Focus | Al Ries

Summary of: Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends on It
By: Al Ries


Step into the world of ‘Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends on It’ by Al Ries, where the concept of focus is thrust into the limelight. This insightful book explains why market leaders like Coca-Cola triumph over their competitors – the secret lies in having a clear focus. The summary explores the problems that unfocused companies face and how a lack of expertise can hinder their growth and success. Dive into various growth strategies like line extension and diversification and learn the pitfalls of losing focus in the global market. This enlightening read will open your eyes to the importance of specialization and adapting to the ever-changing economy.

Size Doesn’t Guarantee Value

The common assumption that larger companies possess greater value can be misleading. As we see with PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, a higher revenue doesn’t necessarily correlate with a higher stock market value. This could be attributed to the lack of clear focus in larger companies. For instance, Coca-Cola concentrates solely on beverages, while PepsiCo spans across beverages, snacks, and fast-food chains. Unfocused companies can be challenging to manage, which may lead to performance issues and limited success. Managers of such companies often lack sufficient expertise in each domain, making it difficult to operate effectively and achieve maximum results. Therefore, having a clear focus can be more valuable than simply being larger in size.

Dilution Dangers in Expansion

Managers often seek to grow their companies to harness the power of size, and there are multiple strategies to achieve this, such as line extension and diversification. Line extension, exemplified by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, involves expanding a brand into different products or services. Diversification, like Xerox’s foray into financial services, entails branching out to unrelated markets or products. However, such expansion carries risks, as companies can lose focus and face increased competition, potentially damaging their growth in the long run.

Globalization’s Double-Edged Sword

Today, both large and small companies are rarely confined to one national market, as they increasingly embrace globalization. The elimination of trade barriers by treaties such as GATT, NAFTA, and APEC has enabled companies to import and export globally at lower costs. While this presents fantastic opportunities, globalization also carries risks, such as companies losing focus when entering global markets. In an attempt to diversify, they might take on numerous competitors simultaneously, which can backfire due to the established presence of these competitors. A classic example is Olivetti, which experienced a decline in profitability after entering the global market. Although companies may excel in their home markets, this does not guarantee global success, leading some to argue that such companies should have remained within their local market boundaries.

Refocus Through Specialization

Companies often lose their focus due to diversification and extending their product range, ultimately hurting their success. To refocus and attract more customers, a company should narrow its focus by specializing in a specific product field. Consider the rise of specialty stores, which have consistently outperformed department stores with wide product ranges. By concentrating on a particular product or service, companies can garner more customer interest and boost their chances of success.

When companies lose focus due to expanding their product range, the solution to regain success lies in doing the opposite – specializing in one product field. Specialized companies attract more customers than their diversified counterparts, with department stores like Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s facing bankruptcy as customers flock to specialty stores like Toys”R”Us.

The strength of specialty stores point to the power of a narrow focus. Toys”R”Us, for instance, began as a children’s furniture store called Children’s Supermart. As founder Charles Lazarus added toys to the store, it only gained significant success once he dropped the furniture and focused solely on selling discount toys. It is through specialization, focusing on a single field, that companies can harness their full potential for success.

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