Monday, September 12, 2011

Michigan Needs Adam

We just spent a week and a half in Northern Michigan.  I’ve learned to love Michigan; it is a place of unknown and untapped beauty.  It is also a place of sobering reality and reminders of past successes.  My thought as I left was this: Michigan needs Adam.  Obviously, this is a dramatic statement covering a sweeping generalization.  A thought before I dive into Michigan because, like I said, many people have no clue about Michigan.  Detroit’s failure (auto industry in general) overshadows Michigan’s beauty.  This I my theory and based on experience I’ve found that peoples’ most natural tendency is to correlate Detroit with the whole state of Michigan.  Detroit is just a small part of Michigan, but the collapse of the auto industry in Michigan was so big that nationally Michigan is just seen as Detroit, which is unfortunate.  So, for those who don’t know, I’ll tell you a little about Michigan.  Most recently the big news about Michigan is that Sleeping Bear Dunes was named America’s most beautiful place by ABC News.  The part of Michigan where we spent the majority of our time is the Leelanau Peninsula.  If you meet someone who is from or frequents Michigan often they will raise their right hand and point to their pinky, the right hand is the universal (at least to those familiar with Michigan) visual representation of the state.  This little peninsula is sprinkled with wineries and neat little small downtown cities that still hum from their days of abundance.  Local businesses crowd the street as tourists explore the rich history of these towns. Michigan at one time in history was a bustling state full of small towns operated and flourishing with small businesses; places where everyone knows your name (like Cheers!).

As neat and cool as these small towns are I could not help looking back as we left the main strip of a once bustling downtown and be deeply saddened.  My remorse comes from seeing all the vacancies and boarded up store fronts.  Small businesses just couldn’t compete with the larger places that came in and some of this is understandable due to the vacuum the auto industry’s downfall created in people and resources in the state.  My natural inclination is to ask why and try to analyze this result, trying to reduce data down to simple reasoning.  Why did these towns shut down?  Why did these small businesses not last?  Why are these vacancies not being filled by more small businesses (that’s an easy answer, no smart business is going to invest and risk in an unstable market)?

We spent 11 days exploring and enjoying Michigan.  Within those 11 days we relished the nectar of the gods; the amazing fermented grape; wine.  We visited around 15 wineries in our travels and learned what we did and did not like.  Aside from the wine I found several things that left a dry bitter taste in my mouth, it was the people making the product I was trying.  A good product can be overshadowed by poor representation.  On a large scale the greatest example of this is Michigan and my story of Detroit’s failure over shadowing Michigan’s beauty.  On a smaller scale a good quality wine can be overshadowed by poor quality people or processes.  We found several wines that we enjoyed but because the experience was not good or made us feel uncomfortable we walked away with no bottles.  On the contrary the nostalgia of a good experience can lead you to mentally buy into a product that upon later review you find not to be that great.  A bottle that brings back such fond memories may not make your tongue want to do a song and dance as much as you “remember” it doing before.  Seth Godin says “great products are marketing.”  Businesses should be aware that dependence on a product alone cannot sustain an efficacious trade.  The downside of this reality is that a bad product can continue for some time with poor quality if the representation (marketing) creates pleasure.  An example: Grey Goose Vodka.  If you’ve read Chasing Cool you know where I am going already.  Grey Goose Vodka is the same quality as Smirnoff.  It is filtered the in the same method and frequency, however, Grey Goose is the brand name you drop at a bar to impress the masses. A Grey Goose and Cranberry is the drink of choice for a classy lady in the late night, not a Smirnoff and Cranberry.  Why is this? The bottle and box that Grey Goose is packaged in gives you the illusion that it is truly “top shelf,” when in actuality it is just the prettier step sister of Smirnoff.  Neither quality is poor, but neither is superior to another.  I experienced several wineries that had a particularly great tasting wine, but had horrible experiences at their tasting rooms, either because you were made to feel inferior or it seemed as if the person across the counter were an evil robot that hated it’s lowly life.  These wineries are sadly mistaken if they think their product can stand alone and compete or even survive.

I really have a passion to see small businesses succeed and have a strong belief that ultimately small business will make a resurgence and challenge larger corporations.  I think small business innovation is what will drive America into the future, if we learn to adapt.  We can empower small businesses to do more if we continue to challenge ourselves and realize that products cannot and do not stand alone and that good marketing is necessary to success.  Like Seth says, “Good products are marketing,” and this is why Michigan needs Adam.

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