Fries get cold (why do customers choose you?)

Recently, I was standing in the local snack corner, waiting for my order. There are two snack corners in our village, about 200 meters away from each other, along the same road. One is a new modern looking shop that claims to “fry healthy” and where friendly, and always smiling, ladies serve fries and sell ice cream to the customers. The other place is much simpler, owned by a middle-aged couple, with a small takeaway area. I found myself standing in the second one.

I chose the second place on purpose. Not because their food is better (for me fries are fries, I’m not too picky when it comes to that), but because I felt a little sorry for the owners as the other place seemed to be, from my point of view, a bigger success. I ended up having a conversation with the owner while he was fixing my order, and I asked him how business was going and whether the competition nearby was bothering him. His answer surprised me.

“You know”, he said with a smile, “I’ll tell you a secret. Fries get cold.” Surprised as I was, I asked him what he meant. He continued: “Across the street from here is a supermarket. Next to the supermarket is a large parking lot. You can park your car almost in front of my door. This means you will be back in your warm car as soon as you get your order and therefore you will be home sooner. The other place has only little parking space. This means that people with bigger cars or company vans, will choose to park at the big parking lot next to the supermarket. These people will sooner enter my shop, as they need to walk less far. This way, I always have enough customers, because fries easily get cold and cold fries don’t taste good.”

I was surprised by the simplicity of his answer. He didn’t seem to worry at all about the competition. It’s not just the location that makes his place a success, the features of his product suit the location. If it would be a pharmacy or clothing store at that same spot, with a competitor at the same distance, the location wouldn’t matter as much (for those products people are more willing to park 200 meters away). But walking 200 meters through the cold, to get to your car, with an order of fries? No, thanks. This man knew very well why his customers would continue to come to him.

It may be that your company is situated at an amazing location, with strong products, attractive and friendly personnel and impressive marketing. Sounds like a success, right? Yet, there are many companies that operate like this, but still aren’t successful. Simply because they don’t understand exactly why customers would choose for them. A good company strategy, for that reason, starts by answering the question why people should choose you. If you don’t know exactly why people should choose you, the chances to become successful are much smaller.

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Customer needs – still a grey area for business owners

Last week I spoke to a business owner about his company, with which he offers training programs to those who have a hard time passing their drivers’ license theory exam. He developed a training program by himself, accompanied by a well thought (business model. His website is easy to find on Google and the price he asks for the program, including a free resit, is very reasonable. The reviews on his program are praiseful and the pass rate high. Everything seems to be a success. Still, he is struggling with his competitive market position.

Recently, another player entered the market, who offers training programs nationwide against prices far below his. “How can I cope with this?”- he asked me. “Now, customers are choosing the competitor, even though he offers a mediocre training program where the chances to pass the exam much smaller. Besides, he doesn’t even know his customers, since he is not from this region. If I lower my price, I will lose my margin, which means it won’t be as profitable for me anymore. Besides, the package that I offer is much more extensive and complete than the package and service my competitor offers.”

My advice to this business owner is simple: know your customer. By doing focused research, in order to find out what the exact needs of the customer are, it’s likely to get a clear view on what he needs to do to win back his customers. Maybe his customers don’t know how extensive the program is that he offers. On the other hand: maybe the customers don’t need such an extensive program, and by simplifying it he might be able to lower his price. And even though he is easily found on Google, it might be even better to see how he can benefit from his network. Can driving schools recommend him? Mouth-to-mouth advertising is still the best way to get new customers! Are there driving schools that would like to cooperate with him? At social media, there might be chances too in order to create more awareness.

Being flexible and to be able to change your way of thinking is what matters. Not taking the path you’re familiar with or because that’s the one everyone else is taking, but finding out what your customers need and being willing to adapt. I’m convinced that this business owner will take his shot to maximize his opportunities. And if possible, I will coach him while doing so.

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