The Word of Gold: a stocking filler for law firm leaders on the theme of defining your market

Pardon my impertinence, but are your pins as perky as possible? Do you long to be lithe and lovely of lower limb? If so, I bring seasonal tidings of great joy, for the remedy is afoot. You must fly to Capri, where you will find not only azure seas, lush vegetation and Europe’s smuggest taxi drivers, but also the world’s only school for legs. I am not pulling one of yours. Promise.

The headmaster of this establishment for educated extremities is local legend (or perhaps leg end) Prof Francesco Canonaco. I was reassured to learn from his website that he “has only one objective, the development of integrated holistic business excellence”. As one does.

Over seven days, for the bargain price of ¤4,450, he will have your legs mudded, stoned and drained to within an inch of their lives, reducing water retention and annihilating the curse humankind dreads above all others – orange peel skin. After a hard day’s draining, lucky patrons skip hotfoot to their luxury accommodation, for example in the Paltrow Presidential Suite, just down the corridor I imagine from the DiCaprio Deluxe Double.

But titter ye not, as the sage and philosopher Frankie Howerd used to say, just across the water in Pompeii. The Capri Beauty Farm, for such is its revealing title, is a highly profitable enterprise, sharper than Keira Knightley’s cheekbones. And it is no great leap to suggest that its success with legs (and all regions north) has clear lessons for legal services.

Prof Canonaco has prospered by asking and answering the two key strategic questions: What is my market? How do I stand out? His market is pampered celebrities: people whose appearance and physical wellbeing are under constant public scrutiny through serious journals of record like Hello, Grazia and OK! Not looking their brilliant best at all times may have dire consequences. From this perspective, spending ¤4,450 on a week in leg school may be not so much obscene self-indulgence, as a rational investment in one’s brand.

Note that this market is clearly defined. The Capri Beauty Farm is not for all creatures, nor does it offer those who graze its muddy pastures a range of unrelated services. It will buff them from top to toe, but it does not seek to clothe them, book them a holiday, lease them a car, or sell them a home. This is no “full service” farm. It knows what its core business is, sticks to it and excels. This sounds simple and obvious, but many do not find it so, and not only law firms. I write in the month that shares in the outsourcing giant Serco have tanked by a third, after it announced provisions of £1.5 billion for unprofitable contracts ranging from dog warden services in Birmingham to maintaining patrol boats used by Australia to repel refugees.

Note too, that Prof Canonaco does not rely only on the efficacy of his treatments to attract custom. If he was peddling them in Cumbernauld instead of Capri, they would be just as effective, and cheaper, but with all due respect to Cumbernauld, it might be a smidgin harder to rope in the punters. He has recognised that he is selling not just physical remedies, but a total experience which creates deep feelings of wellbeing and has fantastic personal service at its heart. Finally, he understands the importance of differentiating his farm from others, hence his menu of “unique” offerings.

Every successful business, be it concerned with legal services, legs, or anything between (as it were), has these characteristics: clarity about which markets it serves, concentration on great service, not just technical prowess, and a drive to differentiate itself from the competition.

As we stagger on our last legs towards the allegedly festive period, may I wish you a very happy Christmas, and a new year of good health, peace and prosperity. Above all, may you encounter orange peel only in the pudding.

Stephen Gold was the founder and senior partner of Golds Solicitors, which grew from a sole practice to UK leader in its sectors. He is now a consultant, non-exec and adviser to firms nationwide.

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