(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 4, 2011.)
As soon as winter weather blew into Lake Arrowhead, I started experiencing insomnia. For weeks, I tossed and turned, double- and triple-checked the thermostat and added blankets to our bed, all to no avail. I’m embarrassed to share what proved to be the simple solution to my sleeplessness—socks. That’s right…all it took to warm me up so I could drift off to sleep was to slip into a toasty pair of socks.
In Lake Arrowhead and the surrounding area, we are experiencing a chronic problem of another kind—the impending death of our mountain community. Over the past three years, we’ve all watched in horror as businesses of every variety have shuttered at an alarming rate. Vino 100 in the Village, Betty’s General Store in Blue Jay and Tony’s Mexican Restaurant in Cedar Glen are a few of the most recent casualties. The good news is that the solution is just as simple as warm socks on a cold night.
Do you, like me, enjoy the convenience of not having to drive down the 330 or the 18 every time you need to:
- Pick up groceries?
- Grab a bite to eat?
- Buy necessities like underwear, dog food and medication?
- Find last-minute gifts?
- Work out?
Although Bowling for Business is usually written to entrepreneurs, let me depart from my usual format to speak directly to consumers. We can blame local vendors for limited inventory, high prices and inferior customer service until the cows come home. But if we don’t make a concerted effort to keep businesses open on the hill, eventually, we will lose the luxury of living in an active, beautiful mountain community. Lake Arrowhead will become a ghost town.
And we’re hardly alone. Small businesses and towns across the country are dropping like flies. But statistics are hard to pin down for several reasons:
- Definitions vary about what constitutes a small town. For purposes of this column, we will defer to The Huffington Post, which defines a small town as anyplace with a population of fewer than 50,000.
- Community leaders gamely hide facts for fear reality will sound the death knell. So figures are often fudged. For instance, administrators insist that 80% of The Lake Arrowhead Village is currently occupied. But one need only survey the local landscape to more accurately assess the situation. Creative displays and signs promising “another exciting store coming soon” belie the sobering reality that far more space is available than leased…not just in the Village but across the mountain entire.
- No central database exists for reporting closure of a business or small town. So, while towns and small businesses open with pomp and circumstance, they tend to die with a whimper.
When all is said and done, like the rest of the country, those of us who make this area our home are suffering the harsh realities of a down economy. Job loss is up. Housing prices are down. Discretionary spending is low. So how can we affect the future of Lake Arrowhead?
Spend money on the hill!
Now, admittedly, doing this is not always possible. For instance, I recently tried in vain to locate a hot holiday toy called the vtech InnoTAB by shopping locally at Mr. G’s for Toys, Little Folks Bookshoppe and Radio Shack. But I struck out. When I asked one of the proprietors why I couldn’t even order the product, he explained that large companies like vtech require minimum orders of 25,000 units, which is why the toy is only sold at big box stores.
But, whenever possible, we should exercise our local options because buying local matters. In fact, Mickki Langsten, Executive Director of the Mile High Business Alliance in Denver, which has an active “Buy Local” program says,
“Each dollar spent at a locally-owned business re-circulates in a community six times more than a dollar spent at a non-local business.”
So, if you want to join a gym, check out Curves Lake Arrowhead. The owner, Candy Fairchild Krelnikov, understands the importance of investing in the lives of her members. In addition to supporting client weight-loss efforts, she organizes field trips and shares beauty secrets like tips about makeup and hairstyling products.
Further demonstrating her commitment to the local community, Candy is organizing an informal group called Women in Action, made up of business owners who wants to meet to informally discuss business best practices. The first meeting will be held at Hot Shots in Blue Jay, at 1 p.m. the first Thursday of every month beginning in January.
If a similar group exists for men, I’m not aware of it. But the Chamber of Commerce encourages entrepreneurs of both genders to take advantage of mixers, meetings and business events held throughout the year, including the mountain-wide economic summit held annually in Big Bear.
So, the next time you shop or go out to eat, consider the cost of driving down the hill…not just in gas and time, but in terms of the potential long-term affect your decision might have on our local economy. Enjoy the fact that, for now, at least, you can still buy socks without having to leave the mountain.
Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.
(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on October 23, 2011.)
I love spending time with our daughters and their boyfriends and friends and our granddaughter. But I must admit that, on Sunday afternoons, after a weekend of preparing meals, cleaning, chauffeuring and entertaining, when I assess our checking account balance, gas tank and the condition of our home, I feel a little like a farmer surveying crop damage following a locust swarm.
One of my clients described his recent social coupon experience in much the same way. The owner of a domestic referral agency based in LaVerne, he experimented with Groupon by offering discounted housekeeping services in the Inland Empire. And, as social coupon redeemers so often do, they signed up en masse for housecleaning, drained him and his staff of their time and resources and then fled to the next available online coupon opportunity.
He is hardly alone. In 2010, the owner of a bakery and café in Portland, Oregon called Posies wrote a now infamous blog post recounting her own similar experience:
“(Using Groupon) was the single worst decision I have ever made as a business owner thus far,” she wrote, also revealing she lost $8,000 as well as the good will of many of her existing customers because of the flood of Groupon users and the exorbitant percentage required by the service provider.
How can this be? After all, theoretically, group coupons supposedly benefit everyone—the site, consumer and the business owner. Consumers are said to benefit from lower prices by way of collective bargaining. The business is supposed to gain new patrons. And the site gets a cut from all of the sales. Win/win, right? Not so fast.
I realize that there are slight differences between the many social coupon services. So please allow me to generalize in order to explain the social-couponing process:
- The business owner works with social coupon site representatives to craft a great deal.
- The sales associate recommends offering a product or service “at least a 50% off” to generate rabid consumer interest.
- The business owner agrees to not only deeply discount his or her product or service for the offering but also to pay the coupon site 50% of the final take. (In other words, business owners who offer specials on social coupon sites are usually agreeing to do business at approximately 25% their usual rate.)
- The social coupon site emails the world and posts announcements to promote the deal.
- Consumers pay the coupon site and rush to redeem the special.
- The entrepreneur struggles to meet demand.
- Rinse and repeat.
Groupon is arguably the best known in the business, having been declared by Forbes as: “the fastest growing company ever.” But it is certainly not the only company or even the first to come up with the concept of providing coupon savings to groups of people who purchase discount tickets for products and services in advance. Here are a handful of similar sites:
BuyWithMe (which has recently absorbed several direct competitors)
GoogleOffers (coming soon)
LivingSocial (a major player)
I believe the ones who benefit most from group coupon sites are the sites themselves, evidenced by the fact that new ones pop up each day. I will admit there is one exception to the rule. If you purchased 9 million more American Idol figurines that you want to unload, you might benefit from selling them through an online coupon site. Otherwise, you’re probably better off to avoid the platform altogether. Although I don’t normally share my personal prejudices about marketing tools, in this case, I feel compelled:
- Group coupons destroy profitability within various markets
Once you run a 50% off campaign in your local area in your industry, you will be hard-pressed to get anyone in your sector to return to previous pricing levels. So, if you are comfortable operating at 25% of your current asking prices, then just drop your fees and leave online coupon companies out of the mix entirely.
Otherwise, in effect, you destroy profitability not just for yourself, but for everyone in your field. According to a recent study of Groupon, only 25% of redeemers buy additional products beyond the ones offered through the coupon and only 15% of coupon users come back.
- Over time, discounts will erode service levels and undermine customer satisfaction
Even if you can withstand a one-time coupon offer where you collect just 25% of what you normally receive, sustained couponing will ultimately eat into profitability and compromise service levels. With poor service, customer satisfaction will likely decline and you could stand to lose not only unprofitable coupon users, but all of your clients.
- You stand to destroy customer loyalty—
Offering one-time customers the best deals rewards them instead of your existing clientele. Instead, why not tender loyalty incentives to keep good clients coming back? Besides, do you really want to be known as the cheapest game in town? Is that the best you have to offer?
Instead of focusing on price alone, provide superior customer service and build a reputation based on trust, loyalty and the uniqueness of your brand. If you go that route, you’ll generate plenty of buzz without having to resort to online coupon sites. And that should keep locust swarms and crop damage to a minimum.
Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.
(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on September 26, 2011.)
While we were in junior high school, my best friend Susan and I loved to bake. Unfortunately, we usually pursued culinary odysseys at my house instead of hers. And, because my mother was single and almost always at work, we were often out of staples like flour, sugar and eggs. So you can imagine our lack of success relative to producing actual, edible pies, brownies and cakes.
When I first started managing social media for clients, I let many of them talk me into tweeting and posting status updates while foregoing the pricier blog-post component of full-service public relations campaigns. However, experience has since taught that blogs are as central to successful marketing as chocolate chips are to chocolate chip cookies. You can try to skip the main ingredient. But, then why bother baking at all?
As blogs first started popping up on electronic radar, few of us understood the medium, let alone the messengers. Bloggers seemed an odd lot of whiners who never left their keyboards. Without the endorsement of major metropolitan newspapers or book publishers, they were easy to discount, mock or ignore. But it didn’t take long for blogging to go mainstream.
In the late 1990s, blogs were set up and maintained by programmers who understood the strange computer language known as HTML code. Later, developers built WYSIWYG editing systems on platforms like Blogger and WordPress, which brought blogging to the masses. The more people were able to develop and manage their own blogs, the more they started reading other bloggers’ posts. The rest, as they say, is history.
- Huffington Post—54,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors
- TMZ—19,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors
- Business Insider—12,100,000 estimated unique monthly visitors
- EndGadget—11,500,000 estimated unique monthly visitors
- PerezHilton—10,200,000 estimated unique monthly visitors
With millions of hits each day, blogs are fast replacing newspapers, magazines and television news programs as the number one source of consumer information. The reason for the shift? Instead of wasting time wading through extraneous information, Internet users can quickly click directly to the stories they want to read.
5 Reasons You Should Blog
1. Turn yourself into a publisher. Instead of waiting around for editors and writers to deem your content worthy of publication, when you set up your own blog and post original content on a regular basis, you put yourself in the publisher’s place.
2. Position yourself as an expert in the field. If you fancy yourself an expert in your field, show television producers and magazine editors your chops by publishing so much content that they can’t help but contact you for expert opinion. Once you’ve emerged as the preeminent authority in your field, your market share will grow exponentially.
3. Capitalize on market segmentation by blogging about topics that are relevant to your target market. After you post a blog, use social media channels like Facebook and Twitter to alert people about the information available in your posts.
4. Share tips and best practices. Use your blog to evangelize the ideas you care about. One of the great things about blogging is that it’s interactive. Any blog worth its salt provides opportunity for plenty of commenting back-and-forth. Don’t be afraid to post your honest opinion and ask readers to share theirs. You don’t have to agree with everyone in your target market. You just have to demonstrate that you care what they have to say.
5. Develop a hub you can control. If you hired someone to build and maintain your company website, you effectively handed them control over your corporate voice. Take back that power by setting up and maintaining your own blog, as the hub of your professional activity. Building a user-friendly blog to post to on your own is tantamount to claiming the power seat in your office. And that’s as important as buying chocolate chips before trying to bake a fresh batch of cookies.
Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.