Tell your fish story, Mr. Limpet

Salmon

During a recent trip to Oregon, our journey took us to a dockside seafood restaurant in Newport.

As you can see from my photo, this restaurant offers fresh local seafood in addition to meals made with the local catch.

Take a close look at the sign used to describe this salmon.

We know that the fish was caught locally by a real person who had to reel it in, on fishing vessel (“F/V”) that employs local people. The sign tells us it wasn’t farmed, pitched into a freezer with 30,000 other fish, much less frozen and shipped in by truck or rail from 2,000 miles away.

The sign’s details drive home that this slab of salmon is fresher and thus (probably) better than salmon in the chain grocery down the street that has a sign saying “fresh salmon”. You know details about this particular fish’s path to the refrigerated case that you rarely know in an ordinary grocery store that doesn’t really specialize in seafood.

I’ll bet that if I had asked the lady behind the counter about Two Sisters, she could have told me about them.

Fresh and local is a particularly critical for fish and produce, but the effort to describe whatever you do in rich, honest detail is critical – particularly if you’re selling against commoditized products and services that tend to be compared solely by price. The goal isn’t to be flowery and cover up what you do with fancy wallpaper – it’s to help someone who cares understand why your stuff is what they really want.

Your why is just one more thing that makes you stand out because it resonates with what’s deeply important to discerning buyers.

What about what I do?

Emphasizing the upside of using local food should be an obvious win, but this sort of thing is no different for those who sell furniture, vacuum cleaners or whatever it is that you sell.

If I talk to your staff or visit your website, am I going to get why you sell what you sell, vs just selling any old thing? Do I get a feel for what’s important to YOU when you choose (or manufacture) a product, or deliver a service? Do I know what drove you to offer these services and why it might be more important to you than to me that you “fix” whatever issue my life, business or vehicle has?

I spent about 20 minutes listening to a vacuum guy compare different units for me the other day. I’m bad about listening to salespeople whether I plan to buy that day or not, because I want to hear and assess their pitch.

I got good info about the results, lifespan and repair expectations I could expect when choosing between different types / brands / quality levels of vacuums (all important stuff). I didn’t get much about why it was important to him that I make the right choice. Oddly enough, I got exactly that from someone about 30-40 years his junior – his son.

Enthuasiasts

You all know an enthusiast, and you probably are one about something. Enthusiasts will explain why you might value certain things or experiences as much as they do, either to bring you into the fold or just to explain why they care.

Coffee people will explain why a burr is superior to a grinder. People who are into furniture will ask if it is built using eight way hand tied springs. Skiers and snowboarders will wax on about tuning and wax.

Those things matter to enthusiasts who don’t want their beans scorched, crave holding an edge in the steep and deep, and want a repairable couch that will sit as nicely in 25 years as it does today. That’s why the link above explains the furniture manufacturer’s construction methods as well as WHY they use them.

The story behind what you do and how you do it is often as important as the products and services you offer.

It’s particularly critical if you’re in a high quality, high value market. If you can’t explain why you care and why your customer should, the next comparison that people will tend to make is price.

Unless you’re the box store, you’re likely to lose that comparison.

The value of trust

In this TED talk, Amanda Palmer explains “Business is Personal” in the context of her music and art businesses.

It’s obvious that her connection with fans and followers is personal and immensely important to her.

From a business perspective, not having that connection would mean she’d have to act like most other musicians. IE: Sign with a label, obey the label’s rules, accept their limitations and perhaps tolerate their tweaks to her music.

Making this connection means getting a new fan – and connected fans are where the feedback, revenue and a surfable couch come from.

This personal connection is everything for her – and it can be for you.

Depending on which acts you’ve seen lately, you may or may not have experienced after-concert meet-and-greet sessions like the ones Palmer described. I saw this for the first time at a Heart concert last summer and was pretty impressed. After their set, the opening act (which I’d never heard of) came out into the large grassy seating area. People lined up to connect with them, talk, take photos and get autographs.

Think about it…isn’t this the kind of interaction you’ve like to have after seeing a speaker, musical act or similar performance? Yet so few do, probably due to a fear all too similar to the fear-of-asking that Palmer talked about.

Lessons

Two of Amanda’s comments stand out for those seeking connections with the people in their market:

  • “Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance, but the internet… [is] about a few people loving you up close and about those people being enough.”
  • “I trust you this much. Should I? Show me.”

The first one speaks to the personal nature of your business that we talk about regularly: the effort you make to establish trust and connect with KK’s 1000 true fans. The second one is even more personal. You’re asking for some of the most frank feedback you can get. Are you strong enough to ask for it in that way?

Important for entrepreneurs: Amanda talks a little about the trouble with her label. She defines what success means to her, rather than letting her label define it. A huge “discovery” for many entrepreneurs.

Hat tip to Gayle Valeriote for the passing Amanda’s vid to me.

Marketing inside the Tasting Room


Puit d’Amour from St. Honoré Boulangerie

This past week, I had the pleasure of visiting the still somewhat chilly seaside of Oregon thanks to a handful of out of town appointments.

In between the productive parts of the week, we managed to visit a couple of western Oregon wineries.

While a good time was had by all, I found it interesting how different each winery’s tasting room experience was designed to sell.

The Fancy One

This winery, created originally as a farm by a Montanan from Butte, was a bit upscale, sizable and very clean. It was a long-established place, noting that “long established” means “since 1980 or so”.

They’re that new because ash from Mount St. Helens’ eruption killed most crops in the area, changing the soil for decades to come.

The room said “old money” (dark, massive woods). While there were a few sweatshirts available, the retail portion of the room was all about the wine. Lots of it. Information from two inconsistently dressed but very sharp wine servers was on target, friendly and as detailed as you wanted. They clearly loved talking wine.

The Spartan One

This tasting room had a simple, fuss-free entry off of their gravel parking lot behind the wine production area. There’s a bar, a few barstools and an area clearly used for packing shipments. All in the tasting room. The lone wine steward was reasonably well-educated about the wine but didn’t really provoke the conversation.

The Homey One

This one was very new, expecting to bottle their own wine from their own grapes for the very first time this year. Previously, they’ve made wine using grapes from nearby vineyards.

The tasting room was homey, if not a bit cluttered with every wine accessory and kitsch you could think of. A yellow lab was chilled out on the floor. A guitarist was just outside the tasting room’s open door, playing in shaded patio seating area. Unfortunately the wine at this place wasn’t very good. The staff was right at home, downright friendly and maybe even too at home if that’s possible.

The Experienced One

This winery was almost 20 years old. Their marketing materials (online) referenced comments by a well-known reviewer. The tasting room was small, uncluttered and while it had wine accessories, they include only those focused on a better wine experience (vs. coasters and talking corkscrews).

Staff was knowledgeable and friendly in an average sort of way. Nothing bad, but nothing outstanding.

What struck me

While we didn’t visit all of the wineries (there are quite a few), the ones we did visit took very different approaches to their goal – presumably that of selling wine.

In every tasting room, there was little to take home other than wine that would bring you back to them to buy more. Few items had a website address on them – at least those that you could take with you.

No one asked us for contact information, not even those who sold us a bottle of wine.

In some cases, there were Oregon wine country brochures and/or county-specific winery marketing association brochures, rather than winery-specific info.

Every winery but the “Fancy One” was out of “wine menus”. These are descriptive sheets about each of their wines that left you room to take notes and perhaps note which one you prefer over another and why. In two different places, the only one they had was leftover from a Memorial Day special event – in both situations, it was the last one they had.

Why is this important?

How will they choose?

Out of the 40+ wineries in that Oregon county, during our visit they often have but ONE chance to get a visitor to fall in love with their place, their wine, their mystique, and the grapes that only they know how to nurture.

These small facilities (small in the wine world) sell at most one wine in retail locations. Some sell only at the winery. That’s right – they have no retail presence.

Ordinarily, you’d want these visitors to ask their local store for your wine, but they often can’t. Their small production (number of cases produced annually) prevents widespread distribution. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you’ve got to get them loving your stuff quickly in that situation.

Think about trying to penetrate (much less stand out in) mainstream retail wine shelf space the next time you walk into a grocery that carries wine (or a wine center store). It’s like looking at the salad dressing bottle shelves at WalMart. Your eyes glaze over at all the choices.

When the mind is presented with a zillion choices, one of two things tends to happen. People take the default choice (Gallo?, Wishbone?) or they make no choice at all. Next time you’re in your local grocery, watch people look at the wine shelves. They’ll look and look and in many cases, they’ll give up and take a Gallo (or whatever they saw on TV recently, or whatever is on sale).

Why? Because no one stands out in that environment. That’s why you see more and more outlandish labels and wine names. They know their bottles are on a shelf with 200 others so they’ll do A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G to catch your eye.

What do you want me to do next?

Knowing that the competition (where you might not be stocked) often caters to “How much?”, why wouldn’t you try to hook folks while they’re in your tasting room? It’s the best possible situation for the winery. They can’t grab a Gallo. They can shop by price, but they still get to taste before they buy. They have experts to help them choose what fits their taste buds and their budget.

There’s something else critical about that the tasting room visitor: She walks in the front door with a sign over her head that says “I like wine and I’m willing to drive all the way here to try YOURS.”  Think about how often you get the opportunity to make a first impression on someone who has tipped their hand that strongly.

What does the winery want them to do next? Beyond taking home a case (or even a single bottle), they want these visitors to go home and order more of their wines online (if they can). They want them to ask their local store to stock or custom order them. They want their visitors want them to go to the DailyGrape and watch Gary‘s reviews of their wines and then order from him.

If that’s what you want them to do, you have to make it easy.

And now, it’s your turn.

Now…think about the “browsers” who enter your business. Think about the first time buyers and, where appropriate, the tourists who enter your business.

How do you “stick” in their minds? How do you help them return, even if all they can do is return to your website?

Wineries have to deal with customers in states (like Montana) who cannot (easily) have wine shipped to them due to arcane laws put in place (and kept there) by fear-driven trade associations.

In one way or another, we all have situations like that, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take every step possible to make it easy to buy. How are you making it “easy to buy” even for your customers who have to exert effort to do so?

Let’s simplify that a bit: How are you making your stuff easy to buy?

What do you want them (your visitors) to do next?

How does your entrepreneurial garden grow?

Stairway to Heaven
Creative Commons License photo credit: RonAlmog

Today’s guest post from Jim Rohn arrives courtesy of Nightingale-Conant.

Once again, a page of essential insight from always-on Mr. Rohn.

What have you done today to improve yourself?

Is investment in yourself part of your daily todo list?

 

Moving to where the jobs are

Formation Flying
Creative Commons License photo credit: Koshyk

In today’s guest post from Forbes, an interactive map showing where people are moving to and from, county by county across the US.

Thanks to @BeckyMcCray for sharing it with me.

After The Honeymoon

Recently, I stopped into a niche retail business for the very first time.

They’ve done a nice job with it. Haven’t been open long, so some of the obvious things I’d suggest to make the place a real customer magnet weren’t in place yet.

I have a feeling they might get there, but time will tell.

What worries me most about my visit is that they did nothing to see that I’d return…

  • I wasn’t asked how I’d be using their product – and it’s a natural question for them, not a nosy none-of-your-business one.
  • I wasn’t offered any additional information showing all the other items they make.
  • I wasn’t asked to check out their Facebook page, which will someday hopefully be full of ways to use their product.
  • There was nothing letting me know that another business in town uses their product, so that if I really loved it I could go there too.
  • There was nothing in the store or on the products that included their website address on it – including the receipt or the label on the product.
  • I wasn’t asked if I’d like to be notified when they make special stuff. Doesn’t matter whether that notification happens by phone, text message, Facebook, email list or even a printed newsletter, just notify me.
  • I wasn’t asked to let them know how I liked their stuff by going to their site or Facebook page (which also doesn’t encourage this) or heaven forbid, filling out a self-addressed postcard or picking up the phone.
  • I wasn’t given a coupon or “send-a-friend” promotion so that I could tell my friends about them if I liked their stuff (that’s also what the Facebook Like button is for).

Doing ALL of this might be a bit pushy. Doing NONE of this is a big mistake.

Look, I know they are a new place and some of this takes time to get going.

You may even think I’m being hard on them, but I’m nowhere near as hard on them as the market will be.

No Second Chances

Re-elected politicians get second chances. Folks who make mistakes, like Michael Vick and Martha Stewart, get second chances.

Businesses are rarely granted that luxury.

You have to take advantage of the “honeymoon of newly open”.

During your honeymoon, people will…

  • Visit your store even if they don’t need what you sell.
  • Tell their friends that they visited, even when they might not normally do so.
  • Click “Like” in Facebook just to give you a little push, when they might not ever use that button.
  • Cut you some slack for mistakes like untrained staff and other stuff that happens when you’re still trying to get all the kinks out.

When you operate a niche business, not every one is going to decide to be your customer. Those who do more or less raise their hands and say “me, me, me!”

When they do that, your job is to make sure to remind them to come back regularly, not just when they remember to return. Leave it to them to return at random and you might not see them for months.

Make the honeymoon last forever

Customers are hard to replace, even in a good economy. It’s particularly difficult to go out and find 100 new customers tomorrow because revenues are tight.

It’s a lot easier (and smarter) to earn just one new customer a week, keep it up year after year, and do whatever it takes keep most of them.

So let’s go over this again.

  • You love whatever you do so much that you quit your job to do it. That’s great.
  • You spent most of what’s left of your liquid retirement money to fund the business.
  • It cost more than you thought it would to get going, so you borrowed from your in-laws, your family and friends.

After doing all that, please don’t tell me you’re going to ignore the very people who said “me,me,me” by letting them walk out the door as if they walked into a box store.

Keep that up and you’ll be back at your old job in no time – if you can get it back.

You didn’t like that job anyway, so please do these things for yourself and your business.

Literacy of a different sort

One of the things I’m always pushing clients to do is expand their education.

Naturally, that includes the education of their staff, if they have one.

This education expands well beyond your line of business, because there are valuable lessons from every industry.

Likewise, there are processes in almost every industry that you can learn from, modify to fit your needs and thus use in a completely unrelated business.

What I seldom mention is that you can’t let yourself think you’re so smart that you let your guard down.

While it was more than a decade ago, we’ve seen the same sort of situation lately.

While the Fool has a point, neither they nor I would suggest that literacy on any topic is a bad idea. Financial literacy is their reason to exist.

The bad stuff occurs when you stop doing what got you to the point of being literacy, or even highly literate.

Dancing with “who brung ya”

Another thing to watch out for as you educate yourself is that deciding (or just “forgetting”) to stop doing the stuff to communicate, support and enthrall customers.

No matter how smart you think you are, or really become, you still have to take care of customers. No matter how far ahead of the second place player you are, you still have to follow up and do the other things that got you to number one.

If you aren’t yet number one, you’ve gotta keep doing the things that keep you climbing, much less the things that the current number one is too lazy or sleepy to do.

Lazy? Sleepy? “Too smart?”

We’ve talked about lazy and sleepy plenty of times. I won’t belabor them.

When you get too smart… correction, when you THINK you’ve become too smart, bad things are almost certain to start happening. Even worse, if you really think you’re that smart, you might ignore a failure as an aberration rather than you losing your business mojo.

You make assumptions rather than testing the market, your software, your marketing, or that formula for Flubber.

You think that you’re “Too big to fail”.

Getting better

Focus on getting smarter, but also on getting better.

It’s not worth the time to get smarter if you don’t use what you learn. Think back over your year.

How many things have you done to make your business better? To make yourself better?

Not just reading what will make you better, but DOING it…

Look, even Tom Peters and Dan Kennedy have their bad days. Just the other day, Dan commented in his newsletter (hint…) that he had a bad day because he “only completed 11 of the 12 tasks he’d scheduled for the day.”

He called his day “Unsatisfactory.”

I hold myself to a pretty high standard, and like you, Tom and Dan, I fail myself as well.

The difference between most people and Dan is that 11 of 12 is a great day for most people. For that matter, 6 of 12 is probably a great day for most.

Looking at 11 of 12 as unsatisfactory from a “this was my plan, but this is what happened” point of view is what keeps someone as amazingly smart as Dan from getting sleepy about his business.

Overconfidence

The gist of the Motley Fool article is this, and I quote:

“In 1998, the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management, staffed thick with Ph.D.s and two Nobel laureates, exploded amid an almost incomprehensible amount of leverage. Behind the failure was raging overconfidence. “The young geniuses from academe felt they could do no wrong,” wrote Roger Lowenstein in the book When Genius Failed.”

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett said this about the firm profiled in the Motley Fool article:

“They probably have as high an average IQ as any sixteen people working together in one business in the country … just an incredible amount of intellect in that group. Now you combine that with the fact that those sixteen had extensive experience in the field they were operating in … in aggregate, the sixteen probably had 350 or 400 years of experience doing exactly what they were doing. And then you throw in the third factor: that most of them had virtually all of their very substantial net worths in the business … And essentially they went broke. That to me is absolutely fascinating.”

The EASY thing to do would be to dismiss anyone who is smart, or trying to get smarter, simply because this group of people royally screwed up. Of course, if you’re the type to think that way, you probably aren’t reading this.

I suggest you re-read that Buffett commet.

A final quote from the Fool article:

“LTCM is an example of financial education being overridden by a swamp of overconfidence, hubris, and a lack of common sense. Wall Street in general is another. The folks who ran Citigroup (NYSE: C) and AIG (NYSE: AIG) had plenty of financial education. But in general, they lacked the humility to realize the danger of what they were doing. One has to assume their top-notch pedigrees and financial educations contributed to that lack of humility.”

Like I said when we got started here…continue to educate yourself.

That *always* includes learning from someone else’s mistakes.

Predictably Creating Value

Driftwood
Creative Commons License photo credit: nagillum

As I read the story about the success of logger James Stupack’s new business, it struck a chord with me.

I was quite pleased to hear of his creativity and stick-to-it attitude. It’s easy to give up. He didn’t.

He added value.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to folks locally about doing the sort of things Stupack did to add value to a commodity product.

Sometimes it comes in the form of a question, like “So..if I’m in Atlanta and I want fancy columns for my timber-frame home – why would I buy a log from you way up there in Montana when there are perfectly good trees here in Georgia, South Carolina and so on? Either way when I get it here, I’ll have to pay someone to add character to it.”

Stupack answers that question by specializing in making his commodity into something far more valuable than “just a log”. It’s especially cool that these just happen to be the same logs that might have been left to rot (or burned as firewood/slash) in the past.

Not always a commodity

Sometimes what you sell isn’t a commodity, such as tech (software development, web design, graphic design, etc) or services like oil changes, small engine repair, or even musical instrument cleaning and refurb.

So how do you create value for something like that, especially keeping in mind that you’ll probably want to sell your business someday.

One threat to your eventual sales price is that you’ve created a job rather than a business. If that fits your lifestyle, that’s fine – but most business owners have the idea that they will someday be able to sell their business.

In order to make that happen – and not have the buyer’s bank laugh at the sales price – you have to demonstrate some value that even a banker would love.

In the case of a retail store that sells snowmobiles, jewelry or water heaters, historical sales trends will give the prospective buyer (and their banker) some numbers to make sense of.

That customer list thing again

But for that service business, many owners find themselves looking for a buyer and having nothing valuable to sell except their customer list, if that.

Quite a few don’t have a customer list. We’ve talked about that many a time. To repeat: you should have a list of customers and contact information so you can reach them in an emergency. Or a non emergency…

Even with a huge list of customers, you aren’t going to get much interest from the banker unless you can prove recurring sales.

If you have data (and you should) that shows average frequency of purchase for your customers, average sales for that purchase interval, then they’ll be a little happier.

What you want to aim for is a way to show them dependable revenue even if you (but not your staff, if any) disappear for a month.

How so?

In the case of a graphic artist, you might sell your icons and artwork online, as handmade prints on Etsy.com, or in a litany of other places. You might still do custom work for clients, but you have a cadre of products that sell even if you don’t have ANY custom work going on.

The same goes for other tech services businesses. The software consultant who works on an hourly or project basis but has no software on the market is worth almost nothing when they can’t work. The same goes for the amazing web developer and similarly skilled folks. Both of them have done little more than create a job for themselves but are not building equity in their business. If contract work dries up, so does their wallet.

The oil change place is usually smart enough to solicit fleet work, such as changing the oil and providing other regular maintenance to city, county or corporate fleet vehicles. Even if they don’t see a retail customer this week, that fleet work will help them meet their nut for the month.  Those fleet customers are valuable because their business is PREDICTABLE.

The same strategy is just as effective for the musical instrument sales and repair shop.

Buyers and their bankers love predictable, especially when we’re talking about income.

These days, a lot of buyers are replacing a job they’ve lost. Having a business that can replace their income in a predictable manner is going to make your business more attractive to buyers – and in the meantime, it’ll do a lot better job of taking care of you.

What Jack said.

Recently, I’ve been having an ongoing discussion with a business owner who is finding cracks in their business.

A lot of what we’ve been talking about is foundational.

Not because the business owner isn’t smart, but because it makes no sense to talk about the complexities of a bottom of the ninth inning squeeze bunt if you’re struggling to get to first base.

A few of those foundational thoughts:

  • Every business owner is good at something. Likewise, every business owner is bad at something. Be sure to delegate the latter, focusing on your strengths.
  • from former General Electric CEO Jack Welch – “Pick a general direction and then implement like hell.”
  • Take a look at the fat part of the bell curve of your market. How is your business serving that market right now? Honestly.
  • From 2002-2007, a rapidly expanding economy allowed businesses to rest on their laurels or “Just show up”. In 2008, we paid dearly for our sloth (and a few other things). For many, 2009 was like a long night spent hugging the porcelain. 2010-2019 are in no mood for “just showing up”. So don’t just show up. What Jack said (above).
  • My dad told me forever (and repeatedly), “Be a good listener”, a lesson that took a long time for me to fully understand. Tom Peters talks about how doctors listen for an average of 18 seconds before interrupting the patient. Don’t be a doctor, at least in that respect, they can even get sued by The Medical Negligence Experts because of these actions. Listen.
  • Call 2 customers a day and ask them what you could do to make your business more valuable to them.
  • A last minute comment from today’s GapingVoid cartoon, where Hugh nails it with this: “If you want to be more successful, you have to take a leadership position on something that matters.”

Finally, none of this matters without execution. Get off your duff and make something happen. Like Jack said.

Help your customers become better buyers

Better, more knowledgeable buyers tend to spend more, but they often need help doing so.

Who hasn’t looked at a restaurant wine list, and then thought it’d be nice to have the Wine Spectator articles (or a similar resource) on those 2 or 3 bottles you’re trying to choose between?

Until recently, restaurants would have a hard time doing this, if nothing else for logistical reasons.

Bone’s Steakhouse in Atlanta went one better, creating iPad-based winelists.…and increased sales by 25%.

They invested in 30 iPads and custom software in order to sell more (and better) wine.

Spectators

Even smartphone toting patrons with Wine Spectator’s VintageChart+ app on their iPhone don’t have the details at their fingertips that would help a novice (or even moderately experienced) wine lover make a great choice.

While the VintageChart+ app can tell you whether or not the vintage on the list is a good choice, it currently shows nothing about the winery, the wine, reviews or any other details.

I expect WineSpectator will be leveraging that app or companion apps for a long while.

Sitting with GaryVee

Your method doesn’t have to be quite as fancy or technology-oriented as Bone’s, but it could be.

It might be your favorite wine expert and a bucket. That’s what wine retailer Gary Vaynerchuk does on his show, Wine Library TV.

In his case, the education he provides is intended to produce a better wine buyer, and of course prompt a retail purchase. You get his fun, gregarious personality as a bonus. After watching one show, who wouldn’t want to sit down with Gary and taste some wine?

That’s almost what WineLibraryTV allows you to do.

Where Bone’s might be heading

Imagine if the iPad app linked to a clip @garyvee‘s show that talked about that wine?  And the app went from there, providing links to Parker’s coverage of the wine, links to the winery’s website and info on the vintner and vintage, Wine Spectator reviews and so on.

I haven’t seen the Bone’s iPad app, but I suspect it gives the diner info of this nature so they can make a better choice when selecting a wine.

Now, with that in mind, how can you help your customers become better buyers?

PS: Think about how you’d feel at another restaurant when presented with a typical paper wine list (even if bound elegantly, etc), after having experienced what Bone’s offers. This isn’t just about selling more and better wine.