I’m not a business analyst and would never claim to be though I do read the news and follow events on social media, and so couldn’t miss the announcements that Poundworld and House of Fraser are in financial trouble and are doing a Jessops / HMV / Game and going on a financial diet with store closures.
What this tells me is that the top end and bottom end of retail is struggling, along with those in between, and I think to survive economic downturn, you have to offer something new – and that does not mean cheaper necessarily.
It’s the same with the service industry – banks are closing because footfall is low and consumer behaviour patterns have changed; estate agents are liquidating because the costs of running that business are too high on the main road through town and returns are diminishing because online agents sell houses not for a percentage fee but for a fixed fee, but the race to the bottom from high street agents has put another nail in their coffin.
To differentiate yourself, you have to offer something more than simply a product or service that you can pick anywhere online – you’ve got to offer a better service and make sure you charge accordingly.
Example: hand car washes.
Great Yarmouth and Norwich are dotted with car washes on every corner with prices varying at each one.
I can get my whip washed (pretending I’m some hip-hop distant relative of Drake’s) at any one and pay either £1.99 or £17 depending on where I pull up and what level of valet I have.
You’d think that the £17 one would struggle and the sub £2 one have queues round the block but they don’t.
These two are the most popular ones locally and the ones, that always seem to be empty, pitch themselves somewhere in between – like the ones charging £12 for a full interior and exterior clean.
Poundworld and House of Fraser car wash businesses are doing best.
This is why.
The £2 one does a basic job on your car through a machine that used to leave me in paroxysms of fear when car aerials protruded from wings and roofs. There’s no human interaction here but always a steady queue. £2 is handed over, you drive in and are waved on to the moving rail and you are dragged through the canopied machinery.
Your car drips at the end, is smeared and the inside remains untouched but it will do, you think, this week.
The £17 one takes your shopping trolley back for you, gives you a dangly air freshener and here’s their USP – they use Autoglym products inside and out to valet your car in 15 minutes. £17 does seem steep until you watch and realise 6 people are cleaning your car expertly whilst you collect half frozen salad leaves on a meander round Tesco.
The car is smear free, smells wonderful inside and looks like new after you part with the dosh.
This is what I think they do right – they differentiate themselves not by price but by quality of service and quality of cleaning products. You pay more, but you get more for your money. They are helpful too and customer focused.
So if you’re reading this and thinking physical business is dying, by all means go online and improve your digital presence, but be customer-centric, set yourself apart from rivals by charging more but doing more for them in return.
I used to think, naively, when I first became self-employed that helping others was noble, but helping rival copywriters and web designers would be like shooting myself in the foot.
People like helpers and just as that car wash will continue to get my £17 per month as I drive past the £12 ones, you have got to set yourself apart from others by offering more, doing more and being helpful.
Here endeth the sermon.