Fifty years ago, Yvon Chouinard was a young man who loved rock climbing but was tired of cheaply made European gear like pitons (the spikes that climbers pound into cracks as anchors). So he used his knack for thinking of ways to make products better to develop his own equipment. He taught himself blacksmithing and made equipment meant to last. His pitons were 10 times more expensive yet he grabbed 80% of the market. It was a formative lesson on quality he has carried with him.
Does this story sound familiar? You can probably trace the roots of your company to someone like Chouinard. Maybe it’s your grandfather, father, the owner or maybe it’s you. The precast industry is full of stories of people with an idea and a knack for making things better.
So why would you care about Chouinard? In 1973, he started a small outdoor clothing company named Patagonia. In 2015, Patagonia reportedly did three quarters of a billion dollars in sales. Chouinard made it to the peak and his philosophy is one that anyone running or marketing a company can draw from. He was recently interviewed by Guy Raz for the podcast “How I Built This,” and the interview left me thinking about how business strategies and marketing are intertwined. Sometimes the best marketing isn’t planned, but instead is a byproduct of solid business decisions.
For example, Patagonia’s advertising budget is .5% of sales. How has it succeeded? Three core tenets: innovation, quality and culture.
“You know, I heard somebody say that, ‘If you wait for the customer to tell you what to do you’re too late,’” Chouinard told Raz. “So we were our own customer. And I think that was the secret of coming out with products that … a lot of the products people didn’t even know they wanted or needed.”
In addition to innovating new products, Patagonia also creates clothes for their intended use instead of allowing price to be the driving factor. When it comes to manufacturing, the company focuses on environmentally responsible materials and practices. Patagonia charges premium pricing yet its products sell at a high rate because the price is reflective of innovation, quality and the way the company has connected culturally with its customers.
In the precast industry, a similar approach is working for Garden State Precast. Its owners found an unmet need and changed the company to meet it while also focusing on safety and quality. As a result, it has established lasting business relationships with its customers. That story was featured in the September/October 2016 issue of Precast Inc.
“That’s what the entrepreneur does,” Chouinard told Raz. “They just say, ‘This is wrong, I’m going to do it this other way.’
“You just do it differently. You figure out something that no one else has thought about and you do it a totally different way. Breaking the rules, you have to be creative. And that’s the fun part of business, actually. I love breaking the rules.”
To listen to Chouinard’s full interview with Raz, visit the “How I Built This” page on Stitcher.