Tonight I had arrived home from work and began to contemplate ideas for dinner with my roommate. After the normal back-and-forth of ideas, we came across an old coupon for a local pizza chain that has been in Utah for years. We both asked the same question simultaneously, “is this place still open?”. Once we decided to give it a try, I attempted to go to their website…it returned a broken link. After, I picked up the phone and called them. It rang through to a voicemail after several rings. I went on to tell my roommate that I was certain this place was closed down. He suggested I make one last attempt. On the last try, I got through to the pizzeria to which I placed my order reluctantly.
Being as business oriented as I am, this chain of events had set me off. I told my roommate that it amazes me how places can function in this way. I had some familiarity with the origin of this particular pizza chain. It had started back in the late 90’s by a family friend who was diligent in getting his first store off the ground. With some hard work that the first store grew into two, and then sprouted to multiple locations. Everyone is familiar with this brand in Utah, but it has never been a particularly ‘exciting’ place.
This led me to contemplate what I call the “complacency vortex” in small business. Typically, it’s a small business that has had enough initial success to get off the ground, maintain some steady growth, but reaches a plateau at one point or the other. Over time they fail to grow with the times, and their demise is then on the horizon. Here are some elements of the vortex that I feel plague many small operations:
Customer Service & Experience
At some point, the brand feels established and stops putting energy into hiring the right front-end people. They end up with individuals who are very transactional and don’t demonstrate value toward the customers who enter the business. They get the job done (collecting money, taking orders), but that is where it ends. The customer doesn’t leave feeling particularly valued, and no loyalty is earned.
Moreover, the company stops caring about what the place looks like or how comfortable customers are. The floors or tables might not be cleaned for hours on end, the bathroom is dirty, or they don’t answer the phone quickly. The devil is in the details here, and this is the first area that really starts their entry into the vortex.
Fail to Market in a Modern Way
Marketing is an extremely technical execution, and if you have an operator who has not kept up with the times, both your bottom and top line revenues will take a serious hit. Most commonly, there is a failure to communicate correctly to the specific audience the company is targeting. In fact, most operators might have difficulty articulating who their perfect customer is. This, in turn, leads to horrible marketing. There is not an awareness of the local socioeconomics they are executing against, so everything is a shot in the dark.
Overall, when it comes to marketing, it is the very fundamentals that these places struggle with. The website hasn’t been updated in years, it is not mobile friendly, or it isn’t even existent. There is a horribly lacking social media presence, and it is not executed correctly to maximize ROI. These businesses fail to story-tell to their customers in a way that creates brand awareness and retention. They are dumping money into advertising that lacks ROI, or may even hurt their margins such as coupons.
Failure of Quality & Proprietary Concept
The majority of businesses distinguish themselves based on either quality or a proprietary concept, both are elements that businesses in the vortex fail at notably. They have arrived at a place economically where they no longer have
a strong focus on quality as they did in their earlier days. Over time, they lose anything that sets them apart from others. This lack of competitive intelligence accelerates them into the vortex further. No longer are they competitive in the local market, and they start losing local market penetration without even knowing it.
Avoiding the Vortex
Small businesses are able to avoid the vortex by always having self-awareness of their performance. When they feel they are on solid ground, indispensable, or unbeatable is a time they are on dangerous ground. If you are going to succeed in business, you have to keep your head on a swivel and always see the forest for the trees.
It doesn’t matter how long you have been in business, customers will always expect an exceptional experience and a quality product. Marketing is rapidly changing, and you have to story-tell in the way your customers desire. What if you don’t understand Instagram? Well start learning! The 22-year-old college girl who wants a pizza on a Tuesday night doesn’t care if you understand Instagram or not. If you aren’t communicating to your customers via the mediums they are listening to, you might as well start closing up shop now! Your digital presence is the new curbside appeal, and it is essential to keeping you out of the vortex.