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A customer uses an Apple iPad on the first day of Apple iPad sales at an Apple store in San Francisco, April 3, 2010 THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Paul Sakuma (Paul Sakuma/AP)
A customer uses an Apple iPad on the first day of Apple iPad sales at an Apple store in San Francisco, April 3, 2010 THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Paul Sakuma (Paul Sakuma/AP)

Value: John Warrillow

Draw more customers with fewer products Add to ...

The other day I walked into a Future Shop to buy a scanner.

It took me 10 minutes to finally track down someone to help me pick a model. I asked the guy for his advice and he looked terrified – as if he yearned to go back to the safer confines of peddling TVs.

Finally, he started to read the specs on the little placards in front of each model.

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“Well, this is one offers 96-bit…”

Does he think I can’t read, I wondered.

The problem with a company like Future Shop, in my opinion, is that it sells too many different things. Nobody can be expected to memorize thousands of spec sheets from hundred of products and dozens of vendors.

Compare my experience at Future Shop with another shopping expedition to an Apple store.

The other day I bought an iPad. The screen looked so much like my iPhone that I knew instantly how to configure my settings. I wanted to get a data plan, so I asked an Apple employee to help. Within five minutes, he had called Rogers and got me five bars of service – a procedure he had obviously performed many times.

Apple is really good at selling a few core products – iMac, MacBook, iPhone, iPod, and iPad – that offer the same basic user interface. As a result, the company can train its Apple store employees on one basic operating system and a few core products.

As business owners, we survive the early years by listening to our customers and responding to their requests. The problem is, when all you’re doing is reacting, you end up offering way too many things – customizing too much – because everyone wants a slight twist on your offering.

If you offer an ever-expanding list of things, your staff will never get really good at making or selling anything. The broader your product or service line, the more your business will either be reliant on you or offer a crappy customer experience – or both.

Focus on selling less stuff to more people and your business will be able to scale up beyond you, and give your staff a chance to master your offering. That is the first step in building a company that can thrive without you.

Special to The Globe and Mail

John Warrillow is a writer, speaker and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. He is the author of Built To Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You, which will be released in April.

Follow on Twitter: @JohnWarrillow

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