Why applying the 'Dodo' philosophy in business can help you avoid extinction

Why applying the 'Dodo' philosophy in business can help you avoid extinction

The dodo is...or was...a bird native to Mauritius, an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

It thrived in a world without natural predators, it grew fat, its wings got small and it became flightless. 

When the Portuguese arrived and colonised the island, the Dodo became their main source of food.

Today it's an extinct species.

"Businesses need to stay lean and responsive to changes in their operating environment, or perish," says Shaz Maharaullee (pictured), founder of The Furniture People.

"For example, while today people are shopping online at all hours of the day big retailers that are locked into long term leases find it difficult to alter their business model to meet these changing needs."

Maharaullee launched The Furniture People Australia in 2016 with this guiding philosophy in mind.

"Today customers are shopping for the best quality product 24/7, and we've developed our hybrid online/warehouse model specifically to meet these needs while keeping our overheads low."

Shaz's grandparents founded The Furniture People in Mauritius in 1945, where they quickly established themselves as a key player in furniture retail, today capturing over 25 per cent of the market from their seven showrooms and employing more than 100 staff.

When Shaz had the opportunity to journey to another great island nation on the other side of the world 15 years ago, she brought with her a desire to replicate The Furniture People's success here in Australia.

But while both countries may both be islands, the similarities mostly end there, and retail has changed a lot since 1945.

Shaz quickly saw that Australia was going to need a different model to succeed in a much larger and more established consumer market.

"I run The Furniture People Australia with two guiding principles, the first being the 'Dodo' philosophy and second is the 'Client First' philosophy," she told Business News.

"It doesn't make sense to be marking up your product by a factor of four for the sake of a fancy showroom in a prime location if you're going to make the customer pay for it," says Maharaullee.

"By operating from our warehouses, with overheads around a quarter than those of our competitors, we can pass those savings on to our customers."

Shaz also manages to keep her costs down by drawing on the existing networks of a large, established parent company by for example leveraging off an established unique supplier network.

"We are therefore able to source a truly unique range of products from around the globe at the absolute best price," says Maharaullee.

"We have people visiting all the major furniture fairs around the globe throughout the year to understand the latest technology and trends."

"Secondly, the right expertise often comes at a cost that is unaffordable to small businesses, but being able to out-source many of our needs, we are able to find the best experts around the globe at the right price."

Shaz believes the other key factor to The Furniture People's success has been an unwavering focus on the customer at the heart of all business decisions: the 'Client First Philosophy'

"The customer's decision-making and product-discovery process has changed today to a largely 'online-first' model," says Maharaullee.

"It pays to understand your customer, what they want, how they shop, what time are they shopping, where are they looking, what information are they after, what are things they need to make their purchase easier and smoother, and what their objections are. We continuously study our customer behaviour and listen to them and adjust our business accordingly."

For that reason, Shaz has put a lot of energy into getting the online experience right: investing heavily in online platforms.

"For instance, every product has a video to give customers the sort of immersive experience that can go a long way to selling them on the product without the need to experience it directly," says Maharaullee. 

"Furthermore, we video call our interstate customers direct from our warehouse so they can experience the product closer while they remain in the comfort of their homes. And our 24/7 online chat ensures that we are there for the customer at the time they want to shop."

Our current website development involves understanding all the difficulties that a customer faces in choosing a sofa. We are designing processes that will give customers the ability to pick and choose their products based on criteria like height and length, and then compare and decide between them easier.

In spite of their successes, growing in the modern retail environment comes with significant challenges, and Shaz nominated logistics as her primary current obstacle.

Online retail has increased consumer expectations of free or low-cost shipping, while the cost of actually shipping particularly heavy goods like furniture around Australia is high and not something many of the main shipping companies are interested in.

"We are constantly and actively looking for partners who can help us find a way through this problem," Shaz told Business News.

In spite of all the challenges, Shaz is optimistic about The Furniture People's future in Australia.

"We're in the process of scaling our business, and looking now for a larger warehouse that will allow us to increase our range beyond the present focus on living room furniture," Shaz said.

"It will be a large commitment for us, but I believe if you're planning to bulk up, you don't keep buying small T-shirts, you step up a size when you're making the investment, otherwise you're not planning for the future."

This article was brought to you by The Furniture People

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