Criticise Your Business To Identify Improvements (SWOT Analysis)

To improve your business you’ll have to make constructive criticisms.

Some business owners instinctively identify strengths & weaknesses, as well as potential areas for growth. Others, however, find it difficult to analyse their business while they’re so heavily absorbed in running it. Sometimes you need to take a step back to gain perspective.

I’m going to show you how to identify potential improvements to your business using a simple SWOT analysis. I’ll use it on my own table tennis business as an example — revealing its major Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

 

1. Strengths

What does the Palio by Expert Table Tennis business do well? What are its strengths?

  1. Low prices for high-quality equipment. Our direct competitors offer similar quality for up to double the price.
  2. Solid reputation within the table tennis community. It’s well-known by coaches and players (in the UK and USA, mainly). We have many repeat customers.
  3. 5* product ratings at several outlets. We’re able to generate sales off the back of consistent positive ratings. Many customers buy directly from us through Amazon.
  4. Well optimised for table tennis Google searches. Our very own Palio ETT website, as well as supporting websites — such as The Arbing Blog and Expert Table Tennis — gives credibility and exposure to the brand.
  5. Ranks well on Amazon. We’re established sellers with a lot of positive feedback, and a solid customer service track records. Our products are recommended to potential customers by Amazon, and show up within the top few search results.

 

2. Weaknesses

What can Palio by Expert Table Tennis do better at? What’s are its weaknesses?

  1. Not yet well-established in other European countries. Whilst the Palio-ETT bats are popular in the UK, the brand has not really dented the market in other major European countries — such as Germany, Italy, and Spain — where table tennis equipment sells well.
  2. Faulty stock. There’s been some issues with the rubbers loosening too early on in the bats’ lifespan. Evidently, in some batches, the glue wasn’t coated properly during the manufacturing process. It creates a lot of returns.
  3. Increased competition from Palio re-sellers. Palio by Expert Table Tennis has become a victim of its own success. We’ve built up the brand name “Palio”, which created a market for re-sellers of generic Palio products. Visually, there’s no obvious distinguishing features to make ours stand out from the crowd — despite the fact they are higher quality bats comprised of premium parts.

 

3. Opportunities

Are there any opportunities for the growth or expansion of Palio by Expert Table Tennis?

  1. Table tennis glue. Club players use specialist glue to maintain their bats. So I frequently receive enquiries such as “what’s the best glue to maintain my Palio-ETT bat?”. I always refer customers to other sellers that supply the appropriate adhesive. Ideally, however, we would provide an exclusive Expert Table Tennis glue to accompany our bats.
  2. Other, new Amazon outlets. Australia have opened up Amazon. We have a transferable model to set up there, too.
  3. The German market. In particular, Germany is a suitable market for us to capture more customers. If our products receive positive public feedback from within the table tennis community, it could open up the door to hundreds — or thousands — of German-speaking customers.
  4. Novice players. The rise in popularity of beer pong, table tennis bars and public outdoor tables means more people have access to the sport than ever before. This encourages some recreational players to start playing more seriously. Stocking our entry-level bats at the “go-to” equipment outlets is a strategy well worth exploring.

 

4. Threats

What threatens the success of Palio by Expert Table Tennis?

  1. New market entrants. There’s more competition in the “premium bat” space than there was when we started out, back in 2014. Our sales could decline as a result.
  2. More distinctive, competing brands. The branding of competing products is more distinct than our Palio-ETT range. Our brand is effectively a fusion between two separate entities, and lacks its own identity. Therefore other brands are likely to be more recognisable and memorable to consumers.
  3. Increased control from Amazon. Some elements of our product listings were altered to their specifications without our input. The changes have had a negative impact on the appearance of our products. Their images don’t look anywhere near as professional as ours!
  4. Faulty stock. If we experience another faulty batch, then this would (once again) be detrimental to both short and long-term profitability. We’ll experience more returns in the short- term, which will have a lasting negative impact due to poor reviews — and thereby loss of repeat sales, and reputation.

 

So What’s The Plan? How Can We Improve?

Here’s a summary of what plans we have for the business. We’ve already made a start.


Table Tennis Bats

The plan is to focus our efforts on developing a new, re-branded third edition of the existing bats, with the following benefits:

  • Improved design. The latest version will include a thicker edge tape (which goes around the edge of the bat) to provide a bit of extra protection to the rubbers. This should help to reduce friction with the table, and extend the life of the bats.
  • Continuity. We’ll continue supplying the (current) second edition bats, but look to draw attention to the benefits of the new bats in our marketing campaigns. This way we’re able to slowly convert loyal fans of the edition two bats, as opposed to discontinuing it and (potentially) losing repeat sales from them.
  • Brand distinctiveness. We’ve registered a trademark for “Expert Table Tennis”, and redesigned the logo. The new branding will be prominently placed on the third edition products — around the edge tape and on a newly designed bat case. We opted for some unique colours to stand out from the competition. Our new bats with have a fresh, unique look that’s distinct from any other Palio product.

Overseas Sales

Starting with Germany, we’ve focused on targeting other European countries as outlet for both second and third edition Palio-ETT bats.

I wrote a 10-page guide to Table Tennis in English, and hired a freelancer to translate it into a German website — TT Schlaeger. The domain name translates to “TT Bat”. The purpose of the site is to emphasise the importance of purchasing the right table tennis equipment, at the right price; thus highlighting the advantages of our product range.

A similar approach will be used for other languages/countries.


Table Tennis Glue

We decided against producing our own brand of glue on two grounds:

  1. USP. There’s a lot of competing products out there with no obvious USP. What would our glue really bring to the table? Being different is vitally important. See my post: The Secret To Thinking Up A Great Business Idea.
  2. Margins. After researching the cost of production, we determined the margins were too small to warrant the effort. It’s just not the biggest opportunity available to us right now.

We did however consider that we have the brand and loyal customer base to sell more glue than several competitors. But this brings me onto an important point:


Just because an opportunity is there, doesn’t mean you have to take it. If you say “yes” to everything, you might not find enough time to focus on what’ll drive the business forward the most.


That applied here. There’s more potential upside from us focusing on improving the bats, branding, and marketing campaigns.

 

Can A Quick SWOT Analysis Help Your Business?

I must admit, I don’t usually refer to “business school” methods on this blog. But I think my worked SWOT analysis example was a useful exercise. Doing it yourself might help you to focus on strengths, minimise threats, and take the greatest possible advantage of opportunities available to you.

When carrying out your SWOT analysis, be realistic, rigorous and critical of your business. Don’t hide from your shortcomings.

I’ll be back in a years time to reveal how the plan got on…