Whenever I see a crowd of business owners talking – no not at networking groups – you wouldn’t see me dead at one of these – half seven in the morning with a load of rah-rah hosts and a roomful of strangers for breakfast – at some far flung country house estate – swapping business cards and getting lectured by the next new SEO specialist or a fourteen year old social media expert.
FFS – you don’t get to be an expert in anything until you have at least – the look of a badger (slight dash of grey hair) if you are a man, and slightly pre-menopausal if you are a woman – can you imaging going to see your Oncologist (a specialist) and finding out they they have just passed a couple of A levels and are thinking about what to do with their lives – but for now oncology it is …
… Please note – I ain’t knocking youth here, or not saying that they are not good in some way – but expert status is something that is learned over quite a while, not last week.
It’s usually at seminars or workshops (as a mentor for a couple of high profile organisations i end up a quite a few of these over the year) where I see these people and the topic of conversation is always similar, and it always strikes me as being a bit odd. The comparison of your business and the ‘me too’ businesses down the road and then talks about – why they are busier than him, why their store front looks a lot better, why the products seem far more sexier? In short,you know small business owner starts looking are jealous of the similar businesses that are down the road.
Interestingly enough, as I have found – the local corner plumbers merchant, dress shop, shoe shop are all looking the same since the introduction of the ‘mammoth chain’ some thirty years ago. As far as retail is concerned most shops look the same if you are in Nuneaton or Gloucester (for my American readers – yeah that’s how ya spell it). Consumers know that the shops here have the same layout, the same pricing as the one there and here. It’s all homogenised and is created like so for a few reasons. Branding, discounts on shop fittings and also to keep their customers – human beings feeling like they know the place. But for business owners, especially those turning over less than a gazillion a year it’s the death knell – the sound of the bell that indicates a death has occured – but for a business owner it might not have rung just yet, but…
For those of you who have stumbled into a WH Smith recently you’ll notice how stale all of them look – and in all honestly I’d rather not! It used to be a place of wonder with pens, pencils and envelopes – all to be admired. Now, only two types of A4 paper in my local store (Tesco stock more), can’t even get upmarket envelopes (but can in Tesco). But I can buy a card for any occasion, as much chocolate as I want and some half price books. Not the most enjoyable experience – capped by Saturday staff that can’t even raise a smile.
For your small business, especially a retail one you’ll know that any attempt to be in competition with stores like this you’ll end up a boring fail. Importantly you’ll never make it pay – WH Smiths and every other retailer can buy cheaper than you and sell it for much less should the need arise. As Jack Trout explained in his book (my words not his) differentiation is no longer a nice to have – it’s a must.
Oh and don’t forget the smiling faces, the Saturday staff that always smiled and made the experience a pleasant one. Where are they? No doubt, forced out of town by ‘health and safety’ along with working time directives and every other bit of admin that rips the life from businesses today. Used to be the case, Saturday shopping was complete with fresh legs and fresh outlooks from young staff – eager to learn and make money – before their lives got far too serious. Now, not only is Saturday shopping shit, every other day of the weeks is equally as bad – no one wants to be there any day of the week.
Which brings me back to the the specialist, the niche player – our world is so much more competitive now than it used to be, and every business owner is selling the same shit, the same crappy solutions – all fishing in the same pond – hoping to get more for their shizzle than the competition gets – only it’s not the case, there are no winners, income just falls for all. Until some start to die. And the thing that is most forgotten, the one thing that can make you stand out – is the thing you ignore – making your business, your sales process, the way you present stuff – fucking well stand out so far that no competitor selling the same shit can come close to you.
It’s why UPS are better than DPD, it’s why people spend a fuckton of money on First Class train and plane tickets, it’s why the Ivy makes more money than the local Weatherspoons. It’s why the local Turkish cafe sells a breakfast for £5.99 and the Dorchester gets £38 for it, plus £6.50 for a coffee. Sure the cost of premise counts for some of this but no more than half. You pay for service and environment both of which means the local Turkish cafe could increase prices by 30% just for some minor improvements all of which are in their complete control.
Sure, marketing has an impact, social media and pricing has an impact – but being the same as every other shitty, uncaring, me-too, lookey-likey business that is struggling won’t help you – it’s why the high street looks doomed. It’s not because customers ain’t spending it with you – it’s because you don’t give them any reason to.
Focus on fantastic service, great delivery options, entertain your customers, give them a reason to come back and spend more, remind then on a regular basis, write to them – make them feel loved and then watch your business fly. Come back and thank me for this once you’ve spent a few days implementing it.
Meanwhile when you’re ready to get your arse in gear and start to move your business forward you can ‘borrow my brain’ be worth at least ten grand to you over the coming months – or your money back no problem. Choice is that, or hope. Hope it’s gonna get better, hope we don’t leave the EU, hope Government throws you a lifeline. Good luck with that. Put your hope in your jacket pocket, keep it there – it’s not serving you well at all and borrow my brain.