Why it is good to turn your business model upside down

Why it is good to turn your business model upside down

On Thursday 25 April the retail sector will be ready for the second Retaildetail Congress in Schelle. One of five pre-congresses this year is ‘Sustainability and the power of upside down’, composed and moderated by Studio Spark, an advice agency from Antwerp that helps companies with the development of sustainable innovations.

The title of the program really stands out. What is so powerful about ‘upside down’?

Stefaan Vandist, former advertising strategist, co-founder and managing partner of Studio Spark: “Sustainability has too long been seen as an area of less, less and even less: less CO2, less energy, less water usage... As a result, sustainability is also associated with less possibilities, less freedom for business and less consumption. As a retailer the doom scenario of ‘less sales’ is quite close, which puts pressure on much needed entrepreneurial optimism.


Furthermore 'reduction' is not the same as ‘change’: if we drive slower towards a concrete wall, at one point we will still crash into that wall. There is much more potential in a ‘systemic innovation approach’, a change of course. ‘Upside down’ refers to the innovation of business models: an approach where you search for newer and smarter scenarios to service your customers.”


Change is often even less attractive for entrepreneurs…

S.V.: “That is true, but change is coming anyhow. Look at e-commerce and the changed roll of physical shops, the influence of social media and collaborative consumption, the reality of higher prices of energy, fuel and so on.


Change always has winners and losers, so it is important to anticipate strategically to these changes. Through innovating business models you look at the changing context in a different way: instead of watching your company processes, you look at your core business and your business model.


The building blocks of your business model (how to live up to your core promise, how to sell your products and what is your earnings model) speak for themselves , but in the light of change it pays to flip those building blocks upside down.


This approach has its roots in 'progress optimism': the global challenges concerning sustainability will not be tackled by holding our breath, only by using the power of innovative thinking. That way you will discover new scenarios for your company that will provide an answer to important shifts in the market. The difficult part is to develop new scenarios that lead to distinctive ability, more added value for your customers and a substantial edge in sustainability.”


How is the program of ‘Upside down’ set up exactly?

S.V.: “From 14h to 16h we bring you a number testimonies of entrepreneurs who boldly chose to put a sustainable and innovative alternative on the market. As we strongly believe in the power of good examples, ten speakers will briefly tell their story. Studio Spark will provide a frame for these testimonies within the world of business model innovation.”


Can you give us an example?

S.V.: “One of our speakers is Erik Van den Heuvel of Daimler-Chrysler, who will talk about CAR2GO: a scheme of car sharing with the ambition to become the most important transport model in big cities. Erik will share his experiences with the audience after launching CAR2GO in thirteen large cities in Europe and the United States.


The reason we absolutely wanted to bring you the story of CAR2GO, is because it is a positive initiative originating from the automotive industry. They detach driving a car from owning a car and give a sustainable alternative with a considerable profit for the environment to boot.”


What else will be flipped upside down?

S.V.: “We have put together a program that has a mix of large and small companies that are active in the key sectors food, mobility and energy, and of course we made sure that all of them are relevant for the retail sector.


Dr Nynke van den Akker of Maastricht University will talk about how they take a different look towards ‘meat production’. Around that time they will announce the world’s first synthetic hamburger: meat that does not involves slaughtering a cow, but that is grown in a lab. The advantages for food safety, the environment and the repurposing of agricultural land are many.


Another example is David Van Malcot, business developer at Eneco, who will be talking about another business innovation: the evolution from energy provider to 'energy director' in his company.”


What do you want to achieve with this program?

S.V.: “At Studio Spark we have been working with sustainable business model innovation for two years now. Most of our customers are situated in manufacturing, such as Janssen Pharmaceutica, Tupperware, Dorrel (from the brand Maxicosi) and so on.


Now we want to inspire the retail sector with contagious success stories from the sector, while not being blind for current consumer trends. Through ten very different examples en testimonies we want to show that sustainability is a powerful innovation lever for the retail sector.”



‘Sustainability and the power of upside down’ is a seminar held before the Retaildetail Congress on Thursday 25 April in San Marco Village in Schelle (near Antwerp). The complete program of the seminar (PDF) can be found here. Participation in the seminar also includes free entry to the RetailDetail Congress; for registration please visit www.retaildetailcongres.be.