The Tao of Decision Making
It's May. Flowers are in bloom; baseball's back; and the snow's
gone. What could be better? Oh yes, it's time for the ICA's moment
in the sun. This month I won't be a cloud.
Since it seems entirely appropriate to think about buying new things,
I want to consider wants and needs. The terms are not synonymous.
You can lack a want and survive, but you will experience great difficulty
if you fail to satisfy a need. If you picked up this magazine for
the first time, I need to explain that we sometimes deal with murky
ideas in this column; you need to know that if I seem overly vague
you can always send me an e-mail at email@example.com
and we can discuss any point at greater leisure.
Every year that I have written this column, I have written a piece
that focuses on getting the most out of the show. And this year
is probably not going to be an exception, but I think that I will
approach the piece differently. The angle this time is exploring
success at the show by understanding your needs and wants. The really
great thing about this article will be that you don't have to be
in Las Vegas to benefit from the shared wisdom. Through the magic
of print you can increase your knowledge without wandering through
the aisles of the Convention Center. Yes, you can thank us later.
THE TAO OF WANTS AND NEEDS
The object to the right is yin-yang. It is a symbol of balance
between opposing forces. Most often, the examples used for the symbol
are good-bad, male-female, and other opposites. As I was thinking
about this month's piece, I realized that there are many other instances
of balanced concepts.
Keeping Car Care World Expo in mind, I was looking for some eternal
truth with greater depth than "you need water to wash cars."
As I considered the various trade shows I have seen over the years,
I realized that one of the great functions of trade shows is to
make the transition from "I want one of those" to "I
need that one." As I pondered the possibilities, I realized
that wants and needs exist in a balance - or at least a case of
suspended animation, because "I can't afford everything I want."
Well, this doesn't really answer many questions or supply much
excitement. One of the really cool
things about trade shows is how they can throw everything out of
balance. You've heard the line "I've gotta have one of those."
You can see poor victims standing at booths positively lusting for
the newest and latest piece of equipment. Years ago, the humorist
Jean Shepherd wrote a story titled "Abercrombie's Bitch"
in The Ferrari in the Bedroom, in which he told of men who owned
of stuff because they were attracted by the size or complexity of
really big machines, or by the cool way they worked. Come on, admit
it: We all like cool stuff. How many laser pens do you own? Do you
own a lawn/leaf blower-vac? Have you ever looked at a polisher and
thought "Wow! Nine amps! Just think of the torque!" Or,
if you own a tunnel wash, did you get all excited when you saw four
colors of foaming soap? Gotta have it!
This year as you wander the aisles at the ICA's Car Care World
Expo or read about the new products here in ALN, think about it:
"What do you gotta have?"
WANTS AND NEEDS IN BALANCE
Somewhere there is a point of balance between the things you want
and the things you need. When you are thinking about all the things
you would like to have and how much you "need" them, consider
that there might be a more in-balance way to have the things you
want - or the way you want them to be - and the things you really
need to succeed.
Does this sound like vague ramblings? Perhaps it is. My point is,
however, that while we want many things, our best efforts are made
when we understand our needs and act to ensure their satisfaction.
If needs are so important to our success, then where do we find
them, and how can we learn to understand them?
Businesses are often like people. There are certain basic needs
that are common to both man and service marketer. You can understand
the need for shelter or the need for a place of business; the need
for capital or food; the necessity of customers, etc. As you can
see there are many parallels, but where can you find the necessities
and the expression of the means of ensuring their satisfaction?
The Business Plan
Yes, your business and marketing plan contains the identification
of your business' needs and the strategies/tactics you plan to take
- plus the necessary resources required - to produce the desired
Having a plan helps ensure a balance between needs and wants. Sometimes
a compromise can be reached by satisfying needs in terms of wants.
For example, if you really want to be high tech, then you should
approach your business from a high-tech perspective. Satisfy your
needs in a high-tech manner.
Here's another way to express this thought: address need satisfaction
in terms of your wants. In this way, you can maintain balance and
achieve your goals. Hmmm, I sense some doubt. Here's a story that
should illustrate the point.
So often, we recognize a need when we recognize a problem. Those
of you who have followed this column over the years will know that
I own a conversion van that has uncovered the shortcomings of many
products and services. It also gets terrible gas mileage.
For years, when gas was around $1 per gallon, I groused about the
cost but did nothing because the van's utility outweighed its fuel
cost. However, as recent events in Iraq have provided an incentive
for oil producers to gouge their customers, the van's utility as
a commuting vehicle has become debatable. Is it reasonable to pay
$200 per month for gas?
While there are many possible solutions, I believe that keeping
the van or a large-family-and-camping-equipment-hauling vehicle
is desirable. Well, if replacing the vehicle with a more fuel-efficient
one is not a direct possibility, how about something indirect? Buy
an economical third vehicle.
This is inherently attractive, but there are some limitations.
Primarily, I do not want to increase vehicle
expenses. That places a rather big limitation on the equation. The
cost of the third vehicle, its insurance, maintenance, and fuel
must cost less than $200 per month. By the way, there is one more
variable: a soon-to-be 15-year-old.
Now, is there some vehicle that will get three times the fuel economy
as the van and handle up to two
passengers? The answer is yes. I'm home free if I can find a vehicle
that averages 10 to 13 miles per gallon. That's easy.
Finding a used, fuel-efficient vehicle is easy, but can it be done
for less than $130 per month (assuming a $70 fuel expenditure for
the third vehicle). This poses a challenge because a fairly mature
vehicle would be needed. A new vehicle would not be a viable option.
What then are the choices and risks? What do I want and need?
My wants are fairly simple. I want a good-performing vehicle with
a 5-speed manual transmission and good safety record (remember the
15-year-old?). Now, I know that I can find a vehicle that meets
this description, but I also need a reliable, low-maintenance vehicle.
Earlier I mentioned that you can find balance by addressing a need
by using a want as the formative agent. In short, I could consider
a Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Subaru, or VW. Saabs and Volvos are out
and no sane person would consider an Alfa, Fiat, MG, or other ancient
performance car. American cars are out of the question because parts
and service are ridiculous. Last Memorial Day the van's fuel pump
died on a family trip, which cost more than $800 (repairs, replacement
vehicle rental, and towing). Consequently, the third vehicle I'm
looking for should exhibit extreme longevity, outstanding parts
availability, and ease of repair.
After extensive research, I discovered that the Honda CRX Si would
be a good choice. It offers outstanding reliability (a very high
percentage of these vehicles being offered for sale have more than
200,000 miles on the odometer), good to excellent safety, high fun-to-drive
coefficient, excellent fuel economy, and reasonable availability.
Auto Trader magazine indicates that the Honda Civic and Accord are
two of the most popular vehicles on their pages.
The CRX is also interesting from another point of view. It helped
establish the performance sport coupe category in the aftermarket.
Many of the vehicles offered for sale have been extensively modified.
Vehicles offered on auction -eBay, for one - are free of rust and
My hope is that the vehicle will last four years, and I am willing
to consider $100 per month vehicle cost. Now, a good CRX Si with
around 70,000 miles can be purchased for around $3800 to $4500.
This leaves a small reserve for improvements or a repair. A large
unexpected expense could push the vehicle out of budget.
Who knows how this will turn out? I'll keep you posted.
Balance, and working within your objectives, demands that you seek
ways to ensure symmetry between wants and needs. Coloring needs
with want pencils makes sense and offers a balanced compromise.
As you walk through the show, temper your wants with an understanding
of your needs. Talk to others at the show about your wants/needs.
You may discover that seductive features and appearance may be superficial
and without the long-term benefits that a large investment demands.
Don't assume you can perform miracles. If the best you can do in
a market is $5 per exterior wash, a huge building with an expensive
system may not be your best choice - no matter how much you want
Most reputable manufacturers want to work with you -they don't
want a reputation for bankrupting their customers. Thus, you can
discover that what you want and what you need may require moderate
tweaking before they achieve a balance.
Until next month, Tao!
John Lamade has extensive experience in the marketing of detailing
products and is a contributing editor to Auto Laundry News. Contact
John via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.