Lose Business – Eat BBQ!

I managed a dry cleaners during college to help pay the bills. It wasn’t an enviable job, but finding a decent job when there are thousands of other students looking for work isn’t easy. I considered myself lucky just to have the job.

It was a back-to-basics customer service kind of work. There were six or seven other dry cleaners on the same road, so being the service leader was vital to staying in business (and keeping my job). I would get to know each customer and have their clothes ready when they pulled up.

One night I was called by the owner. He told me there had been a fire and the entire store burned down. This was a real nightmare. You only bring your best clothes to the dry cleaners and now they were burned or smoke damaged – definitely not very clean.

The owner, not being the brave one, gave me the job of calling all of the customers and letting them know we lost their good clothes to a fire. I had to get the price they paid for the clothes to give to the insurance company and other information so they could be paid for their loss. On top of that, I had to sit outside the burned ruins of the business and talk with the customers who drove to the store to talk. This was a perfect time to use some of those crisis management skills I had learned.

Overall, customers were supportive. I had spent the prior year getting to know them, their families, and the story behind a lot of the stains on their clothes. I had a ready question about their family, work, or vacation when they visited to drop off or pick up clothes, so letting them know how sorry I was that we burned their nice clothes was easier because they also knew me.

There were customers who were not so nice. I still vividly recall those people in my mind. The screams of, “How dare you burn my clothes!” and “What are you going to do about this!” were ringing in my ears for weeks after the accident.

Once the insurance company paid the claim, things really got moving rebuilding the store and the brand.

Think about that for a second. We were going to get back into the same business where just months earlier we had lost all of our customer’s clothes. This was a business that was out of business and sent customers to our competitors. How in the world was I going to attract customers back and keep them after an accident like this?

I gave them BBQ!

Bulldog Rule # 7 – Remember to dream about where your business can go and then make it happen

When it came time to reopen the store, I wanted to take some of mystery out of dry cleaning. After all, how do you clean something without getting it wet? I also gave the customers a chance to look around the sparkling clean, new store. I sent invitations to our “Re-Grand Opening” and made it look like a party. We had music playing, toys for the kids, and BBQ sandwiches to eat. I decorated the outside of the store with balloons and streamers and made a sign to hold at the street.

Now, I want to mention the BBQ sandwiches again. This was my moment of genius. Since customers are always worried that stains on their clothes would not come out, I made sure to feed them something that was guaranteed to cause stains. Once they dripped that tasty BBQ sauce on their shirt, I would bring them back to the new machines that would remove the stains and show them how it worked. If it was possible, I would use some of the cleaning fluid and remove the stain while they were still wearing the shirt. On top of that, I gave them a coupon with a steep discount to use on their next visit.

Customers came back because they could see how nice the store was and that we truly wanted them to come back. I re-instituted the customer service that we were known for and customers even brought new customers.

In the end, a fire made things look overwhelmingly dire, but taking advantage of the good customer service I had provided along with a plan to transparent business model gave us a chance to come back stronger than before. A year later, other dry cleaners on that same street started to close. We had taken too many of their customers to keep them going.

If you think like a Business Bulldog, there is always a chance to bring your best efforts. You just have to want it, plan for it, and make it happen.

Bob Griffin – CEO and Chief Bulldog-in-Charge

Nice Try

An owner thought he was being helpful by showing his desire to help customers. It missed the mark.

It is always the execution that we stumble on.  We get the right idea with the wrong delivery.  I was passing a sign with the message “It Would be our pleasure to serve you” and had to take the picture.  It seems innocuous but, add the word “IF” to the end of the message and you have a whole new meaning. “It would be our pleasure to serve you IF we wanted to or IF we were done with our smoke break” is a sad message to send.  Any time you do not make a good, clear point, you lose credibility and putting a bland message out says a lot about who you are.

“It is our pleasure to serve you” is a better message, but what does it mean?  Why are you wasting prime space on your sign to make a throwaway statement?  Step up and sell me something.  Be funny or eye catching. Be bad, strange, or thoughtful, but be something that people will remember. That sign I saw made me think they are not worth my time.  From the number of cars driving by that had passengers that didn’t even look at the sign, I was right in my analysis.

The message you send to customers needs to be as thought out as any big advertising campaign. If you are not making the effort to do something that will draw customers into your store to buy, you are wasting time, money, and effort.

Years ago, I saw a tiny doughnut store that was packed.  I mean they had people who were getting kind of personal in they way they were crammed into the front of the store.  BUT, every one of them was smiling and waiting to spend money.  The sign at the front of the store said, “Fresh Doughnuts! If we drop them twice we throw them away!”  That was a bad message, but it was memorable.  It has been over twenty years since I visited that shop and I still talk about that sign and those doughnuts.  Did anyone really think they reused a doughnut that they dropped?  Maybe.  Did it keep some customers away?  Yes.  Why is that good?  The owners made it a point to target the customer base they wanted.  They wanted fun people who would put up with a tiny store and being packed in.  I bet you go somewhere that is not up to your standards as an owner, but keeps you coming back because of some bit of character the place created.

Never let your message be wasted on blah!

Bob Griffin
Bgriffin@businessbulldog.com

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SWOT ‘Em

When I am asked by small business owners how to improve their business I ask questions. The more questions I ask, the better I can see how their business operates. More importantly, the more questions they answer, the more they can see about their business. Often we put blinders on when we look at our business, employee’s performance, or customer service. Having a list of questions to answer about facets of your business can bring a clearer focus to what you think you know about things. The way to do that is to SWOT it.

SWOT stands for:

Strengths

Weaknesses

Opportunities

Threats


Have four sheets of paper ready to work on this exercise. The more you are able to write (even if you think it is not important) the more clearly you will see your business and the changes that you can make to have an immense impact on your success.

What are the strengths of your business? This is also known as the elevator pitch. You should be able to give a clear description of what your business is about and why someone should work with you as opposed to a competitor in the time it takes an elevator to go from the lobby to the top floor of a building. Of course, you should have more bumpers sticker phrases to give all the strengths about your business. Starting with, “Why should I buy from you?” is a good focus for the first run-through on a SWOT analysis.

Weaknesses are tougher to name. Both because you do not like to mention them, but also because you may not easily see them. Answer the question, “Why do people NOT buy from my business?” and you will have an uncomfortable list of things to fix.

Opportunities are the part of your business that more often than not costs you in time, money, or effort. Be honest with yourself. Think, “If I had unlimited time, money, or manpower to make changes, what would I do?” The answers to where your opportunities are will show up on your list easily. Take your time and think back to when you were first starting your business. What vision did you have when you wrote your business plan? What do you need to change to bring that vision to life. Business Bulldog Rule #7 – Dream about where your business can go and then make it happen.

Threats are easier to see, but no less tough to see on paper. Competition is the first on the list, but what about internally in your organization? Are there people on your staff who are not helping make your vision come to life? What about cash flow? Are you able to ride out this economy and still make payroll? Threats can come from every direction imaginable. Are you covered if someone gets hurt at your store? What if the street in front of your store closes down for a week or a month? What can you survive and grow despite?

Bulldog Rules for Business were written using this format. Bulldog Rule #6 – Failing to plan for your day, week, month, and year is unacceptable is a good example of where this website came from. How about Bulldog Rule #8 – Re-examine your business often is what we are doing when we use the SWOT method. Even Bulldog Rule #12 – Be aware of your entire business is a SWOT in the right direction.

SWOT every business you can. Not only will you find interesting facts that can help make your business stronger, but you will be able to forecast when business opportunities become available before your competition. You can SWOT anything really. Your business is just one part of you day, so why shouldn’t you look at what else in your life takes time away from building your business. SWOT your business and then make the changes you need to grow, thrive, and build a business that exceeds your vision.

Bob Griffin – CEO and Chief Bulldog
Bgriffin@BusinessBulldog.com