How to Differentiate a Commodity

There's a lot of disagreement about whether or not solar is a commodity.  Even if it's not, at some point everyone will need to know how to differentiate a solar product when it becomes a commodity.  I've selected the example of a well-differentiated automobile dealership, to provide insight into how the same concepts can be applied in the solar industry.

Sewell Village Cadillac is the perfect example of a business that has taken a fairly mundane "product" (selling cars) and redefined it into a non-commodity powerhouse.

Sewell goes far beyond the average car dealership: The dealership looks spectacular, starting with lovely chandeliers on the showroom floor and a marvelous floral arrangement that is changed daily.  Stanley Marcus, chairman emeritus of the Neiman-Marcus stores, provides Sewell with merchandising advice and consultation.

As attractive as the Sewell Village showroom floor is, the service bays are even more spectacular.  They truly sparkle, the result of several daily washings and a nightly waxing.  The would-be customer is escorted through both the showroom and the sparkling service bays and then taken to a "preview room."  It is a twelve-by-twelve room off the showroom floor, decorated with lavish antiques.  One sits on a beautifully appointed couch and is treated to a brilliant audio/video presentation.  Only a small part deals with the tangible product (the Cadillac); most describes what it is like to become a member of the "Sewell Village Cadillac Family."  This involves such extras as being given the home phone number of the senior people in the service department.  If your car breaks down, one of them, night or day, will come out with a loaner car which you then keep until yours is repaired.

An organizational development consultant teaches interpersonal dynamics to Carl Sewell's mechanics!

This brief snapshot of the Sewell Village story may provide a bit of a feel for the non-ordinariness of the operation.  The tangible product is, of course, the Cadillac (even though it's no longer a best seller).  The expected product intangibles include such things as Sewell's keeping standard hours and having mechanics available, and perhaps the "loaner car."  The unexpected product intangibles would be: the fresh flowers changed daily, the use of Stanley Marcus as a consultant, the interpersonal dynamics training for the mechanics, the sparkling service bays and so on.  Taken together the "product" has literally been redefined.  Carl Sewel is not selling cars, nor is he selling Cadillacs. He is selling a combination of product, service, ease of doing business with, pleasantness of doing business with, that quite literally redefines the personal transportation/car purchase/service/ownership phenomenon.

The results speak for themselves. Sewell's sales are approximately $100 million; twice the average of most Cadillac dealerships. Plus they have won the Cadillac Master Dealer and Mark of Excellence Award (the award given to the top Cadillac dealer for retail sales and customer satisfaction)...for 35 consecutive years!!!!

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