A friend was telling me about a new cupcake store.  Instead of a large selection of flavored cakes, they offer a modest sampling of the staple offerings. Their niche is that you get to choose from among the many flavors of frosting, and then move down the line to determine whether to adorn your cupcake with sprinkles, etc.

It caused me to think about the evolution of the assembly line.  When Henry Ford first deployed it, the goal of the assembly line was to standardize things.  Today, many businesses utilize a modified assembly line to allow customers to personalize things.

Think about all the ways we move “through the line”, giving individual choices at each station.  The cupcake example mentioned above.  Chipotle and other design-your-own Mexican restaurants.  Subway and their sandwich artists.  Build-a-Bear Workshops with personalized stuffed animals.  The virtual assembly lines of designing a computer for on-line purchase or even choosing elements of your next car.

More and more transactions are able to be customized through you giving step-by-step preferences to someone assembling the item for you.  And the more people design their own burrito, the more they will want input into how they design what you offer.  Henry Ford’s adage of cars being available in “any color you want, as long as that color is black” is as outdated as the Model T.  

How can you incorporate this trend into your organization?  Can you provide an element of choice at several “stops” along the way?  The assembly line is moving; you need to be in motion too.

— beth triplett

Cupcakes @ Molly’s Cupcakes in Iowa City

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