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A colleague just sent this

March 15, 2010

around and I thought it deserved a wider audience. Thanks to Gopalan Srinivasan for permission to post!

Jewelry store versus grocery store models of education

If one is buying boxed cereal then one just walks down the aisle and picks up the cereal. The fact that the aisle is little bigger, the reach is at the optimal height etc. will be an attraction only if the price difference is marginal. The so-called experience will vanish into thin air as soon when one realizes that it is not worth paying 10-15% more for the same brand of cereal just because the aisle space is wider!

On the other hand, a jewelry store operates on a different business model. The buyers want to have the shopping experience. The customers come with a broad idea of what they want to buy but the actual purchase evolves as they see, feel, and compare. Even those who are thrilled by the first piece they select would like to see ten other pieces before buying.

The key success factor here is availability and variety. This will involve a lot of inventory.

If we want to compete using the jewelry store model then what we need is variety of programs and courses. We should have adequate faculty to be ready to offer a variety of courses. Some may have high enrolments, some only low enrolments, but they must cater to variety because people do not go to a shop that does not offer variety even if they are reasonably clear as to what they want.

On the other hand if we operate on the grocery model of education then we will have a limited, standardized, efficiently packed, shelved and delivered product.

So where do we want to be?

If we want to offer jewels of education then we need more professors, courses, unique offerings and attractive compensation for people to create such unique products. The focus should be on good product development that will attract customers. The recruitment and retention of faculty should be the focus and starting point.

On the other hand if we follow the grocery model then the focus could be recruiting and retaining  students. However, if we think we are in the grocery business we should be aware that having the community college next door is equivalent to asking people to pass through Walmart to another store that sells the same cereal for a higher price.

Good Luck.

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