How to get more from the stores you shop at

Getting Added Value for Your Purchases

by Rich Finzer

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In case you've missed it, the U.S. economy is mired in a protracted recession. Dozens of national chains have filed for Chapter 11, and some have curtailed expansion efforts while others have retrenched, laid off workers, and held on for dear life. Yet despite the bad business climate, some companies have not only survived, but also they've gained market share, built loyal customer bases, and thrived. How did they do it? Easy! Every successful business goes the extra mile, ensuring each customer is not only satisfied, but pleasantly surprised as well. So what's in all this for a savvy consumer? The answer is plenty!

Quality: Near my home is a family-owned hardware that's been in business for 50 years. Its prices are somewhat high, but the quality of everything is top drawer. U.S. manufactured tools, hardware, and fasteners keep customers coming back. In a recent magazine article, the owner revealed he threatened to dump his hardware supplier if it continued delivering Chinese-made screws, because the quality of the steel was so poor. He got what he wanted. As a consumer, would you rather have fairly priced high quality merchandise or junk you'll end up replacing every few years? The business has one other loyalty building tactic; it will stay open past regular closing hours for customers with emergencies. Will the big box home improvement stores do that?

Baker's Dozen: To prevent unscrupulous bakers from cheating illiterate French peasants, Napoleon decreed that bakers selling 11 rolls as 12 would be deprived of a hand. To protect themselves from dismemberment, French bakers began adding an extra roll to 12, and the concept of the "baker's dozen" was born. At established bakeries, like the Starlight Bakery in Syracuse, NY, that tradition continues. And despite being located in a rundown neighborhood, suburban customers still flock to the place. Is the bakery losing money? Well, I couldn't say. After all, it's only been in business since 1891. So would you prefer 12 rolls or 13? Geez, that's a toughie!

I do something similar when selling firewood. Customers receive bundles of kindling with their order. Most firewood dealers neglect this extra touch, but many of mine are middle-aged women with few tools, so it's a welcome bonus. Other than the time it takes to gather the stuff, it costs me nothing and it's always appreciated. As a buyer, constantly seek out the perks. If you find them, you've located an entrepreneur hungry for your business. The funny thing is that I charge top dollar but I'm sold out every year while my competitors usually have carryover. I enjoy giving my customers special treatment. And if vendor and a customer get beyond the money part of a transaction, it's referred to as a "relationship." I provide one other element of added value as well, and it's service.

Service: At Florida-based Publix supermarkets, attendants are always available to carry groceries to a customer's car, and the "lot boys" are forbidden from accepting tips. It's a free service. Can you guess the name of the most successful grocery chain in Florida? I perform the equivalent when delivering wood. Many suppliers simply dump the stuff in a customer's driveway, but not me. I unload and stack it wherever a customer asks, because I view customer service as quality in motion.

Discounts: As an additional incentive, I offer a discount to buyers if they drive out and load the wood themselves. They get a break from my normal prices, and I don't have to load/unload/stack the wood upon delivery. I'm happy, the customer saves money, and my competitors continue losing accounts to me. I do less work and my customers benefit. Nobody loses in that equation.

Custom Orders: Many businesses charge extra for anything out of the ordinary, but not me. If a customer wants a specific length of cordwood to accommodate their firebox door, I'm glad to provide it at no additional charge. If they want smaller/larger chunks, that's fine too. A face cord of wood is a volume measurement, so they either receive more small pieces or fewer large ones. What difference does it make? My customers decide precisely what they want, and I make sure they get it. If any business starts to nickel and dime you with ancillary charges for minor modifications, dump them. They don't deserve your trade, and you don't need the hassle.

Do the Unexpected: Years ago, while delivering an order, I was approached by two neighbors from across the street. Each wanted two face cords but neither had room for that much. So I suggested, "Well, why not buy three and split the third one?" Both were delighted because nobody will deliver a half face cord. I didn't either. I delivered a third one and unloaded half in each guy's garage. There was no extra cost to me. I gained two new customers by thinking creatively. As a consumer, seek out vendors willing to accommodate the occasional special request because they want your business.

Admittedly, a firewood business is not a bakery, hardware store, or grocery chain, but my point is true for all of them. As a business operator, do the little extras and profit from your competitor's inattention. Incorporate value add strategies into your business model, keep your customers satisfied, and watch your profits grow. Keep in mind that a businessman without happy customers has plenty free time on his hands. The relationship between any enterprise and its clients should be mutually beneficial.

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