One of the simplest pieces of business advice I received early in my editorial career was also one of the most helpful.
I was encouraged to surprise our readers. Not at every step, mind you, because that can be startling and disconcerting. Surprise people just often enough, I was told, to make people pause and think and react. Do it just enough to keep people from considering what we do to be ordinary.
The trick to being extraordinary in any business is giving people new reasons to appreciate you all over again without messing with the core values, practices and services that have cultivated customer expectations and loyalty in the first place.
Familiarity can breed comfort long before it breeds contempt. But beware of the possibility for contempt.
Customers of every business can sniff out indifference and inaction. Many will map out their exit when complacency begins decaying into stagnation.
Established businesses with established restraints can’t necessarily introduce and flaunt disruption as suddenly and as extremely as startups. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to surprise customers with unexpected initiatives that can elicit delight and stamp an enterprise as responsively progressive while reinforcing and widening its sales base.
The independent gourmet houseware retailing landscape is dotted with examples of owners who took the risk of leaving their comfort zones to examine and ultimately implement new ideas that once would have seemed awkwardly out of place inside their stores. And they’ve often been surprised themselves at how much and how quickly such efforts positively impacted sales.
The special outdoor cooking feature in this issue (see page 28) exemplifies such out-of-the-ordinary thinking and action. You’ll learn how some storeowners jumped deep into premium specialty grill category in recent years as the outdoor cooking and entertaining lifestyle ignited. Robust new revenue and profit centers were the payoff as rising grill sales stoked big gains in complementary categories like grilling tools, accessories, fuel and seasonings.
Independent kitchenware retailers should selectively and reasonably step outside their boxes from time to time. There might be little to lose and much to gain from the integration of new traffic-building products (such as locally made specialty foods and pet accessories); fun, impulse products (such as seasonal gifts and novelty socks… yes, socks); and imaginative marketing campaigns, promotions and events not found in the traditional gourmet housewares store playbook.
None of this has to rattle a shop’s core as a kitchenware and cooking authority. It just might help to stabilize that core at a time when so much out there threatens to disrupt it.
You don’t have to startle customers to surprise them every now and then. Make them pause and think and react. Remind them why you are extraordinary. They will appreciate you all over again.