In your business, what’s the asset and what’s the commodity?

Mississauga Board of Trade
Mississauga Board of Trade


August 5, 2015


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janheadshotwebBy Jan van der Hoop

We’ve all been guilty, at one time or another, of chasing something we think is important, while totally missing something far more valuable right under our nose. It’s a classic story line in the movies – the fool (usually a guy) chases impossible love while the girl who truly loves him watches and waits, broken-hearted. He’s chasing the fool’s gold (commodity) and missing the real gold (asset).

I see the same thing happen in business all the time.

Here’s a simple example. Sleep Country Canada is a Canadian business icon. Most people think they’re successful because of the in-store experience – a good selection of name-brand bedding at great prices, with a well-trained sales team there to help you make the right choice. It’s only part of the story though.

Christine and her team knew early on that the only way they could truly differentiate themselves in a way their competitors could not easily duplicate them, was in the way they treated the customer not only during the sales process, but after the sale was made.

Here’s how two small shifts in thinking helped launch them to industry dominance.

First, they thought differently about the delivery experience. Their competitors often gave the work to third party carriers, or hired ‘delivery guys’ to drop the bed sets at customers’ homes.

sleep countrySleep Country realized that the delivery process would in so many cases be the last real customer touch point for some time. The experience they were left with would not only shape future buying decisions, but also have a huge bearing on recommendations and referrals. They built lots of very cool elements into the delivery experience – and trust me, it truly is an experience, not a transaction.

Lesson number 1: While the in-store experience at Sleep Country is always great, it’s too easily duplicated (commodity). Consistently surprise and delight your customer with an experience they love, when they least expect it – huge asset.

Then they thought differently about who should deliver the experience. Delivery teams are delivery teams, right? There’s usually a driver and a helper. One needs a driver’s license and they both need a strong back.

In the early days, Sleep Country staffed in a pretty conventional way, screening candidates for clean licenses and strong backs, hoping the folks they hired would deliver the right customer experience. They got it right a lot more than they got it wrong, but the feedback from customers was uneven.

Then about fifteen years ago, they shifted their thinking.

You can teach people to drive, and to lift safely. You can help them get the necessary licenses. What you can’t teach, is attitude.

When the company started hiring great customer service people into delivery positions, then taught them what they needed to know, referral and repeat business went up dramatically.

Lesson number 2: Be clear on what you can teach, and what you have to screen for. Often, knowledge, skills and experience are commodities that we over-value. The real asset is what lies at the heart of the people you hire – their standards, their attitudes and their values.

Those factors alone (and no amount of training or discipline) will determine how they will treat your customer when nobody’s looking.

 Jan van der Hoop is President, Fit First Technologies. Jan can be reached via e-mail at

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Mississauga Board of Trade
Mississauga Board of Trade
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