Be Good at What You Do, and Customers Will Follow

By: Robert Hendrickson

From: IGC Retailer, Best of Show Issue, 2013

Be Good at What You Do, and Customers Will Follow
Once the building came into view, my disillusionment began. Surely this wasn’t the place where hitchhikers and hippies hung out on their way to Shawnee National Forest near Carbondale, IL during the ’60s. But my friend Steve, who has lived in the area most of his life, assured me the now-boarded-up, weed-covered brick building was indeed the Pomona General Store. And to think I used to make the three-hour drive from home to Pomona just to get a sandwich, an old-fashioned soda, some brownies and a T-shirt. I don’t remember the store looking quite like it does now, but I do remember the brownies ... which may have a direct correlation.
Sensing my disappointment of shattered memories, Steve quickly offered an alternative spot to spend the afternoon a few miles away - although it turned out to be a not-so-easy few miles away. Some of you may have heard or read my definition of the tired cliché, “location, location, location” as it relates to garden centers... .

Become a Sought-After Destination
Retail Rules of the Road:  “To better assure your success at running a garden center, you have a choice:  Be located close to where people live, be located close to where people shop, or be so good at what you do it doesn’t matter where you’re located.”

Our substitute for the Pomona General Store excursion took us miles out of town, down country roads, then a gravel lane to a clearing in the woods called Scratch Brewing Company. According to the recently opened brewery’s website, the company’s goal is “to make beer from local ingredients found in the woods and at local farms,” with no mention of any special poison-ivy brew.

Open just three days a week, the red-roof metal building perched above a wooded ravine enjoyed a steady stream of customers the entire time we were there. While placing an order for a flight of five craft-brews, I heard the customer next to me say, “Everyone at SIU says this is the coolest place to go for beer.” Looking around, I noticed our group wasn’t the only one enjoying the picnic table patio who would qualify for a senior discount had one been offered. Between BMWs, pick-up trucks, SUVs and hybrids, the patron mix was as age-diverse as the beer selection was long.

Which brings me to another tenet in my arsenal of business acumen:

Retail Rules of the Road:  “Really cool companies could care less when you were born. When you’re cool enough, every generation of shoppers will find you.”

While others continue their search for ways to attract elusive alphabet generations to independent garden centers, I’ll continue to believe that what’s missing requires more than many garden centers are willing to put in place. For those searching for this Holy Grail, a stop at a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s will supply all the research needed.

Speaking of Whole Foods, I enjoy spending time with people involved in the speciality food industry, a lot. During a recent trip to Wisconsin, when presented the choice of visiting a garden center or a cheese shop, it was an easy decision to go with the cheese.

My wife Wendy’s nephew David has been a buyer and manager for the cheese and wine department at two Whole Foods Market locations and turns cheese sampling into a sensory adventure. Our personal presentation took place at a campground after returning from a small cheese shop owned by the award-winning company Carr Valley Cheese. David’s cheese symphony covered all the senses - sight, smell, taste, touch and when cheese curds were included, even sound. Arranged in an order that featured the mildest flavored cheeses first, the journey moved from subtle to explosive, each new sample quickly becoming the cheese of choice of everyone around the table.

The experience of how just one product created then presented with passion was quite enough to make a business, enchant people of all generations and more than satisfy the end consumer reminded me of a quote from The Hartman Group, a research company in the food industry: “At the end of the day, if you’re in the business of food, isn’t it really all about the food?”

I’ll let you swap the word “food” for the business you believe you’re really about. And at the end of the day, shouldn’t that be enough?

Funny If It Weren’t So Sad
Running any size company is difficult. You would think people in charge of running really big companies would know things the rest of us just can’t fathom. But a couple of recent news articles make you wonder.

A Chicago Tribune piece titled, “United Continental Chief Promises Smoother Travel for Passengers” included, “Carriers are now acting like businesses, concerned with making a profit instead of simply grabbing market share, which has been a failed strategy in the past. We actually lost money on every seat and tried to make it up in volume; it didn’t work.”

Well, no ... uh ... peanuts, Dick Tracy. Money-losing-passenger times many passengers still comes up a loss. Pretty sure this concept was discussed in Business Finance 101.

And I think I heard a radio ad last week from the unrelenting discount chain Jos. A. Bank clothiers that said, “Buy a pair of socks and get three business suits for free!” At least that’s what I thought I heard. So no surprise when an e-mail from Retailing Today reported that Jos. A Bank’s net income fell 45 percent, same store sales fell 8.5 percent and gross profit is down due to lower average selling prices.

A poodle could have stated better excuses for this company not making money than stating the obvious. (Sorry, dog lovers.)

Look, if math wasn’t one of your best subjects, make sure you put someone in charge of your company who knows the difference between sales and profit. Handling money is much different from making money.

Just ask a poodle.    

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