I was listening to a talk about marketing the other day and the speaker referred to the old fairy story of the elves and the shoemaker. The shoemaker was down on his luck and down to his last pieces of leather. It was desperate times – even if he could make a pair of shoes from them the price he could get wouldn’t cover his living costs and still leave enough over to buy more leather to keep going.
He was suffering from a classic cash flow problem along with a margin squeeze. The situation looked bleak. But to his amazement, when he woke up the next morning he found that the elves had been to work while he slept. With nimble fingers and a bit of magic they had transformed the leather into a finely stitched and beautifully finished pair of the most delightful shoes the shoemaker had ever seen.
The shoemaker took them to the market and was able to sell them at three times the price he normally got for his shoes, and other people seeing the superb elvish craftsmanship instantly put down orders for the same design of shoe. With cash in his pocket the shoemaker quickly bought some more leather and left it out for the elves to repeat their trick. They duly delivered and before long the shoemaker was making plenty of money and had a list of people waiting for his shoes.
The key point about the story of the elves and the shoemaker was that the turnaround came when the product improved. I think it is easy to get obsessed with things like the price of the leather, and how you go about selling your shoes. But the thing that really matters is coming up with your own bit of elf magic. This is something that is just as important for personal care and cosmetic products as it is for things like shoes, if not more so. It is easy to forget the contribution made by the elves. They are out of the way, and nobody thinks about them when they see the results. But it is things like getting the colour, smell and consistency just right that make all the difference. And you have to make sure you deliver the results.
When times are hard economically, like they are now, the temptation is to concentrate on what seems like the most important stuff like cost cutting and marketing. But only a good set of elves will create the value that you are actually selling. It is that mysterious bit of creativity that does the magic.
This is the podcast I got the idea about the elves and the shoemaker from.