Going to Your Market: How One Company Found Its Quickest Way to Growth
The “If you build it they will come” concept worked for Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams, and in a select few cases, it’s also worked for real-life companies. But in most cases, this commonly referenced quote isn’t true. You can’t write a blog post, place it on your website and just expect to receive hundreds of views by the end of the day. You have to build it and then share it with your audience via social shares to get attention and people to read it.
The same is true with starting a business. Every day there is a sea of startups. You can’t just come up with a business model, start a website and expect everything to fall nicely into place and customers to come flocking to you. You won’t be swimming along like Michael Phelps keeping up with these new startups—you’ll be drowning in the competition.
Jeff Pedersen, CEO and President of Del Sol, knew Kevin Costner’s mantra wasn’t right for his business. He and his team discovered their quickest way to growth was going to their market. But they didn’t realize that right off the bat.
“We started in a cart in a mall less than five miles from my home, and my sister was the first employee,” Pedersen said. “Half of our cart was glow-in-the-dark products and the other half was UV-activated color-change products. The latter sold 4-1 over the glow in the dark products. So we got rid of the products that didn’t change color, and we opened more than 100 carts over three years.”
Things were going OK for Del Sol in the mall cart business; that is until January would hit, and then from January through April mall traffic dried up. Cash flow got tight during those months, so Pedersen and his team needed to figure out a way to grow their sales.
They figured out that during these months, people went on cruises. So instead of building their mall cart business and waiting months for customers to start coming back to them, they went to their market.
“We went down to St. Thomas in 1997 and opened our first store in the International Plaza. We opened our doors with an Office Max cash register, stapled our color-changing shirts up to the walls in the shop, and used orange crates to differentiate the sizes,” Pedersen chuckled to me.
Even with their unusual setup, Del Sol ended up selling about $600 per cruise ship visit. But, like a serious entrepreneur, Pedersen wasn’t satisfied. He knew his business could do better.
His dad, Bob, once told him, “The highway to true success is always under construction.” Well, he took that piece of advice his dad gave him long ago and kept working to get more sales and more success for his business. Again, he didn’t sit around and wait for customers at his store—he went right to these cruise goers.
“We thought if we could go on cruise ships that we could really grow our business,” Pedersen said. “We talked to cruise ships, and they loved our products because they were so unique. Since all our products changed color in the sun, different cruise lines were happy to have Del Sol represent them (Carnival, Princess, Celebrity and more).”
Del Sol become one of the recommended shops on all the cruise lines, and their sales went from $600 a visit to $2,000 a visit in most cruise ports. And, they knew if they kept following cruise lines that they’d be able to open stores in numerous locations and the Del Sol brand would continue to grow—and it has.
Del Sol now has more than 100 store locations in 28 different countries. They’ve also had cruise lines come to them wanting to partner with them for giveaways and similar things on their cruise ships.
I’m a firm believer that you’re not entitled to a customer’s business; you must earn it. And that’s exactly what Pedersen and his team have done.
Del Sol tells customers to “Go play and make your day.” That’s something they’ve also done for themselves. By changing the Field of Dreams quote to a more accurate statement of, “If you put time, effort and creativity into something, then you increase your chances of growing a successful business,” which they’ve been able to grow year over year for the last 20 years.