The big news in business sector last month was resignation of Millard Drexler as CEO of The Gap. The once highflying retail chain has hit hard times, losing money in last four quarters and slipping disastrously close to bankruptcy.
Retail fashion is a notoriously fickle business, with yesterday's hot trends marked down today like so many Pokemon toys. But for years, Gap had been impervious to fashion ups and downs by being favorite supplier of favorite clothes of Baby Boomers: Denim jeans, khaki trousers and basic shirts.
But as Boomers hit middle age, Gap made decision to go after youth market. Gone were comfortable fit jeans its customers loved, replaced by hip huggers and belly shirts that could not be worn by someone carrying 20 years of cellulite. And that was beginning of their troubles.
As owner of a home business, I found this puzzling. After all, Gap had always identified youth market as its own and was just carrying out course it set for itself back in 1969, when it was a single store in San Francisco. But as their young customers grew, so did chain, resulting in a clientele that stayed loyal for 30 years. By shifting gears to appeal to *today's* teenagers, they alienated millions of loyal customers who moved on to discounters like Target (which manages to evoke an image of "cheap chic") and newer outlets like J.Jill and Chicco, which proudly display relax-fit clothes that are stylish, comfortable and hide a multitude of middle-aged sins.
In meantime, young people Gap so desperately courted could not get over their image of chain as a place frequented by their parents. These kids flock to their own trendy stores like Hot Topic, and had little interest in what Gap had to offer. It was a "lose-lose" all way around.
The lesson for home business owners is a reminder that it's never safe to *assume* you know what your customers want. Research is an essential tool in your business, no matter what its size, and it doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive. Those of you doing business online have access to several methods, including some tools you may already have but are not using for this purpose.
Marketer Karon Thackston of http://www.KTAMarketing.com is a big believer in research and providing her customers with information they can use to make good marketing decisions. And like rest of us, she loves finding quick, easy and inexpensive ways to gather that information. Karon recently discovered that her website's free search engine gave her a window into what her customers were looking for at her site. The engine she uses gives her access to reports on most popular search terms. By checking these reports on a monthly basis, she can fine tune content of her site, make advertising decisions, and create new products to fill their particular needs. Read rest of Karon's article here: http://www.family-content.com/articles/data/20020409193535.shtml