2020 was difficult for everyone, and the restaurant industry wasn’t spared. With millions out of work and nearly 100,000 restaurants closing, the industry took a hard hit. $165 billion in revenue was lost just from March to July, and it’s estimated to be $240 billion by the end of the year, according to the National Restaurant Association.
Countless small businesses are struggling to rebuild. However, they’re stumbling on the same roadblock: trying to compete with big competitors on a national playing field. They see the big dogs doing well and want similar success. But to their detriment, they’re using the same tactics as deep-pocketed companies, leaving them overpowered and unsuccessful.
I know how cyclical this is — I’ve seen it time and time again throughout my 25+ years in the industry, not just during a pandemic. So how were some businesses able to pull themselves up, and even thrive, during times of hardship? They followed the three critical strategies for small businesses:
Use your home court advantage.
National companies are seen all the time because, well, they’re national. Small businesses simply don’t have that reach. Instead, direct your resources towards promoting yourself in your area. A new chiropractor struggled with almost no patients, while his community was supporting a local shelter. I suggested that he offer a free massage or exam for patients who bring in canned food donations. His community loved it, and word spread quickly.
He went from bored to booked… and soon opened up other locations. You don’t need to do something grandiose. It can be something simple, as long as it gets to the right audience — the local consumers in your “home court”.
Be the most creative and consistent advertiser in the area.
I came across an alteration shop owner who was preparing to close her doors after only six months of business. I suggested she run in a local coupon book, and she joked it would be a “going out of business” sale. After running a strong offer, business was booming a week later. Now the question was how to keep those repeat customers. After all, a 5% increase in customer retention can equate to an increase in profit by 25% (HubSpot). I proposed she fill a fishbowl with her business cards, each written with different offers. Even though people wouldn’t be return right away, they would remember her and appreciate her “custom offer” just for them.
Sure enough, people started coming back over and over again because they were constantly reminded of her business. She was successful thanks to local initiatives that national companies couldn’t execute.
Focus on customer service and personalized experiences.
Customer service and personalized experiences can differentiate yourself from cold, national corporations. According to HubSpot, “50% of customers increase their purchasing with a brand after a positive customer service experience”, with 86% of customers willing to pay an additional 25% for better customer service.
It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture or something that breaks the bank. Even the simplest action can evoke the most genuine smile. Think about your favorite businesses growing up. Why do you love them so much?
A laundromat owner found himself sitting around his business for hours, so I suggested he hand write personal thank you notes with the customer’s names on all of his finished items. Everyone loved them! It meant a lot that to his customers that he took the time to do that small gesture.
Personalization shows your customers you care — it’s one of the most important things I learned at the Pennysaver. When people feel comfortable with you, that’s when you stand out. Small businesses need to compete on their home court, and being the creative advertiser with great customer service will win each time. It’s like David and Goliath — had David gone against Goliath with his bare hands, he would’ve been unsuccessful. He approached the problem in a way that played to his strength, and that’s exactly what you need to do — find your stone and sling so your business can thrive.
Loren G. Dalton has spent over 27 years of his career helping small businesses compete, grow and win in their respective marketplaces. He is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and has been the president or CEO of five different companies, including the Pennysaver. Currently, he is the co-founder and CEO of WhutsFree.