At Kona Impact we work with four hundred or so businesses a year. This includes off-island companies, some of the largest employers on Hawaii Island, and a lot of small, single-person businesses. At times I learn a lot from all my clients. I also get to share a lot of what I have learned from running a business on this big rock in the middle of the ocean.
Many of the small businesses we work with are in start-up mode. They have an idea, sometimes not much more than some back-of-an-envelope notes. Many times they’ll have a full business plan.
One of the first questions we ask is, “How are you different from everyone else?” That is, if you are selling burgers, how are you different from Splashers, Island Ono Grill, Annie’s, and the other burger shops in town? If an entrepreneur can’t answer that question in a good 30-second elevator speech, the business needs to be rethought.
Here are three businesses we’ve worked with lately that have the idea of differentiation mastered. They have all thought about how they could be the go-to business for what they do.
Pacific Grill Services – 808-987-0128
If you make a list of what every household in Hawaii has, you’re likely to have a propane grill on it. If you make a list of the things we like the clean the least, our grills have to be in the top five.
Mike and his wife started Pacific Grill Services last summer with the goal of providing non-toxic deep cleaning and repair services for grills. He went all in and has been hitting the pavement with his services and pitching them to all the right people in the right places.
This is a great example of creating a category or fulfilling an unmet need. I love the idea, and more importantly, I love how Mike has started to establish a reputation as the grill cleaning and repair guru in Kona.
Ehu and Kai – 808-328-8775
This is not a new business, but, instead, it’s a business in the transition from one generation to another. Ehu and Kai rents kayaks at Kealakekua Bay. They also offer guided catamaran tours.
Ok, you think, there are plenty of kayak rental places between Kailua-Kona and Kealakekua Bay? Yes, but you have to stop at these places, strap a kayak to your vehicle, drive 10 miles to the bay, and then take the kayak off your vehicle, launch it into the water, and then do the same thing when you’re done.
With Ehu and Kai, you can drive to their location at the bay, get into your kayak, enjoy some time on the water and then return your kayak to their location on the bay. No driving with a kayak on your vehicle or dealing with the hassles of loading or unloading.
This is another example of a highly differentiated business.
Island Holistic Healing – 808-209-8002
Dr. Tancheff, a chiropractor in Waikoloa, has two important points of differentiation: services and location.
One of the inexorable trends in healing these days is looking both East and West for answers. Pain, as we know, can have many causes and it makes sense to look at non-surgical and non-drug approaches first. Dr. Tancheff is uniquely qualified to help people explore these options through his understanding of physiotherapy and holistic therapies.
Island Holistic Healing is located in Waikoloa Village, home to a growing population of island residents, and his office is just a ten-minute drive from the Waikoloa resort areas. He is the only person offering this type of service within twenty miles.
If you are thinking of a new business idea, consider first how you can have a product or service in a location that offers you some advantages over the competition. Pacific Grill Service created a category; Ehu and Kai have a much better product/location, and Island Holistic Healing has unique services and a great location.
If you can’t find at least one meaningful thing that makes you different, you might want to rethink your business plan. Note: working harder, longer, and more efficiently are not points of differentiation; they are a recipe for burnout and failure in my opinion. Find some things that create a nearly insurmountable barrier to completion and you’ll find success faster and be able to maintain it longer.