How many of you read Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior? It was very unsettling for westerners to read, generating rampant criticisms all around. I don’t intend to rehash the parenting debate but the context of skill acquisition deserves a hard second look especially because unreasonable expectations about learning new skills have become commonplace. Perhaps it is due in part to the culture of narcissism and its immediacy (tweet culture) but it’s more than that. Call it techno-lust or what you will, we’ve all come to believe (on some level) in the idea that there exists a tool you can acquire that lets you take a competency shortcut to leapfrog over everybody else. You wonder why your line isn’t taking off? Maybe it’s related to the time it takes to acquire competencies. It could be that simple. Consider this blurb from Asset Stock Accumulation and Sustainability of Competitive Advantage:
Given incomplete factor markets, appropriate time paths of flow variables must be chosen to build required stocks of assets. That is, critical resources are accumulated rather than acquired in “strategic factor markets” […] Sustainability of a firm’s asset position hinges on how easily assets can be substituted or imitated. Imitability is linked to the characteristics of the asset accumulation process: time compression diseconomies, asset mass efficiencies, inter-connectedness, asset erosion and causal ambiguity.
(simplistic) English Translation: If doing X were so easy that you could do it overnight, it wouldn’t be any great shakes because the market would be inundated with competition because anybody else could do it too. Meaning, if it were possible to start a clothing line as simply as many think it should be, you wouldn’t have the means to make yourself heard above the din.
Think about it seriously though; if it were that easy, you wouldn’t be attracted to such a crowded field in the first place. If it were possible to score the right tool (an asset) or know the right person (another asset) who’d open doors for you, you wouldn’t stand out in the crowd or be unusual -specifically because no effort would be required. Beethovens and Einsteins would be commonplace -and boring. In some respects we can be grateful that genius and competency aren’t commonplace but the painful circuitous conclusion remains that you have to work for it.
If you think about it, a company is a complex asset comprised of other assets. Generally you buy or build assets. Meaning, you have two options if you want a line. First is to buy the assets of a going concern. This is what larger players do because it can cost less to buy somebody like you than it can cost build their own especially if it’s an untried market -and which is why you have less to fear from monolithic big brands than people think (they didn’t get big by being dumb). When products are copied, it’s usually by smaller or start up operations rather than big ones. Large companies copy too but they’re more likely to copy processes and operations (read: implementation tools) than products. Small operations also copy processes but often to their detriment in that they attempt to adopt complex operation complexities like push manufacturing when they don’t have the same infrastructure. Another example would be a new designer who thinks they need to produce dresses, coats, sportswear, caps etc because that’s what they see on the department store floor.
Your second option is to build your own assets (which circuitously makes you valuable as to be worth becoming acquired or becoming publicly traded). Even if you’re pulling from the same sourcing pool as everyone else, the ways in which you combine those resources can be unique creating another advantage. [f anyone cares to admit it, the strategic (unique) combining of materials, method and market is really the game in apparel and sewn products.] You can read more about that in The dynamics of resource application and accumulation. And you have to do it better and for less than anyone else with whom you share market space. Developing that operationally is a valuable asset unto itself.
It takes a lot of time and skill to accumulate assets. Assets aren’t like wildflowers you can pick along the side of the road. If they were, everybody would have them so they wouldn’t want yours when they could get their own for nothing. In that case, the only thing you’d be in the market to provide would be delivery services for people who didn’t want to get their own. In many respects, delivery services is what some apparel producers provide; that’s their real business. Is that what you want? I didn’t think so. And sure, there’s nifty tools you can buy to make it happen but you’d still need competencies to make headway. Again, if it were easy, everyone would do it and it wouldn’t be remarkable anymore.
You know what could be really scary? That Chinese sewing contractors could be superior (especially if they were run by Chinese moms). There’s only one solution to this frightening apparition: Hard work and lots of it… Like I’m telling you something you didn’t already know… :)