred, Jewelry Buyer

  40. […] ahead? You can’t change any of that. Instead, focus on what you can change. Here’s a great, practical example of a business owner dealing with this very problem…and handling it […]

  41. optometrists always have the best puns in their business names (specs in the city, site for sore eyes, etc.)

    so for this service, I would call it: