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Arriving late?

Today’s guest post is for those business owners arriving late at the “social media party”.

For those making an entrance, business-wise, here’s a nice social media startup guide from the NYTimes’ “You’re The Boss” blog.

It talks about restaurants specifically, but the advice is sound regardless of what your business does.

As usual, salt to taste.

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Business model Competition Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Habits Ideas Improvement Management Marketing marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Positioning Sales service Small Business strategic planning Strategy

If I owned a fitness center

In the process of elliptical-ing across some wide open (virtual) spaces recently, I thought to myself, “What would I change if I owned this place?”

I might warm up the pool a couple of degrees, but that really isn’t the kind of change I meant.

The things that came to mind were in the spirit of “Be indispensable“.

So what would make that place the ONLY place to be a member?

When I have these conversations with a client, the first thing we often talk about are their clients.

We start simple. Who are they? What do they need?

A Day in the Life

To answer the “Who are they?” question, let’s look around at a day in the life of a fitness center and see how we can segment the members (customers) into groups based on gender, age, level of fitness, “Why they are there”, and so on.

I don’t mean a group like “People who need/want to work out.” Obviously, most people who join qualify for either need to or want to.

I’m thinking about a list like this, and I’m sure it’s far from complete:

  • Professional or semi-pro athletes, such as people who regularly marathon, triathlon and/or Ironman. You might include players for the local semi-pro teams. Around here, the Glacier Twins and/or Glacier Knights would be included.
  • Bodybuilders.
  • Post-partum moms who want to get their “pre-pregnancy body” back.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Men recovering from heart surgery.
  • Anyone newly diagnosed with diabetes.
  • People who are new to working out.
  • “Formerly disciplined workout people” who haven’t worked out in five, ten or more years.
  • People recovering from an injury, possibly under the direction of a physical therapist.

Within these groups, you’ll find breakdowns for gender and/or age group. Don’t underestimate those.

Everyone should be considering the sizable wave of Baby Boomers heading into their 60s-70s-80s might impact their business and what opportunities they suggest. Likewise, research has repeatedly shown that women control or influence 80% or more of household spending.

Is your business catering to these groups? If not, is your business even passingly friendly to these groups?

I Have Needs

The second question on my list was “What do they need?”

Until you create the list above, your needs list might be simpler than it should be because you might just be thinking “What do my members need?”.

Once we’ve gone through the customer (and prospect) identification and segmentation process, we’ll find more needs.

That’s why we go through this probably tedious, sometimes eye-rolling process that almost always helps you find new things that your customers need. The result should be obvious.

What do they need?

Now look back at that list of customer types from a “wants and needs” perspective. Consider the needs of body builders, post-partum moms, heart patients, and semi-pro athletes, for example. In some ways, they’re similar. In others, they have wildly different expectations.

They all need machines/weights, steam room, hot tub, pool, showers, restrooms and so on.

After that, the needs among the groups vary quite a bit:

  • Some would benefit most from instruction and/or working in groups.
  • Some prefer private facilities.
  • Some prefer gender-specific workout times/rooms.
  • Some prefer age-specific.
  • Some work evening or night shift.
  • Some would prefer to find a workout partner for motivation, spotting weights and/or accountability.
  • Some would like to be gently nagged if they don’t show up 3 times a week.

One example of many obvious ones: You wouldn’t necessarily have 20-somethings in a Yoga class with 60-somethings. Not because they can’t enjoy each other’s company, but because the instruction and goals for one group probably don’t parallel the other. That might drive you to have separate Yoga classes for singles, post-partums, “retirees”, physical therapy patients and so on. In each case, the instructor could be matched with attendees.

“What about me?”

If you don’t own a fitness center, you might be thinking this discussion isn’t much help.

Use what you can after adjusting it for your business. Can you take any idea here and make it work for you?

Finally, take a hard look at the thought process itself (“Who are my customers, what are their unique needs”) and see what you can come up with for your business. Even if you’ve done this five, ten or fifteen years back, I suggest doing it again. You might find yourself in new markets, focusing on a particular type of customer that you’d previously ignored, etc.

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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.

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Blogging Buy Local Community Competition Customer relationships Facebook Internet marketing Marketing marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Restaurants Retail service Small Business Social Media Strategy Word of mouth marketing

Facebook you…because?

As I drive around the area, I see lots of businesses who are trying to reap the potential rewards of local marketing on Facebook.

One sign: they have “Facebook us” or “Find us on Facebook” or similar on their roadside signs.

The idea is for you to click the “Like” button or become a fan of their business on Facebook, which will appear in your Facebook feed.

Because it appears in your Facebook feed, friends will see it as well and presumably some of them will check it out.

And that’s where it ends for many businesses. One time.

The smart ones talk with their fans/clients regularly via Facebook, even if they have a blog or other web presence.

People made the effort to friend, like or become a fan on Facebook.

What are you doing on Facebook to keep them paying attention?

Attention span

What are you doing to stand out amid the ever-present flood of game-related posts, surveys and other stuff on Facebook (note: you can hide that stuff without hiding the friend by clicking on the X at the right side of items of the type you don’t want to see – something you may want to share with your friends).

Does your restaurant have a Facebook fan special? A night where fans of the restaurant all get together IN PERSON (how’s that for frightening?)

Do you communicate daily or weekly with your fans to let them know what you’re up to? I don’t mean unnecessarily, but in cases where it makes sense.

Morning Glory Coffee and Tea in West Yellowstone, Montana does a great job of this and should give you some ideas, even if you don’t run a restaurant.

Ideas

What are people unaware of about your business? What knowledge would you like new (or existing) customers to know / have immediate access to?

What would they ask you in casual conversation about your business? What reason would people have to continue to visit your Facebook fan page?

Do some thinking about it – and act on it.

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Box stores Buy Local Competition Customer service Marketing marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Positioning Retail Sales Small Business Strategy The Slight Edge

Remember The Simple Things

Jeffrey Gitomer* sums up a lot of understanding of people, sales, psychology and more when he says “People don’t like to be sold but they love to buy.

Do you make it easy for them to buy?

Really? Let’s talk about it.

Beyond impulse

Are the things you sell displayed in a manner that will make it easy for your customers to select exactly what’s best for them?

Or…are they displayed in a manner that maximizes how many things you can get on the shelf?

The question is prompted by the recent untimely and tragic death of our old TV**. I recently had the (ahem) “luxury” of shopping for a replacement HDTV after our old one finally gave up the ghost.

I had a budget in mind, so after a little browsing on the net to see what was new, what features and standards were must have (and which ones were not), my youngest son and I caroused around town to the usual suspects (minus one that was closed) to find a new box.

The brands and models were pretty much the same from store to store, for the most part.

But something was different

What differed – radically so – was the presentation.

Two examples of the several we visited:

Store A

  • Had units scattered about in no particular order. It’s possible they were grouped very roughly by price.
  • Their display was moderately helpful for a standing customer (no seats) because half of the sets were more or less just below eye level. The rest were barely off the floor, which didn’t show off those models well.
  • Their pricey 3D sets were presented well, in a manufacturer-provided display with goggles.
  • Their sets displayed the same picture on most sets so you could compare. It was a mix of sports and scenic shots and “regular” stuff.

Store B

  • Had sets jammed so close together and displayed at differing angles above, at and well below eye level (again, no seats). The first thing I thought of was the clothing stores with racks and aisles packed so tightly that you can’t walk between the racks. They didn’t have their sets displayed in a manner that was designed to encourage you to take the time to browse, evaluate and buy. If you knew what you wanted and they had that item in stock, no problem.
  • Had models scattered all over the store with no rhyme or reason. Not grouped by size, price, features, manufacturer or any other sensible criteria. They were clearly just shoved where they’d fit, making it almost impossible to compare two closely priced or sized models.
  • 3D sets were just…where they were. It would’ve been impossible to evaluate them properly as displayed.
  • The most expensive (and amazing) set was a Sony non-3D set whose picture and specs were way over the top the best we saw all day. Yet this set was presented in the middle of a row of stacked up stuff with cardboard boxes across from it in a narrow aisle where your face was less than two feet from the massive screen. If I was the Sony rep for this store, Id be taking the manager out for a long chat. And their manager. And their manager.
  • Their sets displayed a buffet of content, with so much variety from screen to screen that was almost impossible to compare models.

Where’s the recliner?

Some audio stores figured this out before the box stores killed all but the high-end audio places: Build a room that presents your gear in its best light (or sound, as it were).

If I’m selling TVs, I want a small number of my very best selling TVs a normally lit room (like people’s homes) with a recliner, coffee table, couch, etc sitting around. I want them paired in good, better, best pairs with the 6 best selling, best quality units I have in those three price ranges. I want them to sit down and take a look. Toss em the remote and let them visualize that sucker in their own home.

All the other models, if I have to have all them, can be presented grouped by size within price range and paired so I can compare like models. Remember, you want to create an environment that makes it easy for the customer to make the best choice for their needs and budget. You don’t want them walking out frustrated because they learned nothing from shopping in your store.

The reason to make a sale is to get a customer, not the other way around. Your business is about customers, not TVs or Kitchen Aid mixers or snowblowers.

Wally

Yes, I know the mass merchandiser in you is going crazy. You may think want your store to look like Wal-Mart so that you sell them SOMETHING no matter what.

Well guess what? The best TV display for the buyer’s needs was…Wal-Mart’s. They were grouped by size within price range. No, there wasn’t a couch or a recliner. Yes, there was crazy-bright fluorescent lighting. Yes there were strollers 2 aisles over and video games beeping 20 feet away and a blue light special (whatever) announcement over the loudspeaker every 13 seconds.

Still, the layout was optimized on that wall to make it easy to choose a TV, not to make it easy to get all of them out of the box and on a shelf so we could say we did so.

Interesting that Wal-Mart would win in that department and not have the best price. Go figure.

*If you haven’t read Jeffrey, I suggest you do so. Good stuff. Start with “Customer Satisfaction is Useless“.

** Jim Rohn said “Poor people have big TVs. Rich people have big libraries.“  Meaning – educate yourself. And keep at it. Watch a little less TV, read a little more. Do better for yourself in the next year by spending time to better yourself.

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How many pennies would you sell your reputation for?

My wife’s birthday was this weekend, so as a last bit of her gift, our youngest son and I took her to one of her favorite restaurants in the Valley.

As we sat down and caught up on junior’s just-finished semester at Pacific, the “so, what are you gonna order” discussion starts.

My wife has a favorite entree there – and to my knowledge has never ordered anything else in our many visits to this place over a period of roughly 5 years.

But this time, she asks for something else.

Turns out that the last time we visited, she ordered this item and the creamy sauce was more watery than creamy and just “didn’t seem like it used to”.

My son likes that dish as well, so he ordered it anyway.

Taking Pride

Most of my son’s jobs have been in the fine dining and/or catering business and the chefs he’s worked for are a couple of the finest we have to offer in our area.

His dish arrives and sure enough, he notices things that would have never flown at his employers’ restaurants.

Chipped plates, for example. His arrives with a small handful of chips around the edges of the plate. Both mine and my wife’s have them as well.

He tells us that someone with pride in their work would never serve these entrees on chipped plates (this is a restaurant with entrees from $14-29).

He also notices that the sauce is thinner than usual and not seasoned as it was in the past.

Reflecting ownership

“Something’s changed here”, he notes. “Do they have a new owner?”

I’m not sure of the timeframe but I do recall a change of ownership sometime in the past.

While that may or may not be the instigation of the change in entree quality of this place’s signature dish, it doesn’t really matter because it reflects on the owner, the manager and the head chef.

The chipped plates are a symptom of “Oh, that’s good enough”.

Would you sell your business’ reputation gets sold for the price of a $6 dinner plate? Or .08 worth of garlic, a little black pepper and 4 more minutes on the burner?

How about one less restroom check per day? Or a 25 cents worth of Pine Sol in the mop water?

It happens every day. Don’t let it happen to your business. Don’t teach “good enough” to your employees.

Every little thing sends a message. If nothing else, this is high-value marketing with a low price.

Doing it wrong gives it a high cost and delivers the wrong thing – reputation damage that’s hard to get back.

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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.

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Business culture Community Competition Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Marketing marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Positioning quality service Small Business Strategy The Slight Edge

Touched someone today?

One of the things I say to clients who are building a business is “drip, drip, drip”.

By the way, *everyone* is building a business, no matter how long they’ve been around.

Anyhow, I say that to remind them that they should do something every day to work ON their business, rather than IN (for) their business.

One such thing is drip-drip-drip: Do at least one thing today to get (or keep) a customer.

  • Write a blog post.
  • Make a phone call.
  • Visit a client.
  • Mail a post card or newsletter.
  • Email something from their industry or about something they or their family is interested in.
  • Check in to see if they are struggling with anything – even if you’re fairly sure they aren’t.
  • Thank a customer. Yep, just out of the blue. “Thanks for continuing to trust our business to help you.”

Just like the Colorado carved the Grand Canyon, the drip-drip-drip of paying attention to your customers in even the smallest ways….will pay off over the long term.

Best of all, most others either won’t do it or they’ll do it with a sales call – which is NOT the same thing. The sales call is about YOU. All those other things listed above are about THEM.

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Competition customer retention Hospitality marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Positioning Restaurants Sales Small Business Strategy Word of mouth marketing

Try Norma’s Chowder

Clam Chowder
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ron Diggity

The night before junior’s college registration, we decided to hit the beach in the evening and while there, get some dinner.

We’d been on the road all day and probably had a little white line fever, so a nice, relaxing sit-down dinner was just what the doctor ordered.

We wandered all over downtown Seaside OR trying to find just the right spot. A couple of places we decided to try on future visits.

Norma’s caught our eye with outstanding reviews and a series of wins in the local clam chowder contest.

In fact, they left the impression that you’d be nuts not to order the chowder.

I grew up in a rural-ish valley on the east coast, and my parents were into seafood so they took us crabbing and to the beach and we had seafood fairly often. I’ve had my fair share of good and not-so-good clam chowder. It’s not a dish you find as a featured menu item in Montana, so it stood out when Norma’s featured it.

When it arrived, it looked pretty good. While it wasn’t as hot as I’d like, the chowder was pretty good. Yet I was left a little disappointed because of the build up they’d given it as the to-die-for chowder.

I expected amazing.

Taste aside, what they had wisely done (knowing their market) was sell 3 cups of chowder, adding almost $10 to the ticket. I suspect that this was not unusual and raised their ticket average nicely. The chowder wasn’t a disappointment and I didn’t feel ripped off. I just expected amazing after their build up.

What are you doing to make that extra $ happen on each ticket at your business?

Motivation

The rest of the meal was good but not wow. With all the review kudos on the outside wall (and not just for the chowder), I expected more than good enough to come back (it was). I expected that this would be the sort of place that would provoke me to drive 100 miles round trip during visits to see my son at college. It didn’t quite get there.

Don’t get me wrong, Norma’s was good. But it wasn’t wow, and that’s the expectation they set as you entered.

What expectation is your business setting? What is it delivering?

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attitude Business culture Competition customer retention Customer service Employees marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Small Business The Slight Edge Word of mouth marketing

Oil and windshields

Gas Pump
Photo credit: Steve Snodgrass

As I noted earlier, the drive to Oregon and back provided a few lessons here and there.

Yesterday, we talked about the welcome. Today, it’s what comes after the welcome.

Oregon law requires that an attendant pumps your gas. That’s right, you *cannot* pump your own gas in Oregon. I don’t know the origin of this law, but I suspect there was an accident where a pump was left unattended and tragedy ensued. Update: I’ve been told (but not verified) that it is a jobs creation law.

When I was a kid, it was unheard of to pump your own gas, except on the farm. My grandaddy had his own tank and pump for his farm equipment, so occasionally that would get used for field equipment, but that’s the only time I remember seeing anyone pump gas when I was young. Retail customers at service stations never did so.

During visits to what was then called a filling station, the often-uniformed attendant would check your oil, clean your windshield and pump the gas.

Fast forward to this weekend. With each visit to gas stations in Oregon, there has been an attendant pumping the gas but no one has checked the oil, nor have they asked to do so, or cleaned the windshield.

When I pulled into a Safeway gas station in central Oregon on Saturday, a nice man came up and asked what I wanted pumped and then said “is the oil and windshield ok?”

That was as close as I got to what used to be called full service. I told him I wasn’t sure about the oil and left the question open. He never said another word. After a minute or so, I checked the oil myself.

I didn’t expect white glove service, and I’m not a local so the chance of me hitting that station again is pretty random…but imagine the difference if he had checked the oil (or pursued it further) and if he had cleaned the windshield.

You’d probably come back to that station, which means you’d probably visit that Safeway grocery in the same parking lot.

Is it worth it to provide that little bit of extra effort? I think so.

Imagine the other ways you could make the mundane act of getting gas into an experience. Each one is a little bitty magnet to pull that customer back and a little piece of uniqueness that might get them to talk about you to their friends.