Bowling for Business: Yelp Yourself

(This column first appeared on on June 5, 2011.)

I know when it’s time for a manicure or pedicure without even looking at my hands or feet. But when it comes to tires, I’ve long relied on strangers to inform me when I need new wheels. And inform me, they do—in parking lots outside the post office, gas stations, grocery stores and church. The reason strangers concern themselves with the condition of my vehicle accessories is beyond me. But why mess with a system that works?

In November, someone noticed the sad state of my Michelins and suggested I head to Costco for replacement tires. But I believe in keeping business on the hill. So, instead of supporting a big box store in San Bernardino, I paid $598 to Tony’s Repair Shop in Crestline and proudly drove my Mastercrafts around the mountain, confident that strangers would approve.

Imagine my surprise when someone stopped me in the Village last week to ask why my vehicle was sporting Nascar Slicks. I was horrified that he was right! After only six months and 8,000 miles, the tread pattern was completely absent on all four of my tires.

A little research revealed that Cooper Rubber & Tire Company warranties the Mastercraft line, but Tony (who also owns Action Auto in Running Springs), refuses to stand behind the products he sells. So, this time around, I had no choice but to head down the hill to buy replacement tires at Costco.

My reasons for sharing this story are threefold:

  1. If we want our mountain community to survive, we have to buy local.
  2. If we buy local, merchants need to show their appreciation for our support by going the extra mile.
  3. As consumers, we should take advantage of electronic forums to share positive and negative experiences about merchants near and far.

It breaks my heart to see San Bernardino Mountain businesses fail. This month alone has ushered the closure of several small shops. In the Village, scantily-clad mannequins try in vain to distract shoppers from the empty storefronts that pepper the local landscape. And while the economy is at least partially to blame, the onus falls on us.

With a vested interest in our community’s success, we need to count the cost before driving down the hill to buy everything from toothpaste and toilet paper to furniture and life insurance. By the same token, business owners should value the commerce that comes our way by delivering a caliber of service and quality of products that is a cut above anything available in the valley below.

Entrepreneurs used to carefully guard their reputations because they understood the power of the people. Because news traveled fast in small towns, an investment in one customer paid dividends with the next. But as populations grew and technology introduced anonymity to the mix, some business owners stepped away from the old ways of doing business—to the detriment of us all.

Ironically, in some ways, the Information Superhighway allows us a return to the days of old, where, on sites like Yelp and Epinions, we can make sure that consumer news travels fast. And, good or bad, online reviews have a long shelf life. So flex your consumer muscle by taking the time to submit reviews.

Please allow me a departure from my regular column format so I can share the ways that one small local business is getting it right. (Disclaimer: Blue Jay Nails & Spa is certainly not the only store on the hill that employs good business practices. Also, Blue Jay Nails & Spa is not a client of Mountain Marketing Group.)

10 Lessons from a Successful Small Business

1. Go the distance to find business

Manicurists at Blue Jay Nails & Spa live down the hill. They commute up and down each day because they are willing to go where the business is. Are you willing to go out of your way to develop new leads?

2. Touch base early and often

A chorus of chipper voices greets everyone who comes in the door. You don’t have to immediately be available to everyone who inquires. Just let them know you care about their business and will help them as soon as you are able.

3. Involve clients in the process

To help pass the time, the happy staff at Blue Jay Nails & Spa directs customers to select their nail polish. Later, they instruct patrons to choose an empty spa chair. The activity fools customers into believing that the wait is shorter than it actually is. Involve your clients in the process to foster buy-in.

4. Don’t be afraid of a little hard work

Just watching them bend over makes my back hurt. I am impressed by how diligently everyone at the salon works. At the end of the day, hard work pays off.

5. Invest where it matters

A large flat screen TV keeps customers entertained. Also, Blue Jay Nails & Spa stocks so many bottles of nail polish, they could paint a Tacoma.

6. Pamper your peeps

Luxurious leather spa chairs line the entire left side of the salon. Decorative floral murals and soft music make it easy to relax. Happy people are more likely to spend money than their uptight counterparts.

7. Supply the demand

While manicures and pedicures are their specialties, Blue Jay Nails has answered customer demand by adding extras like massages and eyelash extensions. Why not increase your offerings to include additional products or services that interest your clients?

8. Don’t be afraid to up-sell

I usually budget $25 for a pedicure but end up spending closer to $40 because the technicians at Blue Jay Nail & Spa aren’t afraid to offer upgrades like paraffin wax, French manicures and flowers. Don’t be afraid to offer additional service lines to current customers.

9. Smile

Maybe it’s because they work all day with Acetone. I’m not sure. But the one thing you can always count on from the staff at Blue Jay Nails is a smile.

10. Advertise

Of course, I’m biased when it comes to this particular business strategy. But one of the reasons Blue Jay Nails succeeds is because they employ a multi-pronged marketing strategy including prominent signage, word-of-mouth marketing and phone calls to regular customers to remind them when it’s time for a wax or a fill. Makes me wonder if they’d be willing to remind me next time it’s time to rotate my tires.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s