In 1993, I founded the Eastern Veterinary Blood Bank, in a 3300 square foot space. The venue also housed an emergency veterinary clinic, and offices for a group of specialists. As the blood bank business grew, the team began to debate the idea of a new, larger space. We were divided.
“Why do you need more space?” some asked. “We don’t have to turn away clients. We’re always able to treat pets.” They didn’t see the need.
Eventually, the decision to expand won out. We built a 10,500 foot space, and figured we had room to grow.
Paradoxically, the day we moved in to our larger facility, it once again became apparent that we were quickly outgrowing the new space. How did this happen? It turns out that infrastructure was the main factor limiting our business growth.
A BIG CAVEAT – UNDERSTAND YOUR MARKET
The “Field Of Dreams” rule (“If you build it, they will come!”) does not always apply. A business owner needs to perform due diligence; investigating market demands before they spend money expanding.
Take, for instance, the example of “the One-Hit Wonder.” A person might invent one terrific product, and then come to believe they cannot fail. Imagine a man who works in the restaurant industry, identifies a universal need for some commercial kitchen tool, creates it, and makes a nice bundle.
Buoyed by his own success, he sets to work on inventing his next big hit. He develops a product similar to the first, but for homeowners’ use instead. Basically, the same product with a different application. Sure slam dunk, he figures.
So sure he is that he doesn’t research the market into which he plans to introduce this product. He plows ahead building production facilities, and invests in major infrastructure. Unfortunately, this is the wrong move. The product completely flops, he loses all his profits and investments, and ends up back working in the kitchen.
WHICH BUSINESS OWNER ARE YOU?
That’s not to say that you should dream up some wild idea and run out and build it. That’s the completely wrong way to go about expanding your business and infrastructure. Instead, find an identifiable niche – one that you have proven, through research and analysis, that a gap exists – and fill it.
Infrastructure can be the issue. In the same way a founder might cap an organization’s potential by hiring only those below his/her own capability, infrastructure can limit growth. A business will frequently wait for demand to show itself, and then invest in the infrastructure to support it.
Rather than, “If you build it, they will come,” the thought is, “we’re going to go ahead and wait for them to come, and then, maybe, we’ll build it.” It’s understandable: small businesses have to take risks right out of the gate. Once they have gained some traction, it is hard to give up security, even faced with the opportunity for significant growth. There is always risk and approached correctly, the chance of reward is optimized.
Business owners need to be smart about growth: they must to do their research and analysis to establish the realities behind their hunches and gut feelings. Numerous factors can inhibit small business growth.
If infrastructure is your limiting factor, moving into a bigger space, a more efficient production facility, or even a significant technology upgrade could slingshot you towards growth. In my case, the blood bank immediately filled to capacity again, and within about 3 years, we had to move to a new, larger space.