September 27, 2013 7:05 pm

Opportunity knocks

‘Surely Epson or Canon or Samsung can develop a projector that never fails?’

There’s a very good chance that roughly 83 per cent of the people who read this little corner of the newspaper will soon be huddled in office boardrooms or flying off to remote retreats to refine their 2014 forecasts and strategies.

As we speed into Q4, fashion retailers will be asking if there’s any mileage left in the trend for dad-style workwear. Cosmetics brands will be combing research to determine whether the same men who like tweedy gilets and mukluks made in northern Ontario will do away with their facial hair over the Christmas holidays, and if this might cause a spike in premium shaving cream sales. And the electronics giants will try to determine if tablets will shift to being stocking-filler style purchases for Christmas morning.

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Tyler Brûlé

In less creative settings, chief financial officers will move zeroes from one column to the next and hope they can engineer a set of figures that show double-digit growth. In more ghoulish surroundings, consultants will hack away at the carcases of recent acquisitions and attempt to squeeze out the last gasp of brand equity before looking around China for licensing deals. Of course, there will be many more gathered around for strategic conversations (semi-circle style in comfy chairs, even comfier trousers and questionable footwear), wondering where they’re going to find growth, how they’ll demonstrate “innovation”, and prove to investors that they have a savvy plan to keep them ahead of the game and in the headlines for the right reasons.

While travelling through Australia and southeast Asia last week I saw many such groups trotting into hotel meeting rooms in their “away day” get-ups, clutching stacks of binders, projector adaptors (more on this business opportunity in a moment), mood-boards and branded tote bags from conference visits.

As I sipped my coffee in various lobbies, I considered a few ideas I might propose to some of these groups keen on figuring where to carve out handsome returns. Here’s where my opportunity-driven daydream took me:

1. A homegrown, innovative hotel brand for Australia. For a country that’s very good at food and drink, boasts its own unique approach to hospitality and is generally adept at putting on a sunny show, Australia’s urban hotel stock is in a sorry state. With too many properties stuck in the early 1990s, a general lack of outdoor space (good pools, well-landscaped terraces, shady places for a drink and late-night dining) and little sense of place (am I in Melbourne or San Diego?), a sharp set of investors would do well to employ some of the country’s better architectural talent and develop a concept that could fill some gaps in the state capitals while also gearing up to take the whole operation pan-Asian. Good coffee, comfy wool mattress pads, smart design that doesn’t depend on air conditioning and a cast of perky (not too chatty), staff should be easy for the Aussies to deliver. With the G20 about to land on Brisbane’s front door, perhaps a launch could be fast-tracked for this time next year.

2. The never fail projector. Surely Epson or Canon or Samsung can develop a projector that never, ever fails. If these companies can’t do it, then there’s room for someone to develop an easy to set up, good-looking and highly portable projector that saves everyone from losing litres of sweat while they fight for signals between devices, cables and wireless networks. For now, no projector maker seems to own that all-important patch of dependability. I’d be very happy if such a product became the stocking filler of choice, rather than a tablet.

3. An unscented welcome. This might be an opportunity for the likes of Daikin or Mitsubishi, a window maker such as Velux, or even a fragrance group such as Firmenich. How can we return to a more evocative period when restaurants smelt of food and not fake spritzes of ylang-ylang? When hotel rooms didn’t knock you over with sickly-sweet scents of orange or bergamot wafting from those dreadful glass holders festooned with little wooden sticks? Part of the problem is that windows that open are deemed too dangerous by nanny-like states and too expensive by developers who’d rather just throw up sheets of glass that don’t retract and allow air to flow. A smart entrepreneur might embark on a retrofitting business, or there might be more chance for an air-conditioning company to come up with a way of neutralising odours. Perhaps one of the Geneva-based fragrance and flavour giants could launch a mission to find a plant or mineral that could naturally balance the scents in cars, aircraft and hotels, rather than allowing “brand experience” to choose fragrances that will never manage to please (and mostly offend) customers.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine

tyler.brule@ft.com

More columns at www.ft.com/brule

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