Small business promotion with retail speaker Tom Shay
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Reasons for being different from other businesses

George Bernard Shaw is credited with saying, “Some people see things that are and say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’”

In later years, this same expression was also credited to the late Ted Kennedy as he spoke it at the funeral of his brother Robert. While we might not be able to confirm the correct origin of the expression, or what the author was referring to, the expression can definitely apply to many businesses. More appropriately, the expression could be restated to say, “Some people see things that are and say, “That’s the way it is always done in our industry.”

With an extremely small group of people, they are saying, “Why not do something different?”

If you want your business to stand out, you have to give your customers a lot of ways that you are different. Standing on the claim that ‘you give great customer service’ can be one of the ways you are different, but it should not be the only way you stand out. Think of your personal experiences with other businesses. If you cannot name a dozen businesses that are doing an extraordinary job of serving their customers, then we likely have a lot of businesses that are making a claim of ‘great customer service’ that they cannot back up.

Take a first look at a bookstore. Thirty-plus years ago bookstores - as did almost all retail - operated under a much simpler format. A business could get by with fulfilling the old adage of, ‘good merchandise, well displayed and reasonably priced will always sell well’. You didn’t have to provide the customer with a great shopping experience or have a business that was open more than 50 or so hours each week.

It is interesting to watch subtle changes within an industry. Thirty-plus years ago, you wouldn’t think of being in a bookstore with food and drink. Most definitely you could not purchase either in the store. You would not dare sit and read for hours before you purchased a book or magazine; there wasn’t even a place to sit. Today that has all changed. Of course, we would first think of Amazon.

Because of the software available for smart phones which allows a customer to scan the barcode on a book and place their order with Amazon, it has been said that a physical bookstore is becoming nothing more than a show room for Amazon’s website.

The founder of Amazon was quoted as saying that his website would never be able to replace the experience of a customer going to a bookstore, enjoying a drink and sitting in a comfortable chair with the opportunity to feel the pages with their fingertips. He is telling bookstores how they can beat his website! Yet, some bookstores still refuse to let their business be anything more than a place to stand and look at shelves of books.

Many bookstores changed from being places where you went when you needed to purchase a book to places you want to go to socialize, enjoy a snack, and purchase a book, magazine, food, t-shirts and even gifts.  Watch this aspect of retailing change as e-books continue to grow in popularity. Those bookstores that do not change will surely be those that die, just as most of the video store industry died.

The idea is for a business to do things in a manner that other businesses do not. This means changing the products, services, and even the way customers see the products in a business. Compare this to businesses that look around at others within their industry, and thinking the established business has it right, the new business decides to copy as much as they can.

Take a look at other businesses that do not differentiate themselves. The two leading chain stores selling lotions, bath oils and soaps look like twins. How can a customer know when they are in one of the stores and not that of the competitor?

Floor covering stores are another example. Whether you are in the floor covering department of a chain home improvement store or in a store that belongs to one of the many buying groups in the floor covering industry, the stores bear a strong resemblance to each other.

If we were to blindfold a customer, walk them into a store and then upon removing the blindfold ask them which store they are in, would they be able to tell us?

We could continue the comparison with many other types of businesses; hardware, pharmacy, bicycle shop, and many more. We are not picking on these industries; they are just the first few that come to mind as being industries that have few businesses that stand out.

The effort has only to start with the desire of the owner to do something different from what you have been doing. The owner has to decide that when a customer first sees their business, they want that customer to know immediately they are seeing something different. It starts with asking, “Why?” and “Why not?”

Tom Shay is a fourth generation small business owner providing proven management and business building ideas through his Profits Plus Seminars, Profits Plus Solutions coaching, books authored, and articles written. Tom can be reached at 727-464-2182 or through his web site:

Profits Plus Solutions, Inc.
PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
Fax: (727) 898-3179