3P and pricing power

3P: Pricing power 

The best business has pricing power. Investor Charlie Munger noted that a business with pricing power is “the ultimate no-brainer.” 

How does that fit within the Placement, Promotion, and Product series

Product. Pricing power exists relative to production costs. A knowledge worker uses ‘information’ to create their service. If the price of the information increases and the worker cannot raise their prices they do not have pricing power. 

A coffee roaster might have a different perspective. If coffee is coffee, then one Brazilian farmer raising prices doesn’t affect the roaster. They shop around. Or, they can stick with the roaster and pass the cost increase onto the consumer. Which gets to…

Promotion. Pricing power exists relative to perceived value. If customers buy ‘milk’, a business has low pricing power. But if customers buy ‘milk, from grass-fed low hormone happy cows’, that is different. 

Customers don’t buy one thing. There’s always an intangible. Brands demonstrate this. A Rolex doesn’t just tell time. McDonald’s doesn’t just provide sustenance. 

Placement. Pricing power exists relative to distribution and retail options. Think about location. Landlords have pricing power over restaurant tenants. 

The internet (with shipping) removes the landlord – and their power. Website hosting, online shopping carts, and 3PL have minimal pricing power over their customers. So, online businesses can be quickly profitable. But not all internet services are created equal. Facebook has pricing power for Facebook communities, not so for email newsletters or websites. 

Another aspect is Wholesale Transfer Pricing. This is part-of-the-reason restaurants are terrible businesses

Solve for the Equilibrium: Marathon Lottery

When supply equals demand—in economic models, not Alchemy—the price is calculated, equilibrium is achieved, and angels sing. What economists do we aren’t sure. Rarely does this work because value is subjective. Our relativistic nature is seen when it’s less grating for a CEO to make 100 times their employees than for a peer to make double.

However solving for the equilibrium is a helpful. This Phantom Cowen would lead us to ask about how we might design a system people can’t buy, favor, or cheat their way into? How do we fix the game and avoid equilibirum? It’s been done with Jeopardy and horse racing.

Enter the NYC marathon.

The NYC marathon is super popular. The race welcomes 53,000 people, the most in the world, but demand is triple the supply. If this were a business, the organizers could raise prices. Pricing power! But profits aren’t the goal.

“At New York Road Runners, it is our goal to give everyone on the planet both a reason to run and the means and opportunity to keep running and never stop.”

NYRR Mission

Rather than raise prices, the NYRR had to solve for the equilibrium another way. In Planet Money episode #962, host Kenny Malone explains how the running club allocates their scarce resources. How they solved for the equilibrium.

What’s great about this example—beyond the process—is the creative ways NYRR solved their problem. They’ve added value without addressing the race.