Distinctive Competence

“One new start-up airline offers in-flight music videos, purple and pink mood lighting and flight attendants clad in chic all-black outfits. Another rolls up staircases to planes instead of covered jet- bridges, charges for water and puts its flight attendants in T-shirts advertising destinations.

“Together, high-brow Virgin America Inc. and low-brow Skybus Airlines Inc. show how the low-cost airline industry is maturing in the U.S. Once, start-up airlines all tried to fly a similar path: just copy Southwest Airlines Co., with its short, frequent flights, open seating, simple pricing and friendly staff. But now being a Southwest clone isn't enough.

“Like the retail industry, discount airlines are getting more specialized, trying to find niches that appeal to a certain type of customer, not to all customers. If Southwest is the Wal-Mart of the skies, new competitors now try to be the dollar store or wholesale club undercutting Wal-Mart. Others want to outdo Wal-Mart by being higher quality, like Target or Kohl's. Bottom line: It's creating more choice for consumers.

“‘Low-cost or new business models can come in amazing different variations and forms,’ says airline consultant Patrick Murphy, a former senior Transportation Department official. ‘I think there will be lots of new variants we haven't seen yet, for domestic and international service.’

“Low-cost airlines now carry more than 30% of domestic traffic in the U.S., and Mr. Murphy notes their growth rate has accelerated since 2000…

“With so much discount-airline capacity in the skies, new entrants have to find a way to stand out -- either by offering fancy service at relatively cheap prices, or bare-bones service at ridiculously cheap prices.

“‘You either need to compete on price or compete on product. You can't do both,’ says B. Ben Baldanza, chief executive of Spirit Airlines.”

(“The Middle Seat -- From Luxury to Bare-Bones: Discount Airlines Specialize; Travelers' Choices Multiply As Carriers Carve Out Niches; Meal Orders on Touch-Screens.” Scott McCartney. Wall Street Journal: October 16, 2007. pg. D.1)

TO BECOME OUTSTANDING, you must stand out. To become distinguished, you must become distinctive. To become competent, you must focus. There are no two ways about it.

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