Buying time Featured

9:34am EDT July 22, 2002

Time clearly is more precious than money these days -- and to more than just the well-to-do.

The truth of that statement really struck me a few weeks ago when I saw something odd happening in my neighborhood. It was an early fall day, and the typical chorus of lawnmowers hummed in the thick afternoon air.

I'd passed several freshly cut lawns when suddenly it struck me. Those lawnmowers weren't being pushed by homeowners or neighborhood kids looking to make a few extra bucks. The vast majority of them -- at least on this particular day -- were being propelled by employees of professional lawncare services.

I was stunned. I don't live in New Albany or Bexley or Upper Arlington, where you might expect to see hired landscapers hard at work on every block. I live in a modest development of starter homes owned primarily by singles and young families. Disposable income is not abundant in this demographic and most of my neighbors seem perfectly capable of maintaining their own lawns.

Yet they're trading money for time by paying someone to do their yard work so their time can be spent in other pursuits, such as family, friends or career.

I suppose the reason this is happening is less important than the fact that it is happening. Some enterprising business owners have noticed this trend, too, and are capitalizing on it. If you're not among them, you'd better get there -- and quickly. The opportunities are countless.

Who wouldn't pay a little extra to have their car picked up directly from the office to get basic maintenance, such as an oil change, done while they're at work? Or, for that matter, who wouldn't cough up an extra 25 or 50 cents to get a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread from a drive-thru? Call me lazy if you'd like, but when I have two sleeping children in the back seat of my car, the last thing I want to do is drag them into the grocery store just to buy a couple items on my way home.

This quest to save time -- or at least to reprioritize how we spend our most productive hours -- is also fueling the e-commerce trend. The Internet enables customers to do business when they have time rather than being confined by traditional work hours.

If I need to transfer funds at the bank, buy postage stamps or renew my driver's license, why should I have to rearrange my entire day? I'd much rather hop on a secure Web site late at night when I have time to think of such matters and take care of it that way.

I don't have to leave home, I don't have to interrupt my work day, I don't have to wait in line. What's not to like about that?

If you really want to serve your customers -- and perhaps even attract more of them -- start offering what they truly value: more time.Nancy Byron (nbyron@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Columbus.