Can you really apply the American Girl “experience economy” in your contracting business?

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american girl
The American Girl store in the Mall of America, the largest US shopping mall in Bloomington MN
american girl
The experience at the American Girl store in the Mall of America, the largest US shopping mall in Bloomington MN

I enjoy inspirational business talks. Great ideas sometimes stretch us in ways we would never expect, but I couldn’t help but ask Tony Sottile how he could possibly emulate the American Girl doll store ideas presented by speaker Dennis Mosely-Williams at Modern Niagara Ltd., the mechanical contracting business which he leads.

Dennis Mosley-Williams speaks about The Experience Economy
Dennis Mosley-Williams speaks about The Experience Economy

Mosely-Williams had just presented the case for the The Experience Economy, asserting that the route to avoiding price commoditization and lowest-common denominator thinking is to create immersive client experiences. He suggested businesses need to take an artistic rather than a factory-arylw approach to their operations.

“So, Tony,” I asked.  “How would you implement his ideas in your business?  I mean, can you really allow your designers to creatively deliver the mechanical services like artists?”

Sottile smiled but didn’t answer directly. Nor should he have needed to give a response. The idea of applying concepts successfully implemented by a doll store business might be far-fetched for a group of contractors and subtrades (but not totally, as one person in the audience said she had worked on building American Girl outlets).

Obviously, immersive consumer experiences such as American Girl or for the foodservice industry,Medieval Times or, as Mosely-Willams described, an auto lube place that is set up like an Indy 500 pit stop — with all the trappings (and incredible speed) of a real pit stop — might not go over so well when you are laying conduit or pouring concrete at industrial plants or schools.

But there is another layer to the story, and here his message has practical resonance. Maybe we should think much more about the actual client experience — the practical, human and very real interactions — on the job site and in the design/development relationships — and figure out how to make it much more rewarding, satisfying and perhaps efficient for our clients.

There are the basics, of course, such as daily job-site clean-ups and visible and sincere adherence to safety rules. (I continue to be amazed locally at how few residential roof contractors actually adhere to fall protection regulations — and they are visibly doing their work when anyone with a cell phone can take incriminating pictures and send the images to the relevant authorities.)

Mosely-Williams says the key to rethinking the experience is to consider the”ings” in your business. Each of these interactions can provide clues and possibly invite inspiration for change. Can we improve our meetings? Can we develop new sharing, sensing, dreaming, inventing, and adventuring experiences (these are my words, not his — I’m creating some word pictures here).

In other words, in an engineered and specifications-driven business, I doubt there would be much tolerance for stretching the design tolerances of the structures we build. However, there are many things we can do to enhance, improve and recognize our employee and client relationships. Maybe, indeed, we would all benefit from a field trip to the doll store.

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