I met a guy named Dan Neukomm recently who has a real zest for business-life. He’s got an MBA degree from Paris (where as an American he was a minority) and he has been a key member of a couple of successful start-ups.
He and I brainstormed mutual areas of interests and strategic planning was one of them. He kindly agreed to share his thoughts on one key strategic model: The 5 Forces from Michael Porter.
Here’s the Q&A — I hope you enjoy it:
Please explain the origin of “Michael Porter’s Five Competitive Forces That Shape Strategy”
Strategic assessment models are utilized by senior management and other stakeholders to assess external factors to direct and efficiently distribute resources driving growth.
While many such models exist, few have become as widely valued and practiced as the Five Forces model, developed by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter.
This model helps to analyze external variables and structure, primarily at the industry level, which influence the attractiveness of entering and successfully competing in a specific marketplace/industry.
Each of the five forces can be attributed a weighted numerical strength on a scale of 1 to 10 and then added together to determine industry attractiveness.
Please describe each of the Five Competitive Forces?
Porter’s Competitive Forces are barriers to entry, bargaining power of suppliers, bargaining power of buyers, threat of substitutes, and competitive rivalry among existing players.
1. Barriers to Entry
Accurately assessing barriers to entry in a given industry are vital to understanding the ability of a venture to succeed. High barriers to entry almost always directly relate to higher costs, both for the venture under consideration as well as potential competition in the future.
Understanding those barriers can help to effectively identify and leverage market entry routes without removing existing barriers for future entrants to navigate. Examples of barriers include economies of scale, IP protection and government regulatory restrictions.
2. Bargaining Power of Suppliers
The power of suppliers is almost entirely supply side driven, resulting in reduced costs as the competition among suppliers rises, and increased costs as suppliers monopolize the supply chain.
Attractive, high growth markets tend to present low supplier power at early stages of the industry life cycle, steadily increasing as growing volume and high margins attract additional suppliers.
Examples of supplier power include the concentration of suppliers, threat of forward vertical integration, and costs associated with switching suppliers.
3. Bargaining Power of Buyers
Buyer power can have considerable implications and influence on price and is a function basic demand side economics. Buyers can be defined as end consumers in B2C sales or another business in B2B sales. The power of buyers in the marketplace can have two distinct impacts.
First, an increasing number of buyers in the market, resulting from increased demand, results in higher prices. Second, as the volume and demand of buyers increases so does the incentive for buyer collaboration to leverage economies of scale.
This can be further offset by attracting additional suppliers who in turn offer more choice and drive prices back down. Identifying and measuring variables influencing buyer power are necessary for accurately assessing viability and price control.
Such variables include product differentiation, brand identity/value, buyer’s incentives and the threat of reverse vertical integration.
4. Threat of Substitutes
The threat of substitutes relates to those products or services that can directly displace or offset the demand and/or consumption of the penetrating product or service being considered.
Perhaps the most considerable implication is the ability for the buyer to directly substitute the product or service for a something similar but equally effective at satisfying demand. Another consideration is the cost incurred by the buyer to switch to the substitute.
5. Existing Rivalry
Those firms currently competing within the target industry whose existing competitive dynamic is dictated by numerous factors define this. These include the concentration within the industry, the differentiation among products/services, the barriers to exit and the growth rate of the industry.
If the market is large and rapidly growing, it is more likely to contain a large number of competitors with a diverse offering of products and services and diluted liquidity values for exit due to the high number of options.
When’s the best time to use the Five Forces framework?
Where ultimately will the Five Forces analysis lead a business to (what results?)?
The Five Forces Model should be utilized for determining market viability as well as identifying and ultimately avoiding potentially risky and costly pursuits.
Most importantly, Five Forces provides a relatively subjective framework with which to input values designed to determine strategic direction and resource allocation accordingly.
Remember, Five Forces is only one strategic assessment model designed to help understand the variables that shape the competitive dynamic of a given industry. As such, other models should be utilized in conjunction so as to paint as clear and concise picture of both internal and external factors for consideration.
Can you give us a Five Forces example?
In 2001, I founded and grew Mountain Oxygen, a company which provided oxygen products, systems and services to visitors of high altitude ski resorts in Utah and Colorado who suffered mild symptoms of altitude discomfort such as fatigue and insomnia.
Our core/primary service was renting oxygen generators via hotels and resorts to guests for the duration of their stay so they could rest, rejuvenate and enjoy their limited and expensive vacation time.
Porters Five Forces directly articulates the assessment I went through to determine the competitive dynamic and ultimate success of this venture and as such is outlined in further detail below.
Since the recreational oxygen market at high altitude ski resorts in Colorado and Utah did not exist prior to Mountain Oxygen, there were relatively few barriers to entry, making the venture appealing and lucrative (i.e. no IP needs, limited gov’t regulation and no competition).
I was able to secure (at a cost) exclusive agreements with ski resorts and hotels to be the sole supplier of such services, giving me considerable control over my buyers allowing my firm to dictate price more aggressively.
Additionally the act of establishing and maintaining non-compete agreements meant that almost impenetrable barriers of entry existed for future competition.
Since there were numerous suppliers resulting in relatively limited power, my costs remained low. Furthermore, the availability of substitutes was also extremely low, entirely due to the specific nature of the need my firm was meeting.
For example, once vacationing in a resort town like Aspen and altitude malaise sets in, the only other option is to retreat to lower elevations as no drug is available that is immediately effective in alleviating adverse symptoms. As such, my firm was the only provider of the only solution!
My business maintained low buyer power as a result of minimal substitute products and lack of competition allowing me to maintain price control and increase margins.
OK, lets integrate the weighted values of the five forces to this model:
Total weight: 7 out of 50 and as such very, very attractive/lucrative.
Food for thought: The lack of non-compete clauses at host resorts would have meant additional competition and subsequently increased buyer power resulting in lower prices and tighter margins.
This would have increased the weighted value of both power of buyers and competitive rivalry towards 7 or 8 out of ten shifting the over-all industry attractiveness score accordingly.
Mountain Oxygen was split up and sold in 2006 to strategic buyers.
Is there a Five Forces diagram for us to look at?
Can you recommend any Michael Porter books?
Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors by Michael Porter.
What are your other favorite strategic planning frameworks besides Porter’s Five Forces model?
SWOT also helps to identify and match internal strengths and weaknesses to external opportunities and threats. Understanding Michael Porter’s Value Chain (another Michael Porter model) is also useful in measuring and guiding supply chain dynamics.
If someone wanted to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to contact you?
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or here’s my LinkedIn profile.
Note: Check out Michael Porter Wikipeida for more about this leading strategic planner.