Elements of small business success – Part 3

This Thanksgiving trip to North Carolina gave me a chance to drive by hundreds of successful and failed businesses. My earlier conclusion, for what it’s worth, is that successful businesses appeared to be managed by strong personalities. Everything I could see appeared to be there to make money for the company.

After we arrived, I spoke with owners of successful small businesses and found that they had some other elements in common, even though they sold entirely different products. All of these prosperous stores provided an outstanding customer experience.

We vivited a knitting shop, Knit One Stitch Too, that was located in an upscale shopping center. While Gretchen purchased skeins of exotic yarns with glitter and silk, I talked to the owner, Betty Weber, and asked about her successful actions. I was impressed with her inventory and with her ability to succeed in a high-rent location.

She had opened the shop three years ago and decided from the beginning to build a community of knitters. The front of the shop holds a large table where patrons are welcome to sit, visit, and knit for as long as they wish. She sponsors various charity efforts and sponsors knitting of baby garments for service wives. She mentioned that patrons can call for help with knitting problems even outside business hours. Good products and a high level of customer service seem to make a winning combination.

A nearby gift shop, Uncommon Scents, featured imaginative merchandising, friendly staff, and two miniature dachshunds to greet visitors.

Working_dogsThe dogs bark when someone comes into the store and the staff is working in the back, much friendlier than the usual infrared door chimes.

Dealing with friendly and knowledgeable staff members is always a treat. As a result, I bought more than I planned.

Both stores are located directly across the North Cross Shopping Center from Target, but seem to be doing well in spite of that. I believe their superior level of customer satisfaction allows them to compete on their own terms. Incidently, neither store had a working web site.

I managed to break my glasses and took them to a nearby eyecare center, Northcross Eye Associates, that was recommended by the gift shop owner. The optical center staff repaired them and would not take payment for their efforts. This center was quite upscale inside and out, but the gracious service provided the friendly staff members afforded me made more of an impression than the tasteful furnishings and stylish inventory.

We shopped at Target and even though they made an exceptional effort to be helpful, their people were not as knowledgeable as any of the smaller shops. We bought commodity products at Target and specialty items at the smaller shops. Shopping at the smaller shops was much more pleasant.

I think that small shops that understand their customer’s needs and service their customers well will continue to prosper, even with a nearby Walmart or Target. The same may be true with industries other than retail. Large businesses may have economies of scale on their side, but small businesses are more agile and can provide higher levels of service with less effort. An outstanding customer experience creates great word-of-mouth publicity and return customers.

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