Can meatballs be your competitive advantage?

Home Columns Can meatballs be your competitive advantage?

by Lisbeth Calandrino

Several years ago I took a trip to Ikea in New Jersey. Ikea is the largest furniture store in the world with over 10,000 items on display.

After a tour of the store, a stop at its day care center and, of course, a plate of Swedish meatballs, I took out my notebook and my pen and convinced my companion to help me interview customers coming out of the store. Since we were both in suits, people thought we worked for Ikea and seemed playful and delighted to answer questions. We spent 45 minutes asking questions and were never accosted by the Ikea people.

Interestingly, everyone remarked about how much there was to look at but there were two things most people brought up—the meatballs and day care center. Both made the trip worthwhile. Anything for good food and a place to leave the kids.

I had a friend who owned a carpet store in an Italian section of Yonkers, New York. Many of the women would brag about their meatballs. On Fridays, he would fry up bulbs of garlic and meatballs with sauce, open the doors and turn on these giant fans.

You couldn’t miss the smell. He was the hit of the neighborhood and the only one making meatballs. His only competition for the customer’s dollar was a pizza place that brought in their 7-year-old on Saturdays to throw pizza dough in the front window. She was really cute and was really good at throwing the dough.

All this goes to the most powerful and overlooked tactic for obtaining customers: WOM or world-of-mouth advertising. It used to be “word of mouth” but now when someone opens his mouth, it’s spread throughout the universe—that’s why it is so powerful. It can be your most effective marketing tool.

Good world-of-mouth doesn’t happen by chance and smart business owners make a huge investment in their customers. To do this you must know what makes your customers happy and be committed to giving them what they need.

Great world-of-mouth is the outcome of an emotional connection with your customers. It means everyone in your business is “all in” and delivers the same amazing service every time to every customer. So what if it is to the customers who only show up to eat the meatballs or attend your free barbecues.

We had our “regulars” who only showed up for free meals but it didn’t matter because they told everyone we were the best people in town. Trust me it was more effective than the local newspaper, which hit the trash the same day.

Some things you can do:

•Get known for something other than cheap prices. These days, you make up the rules.

•Follow your customers through all the “touch points” of the sale. The installation experience is the one where you can really shine. Call before, during and after. If possible, show up after the installation, deliver a gift and take some photos of the job. Get a testimonial, post it all on social media and your world-of-mouth is taken care of.

•Make the experience personal. For years we convinced my mother to make apple pies for Mother’s Day. The box was truly beautiful, with a photo of my baby sister and myself and a note on the front that said, “With love to mother.” The pies never stopped being a hit.

•Hire people who want to make a difference; people who want to serve and will help their fellow employees.

If you’re doing something really special that has given you great results, we would love to know and I can include it in a future column. Email Redhot

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