For several months my wife Nancy has been looking to get a puppy. Our schnauzer is 10 years old and Nancy doesn’t like waiting until the current dog dies to get a new one. I am concerned that she may feel the same about husbands. She decided on a Morky, a mix between a Yorkshire Terrier and a Maltese. Basically she wanted a lap dog that didn’t shed. Every day before and after work she would scour the paper and the internet to find the dog of her dreams. July first 2011, she informed me that we would be driving to Phelan, CA (pronounced Feelan). Reluctant is the best description of my desire for another dog, but she needed me because the seller only spoke Spanish. We got his address and set out with confidence in our GPS mapping systems, both on her phone and in my car. It was 5:00 pm Saturday when we left Bakersfield to meet the seller after work.
I became concerned just outside of Lancaster, when the two GPS voices began to disagree and send us in different directions. I called the seller on my cell, after we had traveled for a half an hour without any signs of civilization. He suggested that I stop and ask for directions. The familiar line resounded in my head, “There’s a signpost up ahead, you are now entering The Twilight Zone.” With that cue, one of the GPS systems sprang to life and announced, “Turn left on Felon Rd.” It struck me that Phelan was only a euphemistic spelling and pronunciation for what would be the place of our death. The last verbal direction we received guided us to a dirt road that looked more like a cow path through the tumble weeds. Following the map on the screen and a dubious prayer, we wound our way to the marked point.
Before us was a compound lined in chain link with a mobile home, a few dogs and several lean-tos. Reluctant to exit the relative safety of my SUV, I called our seller again, who promised to emerge in a few minutes. Assured by our telephone exchange, I stepped out to stretch my legs. I noticed animal remains strewn around the area. Then a large wolf-like dog approached from around the back of the car. With renewed concerns about my wife’s motives I joked, “What have you gotten us into?” To which she replied, “We’re saving $300.” I began to assess the value of our lives as I calculated how to get back to the car without being eaten. Ultimately, we paid the ransom for the puppy and escaped before night fell.
I relate this story because of its direct correlation to small-town marketing. Too many business owners become numb to the needs and concerns of their customers because they perceive a lack of competition. No matter where you are in the world, the internet has given you competition. At any moment, customers will leave you in the dust for a better deal or improved service. Your history and relationship mean nothing when a few dollars are at stake.
With that in mind, please accept this advice. Take a fresh look at your business. Ensure that you are in a location that is easy to find. Consider the concerns of your clients. You cannot afford to be cavalier. Safety, cleanliness, service, delivery, return policies, and guarantees are important to them. Are they important to you? Though you may have enjoyed decades without competition, could your business survive in a big city? Do you speak the same language as your clients? That includes the common industry terms that you use. They must be understandable to the person who is trying to buy. Make your business sustainable. Once you have done this where you are, you can make your business expandable into new markets.
We used to have locally owned department stores in Bakersfield. Now, only the big chains like Macy’s remain. Oh, and a little dog by the same name. An homage if you will, to one that survives.