How does a company whose revenues are flat (and have been for a while) get out of that funk? I found that the vertical integration of your business line is the perfect answer.Vertical integration is when a company controls more than one stage of its product or service. It can be in the form of other businesses created out of the base business. A personal example is when I started the Bella’s Restaurant chain. Everyone loved our red sauce so much, we decided to create and brand “Mama’s Red Sauce.” We sold it at our restaurants and through a national super market chain, limited to the north east region. Vertical integration can also be a supply chain for commodities, which is exactly what Reliance Energy of India did (as we’ll see later on). There are four phases of the supply chain: commodities, manufacturing, distribution, and retail.There are two types of vertical integration. Forward integration is when a company at the beginning of the supply chain “downstream” controls stages further along. An example would be a diamond mining company that owns mines, and then creates a distribution and retail diamond company. Backward integrationis when a business at the end of the supply chain takes on activities “upstream.” An example of this is when a movie distributor, such as Netflix, also manufactures content.
Reliance Energy is a perfect example of backward integration. Its creator, Dhirubhai Ambani, was a poor fabric dealer among thousands of dealers, but he wanted to reduce the cost of producing carpets. Dhirubhia was so frustrated that he could not get a good price on fabric, so he decided to create a Fabric Manufacturer company. The Fabric manufacturing company reduced the cost of his carpets so well, that he continued to move backwards in the chain. Dhirubhai was making a lot of polyester and using a lot of petrochemicals, so he decided to become a Petrochemical Manufacturer as well, which reduced his cost to produce the end product (carpets) even further. Dhirubhai was using so much petrol, that he then created a Petrol Distribution business, and then a refinery, and so on. You can see how he continued to work backward in the chain to achieve vertical integration.By the time Dhirubhai Ambani passed away, Reliance Energy was generating $20 billion in revenue and was 7% of the Indian GDP.
Credit Justice Services (CJS) was a small credit restoration company that I started in in 2004, in Florida. It was a technology and data company that disputed inaccurate and unverifiable negative trade lines as reported by the three credit reporting agencies, namely, Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian. As the data from the three credit bureaus were coming in, we saw a pattern among them. CJS noticed that the three credit bureaus were not following the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which was passed in 1970 to ensure fairness, accuracy, and privacy of the personal information contained in the files of the credit reporting agencies.After noticing this, I decided to team up with bankruptcy attorneys around the United States to assist my clients after the credit restoration process was complete. By law, the credit bureaus must remove any negative credit lines challenged by the consumer within 30 days that they cannot prove (As we would say, “Prove it or remove it”). If they don’t, they can be sued for up to $1,000 for each mistake. So, we tagged each credit line that was not removed under the FCRA, and sent the files to our network of attorneys. This did two things for us: first, it gave us another business line, and second, it differentiated our company from all the other credit restoration firms.One time when I was speaking at a credit restoration event in Dallas, Texas, I was approached by several of my peers who asked how I was able to handle so many files per month, and produce the type of service and results CJS was known for. I freely gave my colleagues the information they were looking for, but there was one problem for them: I owned all the proprietary rights to the software and process. I soon created a wholesale division of CJS, helping other credit restoration companies to produce more at less cost.There are an infinite amount of ways to expand into the vertical market; those were just two examples among many. However, jumping right into vertical integration is not recommended. As always, success depends upon thorough research, and the vertical integration process is no different. To decide whether or not you should try to expand into the vertical market, there are some things you should ask yourself.The 3 questions to ask before expanding into a vertical market:
Why: Why are you expanding into this new market? What data is driving your business’s decision to expand into this market? How do you know customers want or need this product or service? Companies doing well in particular markets can start to get “I can’t fail” syndrome. This is a rabbit hole you do not want to go down, so make sure the “why” is answered, and ensure that you are conducting thorough and complete research (Customer Discovery).
What: What are you offering to a new market place, and is there a large enough differentiation factor to pull you through? Why is your client going to buy from you, rather than the company down the street (Better, faster, cheaper)? Make sure to do the research with your potential clients first (Customer Discovery)!
Who: Who will you target when focusing your expansion efforts? I have seen many companies start with their potential Total Available Market (TAM) instead of their Target Market (TM), which is less costly and more manageable. For example, when I had Credit Justice Services only in Florida, I had the same amount of cash flow as I did when I expanded into 47 States…More headaches—same money!
Vertical market expansion is more comfortable and less risky than entering into a totally new market. It can be very lucrative because of the expertise and employee base already in place. If the proper research is conducted, the risks are even further minimized as your chances for success increase. As long as you fully investigate those three questions (the “why,” the “what,” and the “who”), you can creatively weave your way into the vertical expansion market and reap the benefits.If you’d like more information, please feel to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org