At party I started chatting with a nice guy, late 20′s or so, neatly dressed, with bright, intense eyes. We talked weather, current events, the usual stuff, and then I popped the question. “So, what do you do?”
He smiled. He said he recently bought a route in his area selling cold cuts and other provisions to delicatessens and restaurants. He proudly mentioned their name. I recognized the brand. Anyone would.
So how’s business, I asked. His smile intensified. It’s terrific, he said. I’ve asked that question a few thousand times over the years, and I don’t remember anyone admitting it wasn’t. I asked what was so terrific.
“I’ve got this account up on Route 7. I was there last week. I wondered why he was carrying another brand of turkey, so I asked him. He told me that our product was more expensive than the other brand. I told him that although the price of mine was higher, our marketing people tell us most people find it tastier and as a result end up buying more of it than the other brand. On a napkin, using how much business he does with his current product, I showed him that since the margins were better selling my premium product and he would sell more of it, he would make more money. I showed him how much more, on paper. He put in an order right then and there and after a week, he’s dropped the other brand. He’s happy, and I am too, since he is ordering more from me.”
I asked where he learned how to do this. He described the many weeks of intensive training he received—products, marketing, customer service, accounting, and sales. Apparently the company has very high standards not only for the quality of the products they provide, but also for the route owners/drivers themselves. I learned it’s not enough just to come up with a wheelbarrow full of money to buy a route. You’re also going to get scrutinized, background checked and assessed to the point of exhaustion. The company knows that their success depends on the relationship between owner/driver and customers and they are not taking any chances on that front. This owner knew list of rules and restrictions backwards and forwards. If you break a rule, depending on its severity, they may just take your route away.
The day before the party, a terrible wind storm had hit the area. Tens of thousands of homes and businesses lost electricity. You know what this savvy businessman did? He called each of his customers in advance. Then he drove his entire route, detouring for hours around all the downed trees and power lines, delivering to his customers who had electricity. But for those without power? He and the customer carried the inventory of cold cuts and provisions from the non-functioning store refrigerator to his truck, where he would store them until their power was restored. “I’ve got meats and other stuff from ten of my customers in my refrigerated truck right now plugged in at the back of my house.” He was beaming. “I gave those customers my home number to call me when they get power back and I’ll bring them back their inventory.”
Here are my take-aways: 1) Young entrepreneur collaborates with customer to model business case for switching products. Customer switches and wins. 2) Same entrepreneur creatively services customers far above their wildest expectations. Builds loyalty, competitive immunity, and significantly increases the value associated with his personal brand.