Raising the level of your leadership




Cadillac or Chevrolet — Choose One But Not Both


If I ask you—“Should a Cadillac dealer try to sell Chevrolets?”—your answer would be emphatically, “NO.”

But they tried it once. Wanting to compete in the small car market, Cadillac introduced in 1981 a Chevrolet disguised as a Cadillac called a Cimarron. But even with a Cadillac emblem and a leather interior, it was still essentially a Chevrolet with a Cadillac price. It was a disaster for Cadillac from both an image and profit standpoint and was discontinued with the 1988 model. (By the way, wanting a Cadillac, but unable to afford a real one, I bought a Cimarron in 1987. It was embarrassing when I realized it was really just a Chevrolet in fancy clothes.)

I made the same mistake in business back in the 90’s. We were a Cadillac company—building large (up to 100’ length) expensive ($0.5M and up) aircraft assemblies for Lockheed, Airbus, Gulfstream, etc. Having some open capacity on some equipment, we decided to get in the Chevrolet business by going after some low value machining business to utilize some of our open capacity and make a little “incremental’ profit. It was a disaster and a hard lesson.

We learned that if you have a Cadillac customer base, and a Cadillac cost structure, don’t try to compete with Chevrolet dealers.

There are many downsides:

  • Distraction from the real Cadillac business
  • Brand dilution and confusion
  • Angry and dissatisfied customers
  • False economies of marginal pricing
  • Used capacity that limits future opportunities for real business

So, when tempted, remember:

#1 If all that matters is price—it’s a commodity. It is hard to differentiate your business in a commodity market.

#2 Customers will not pay Cadillac prices for a Chevrolet. And you can’t fool them with a Cimarron.

#3 This almost never works as a “growth” strategy.

#4 The shallow end is always more crowded for a reason. (Think about it.)

No organization can be “all things to all people”: not companies, not colleges, not churches, not…yours. Don’t try. If you are the leader, choose Cadillac or Chevrolet, but not both.

[By the way, the Cimarron was a pretty good Chevrolet; not a very good Cadillac.]

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Copyright 2017 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

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