Any business now needs to come out with a mission statement that defines what the company is and what it’s trying to achieve as an organization. These statements are often the result of a full day’s session conducted by an external facilitator eliciting comments and insights from sometimes unwilling stakeholders brought together offsite in this journey of self-discovery. Random thoughts are reworded and scattered around the room on post-it notes.
To appreciate this intricate process of defining a company’s mission, we can imagine a session for a company that does alterations to customize clothes bought off the rack and needing to be resized for a better fit. Let’s call this company “Sew what!”
In defining the business, the facilitator/consultant walks around the room and asks what the organization is doing at present. We take in clothes that need to be altered according to the heft and height of the customer. This is posted on the board by the able assistant after the comment is rephrased by the facilitator: “to resize apparel.”
Are these clothes brand new? Not necessarily, they can be bought from used clothes outlets or the customer may have lost weight and needs to take in inches from her old wardrobe. Okay, this can be a lucrative market with the fitness craze -- “enhance the wellness look.” Are we then in the beauty business? No, sir. We only alter clothes and don’t sell cosmetics. “No cosmetic alterations.”
What about possible tie-ups? Can we put a small booth in a department store for quick repairs? Sir, we already do that. “Outlet expansion for customer proximity.” Okay, can we tailor too from textile to actual clothes? We have after all seamstresses and tailors in our skills base, can we not accept full tailoring jobs? Sir, we employ the lowest level of skills limited to cutting and sewing; no master cutters or even those who can take full measurements, that’s not our business -- “low tailoring skills set with possible upgrades for forward integration.” Why can’t we be a full-service tailoring shop? Let’s put that aside for later.
Who are our competitors? What are the threats to the business?
Right now we service the off-size market. Our customers are those that cannot wear the sizes available off the rack. They buy the nearest size and then come to us for the right-sizing -- “market created by exact-fit unavailability.” So, we have no business from those whose sizes are available without alterations from the rack? That’s right, sir. Our customers are in-between sizes or too small or too big for what is available -- “off-norm clientele.” This is a competitive business and location and access are the only comparative advantages -- “location-driven targeting; low barrier to entry” And if the manufacturers offer off-size options like those specializing in large sizes beyond triple x large or small sizes like extra petite our market shrinks -- “broader size options possible disrupters.”
After that exercise in where the business is now, the facilitator moves on to the potential areas for growth and where the organization should go. We can just have a stall or counter to take in the clothes to be altered and then centralize the actual tailoring to another site -- “expand customer presence in high-rent malls and outsource production to centralized low-rent location.” This will of course lengthen the turnaround time and involve transport logistics for pick-up and delivery.
Should it go into tailoring and hire cutters and master tailors? Or will it stick to what it is doing and expand this market to tap new demand?
The mission process defines what the business is, and just as importantly what it isn’t.
At the end of this tiring process of brainstorming, the facilitator asks the break-up groups to present their versions of what the company’s mission should be. He picks the best for more post-it scribbles.
The new mission of our company “Sew What!” is done: “to customize finished apparel for comfort and aesthetic appeal for the unserviced size market in the garment and accessory business.” The last phrase has brought the business into a new field with a planned acquisition of the shoe repair chain, “Sole Survivor” which has a simpler mission statement -- we save soles.
When the mission statement is typed out and stenciled on a tarpaulin banner, the participants hug and sing “The wind beneath your sleeves.” There is not a dry eye in the room. Tomorrow, it’s back to the sewing.
A. R. Samson is chair and CEO of Touch DDB.