What Baked Beans Taught Me about Business

A short time ago, I was sitting around the dinner table with my family, enjoying some delicious baked beans.  My mother- and father-in-law had brought them, and everyone thought they were great.  So we got to talking about a trip they had taken when they were down south, and how they had stumbled upon the Bush’s Beans factory/visitor’s center while on their trip .  Curious, they had decided to stop in and check it out.

Turns out, Bush’s has a really interesting story.  Now, I’m paraphrasing here so bear with me, but the gist of the story is that for a little while there, Bush’s tried to get into other products on top of just their beans–I believe it was canning a variety of different foods–and their business was suffering (this was way back in the early 1900’s).  So they hired some very credible business consultants to help them out.  And guess what they told them?  You’re trying to do too much.  You need to go back to your specialty, BEANS, and focus on that.  They did, and their business has thrived as a result.

This story was so interesting to me because it made me realize that so many businesses go through that same scenario.  See, usually a business starts out doing one thing.  That’s what gets them going in the first place–they know how to do one thing really well, or in a different way than other businesses out there, and they do it.  They build a reputation, gain customers, and grow in size.  Then, they reach a point where they think they could try this or that other thing to diversify their business’ offerings.  And what oftentimes happens then?  The quality of their trademark product goes down a bit, because they are no longer focusing all of their energy on it.  This upsets their customers, and the business suffers as a result of trying to do too much.

Now I am not saying that it’s always a bad thing to offer a variety of products or services.  Surely there are plenty of businesses that have found a way to diversify and still be successful.  But I do think that if a business tries to do too much, they will have a hard time.  It seems to me that specialization is a much more reliable route to success.  There are plenty of ways for businesses to expand without losing sight of their specialty.  Like expanding their service into other geographical areas.  Or perhaps a happy medium might be to offer some variety within the specialized area.  Like in the case of Bush’s, they offer several different varieties of beans.  But they’re still specializing in beans, because that is their niche.  As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Sometimes it pays to keep things simple and focused.  Find what it is your business is really good at, and do it.