‘Tribe building’ forges customer loyalty

Home Column 'Tribe building' forges customer loyalty

By Jim Augustus Armstrong In my last column, I said the holy grail of local search is for your business to be in the top search results when a prospect Googles “flooring store near me.” The more competition in your area for those spots, the higher the cost. But what if you can’t afford to compete and win those spots?

My “tribe building” installments are about answering that question. They’re also about helping you use digital marketing as part of a larger strategy for setting your business apart from other dealers, winning against large competitors and ensuring your long-term success no matter what happens in the economy.

Stew Leonard’s dairy store began in 1969 with only seven employees, 17,000 feet of retail space and carried only eight items. Since that time, it has grown to become the largest dairy store in the world with more than 30 locations. It earned a Guinness world record for “the greatest sales per unit area of any single food store in the U.S.” How did they achieve this selling a commodity like milk? They did it by building a fiercely loyal tribe of customers by doing things that made them so exceptional that the New York Times dubbed them the “Disneyland of Dairy Stores.”

The store featured things such as:

  • A petting zoo outside the entrance
  • Animatronic farm animals throughout their store
  • Costumed characters
  • Scheduled entertainment
  • A carefully curated list of 2,200 products (traditional grocery stores average 30,000 items)
  • A 6,000-pound block of granite outside the front entrance etched with its policy: Rule #1: The customer is always right. Rule #2: If the customer is ever wrong, re-read rule #1.

Companies like Stew Leonard’s, Apple and Starbucks didn’t grow their loyal customer base by ranking high in Google searches or through any form of traditional advertising; they did it through tribe building.

When your focus is on tribe building, your mission is to gather a group of customers and then nurture those customers and “wow” them so thoroughly that they refuse to do business with anyone else. They become evangelists for your store, telling everyone in their sphere about you. Yes, you may get new customers through advertising, but it’s so that you can add more raving fan members to your tribe who will join the ranks of evangelists telling others about you.

When you successfully build a tribe, it changes the marketing game. Now, instead of trying to reach masses of people who don’t know you, like you or trust you through expensive, traditional advertising, you can simply send a message directly to your tribe via email, direct mail or social media. Ranking No. 1 on Google is not nearly as crucial for you. However, a happy side benefit of building a loyal tribe is it will automatically help your search rankings because members of your tribe will continuously interact with you online even when they’re not in the market for flooring right that minute.

Building a tribe immunizes you from the ups and downs of the market. It protects you against large, billion-dollar competitors. Building a tribe takes work. It requires that you shift your mindset about how and why you acquire new customers. But the rewards are well worth it.

In the next installment, I will cover specific strategies for building your tribe.


Jim is the founder and president of Flooring Success Systems, a company that provides floor dealers with marketing services and coaching to help them attract quality customers, close more sales, get higher margins and work the hours they choose. For more information, visit FlooringSuccessSystems.com.

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April 26/May 3, 2021

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