How do you feel when a business is always saying things like, “Support me, I’m local,” “Support local because we’re not some big ugly corporation,” or the worst of them all, “Loyalty matters, stay loyal to your local business!”
Now let me be very clear here: I LOVE local, but I dislike when people use the “I’m local” card to guilt consumers into supporting them instead of just doing their job which is to run an amazing business (and that includes being good at marketing).
People support a business that makes them happy, excited and in love with the product or service. In fact, they don’t support a business at all, they support the people in the business, and even a big corporate business is employed by local people. The buck stops with the people, not the business.
I’ve had some resistance on that point, so I want to give you a LIVE, local example, a perfect in the trenches example of a local business that’s about to get into some real trouble if they don’t do something FAST.
Before we start, I want to say this: I am a fan of the business I’ll be talking about. My wife and kids frequent it almost weekly, and I’d love for it to thrive and stay in business long term. I love the business model, I love what they’re about, I love that they’re local, and I love how much my kids love it there. I wish nothing but absolute success to them—but as someone who studies businesses for a living, this offers up a perfect opportunity to not only help them, but help others reading this along the way.
I’m not writing this to bash them or kick them down in any way. Heck, if they want to reach out to me I’ll gladly help them out, but regardless, my aim with this article is to HELP, either them or any business it can apply to. And like most areas of life, being able to take in feedback and learn from it is a vital key.
Hopefully, they’ll find this article, read it word for word, not take any offense, and apply some of the recommendations I’ll list out. I mean no disrespect, no harm, no insult—my sole aim is to help, and it pains me to think about what just may happen if I don’t try and help…
Let’s get started.
The business is a local kids indoor playground, let’s just call it ABC Inc.. I want to remind you that it can basically be ANY business, but for context, it’s a kids’ play place.
Before they opened their doors in Sudbury, my wife and I would travel to North Bay or Barrie at least once a month because our three kids absolutely love indoor playgrounds.
Above: A photo of my kids at one of the play centres down south a few years go.
When we learned they were coming to town, we were beyond happy and excited. Because my kids are homeschooled, we quickly became regulars at this business.
Now, my wife hears me talk about businesses all day long. Anywhere we go together, I’m always telling her how a business could improve and little things they should work on—so she’s got a pretty good business mind at this point.
And when it comes to this business, she’s brought up a few points, and after having gone myself several times, I agree with her 100%.
But I mean, hey, every business has its little growing pains, and that’s okay.
Here’s the problem…
Last week, a massive “big bad corporate” company announced they’re bringing a huge indoor playground to Sudbury in the new year. You can read the press release here: https://www.urbanairtrampolinepark.com/sudbury-on/
Take a quick glance at everything they have to offer. It’s incredible. And if they go all out and use the entire Canadian Tire location (which is what they are proposing), it’s going to be massive.
When a new business comes to town, everyone does the same thing: they check it out. It’s not a matter of not being loyal or faithful to the local company, it’s just how we are wired—we want to check out the cool new shiny toy.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. And if ABC Inc. did a few of the things I’ll list below, after people check out the new place they’ll go right back to ABC Inc., or at the very least keep a degree of their business with ABC Inc..
BUT, if this new corporate play place does the things I’m talking about first, then THEY will retain a vast majority of the new traffic and they’ll win the game of business.
Funny thing about competition is, they compete.
And the major crux of a small business is that often they struggle to put together the systems that make a world class company, and big corporations have those systems figured out so they win.
They don’t win because they’re big, they win because they’ve put in the work to build the systems. And that includes systems around people, around company culture.
People like to forget that Walmart wasn’t always this giant corporation “putting mom and pop shops out of business everywhere.” They STARTED OFF as a mom and pop shop and they focused on perfecting and constantly improving their business and BECAME huge.
Every business started small.
Now let me clear something up… ABC Inc. has never (as far as I know) cried the “Support us, we’re local,” cry… but I predict that once traffic slows to a crawl because of the new place, that’ll be a cry we hear. Up until now, they’ve been running a great little business and there’s nothing wrong with that. But when a major player is coming to town, it’s time to raise the bar.
Okay, so a huge corporation is coming to town and is a major threat to their business… now what?
Well, the first thing to do would have been to hire me months ago 😉 But hey, the second best time to hire me is right now!
All kidding aside, here’s what to do…
Once a big business makes the public announcement that it’s coming to town, it’s substantially harder to make headway, because now everyone knows you’re panicking and trying to buy everyone’s business before the other guy comes to town.
I mean take a look at Tutti Frutti (in Sudbury) jumping into renovations right before Cora’s opens next door…
Regardless, competition is coming, and it’s time to buckle up for war. And that’s exactly what business is—a war. But that seems too dark and insensitive, so I prefer to call it a game.
Here are a few quick things I’d do if I was ABC Inc.:
- I’d offer memberships. I’ve asked my wife several times why she doesn’t just buy a membership and she mentioned they don’t have any. To me, that’s a massive mistake. A membership, paid MONTHLY (not yearly), offers incredible advantages to a business where most members will NOT take full advantage of it, like this one. Sure, with some members like my family they may lose money because we go every week, but MOST members will use their membership far less, and in the end you come out on top. I mean, we pay a fortune for our Science North memberships and sometimes only get out once or twice. Heck, I’ve purchased season passes for ski hills and never gone out once! Memberships offer guaranteed recurring monthly income, which really helps stabilise the slow months, but they also give clients a reason to come back to them. If I’m paying for a membership at ABC Inc. I may go to the new place a few times, but my regular routine of going to ABC Inc. will stay strong and active because, well, I’m already paying for it. Side note, I know they DO offer multi-pass punch cards, but the challenge with these is that because the money has already been spent on them, they’re easily tossed unused. They are great for up-selling from a one time pass, but lack many of the advantages of memberships.
- If you’re bent on not doing memberships, offer some kind of loyalty program to entice people to come back. Coffee shops do this all the time with the “10th coffee is on the house” style cards. I’d do this, but with a twist—let the kids take care of it. Dairy Queen on Regent does this to perfection with their kids loyalty card. What I would do is let the kids do all the selling for you… Design the loyalty cards to be robust and kid friendly, and hand the card to the kids (not the parents). Tell them they’re responsible for the card, and when they bring it in you’ll stamp it and on the X visit it’s free and they get a special prize. I know my kids would treat that card like currency.
- Step up the friendliness. This is an area we can all improve on, so I won’t spend much time here, but you’ve got to live and breathe happiness—especially in a PLAY place. And remember, you’ve got to get the kids to fall in love with you as well so they’ll bug the parents to go there instead. Every business is built on relationships, and if you bonded with your patrons like crazy, they’ll always “come home” to you, regardless of who’s in town. When I was in the fitness industry, many of my clients also had memberships at other studios, but always kept current with me as well because we went above and beyond to make them feel like family.
- Make doing business with you easy, satisfying, and rewarding. Parents talk, and as a parent myself I’ve heard a fair amount of negative comments about hosting birthday parties at ABC Inc.. This, to me, should be a huge opportunity. Listen to the feedback you’re getting (and some on this topic is even on their Facebook page, without anyone from ABC Inc. acknowledging it!) and do something about it. I think that your internal reasons for doing what causes the most complaints is completely accurate and I get it, and as a parent I also understand where the complaints come from. But as an entrepreneur, it’s our job to get resourceful and find the solution. Heck, have a parents’ only meeting and get all the parents in a room together and tell them, “Hey, we’ve got a problem, how can we fix it,” and just listen; they’ll offer up valuable advice.
- Get creative and put some character into the business. One thing I’ve found when I do visit ABC Inc. is that, well, it’s a bit bland. It’s average. It’s vanilla. It’s, gasp, boring. A little character goes a long way… Maybe put some superhero themes up on the walls and let them wear capes or have a full time mascot jumping around or, dare I say, put some darn kids music on in the background to drown out the screaming kids. Hey, maybe there are liability issues here, I get that, but like I said before: it’s our job to be resourceful! Find a way to make it more fun.
- Don’t get frustrated. I get it, kids can be crazy, and yeah, sometimes they aren’t as disciplined as we’d like them to be, but as a KIDS’ play place, it’s your job not to get frustrated and maintain control with a smile on your face. If crazy out-of-control kids drive you nuts and you can’t keep a smile on your face, time for a career change—cause when a parent sees you visibly ticked off with their child, it’s hard to come back. Kids have the incredible ability to feel what you’re feeling, and when they go down the big slide cheering, and they see you frowning, they feel that. But what would happen if every time they went down the slide, staff was at the bottom smiling, laughing, cheering, and giving high fives? Kids would feel that too, and the bond is reinforced even more.
- Push out more swag. There’s no reason for not seeing kids running around town sporting a ABC Inc. t-shirt or baseball cap.
- Fix the broken equipment. I know, it takes months sometimes for a piece of equipment to come in. Being self-employed my entire life, I also know that I’ve said a piece of equipment was “on the way” when the truth was I didn’t have money to order it. I’m not saying that’s the case, but back in the day I’ve used that excuse, and that’s okay. But there comes a point in time where something needs to happen because my boys complain every time that the “guns” at ABC Inc. never work—and if the new place has little foam ball guns that DO work, they’ll choose there instead.
- Double down on low cost and even free marketing. Like an old water pump, you’ve got to prime that sucker to get the water flowing—marketing is no different. And if you wait until the new place opens and you notice business slowing to start pumping, it’s too late. Start now, and go hard. Heck, read my article called “30 Low Cost Marketing Tips To Quickly Grow Your Locally Owned Small Business”to get a few ideas you can start applying today.
- Respond to the negative reviews—and respond with the understanding that they are on your side. Defensive responding is rarely productive, especially in a world of keyboard warriors. If they’re taking the time to leave you a review, appreciate it; they’re trying to help. Be grateful, understanding, and hey, maybe they’re even right. But if they don’t feel like you care, they’ll never come back—and if they left a public review, they’ve also told many in private.
- Engage with your social media fans. A quick search on Facebook shows me every time someone has tagged the ABC Inc. Facebook page in their own post, and I’ve never seen ABC Inc. respond or even “like” the post (and I’m not talking about posts on the company page, but other fans’ posts). Sure, based on the poster’s privacy settings you may not be able to, but I know in my businesses whenever someone tags my company page I get a notification, and if I’m able to I respond, I comment, I like, I share, etc. For example, if someone posts, “Going to ABC Inc., anyone want to join me?” on Facebook and tags you, jump in and write, “Can I come?! See you there!” (Make sure you’re commenting as the company page!) Or if someone posts, “Had a blast at ABC Inc.” and tags you, respond with, “It was great to see you!” Short, simple, effective. It’s all about building relationships.
- Step up your website game. The website is equally boring and “all about them.” Instead, make the website focused on, “what’s in it for me,” and design it in a way that stimulates emotion, gets me excited, and drives action.
Okay, I think that’s a great start, and if ABC Inc. is reading this I hope they take this as an outstretched hand and not a stick over the head. I’ve got a few more things on my list of improvements, but I strongly feel that with these put into place they’ve got not only a fighting chance but pretty good odds to build a little empire here in Sudbury.
Of course, even if you aren’t ABC Inc., let’s not kid ourselves—MANY businesses can overlay these points into their own business and make significant improvements.
My point in all this is very simple: life is all about responsibility, and business is no different. As entrepreneurs, we’ve got to stand up, fight for what we believe in, and always strive to improve. As I’ve mentioned in other articles, in business you either get better or get left behind.
Just like you wouldn’t let a child blame their poor school grades on a million different things, you can’t blame business results on a million things either.
We are entrepreneurs. We are problems solvers. We build businesses. We take responsibility. We add massive value. We are persistent and tenacious. We are resourceful, and we aren’t afraid to roll up our sleeves and put in the work.
If you’re operating a business, you’re at the helm of your ship and can lead it anywhere you’d like it to go. Will the journey be easy? Absolutely not. There will be ups and downs, sun and storms, friends and enemies. But in the end, it’s worth it.
I sincerely hope you take charge of your business and go after what you deserve,
To your success,
CEO RYS Group
The Blais family enjoying the views at Lake Tahoe.
RYS Group Inc.
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