It’s (hopefully) a fairy tale.

Long, long ago in an industry far, far away (cue the heroic music), the sale of moss-covered, three-handled family gradunzels* had taken off. Now, gradunzels had been around for a long time, and they were manufactured by a dedicated group of companies, the founders and owners of which had been among the earliest users of gradunzels. They were still the product’s strongest supporters and were respected and trusted by the people who bought the product.

These companies had worked hard to make the best-performing gradunzels they could make. They had all worked so hard, in fact, that all their gradunzels performed well, and it was not always easy to distinguish one from another–as far as how they worked. They had all been so successful in making good products that, at the end of the day, the customer selected his gradunzel based largely on loyalty to the company and people he knew who used the product. Even the prices were more or less the same.

Oh, sometimes the colors of the three handles were changed, or a different variety of moss was allowed to grow on the gradunzel, but it still worked basically the same as all the others. Once somebody, who was not part of the group that had made gradunzels forever and ever, actually made a gradunzel with four handles. Some said it did a better job at whatever it was gradunzels did. Some said not. In any event, it didn’t look like all the other gradunzels, and soon it was gone and forgotten.

For a long while, gradunzel users were a pretty small group, at best ignored, at worst scorned, by the rest of the people. But they didn’t care. They just went about making the best use of gradunzels they could. And if they were, from time to time, disappointed that everybody didn’t like gradunzels, they were also pleased to be part of this special and distinctive group.

And then a funny thing happened. One day–nobody knows exactly why–everybody wanted to buy a gradunzel. New gradunzel factories and brands sprung up all over the place. These came and went. Some succeeded, some didn’t.

The small group of old-line gradunzel makers was overwhelmed and didn’t quite know what to think. It was true, of course, that they were selling all the gradunzels they could make and making more money than they had ever imagined. They were producing all kinds of new gradunzels in different sizes and colors and with different names, although of course they were all still just gradunzels. That was a good thing, and they were proud that after all their years in the wilderness so many other people had recognized what a wonderful invention gradunzels were. But they were also just the smallest bit concerned.

Gradunzels had become so popular that even people who didn’t use them wanted to share in their popularity and be part of the excitement. There were all kinds of new gradunzel products: toy gradunzels, gradunzel cleaners, tools for fixing gradunzels, and clothes and shoes to wear when you were using your gradunzel, or even when you weren’t. The original gradunzel makers didn’t manufacture most of these products, but they represented a big part of the industry’s total sales. The old-line producers felt they were losing a little control of what they had created and supported, and they wondered if, in the midst of all the growth and prosperity, things would ever be the way they had been before. And sometimes they even wondered if they really, really wanted them to be.

Undoubtedly, all this noise, growth, and excitement was what ultimately attracted the gradunzel-eating monster. The monster had an enormous appetite that was never really satisfied. But he had to eat so much that he couldn’t waste his time on mere appetizers. Suddenly, the gradunzel business looked like a tasty, full-course, gourmet meal. And it was making so much noise that he couldn’t help but notice.

The monster didn’t really care what a adunzel was or how you used it. He just needed to keep his stomach full. His stomach, it turns out, was full of production equipment, and he already had everything (well, almost everything) he needed to make gradunzels. He wasn’t a bad monster really. He didn’t want to hurt anybody, though he knew that what he was planning might make things difficult, or at least different, for some of the smaller monsters in the food chain. Still, he hoped that the people who bought and used gradunzels might get better ones for less money, and he thought that was a good thing.

Now because he was a very old monster and had grown big and wise over many years of gobbling things down, he had the resources to carefully study gradunzel making. So that’s what he did. He discovered he could make gradunzels as well as anybody else’s for quite a bit less money, if only because he already had almost everything else he needed. He even had a few ideas for making them better and wasn’t reluctant to try them. He had to buy a few machines and reorganize some space, but the building, the people, the computer system, and everything else he needed was already there. There was just one problem: To whom was he going to sell gradunzels?

The monster disguised himself (not very well, actually, in a button-down and khakis, although he did manage to ditch the tie) and went out into the world of gradunzel makers and users. He didn’t understand everything he saw, but he knew he wasn’t “cool,” and somehow that mattered.

He wondered what he could do. Then he became aware of how many brands of gradunzels there were. He knew, because he was an old and wise monster, that many of those brands–through no fault of their own–probably wouldn’t survive, or at least wouldn’t succeed at the level they hoped for. There were just too many brands and not enough competitive advantages to be had. He wondered if he could find one of those brands to work with. Then maybe he could be a little cool, or at least make gradunzels for somebody who was.

Still, the monster wasn’t completely happy. He wanted to make a lot of gradunzels, and no brand that was going to work with him would need very many. So he called his friend Sam. Sam owned almost 3,000 stores and had bought a lot of stuff the monster had made over the years. He already sold gradunzels, but they weren’t very good, and they certainly weren’t cool–whatever that meant.

Sam had tried to buy gradunzels from the old-line manufacturers, but they wouldn’t sell to him for three reasons. First, if they sold to him, they wouldn’t be cool anymore. Second, they couldn’t make enough gradunzels for him and still meet demand from their other customers. Third, Sam never paid anybody until the following season, and the old-line companies couldn’t afford that.

The monster didn’t care about the first and could handle the second and third. So he said to Sam, “If I could sell you a better product for a lower price, produce as many as you need, wait to get paid, make it cool, and advertise and promote it, how many would you buy?”

They haggled over the specifics a little. Sam looked thoughtful, then said, “Well, not too many. But if you can do all that, maybe we could handle three-quarters of a million gradunzels in the first year. We’re already selling almost that many, and we know it’s a lousy product. Would that be enough?”

The monster smiled.

When the monster went to talk to some of the second-tier gradunzel makers, the first thing they all told him was that everything was great. After he got to know them a little better, often over a couple pints of grog, he found that some of them were running just to stay in place, having a hard time cash-flowing their business, and needed to get a lot bigger quickly to have a financial model that really worked. But they were cool.

Usually when he got around to asking them about selling to Sam, they’d get up to leave. But when he quickly asked them if they’d like to sell more gradunzels in two years than they could reasonably expect to sell in twenty, they sat back down again. It turns out that making money is cool, too.

The gradunzel-eating monster returned to his lair to plan. He didn’t know if what he was thinking would work, or if serious gradunzel users would buy from Sam. But if he could get this meal cooked, it would be big and tasty, and the ingredients wouldn’t cost much. What did he have to lose by trying?

 

Jeff Harbaugh works with action-sports companies to help them recognize and solidify their market positions. He hopes this is a fairy tale, but is afraid it might not be. Reach him at: (206) 232-3138. Or by e-mail at jharbaugh@email.msn.com.

* Gradunzels are the invention of Dr. Seuss, and regardless of the fact that we can’t for the life of us remember which of his stories gradunzels were in, we thought we ought to give the man credit anyway. And by the way, we tried the Internet. Lots of mentions of gradunzels, but we still couldn’t figure out which book it was.

ut when he quickly asked them if they’d like to sell more gradunzels in two years than they could reasonably expect to sell in twenty, they sat back down again. It turns out that making money is cool, too.

The gradunzel-eating monster returned to his lair to plan. He didn’t know if what he was thinking would work, or if serious gradunzel users would buy from Sam. But if he could get this meal cooked, it would be big and tasty, and the ingredients wouldn’t cost much. What did he have to lose by trying?

 

Jeff Harbaugh works with action-sports companies to help them recognize and solidify their market positions. He hopes this is a fairy tale, but is afraid it might not be. Reach him at: (206) 232-3138. Or by e-mail at jharbaugh@email.msn.com.

* Gradunzels are the invention of Dr. Seuss, and regardless of the fact that we can’t for the life of us remember which of his stories gradunzels were in, we thought we ought to give the man credit anyway. And by the way, we tried the Internet. Lots of mentions of gradunzels, but we still couldn’t figure out which book it was.