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Tips & Bits #39: Mom & Pop Strike Back

So what if a huge chain store moves into your neighborhood and undercuts your prices — they can’t take away your story.

Small businesses still have an advantage over even their biggest competitors. It’s as simple as a unique story.  Something that sets them apart from the monotony of chain store operations. When you can’t outspend your competition, you can outthink them and win!

Of course, you have to offer exceptional service. You always have to go above and beyond to ensure your customers are thoroughly content with your attitude and assistance. Without that, no amount of advertising and promotion can overcome a poor customer experience.

When it comes to creativity, here are three real-world examples that will stimulate your mind and lead you to a solution that will help you pull the rug out from under your competitors.

How Fresh Is It?
In this story, a small local fruit and vegetable store is losing business to the big chain store down the street. The owner knows he can’t compete on price, and maybe selection, too. So what’s a fellow to do?

Think about the difference between apples from the local grocer and those sold in the huge chain store. The owner of the local store buys fresh produce each morning before the sun comes up – picking each piece by hand to ensure that only the best and freshest were on display.

The chain store receives truckloads of fruit from some distant distribution center at whatever time of day they arrive. (See the difference?)

How can this point of difference be communicated to shoppers? Here’s what the store owner did. On a small chalkboard placed above each fruit display, he hand-wrote the time of day they were acquired from the produce market. He also included a short bit of descriptive copy.

APPLES—Crisp and firm—purchased at 5:45 a.m. this morning.
ORANGES—Juicy and ready to eat–purchased at 5:24 a.m. today.
GRAPES—Sweet and seedless—purchased at 6:13 a.m. today.

Same fruit, same prices, just a true story pointing out an important difference. The result: a new reputation for having the freshest fruit in town, and freedom from price wars brought on by the chain store nearby.

Lighting the Way to Success

Here’s the story of a small restaurant that had fallen upon hard times. The big chain eateries had come to town and lured away diners in droves. It was a struggle to keep up with the overhead.

Even a menu that featured exceptional cuisine, attentive and friendly service, and a warm, cozy atmosphere wasn’t enough to bring in a hungry crowd. Something had to be done to get the place noticed.

A spark of inspiration led to a brilliant idea. Gas carriage lamps! It seems that humans (like moths) are strangely attracted to the flickering light of a fire. It stimulates a reaction that is very deep inside the brain and traces back into our primitive history.

After mounting two gas fed carriage lamps beside the restaurant’s front door, the guests began arriving. Now a steady stream of clientele visits regularly, attracted by the warm glow at the door that reflects the warmth to be found inside.


Plumber Takes to the Air and Sticks it to the Competition!

A plumber whose business was circling the drain for lack of customers was frustrated by his competitor’s use of coupons delivered to homes each week by the postal service. He couldn’t see the logic in joining the crowd inside those shared-mail packages where more than a few plumbers battled for attention.

Here’s what he came up with: For about the same advertising budget, he ran some 30-second spots on local radio offering listeners a STICKER that they could place on any appliance or fixture attached to the household plumbing system (for example a toilet or a water heater) and be eligible for a $50 discount on a future service call. To get this valuable sticker, all they had to do was send in a dozen of those coupons from other plumbers.

The result? His business has enjoyed steady growth and has expanded from a one-man shop to a thriving company with ten trucks and a crew of 20!

Statistics report that each year thousands of mom-and-pop stores are forced to close. Sadly, the number is rising at an alarming rate. It’s David vs. Goliath all over again—and just like the story from long ago, a clever plan of attack can outwit and outmarket the behemoths with budgets that dwarf the average small country.

Dare to be different and call attention to it. It’s your strong suit—your ace in the hole. Use it.

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