Monday, 9 November 2009

Five Big Lessons From Small Shop Keepers

Convention was that if you were thinking of launching a small business you should look at big business for inspiration. Now with many big businesses failing that's being turned on its head as the business world looks at the small independent shop keeper to learn lessons for success: when global brand Starbucks rolled out its new store concept recently it resembled a local unbranded independent coffee shop.
A successful independent shop is what enterprise is all about and recently I've been chatting to neighbourhood coffee shop owners, barbers and shop keepers. Here's what I've learnt:

1) TIME. Success is about putting the hours in, and being patient – it won't happen overnight. From the coffee shop owner putting in 12 hour days to the barber on his feet all day, you have to invest hands-on time in your business. Many people I spoke to didn't even have hire staff for the first 6 or 12 months, keeping the operation lean whilst building revenues and a reputation.

2) CONTROL. Everyone I spoke to stayed across the whole operation, especially the details. From knowing they need to budget £10 a week for window cleaning to checking the utility bills, these proprietors keep their eye on everything.

3) NICHE. The successful guys are filling a niche in the market. The coffee shop that roasts its own beans on the premises is the only one in town. The barber shop that cuts men’s hair for £10; that's what he and his team do. And it's what people queue for, 6 days a week. No-one else around is providing that damn-simple offering; he's not trying to compete with the £30+ hairdresser visit with complimentary cappuccino.

4) SERVICE. Tom Peters quotes a Chinese proverb in one of his presentations: 'Man With Unsmiling Face Must Not Open Shop'. Dead right. These guys are going the extra mile. Welcoming customers, engaging with them. Offering free coffee samples, providing a venue for community groups, discounts for pensioners.

5) WORD OF MOUTH. Sure, social media and on-line will help buzz marketing but success here is about good old-fashioned word of mouth, something every entrepreneur aspires to. We get good service, we talk about it, we spread the word.


Conor Neill said...

I teach MBAs and am an entrepreneur. I love this simple reflection on some key elements of building a successful business. Too many MBAs and first time entrepreneurs focus on the business plan, raising capital, the "exit" and not enough on the day to day operational details that are key to building a great business. Thanks for the post.

Ian Sanders said...

Thanks Conor. It's so easy to get lost in the trappings of business: long term plans, securing funding, marketing strategies. Where actually what's more important is keeping it real and focusing on the basics first.