Differentiating a Commodity Business
‘‘I hired Art Saxby (Founder of Chief Outsiders) as a consultant to work on one of our company’s most important strategic projects. I found him to have a unique skill set including consumer market research, financial data analysis and effective communication. He delivered on his promises and was an effective communicator at all levels of the organization. I highly recommend their work regarding strategy, change management, leadership and consumer products expertise.” – Rob Ferguson Former President & CEO, Hines Horticulture
- Largest commercial grower of landscape plants and shrubs in the US
- Selling to Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, independent garden centers, and commercial landscape distributors
- National distribution from growing locations in seven states
Profitably differentiate the company in an industry that was controlled by three very sophisticated and powerful customers (Home Depot, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart controlled 70+% of the retail category) with 23,000 low-cost competitors selling a product that the customers viewed as undifferentiated.
Profitably sell a commodity product to sophisticated buyers despite the presence of thousands of lower cost producers.
- Understand the category and competitive set from the viewpoint of the buyers.
- Understand what the buyers really cared about and what the company needed to do in order to differentiate itself in a meaningful way in the eyes of the buyers.
- Work with the management team to integrate the market based positioning with the operational and financial strategy for the company.
- Oversee the implementation of the market-based business strategy.
Key Learning and Strategy
- Identified that the professional buyers at Home Depot, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart did not value the horticultural differences between plants or growers.
- Buyers did however value the ability of a company to work within their sophisticated supply chain and information systems.
- Determined best way to differentiate ourselves was to shift from an internal focus on the product, to an external focus on optimizing how well we could integrate into our customer’s business processes.
- Focused on owning the beginning and the end of the value chain which led us to add or build expertise in production planning, national shipping coordination, fact based selling, retailer data analysis, and IT order system integration.
- Double digit volume increases with Wal-Mart and a request from Wal-Mart to develop a plan that would allow us to become a $100m supplier.
- Strong regional distribution increase with Lowe’s.
- Sale of the company to a new private equity owner.