In simple terms, finding an opportunity to be in business is often thought of as finding an unmet need and creating a product or service to fill that need. In addition to unmet needs, there is the possibility that new emerging technology, new solutions and new combinations of ideas provide opportunities to provide a better way to meet needs that are currently being met the “hard way”.
Probably one of the best ways to see an unmet need is to experience it personally in the course of normal living. That’s what happened to us. We were operating a manufacturing business and “minding our own business” when my dad and I decided to buy a couple of riding lawn mowers in 1977. After experiencing the riding mower for a few weeks, and surveying the other mowers on the market at the time, we saw an unmet need. The outside observer might say, “It’s just a lawn mower … how hard is it to meet customers’ needs with a riding mower?” Yes, we would never have thought of the need until we experienced it ourselves.
Then there is change. There will be changes in the way a need is met. Continuing innovation will be needed to have a continuing opportunity in business. There are many examples of businesses that at one time met needs, but are now out of business because change and innovation passed them by. Think about companies that produced typewriters and slide rules; today those two needs are met by word processors and calculators.
There are a couple of ways to attempt to meet needs that may not lead to a long-term business opportunity. Customers send us ideas they have for our machines that would meet a need for them. They say, “If this was available, I would buy it.” Unfortunately, there are only a few others who have this need and it is not commercially feasible to produce a few of this “niche” idea to meet their need. Another approach that may not work too well is to “imitate instead of innovate” to meet a need—copying what someone else is already doing to meet a need. I think experience has shown that imitators have no long-term opportunity.
I am optimistic that Walker Manufacturing will continue a long time into the future. We will do that by continuing to innovate our products to best meet the needs of our customers. As a smaller company we have a great opportunity to innovate by staying close to our customers and keeping up with their needs. Incidentally, I still mow my yard with a Walker Mower just to have the personal experience of meeting my needs in lawn mowing.