The buggy whip industry has long failed and ceased to exist (except for a few remaining artisans making a handcrafted product for a very small and discerning equestrian client base and one small community in the Pennsylvania Dutch country). But, despite popular opinion, it was not the advent of the automobile that caused the demise of this once prosperous industry. The industry failed because makers of buggy whips thought they were actually in the buggy whip business.
Clear? No? Really?
Ok, let’s look at it this way, they were so involved in worrying about their “product” they forgot to focus on the “industry” in which they existed. More to the point, they failed to clearly define the “service” their product provided to their client base. Therefore, with product moving off the shelf everyday, it was difficult for them to see the end of the need for their product was approaching. They confused “product” and “product sales” with “market” and “market potential.” It is like throwing a rock into the air: before it falls, it reaches it highest point. So up until the very last minute, you look good. What service did the buggy whip industry provide?
When automobiles were still in the minds of visionaries, everybody who had somewhere to go within a certain radius of their home rode a carriage, coach, or a buggy. It might have been his or her own buggy, a rental, or a cabbie, but whatever it was, it inevitably had a horse on the front end to make it go. To make the horse go, you had a buggy whip. In essence, a “personal convenience starting mechanism.”
The “new fangled automobiles” had starting cranks located in the front of the car. This item had to be provided for every automobile manufactured. Why? Because this item was used to make the engine start, a “personal convenience starting mechanism.” The original cranks were often lost or broken and needed to be replaced — the first replacement “auto part.” Therefore, isn’t it logical that, rather than disappear as the need for its existing “product” declined, buggy whip companies convert from a “buggy part” company into an “auto part” company? But they didn’t. They just kept making buggy whips until nobody was buying them anymore.
So the buggy whip industry disappeared not because cars made their product obsolete, but because they forgot the service that their product provided was “ignition.” As the product needs of the client change, you change your product or service or go the way of the buggy whip.
Is this a unique instance of self-directed obsolescence? No, not really. The railroad passenger business all but disappeared in this country, as they competed with the airline industry in the 1950s and 1960s due to the fact they forgot they were transportation companies that happened to own trains. They could have just as easily become transportation companies that owned trains ! and planes. The steamship industry waited twenty years to shift their focus from “transportation” of travelers to the “partying” of vacationers, a shift in “end product” that saved an industry that has been in distress since the late 50s. (Of course, movies like Titanic” do not help a lot.)
Every industry needs to look at its product offerings periodically to insure that it is making the needed changes in those products, product delivery, and product cost to provide needed and relevant services that will help in the mission of building client base. It is very difficult to do this when unprecedented growth has blinded the industry to changes in its clients’ service needs, requirements, or conditions of business.
Well, it is not quite as busy now as it was six months ago, and that gives the recruiting industry an opportunity to review our business, services, practices, and client costs to determine if we are truly relevant — or a buggy whip seeking a market