The Personal Touch
By Sally Lo
In the film You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan plays Kathleen Kelly, a small bookstore owner whose business is threatened with the arrival of Tom Hanks’ Fox Books Superstore. Aside from a romance between Ryan’s and Hanks’ characters, the plot centres on the retail war between a small business vs. a big box. In one scene, Kathleen has a conversation with her staff about their competition with Fox Books.
Kathleen: It has nothing to do with us. It’s big, impersonal, overstocked and full of ignorant salespeople.
George: But they discount.
Kathleen: But they don’t provide any service. We do.
Small businesses can stand up to big business, survive and thrive! Want some proof? Take a look at the Jan. 2013 issue of Hardware Merchandising magazine (www.hardwaremerchandising.com/news). In “Lessons From the Past”, Aimee Feaver asked a group of home improvement retailers (mostly family-owned stores from Ontario to Newfoundland that have been in business for a minimum of 125 years) to share their thoughts on how to ensure a new business will last. Among their top tips were:
1. Deliver what your market needs.
This means knowing the products and services your customers want or need and selling them. This may involve doing some market research using techniques such as focus groups, surveys or social media campaigns. Or it could simply mean having a short chat with your regulars while they are in your store. “Hey Alex, what would you like to see on our menu?”
2. Train your staff.
The respondents say you need to make sure employees are educated on the products they sell. Thanks to the Internet, consumers are more knowledgeable now than ever before. A friend in Montreal was really unimpressed and annoyed with a customer service experience he had there a few years ago. He was shopping for a cellphone and he knew more about the different models than the sales guy did. Oops.
3. Practice Great Customer Service.
Feaver says this was the biggest, most common key to longevity, according to her interviews. One respondent summed it up best, “Treat customers as well as you possibly can. Loyalty is everything in a small community and there’ll always be a big box flogging the lowest price.” Believe it or not, customers are not necessarily seeking the lowest price point. They want to have a connection with somebody and be treated with respect. I’ve heard a regular at a restaurant say happily, “They all know me here. They know my name.” Think about it. If you had a problem with your Facebook account, would Mark Zuckerberg be available to help you? Would he know your name? Would he care?
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Social Chat Blog
Once a month, Building Block Associates serves up some food for thought with our foodservice Social Chat Blog.