17-Low-End Competitor Exposes Fundamental Strategic Errors of the Leaders

Low-end competitors don’t think like industry Standard Leaders. As a result, they often blow big holes in the leader’s plans.

For twenty-five years, from the early 70s until the late 90s, the color television manufacturing market was one of the worst places on Earth to compete. Those companies who did survive, and there weren’t many, became hard-bitten competitors with no illusions about the inevitability of success of even the largest companies. The two largest U.S. competitors, RCA and Zenith, are now nearly-forgotten names. GE was another titan victim of the inexorable pressure of intense price-based competition.

But then something magic happened to the industry, the advent of flat panel television. The prices for these televisions were ten to twenty times that of the average consumer television before the introduction of flat panels. The industry survivors got well in a hurry. They went from poorly performing companies to stock market stars. They could sell more than they could produce. Profits were high and the future seemed bright.

The best of the industry Standard Leaders in the flat panel business included Philips Electronics, Sony and Samsung. These companies built their business model in the world of a component parts shortage by creating their own proprietary technologies and by manufacturing many of their key components in their own factories.

These leaders held on to the proprietary business model too long. The demand for these flat panel televisions and the components that go into them was so high that independent manufacturers entered the market. Soon these independents had created economies of scale that were actually better than those enjoyed by the current industry leaders.

Now, there emerges another threat to the leaders’ business model. This time it is a market threat in the name of Vizio. This company entered the market at the low end, producing basic products for prices often one-third or more below those of the industry leaders. In a very short period of time, Vizio went from barely existing to control of 12.4% of the LCD TVs shipped in the domestic market. Sony had 12.5% and Samsung had 14.2% at the same time.

Where did Vizio find its market? At the low end of the distribution channel. The company started with Costco, who gave it its real foot-hold in the market. On the basis of that success, Vizio expanded its distribution into other low-end retailers, such as Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club and BJ Wholesale Club.

The result has devastated the new-found wealth of the large TV manufacturers. Flat panel TV average prices fell 24% during 2007 and the large manufacturers are seeing trouble in their profit margins. But Vizio continues to grow.

What did the industry leaders do wrong? There are at least five lessons here. First, they let economies of scale get away from them by watching independent manufacturing companies gain better economies of scale. Second, the leaders then failed to use those lower cost component companies to source some or all of their needs. Third, they priced their products for the short term, rather than the long term. They provided an umbrella on pricing that allowed low-end competitors, to under-price them by more than 25%. They have sustained the umbrella over these fast-expanding competitors, who continue to use those profits to build even stronger businesses to compete with the leaders. Fourth was a Price Point problem. The industry leaders paid little attention to the smaller versions of the LCD markets. Because the leaders short-changed the low-price points of the market, they also encouraged companies like Vizio. Fifth, the leaders served the low-end distribution channels poorly. Vizio has gotten its traction from channels of distribution who emphasized the low end of the market. Vizio and their ilk could never have succeeded to this extent were it not for the fact that the industry leaders served those channels of the market poorly.

Now the industry leaders are paying the price with falling margins. The battle to beat back Vizio will be much more difficult now that the company has become so large.

We have seen a leading company make these same five missteps before. Compaq trod this pathway in the very early 90s. They allowed the PC “clone” manufacturers to use the Vizio strategy to take share. Eventually, Compaq dropped its prices to those of the “clones” and revamped its management of costs. But too late. Dell was one of the “clones.”

For more information about the types of low-end competitors and how to combat them, see “Turmoil Below: Confronting Low-End Competitors” on StrategyStreet.com/Tools/Perspectives.

Posted 5/1/08

Update:

The intervening 14 years have seen the emergence of Samsung as the clear market leader. Surprisingly, two other aggressive price competitors have also emerged as industry leaders. Sony is fading away.  This market evolution is proving that an industry leader needs economies of scale and must use them aggressively to remain price competitive, even in a fast-growing market.

In 2019, Samsung was the market leader in the manufacture of TVs in terms of its share of global shipments. By 2020, Samsung has led the worldwide market share for TVs for 16 years. The South Korean company held approximately 18 percent of worldwide shipments in 2019, about 4% percent more than the share of its closest competitor, TCL Electronics at 14%.

TCL has built a reputation for making affordable TVs loaded with streaming smarts. The Chinese brand ranked no. 2 in North America in terms of market share in 2020. … And, despite the budget prices, TCL doesn’t scrimp on features

Vizio ranks third in market share at 13%.  Both Samsung and Vizio offer great quality products. Samsung is almost unbeatable in terms of screen quality, audio, and usability. Vizio delivers good products with excellent screens at very competitive prices.

By 2019, Sony’s market share had dropped to a dismal 4.2%.

When prices fall in a marketplace, the astute company adds more complexity to its pricing process. This involves some pricing segmentation and greater use of the four major components of a price. See more HERE.  You can use our many pricing concepts and examples to brainstorm improvements for your own company.

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THE SOURCES FOR STRATEGYSTREET.COM: For over 30 years we observed the evolution of more than 100 industries, many hostile.  We put their facts into frameworks applicable to all industries and found patterns.  Strategystreet.com describes the inductive results of these thousands of observations and their patterns.