“You have to go to the fish market!”
That’s what I was told every time I told someone I was going to Seattle, WA for the first time. They throw fish. It’s something fun to see for the tourists. Got it.
But after watching the “fishmongers” in action for just a few minutes, I understood. Pike Place Fish Market is hardly in the fish business. They’re very much in the entertainment business. Cold, dead, smelly, fish just happen to be their vessel for their art.
Right when you get within range of the putrid smell of fish carcass, the fishmongers are smiling and talking to you. “Hey man, how’s it going?” Even people that just waited an ungodly amount of time for an ordinary coffee from the first Starbucks down the street have their spirits lifted by the fishermen. These guys crack jokes on each other and even sarcastically poke fun at people for hanging around without buying anything. “Somebody buy something so I can throw more fish!”
You see, when somebody orders some fish, one of the employees wearing bright orange waders grabs a fresh salmon off of the ice and chucks it across the counter! Of course one toss isn’t enough, so they’ll sling it back and forth a few times to get the crowd riled up before fileting it and neatly packaging it for the lucky customer. They sound like pirates as they grunt phrases at each other before they throw the fresh catch to the fish catcher. Some of the guys even get fancy and catch the fish one handed or mess with the crowd by pretending like he’s going to let it hit them. It’s no secret that these guys look like they’re enjoying their job…because they are!
But this booming little business wasn’t always as successful as it is now. After decades of selling fish the old fashioned way, Pike’s Place Fish Market nearly went bankrupt. In a team meeting it was decided that they didn’t just want to come back from the depths, but they wanted to become world famous. And that’s what they set out to do.
Utilizing their location in the Pike Place Market with thousands of daily passerby, the fish market stopped trying to sell fish and started selling an experience. Cracking sailor jokes and hucking fish across the room brought attention by the hoards and sales skyrocketed. Today, the fish market proudly bears the well deserved phrase, “World Famous,” on their logo.
By realizing that competing with other fishermen was a tall order, the market broke all barriers of how fish is sold. They didn’t try to be the fastest or the best; they just packaged their product differently. They certainly didn’t try to compete on price alone. In fact, Tim Ferris argues that, “If you compete on price alone, you’ve already lost.” By setting themselves apart in the industry, the struggling fish market turned everything around.
This concept, with a little creative thinking, can be applied to any business of any size. Sure, you have to have a solid product or service. But you can only compete with pricing for so long before you devalue yourself or get pushed out of the market. Stop competing on price within your market and redefine it. Package your business differently and be world famous.
Think differently, break the norm, and and redefine your market, even if it’s not a fish market. Throw fish and get rich!