How to cook an innovative business

I recently had the pleasure of eating at one of the world’s best restaurants, the Fat Duck. It was mesmerising – I was taken on a food journey like nothing I had ever experienced. It made me think that if one of the world’s greatest chefs is a chemist, what type of people will change retail?

Heston Blumenthal’s food appeals to every sense, he takes risks and experiments on a consistent basis. In today’s retail landscape it’s hard to be gutsy and your offering does get pigeonholed.

For instance, if you are an online business you are defined as appealing to a certain market, the younger tech-savvy generation, and if you are a bricks-and-mortar retailer you appeal to families and the older generation.

There are some truths in these statements, but if my recent culinary experience taught me anything it’s that you can dictate your own business model.

1. Experiment – don’t be afraid to take risks, it will be the very thing that can take your business to another level. Just because you are a shopfront retailer doesn’t mean you can’t introduce technological elements into the shopping experience and vice versa. Target in the US has developed a new urban-based version of its suburban discount superstore called CityTarget. The new stores have been targeted to the specific needs of urban dwellers and business travellers offering free Wi-Fi and mobile checkout.

2. Appeal to the senses – the visual experience is the foundation of retail whether you’re an online or shopfront retailer. However, can you elevate that experience and seek out new ways to appeal to the customer’s senses. For instance, Crate & Barrel has launched a 3D Room Designer, which allows customers to take a picture and send it to their local stores, so that they can work with a store associate to browse the more than 2,000 items and pick the perfect pieces for their room.

3. Explore – give yourself the freedom to investigate potential game-changers to your business and industry. Just as it takes time for a chef to perfect his craft and skills, it also takes time for a retailer to develop their perception of a great idea. Despite making $150m revenue in 2012, Fab founders Jason Goldberg and Bradford Shellhammer are devoted to constantly reimagining their business. As Goldberg explained, “I want to know how we build a long-term brand.”

4. Find the balance – whilst experimentation and exploration is key to innovation, being able to edit your ideas is key to the success of any business. You must find the balance between wowing potential customers and ensuring it’s a comfortable enough experience and offering that they will engage with you on a consistent basis. Android is consistently refining functions and technology. It is listening to its customers and offering fluid interface design rather than locking it down, like other competitors.

5. Perseverance and allowing an idea to flourish – When Heston Blumenthal opened the Fat Duck it was small pub with a cramped kitchen. He was inexperienced and had limited funds. On the second day of operation the oven exploded. Handling frustration, and what seems like slow growth periods, is an important tool to learn as a business owner. LinkedIn, for instance, is taking its time to refine ideas, to make itself unique. It is a quiet achiever but no one can doubt its success. Simply compare its share price since float to Facebook.

It will be interesting to watch what happens in retail in the next five years – when I founded Appliances Online, it was a risk and even my father, a successful retail owner, didn’t think it would work. Appliances Online ultimately changed the shape of retail. Innovative retailers will be the ones to flourish. Aim to break the mould and take your customers on a new journey.

John Winning is CEO of Winning Group: Appliances Online, BigBrownBox.com.au, Winning Appliances, and Handy Crew.

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