Growing a Business

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance
and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

I recently saw a Groupon deal (affiliate link to today’s deal): $9 for 6 cupcakes. That was 50% off the usual price of $18 for 6 cupcakes. How did that happen? How did something that we used to beg our parents to let us make from $2 boxed mixes that would yield about two dozen (depending on how much dough actually made it into the oven) become worth $3 a piece?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they’re not worth the cost. I don’t know; I don’t buy cupcakes so I am not a member of their target market. On the other hand, I might pay a seemingly high amount for a wonderful goat cheese, smoked salmon or a Walla-Walla wine. So maybe it’s a perception of value? Why do people pay over $40 for a small glass tea candle holder? (If you live in Seattle, you know which ones I mean. And–full disclosure–I do have one. It was given to me as a gift.) Yes, they are beautiful, but more to the point: most people who have one have several, and I’ve been in many homes that have a dozen or two (or three). There certainly are lovely candle holders to be had for a much lower cost.

Is it a time issue? Are we too busy to make our own cupcakes so we’re willing to pay $3 each for our kids to have a cupcake experience?

Is it a money issue? “Look how much money I make that I can have a collection of $40 tea candle holders in a rainbow of colors.”

Or maybe these are affordable treats. “We can’t take the kids to Disney World this year, but we can swing a few $3 cupcakes.”

These are things I wonder as our business struggles with the occasional price pushback on our service. IS it really the cost? Or is it that we need to help a prospective client see the value they will receive from using our service? Where is the tipping point between what their time (or their back) is worth and what they would pay to have their move managed and accomplished to their standards by professionals who can do it in a fraction of the time? Perhaps it could it be considered a status symbol when our client to says to a friend who calls on the day they are moving, “I can’t talk now. The Unpackers are here.” Both the luxury cupcake and the glass candle holder companies seem to have their niche markets figured out; kudos to them!

Ahhh, I love being an entrepreneur!

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Washington coast to dig razor clams. There are only a few days each year that the non-Native American public is allowed to dig razors and only on certain beaches approved by the state’s Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. Some of these towns have been hard-hit by the recession, the real estate and job market crashes and by various downturns in the fishing industry, so businesses in those areas generally gear up for those dates knowing that many tourists will be in town who will spend money in their hotels, restaurants, stores, etc.

As a small business owner myself, I projected that if I owned for instance, a restaurant, that is what I would do. I’d get the employees together and polish up that puppy until it gleamed in anticipation of the quite possibly hundreds of additional customers, order more supplies and gather everyone together to map out a game plan for handling the crowds we were anticipating. I may even add a couple of part-time, on-call employees to make sure everything went smoothly.  Here are some of the things I would NOT do:

1) The very last day of clam digging season began roughly an hour or two before low tide at 8:58 a.m. It takes most folks about an hour to dig their limits, so figuring they would be hungry for breakfast either before digging or after, I’d open fairly early. I would not watch a steady stream of people entering my restaurant at 10:15 a.m. and have the hostess tell them, “We don’t open until 11:00.” And then watch each and every one of them turn and leave.

2) I would not have a breakfast counter with four empty stools and tell a group of four customers that only three people could sit there because the counter in front of the fourth stool was reserved for a glass cake plate displaying muffins for sale.

3) I would not have only two very harried and cranky waitstaff (and no hostess) working a 16-20 table restaurant, one of whom had to repeatedly push through the long line of waiting customers with plates of food for one side of the very dark and scarily dismal-looking restaurant.

Granted, I have never tried to run a restaurant. I’m sure there are challenges I cannot even comprehend that differ from my business. However, there are ways in which all businesses are similar. Primary among them are customer service, finding and keeping good employees and making a profit. Last year, I ate breakfast at a diner in Anchorage that provides free coffee and newspapers for waiting customers. Their restaurant is nearly always full and their waitstaff is cheerful and service-oriented.

As for our party of four: after leaving the above three restaurants hungry, we went to the grocery store for eggs and bacon, returned to our friends’ home and made our own breakfast. It was delicious.

I’m curious– how should a businesses handle the challenge of getting clients to trust you and/or trust the process before they are able to experience the results?

Recently, Seamless Moves had the opportunity to bid on helping “Sam” (approx. 90 yrs old) and “Jill” (approx. 80 years old) with their move into a lovely local retirement community. We came highly recommended by the Community Relations Director who has seen our work firsthand numerous times. Even though our bid for the same services was a bit lower, Sam chose to use a local moving company for packing and moving services due to their corporate structure, with which he felt more comfortable. We were very concerned and tried to explain to Sam that he was not “comparing apples to apples,” but his strong feelings about supporting a company with his preferred corporate structure won out.

A week after their move, we were in the building visiting another client when we happened upon Sam and Jill. They invited us in to their apartment, which was disorganized and still full of boxes. The first thing Sam said was, “I made a mistake not hiring your company for this move.” He told us the movers had arrived at their former home four hours later than originally scheduled, which meant the truck was stuck in rush hour traffic on the way to the new apartment. It also meant that their furniture and boxes were not inside their new place until quite a bit later that evening. Tiring for anyone–but for seniors, exponentially so.

The movers added costs for the additional time the move took to complete to Sam and Jill’s bill which, as you may imagine, did not please them at all. Sam has called the moving company several times trying to get his bill adjusted.

Jill, who is legally blind, had been doing a yeoman job of unpacking the boxes and had friends who removed the “empties” from their apartment. (Sam is immobile.) A week later, however, the only room that did not have unpacked boxes was their bedroom, two large bookcases still needed to be moved into a different room and their lovely artworks and family photos were piled in a corner.

“You know Sam,” I told him, “if we had done this move for you, you would have no boxes in your apartment now. In fact, the day after the movers left, the furniture would all be in place where you wanted it, everything would be put away; even your pictures would have been hung on the walls. We also would have ensured the movers arrived on time or they would have been replaced on the spot with another company.” I gently asked him if we could help them finish unpacking and setting up their apartment, but Sam said, “No thanks; we can handle it.” Jill sank in her chair visibly and shook her head. (I should mention that we are not talking about a large sum of money and that these folks have the ability to pay for the service should they decide to. We understand that not everyone has that option.)

Sam and Jill’s situation is not at all unique. In our business, we are sometimes in the unenviable position of trying to explain a relatively new type of service to clients who have never heard of it, or need to be shown its value. Our situation reminds me of my own recent visit to a Clinical Nutritionist. She reminds me of her years of experience helping people feel their best and that I came to see her on very high recommendations from two friends. “Trust me,” she says, “I know what I’m doing. This WILL work.” It strikes me that she’s saying the same thing to me that I say to our clients, “Trust us; we do this every day. You will have no stress—we will handle it all.” But how does any business convince someone who has not even been aware of this option before today? Even with glowing testimonials from previous clients?