Acquiring new skills that contribute to personal development is gaining momentum. In contrast to the economic focus of the 1980s and 1990s, consumers now aspire to be enlightened and are in search of meaningful experiences and products. This shift has affected businesses by turning the economy into an information- and knowledge-based arena, a phenomenon recognized by Patricia Martin in her book Renaissance Generation - The Rise of the Cultural Consumer and What It Means for Your Business. According to Martin, the “RenGen” has broken down traditional intellectual and artistic barriers and has democratized creative and artistic expression. Entrepreneurs are uniquely poised to take advantage of this thirst for knowledge by teaching the craft, skill or service that gave rise to their business in the first place – and can benefit from these new revenue streams with little or no investment.
Business owners might consider how they can use existing tools, such as specialized equipment or commercial premises, during off-peak working hours by offering workshops or classes to teach their own valuable skills to this new breed of consumer. Industrial kitchens may be expensive to equip and run, but they are often underutilized during the evening. For example, the Butterfly Bakery in Vermont sells goods online and offers a catering service, and uses its empty kitchen for evening baking classes. Another food service company, Saxelby Cheesemongers, helps people understand where their cheese comes from and champions independent dairy farmers. On her days off – and between writing her cheese blog – proprietor Anne Saxelby organizes “Day-A-Whey” trips where she takes interested customers on tours and tastings. Opportunities also exist on a business-to-business level, where one company may be able to share its knowledge with another.
Broaden Your Offering
Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, prides itself on building service skills and a great attitude into every element of its organization. In response to queries from other businesses about training their staff in the Zingerman’s style, the deli started ZingTrain, a business-to-business division that shares expertise in training, service, merchandizing and staff management, through seminars and one-on-one consulting. ZingTrain’s services are not restricted to its culinary industry colleagues either: their client list also includes banks, dentists and manufacturing companies. ZingTrain even takes to the road with traveling training sessions around the country.
To create new revenue streams for your business, think about how you can encourage customers to visit more often or experience other goods and services that you provide. Noe Knit in San Francisco offers classes in knitting and sewing techniques, using supplies that customers have purchased from the store. They also host baby and bridal showers, and even a monthly movie and knitting night. Total Pet Care in Holbrook, New York, is a traditional pet supply store that also offers dog training and social events for the dog-owners. McLendon’s Hardware in Renton, Washington, has partnered with Renton Technical College to offer a host of courses in home improvement, from “Thriving Beds and Borders” to “Basic Fence Installation.” The courses are administered by the college but taught by store professionals and use supplies purchased directly from the store.
Any business can brainstorm its way into thinking about new revenue streams. For example, construction and maintenance businesses have many opportunities to diversify: hardware stores and lumberyards can offer classes in carpentry and furniture restoration. Automobile dealers can offer workshops in vehicle maintenance such as checking oil and water and changing tires. And plumbers and electricians can teach the fundamentals of their trade to homeowners. Networks and organizations that link those seeking knowledge with experts who can offer it, such as teachstreet.com in the Pacific Northwest, are great places to find opportunities for your in-demand skills. Kick-start fresh ideas by identifying your key skills, listening to your customers and consulting with your staff. Chances are, they’ll already be members of the Renaissance Generation themselves.
For more articles and profiles on the trends shaping today's business landscape, download OPEN Book: A Practical Guide to Essential Trends.