Fireside Chat with Noah Lapine, President of Lapine
This month, members of the Effectus Strategy Practice had the pleasure of sitting down with Noah Lapine, President of Lapine, to discuss his experience with all of the outcomes of the past year (the good, the bad and the ugly), as well as get his perspective on the continued challenges that global teams are facing today and shed some light on some new opportunities for leaders in the Ecosystem of Product for next year.
For our new readers who may not be familiar with the terminology “Ecosystem of Product,” we at Effectus view it as the value chains or value webs that make up the environment where brands, suppliers, retailers and consumers connect. Although the concept might sound simple, in reality, there are so many moving parts that impact the product journey and execution of services, that no two webs are exactly the same.
Introduction: “Noah, could you please start by giving us a brief introduction about who you are, what your company does, and the role that you play there?”
Sure! I will start with defining Lapine – we are a Consumer Engagement Agency, and for us that means helping brands navigate the intersection between physical and digital engagement with consumers. Today, more often than not, that is rooted in access via some type of digital platform or experience.
We are a 3rd-generation, family-owned business founded in 1962. As for myself, upon graduating college, I spent 2 years serving with Teach for America, and then joined my father, and grandfather at the time, here at Lapine where I have spent the last 24 years. I am currently the company President. In fact, according to NPD, 87 million people (or 1 in 4 Americans) are using Health and Fitness apps, up 27% this year –and given the high cost of goods that these brands offer (e.g. peloton cycling bikes), consumers are holding themselves accountable for getting the most out of it.
Question: “In the past year, when did you first take a look at everything that was happening in the world and start to assess the impact (if any) that it would have on the people and brands that you serve at Lapine?”
Given our direct relationships with businesses in Southeast Asia, we began learning about and reacting to the impact to our supply chain back in November and December of 2019. While the magnitude wasn’t fully known, we immediately began communicating with our clients and activating supply chain contingency plans.
We always try to keep a diversified set of manufacturing resources, and what was interesting is as we shifted operations away from our partners in Southeast Asia during the time period from November 2019 to February 2020, we soon noticed a cycle as things started shutting down in North America and began reopening in Southeast Asia.
The same is true with our workforce with associates in the US and India. The timing of the impact in each country was different and remains a constant element of our planning as we adapt around the world.
Question: “To focus a little more on the operations side of the business: around the late-February/early-March timeframe, there was a very drastic awareness in the U.S. centered around Covid-19. Given how quickly things went from ‘it’s fine’ to the country shutting down:
1. What are some of the things you saw companies do that were wise?:
2.What were some of the missteps you noticed where companies were resistant to react?”
In those early days, with so much uncertainty, there was a mix of luck, planning, and execution that determined how different companied fared. There were opportunities for smart pivots for many, but in some industries, like hospitality, the options were limited. For some companies, the shift to manufacturing PPE was an opportunity to fill gaps and supplement other losses they were suffering. The ones who moved the fastest and leveraged their strength of relationships and know-how in the right channels not only survived, but they have thrived.
Within the first 90 days, we could start to see sectors fall into one of three categories: those who would be absolutely devastated, those who could get a fighting chance, and those who might benefit greatly. Regardless of which bucket they fell into in the early stages of the pandemic, as it has worn on, the separators of performance we see have been fast decision making, strength of organizational leadership, and a focus on employee connectedness and wellness.
I think the companies who made the biggest mistake were the ones who only saw impending doom. They assumed they were among the companies and sectors that would not have a chance of surviving, when in reality, they may have had a real opportunity to gain market share and create sustainable pivots during this timeframe.
Question: “Because of Lapine’s experience and track record in the Ecosystem of Product, your clients look to your company for insights and guidance. What are the questions they generally ask for your help with?”
I think a lot of it is focused around consumer insights – as we are talking about the uncertainty of what comes next. Understanding the shopping preferences and habits of consumers has always been one of the biggest challenges for businesses, even pre-pandemic. Nowadays, a lot of brands are shifting their focus to the Millennial and Gen-Z demographics for market growth, as they are the life source of brand survival in the future. On top of that, communicating with that generation requires pivots to their traditional engagement strategies.
The biggest questions we are being asked now are centered around how to get a pulse on what this will mean for consumer behavior from this day forward? What tools do we have to meet that need? How do we distinguish between a crisis-induced temporal shift in consumer behavior and a lasting shift that you should pivot your business around?
They ask for advice about what to do to adapt to the market and planning – but getting those signals from the present about the future is never an easy exercise and the difficulty of that exercise increases as uncertainty increases. You have social uncertainty, economic uncertainty, health uncertainty, political uncertainty. There are also confusing signals, like how there can be record unemployment, yet the stock market continues to defy gravity. There is confusion about the traditional retail marketplace and uncertainty around staying engaged and top-of-mind with consumers during this time. Keeping the conversation going is tricky, but today it is mission critical.
Question: “We have talked a lot about learnings that should be thought through and actions that should be taken. Vijay Govindarajan talks about 3 boxes. Box 1 being things that drive your economic engine today. Box 3 being creating the new future. Box 2 being things you are doing today that you should stop. Thinking about the Ecosystem of Product, is there anything happening that falls into box 2 that people and businesses are stubbornly holding onto and the pandemic has confirmed the need to remove?”
I think one thing that a crisis is great for is instant clarity. There is no time to dilly-dally or have philosophical arguments about what matters most. You cannot get into a philosophical argument while your ship is sinking, you just have to act, and I think that is what box 2 is about. However, giving up those things can be easier said than done. Distractions and non-productive activities may be easier to let go once you have identified the right data and signals that urge decisions and are hard to ignore.
That means sharpening the current business model, improving the things you do today and delivering a higher level of service and efficiency. It also means the re-allocation of time and resources into the business of tomorrow to replace the chunk that’s been lost. I know first-hand from being in a 58-year-old company that there are strong memories and connections to the elements of the business that has gotten us this far. It doesn’t mean that history is the map for the future. If companies aren’t careful, nostalgia can quickly become the enemy of progress.