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Change of (Business) Plan: Adapting to the Times

Change of (Business) Plan: Adapting to the Times . / Credit: Rangizzz | Dreamstime.com

Change. It strikes fear in the heart of many a business owner. Yet you may get left in the dust someday if you don't find a way to change your original business plan.

The reality is that no matter how good you are at what you do, sooner or later your customers and your market are going to change and you're going to have to go along for the ride.

BusinessNewsDaily recently talked to three entrepreneurs who did just that – changed with the times – and lived to tell about it.

Grindr goes mainstream

Joel Simkhai is the creator of Grindr, a smartphone app designed to help gay men find friends or sexual partners near where they live. When a user opens the app, he sees a grid of user photos. Selecting a photo brings up its subject's profile, which lists a certain amount of personal information along with the subject's location. Users can chat with one another through the app or arrange a meet-up.

In September, Simkhai's company – Nearby Buddy Finder LLC – released Blendr, a similar app designed for lesbian and heterosexual customers.

The switch to a broader audience has been a bit of a challenge for Grindr, particularly because media reports that cover Grindr tend to focus on its ability to help gay men find sexual relationships. But Simkhai said the sex angle gets too much attention.

"It's a tool that shows you the guys around you. That's one aspect," Simkhai said. But for most of Grindr's 2 million users — 85 percent of them, according to a company-sponsored survey – the app also has let them find at least one lasting, platonic friendship, he said.

Simkhai created the app in the beginning of 2009. At the time, he said, he was frustrated by how difficult he found it to meet people beyond his personal network. Part of Grindr's appeal is that it allows for relationships – platonic or romantic – between individuals who never would have met otherwise.

Though straight people rarely have trouble finding other straight people, they may use Blendr to find those with common interests.

"What's compelling about Blendr is that if you're looking for someone to go hiking with, or practice French with, or someone with a similar faith as you, you can find them," Simkhai said.

Blendr's success depends on the safe bet that lesbian and straight individuals, too, feel isolated at times.

Home builder adapts to changing tastes

New Jersey home builder Roger Mumford said that in the early 2000s, buyers of custom homes sought large dwellings that displayed affluence (or offered the illusion of it). They cared more about size and square footage than craftsmanship, and they counted on the ability to resell their new homes at a profit after a few years.

The housing crisis changed buyers' priorities and decimated his industry, Mumford said. "It's hardly the frame of mind to jump over two sets of Cinderella stairs," he said.

Now buyers tend to favor the craftsmanship of smaller homes to the sheer size of mansions, he said.

Customers also seek floor plans that accommodate new living habits. That might mean larger mudrooms for sports equipment, or larger kitchen islands that can double as dining areas, Mumford said.

If customers' new preferences reflect a tendency toward function and fiscal restraint, emotional drivers still draw them to settle on a particular house, Mumford said. A home with pleasing colors, proportions and rooflines tends to trigger an emotional reaction in potential customers. "People may not know exactly what it is that's appealing to them regarding building details, but they can immediately sense that it's a better product," Mumford said.

The challenge for home builders like Mumford is to pull customers' subconscious levers while accommodating their newfound penny-pinching tendencies.

Eyewear maker targets women

Rico Elmore's head was big even before he became a successful entrepreneur.

For the Indianapolis resident, who says he is 6-foot-3 and 330 pounds, finding eyeglasses that were both stylish and large enough to fit was always a struggle. His hunch that others faced the same problem prompted him to launch Fatheadz, a plus-sized men's eyewear company.

Since Elmore launched Fatheadz in 2004, his company's products have landed in more than 4,000 stores in North America.

This year the company will introduce a similar product for women – but under a different name. Elmore and his team suspected the name "Fatheadz" would put women off, so they went with a name suggested by Elmore's wife: Dea, the Italian word for "goddess."

The plan, Elmore said, is to ensure that the Dea line's connection to the men’s line is invisible. "It's a very girly brand, a very girly product. We don’t put anything about it being from Fatheadz," Elmore said.

Elmore's Fatheadz line focuses on its ability to accommodate: Its sizes come in "wide," "wider," and "widest." For Dea, however, the plus-sized aspect will be muted. "We're not splattering that everywhere, but we are going to go out of our way to make sure everyone has a stylish frame they can wear," he said.

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