Fall is upon us. I don’t even have to look outside. The scent of pumpkin spice is in the air, from craft beers and lattes to candles and tempting treats. It is a veritable bonanza for many small businesses smart enough to cash in on our seemingly insatiable appetite for all things pumpkin spice.
My house, for the most part, is filled with cinnamon, not pumpkin spice. It’s craft time once again, and there are projects galore in various states of completion as the traditional fall holidays approach. For reasons unknown to me, I have more than my fair share of spiders this year. Not the crafty kind, but the creepy, crawly kind.
Usually, I return them to the wild since they do such a great job on the outside of my home. But this one spider, well, I couldn’t resist watching her misguidedly build a web in my living room and then patiently wait for unsuspecting customers to arrive at her door.
It reminded me of some small business owners I used to work with back when I was consulting. Like that spider, they would put their all into planning that alluring web, from the store window to the flyers they left on cars. Tons of effort and a fair share of their budget went into this building period, as it should.
The spider in my house dutifully followed the same plan, mapping out a lovely web that any special effects master would covet for a TV fright night. When finished, she made her way over to the center of the web, waiting for her first dinner guest.
I’ve seen business owners do the same thing. After building their business and holding a big grand opening ribbon cutting with to-die-for specials, they returned to the counter, thumbing through circulars while they awaited customers to give in to curiosity and walk in. When they do, the owner doesn’t even move from their station. No greeting, no engagement and no sales pitch. He barely looks up.
For days, even weeks, no one even comes in. With the patience of Job or my lowly spider friend, they wait patiently for someone to happen upon their web of wonders. They don’t stand in front of the store with samples, they don’t go to community mixers armed with business cards or coupons, they rarely show up to chamber meetings, and they don’t spend any additional money on advertising or marketing because it didn’t bring in customers the first time around.
So here’s what I’ve learned from the spider this past week:
Location, location, location. This particular spider picked what is arguably the worst place to build a web in the house. It’s way out of the way and certainly not in a pattern used by anything that crawls or flies. As a week passed, not a single customer stopped by while other spiders were feasting on their clientele nearby. Businesses often make the same mistake, finding a space that may fit their budget, but not traffic patterns.
Get out of your comfort zone. Spiders love the center of their webs. So do many business owners. Rather than spend as much time as possible with potential customers out in the community, they dutifully take up their place at the counter, hoping that someone passing by will feel an overwhelming need to push open the front door.
Give them a reason to buy. Every business owner knows a prospect won’t magically become a customer without some incentive. Even our little spider friend knows that a customer should get value from their transaction, which, in the case of a passing fruit fly, turned out to be complimentary gift wrapping. Your charming personality can only get you so far. Do you offer free advice? Or make an offer that is so attractive that they will buy from you right then and there? Once you get them in the door, don’t let them go. Like a spider’s prey, they won’t return once they escape your web. Make the price irresistible, offer free servicing or, a money-back guarantee, or free gift-wrapping, like our spindly spider friend.
Build a web of webs. Even if you have just one location, think about how you can become more visible. If our little spider friend could just figure out how to build a
more prominent web to catch more customers or build different colors or styles that appeal to a different kind of “customer.” If your business isn’t working, experiment. If you’re a small restaurant that’s empty on weekend mornings, think about setting up a tent at your local street festival instead and offer samples or small plates with a coupon. Go where your customers are. Build lots of webs of awareness so customers can find you easily and often. Step away from the counter and build networks and connections in the community.
Change your diet. If people are not beating a path to your door, consider that you may be courting the wrong customer. Often, a business draws an entirely different customer than they first thought. The business may have stumbled onto an unusual product mix that has a small but fervent audience with plenty of discretionary income. Or perhaps a new pricing strategy draws value-minded customers who know many other customers looking for value and service. Don’t be locked so tightly into your vision that you don’t see opportunity around you. Spiders have lots of eyes for a reason. Don’t let the two you have betray you.
As for our little spider friend, she was gone one morning. In the night, she packed up shop and moved elsewhere. Didn’t leave a little “We’ve Moved” sign or anything. Every strand of the web was gone, too. It was as if that spider had never even been there.
Main streets are filled with similar stories. Of businesses that opened with big dreams, only to close because they kept doing the same thing every day, never taking the time to wonder if they were in the right spot, had the right price, courted the right customer or made a product or service irresistible.
One can only hope that they still don’t smell like pumpkin spice.
“Will you walk into my business?” said the Spider to the Fly,
“’Tis the prettiest little business that ever you did spy;
The way into my business is up a winding stair,
And I have many curious things to show when you are there.”
“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne’er come down again.”
With apologies to poet Mary Howitt, author of The Spider and the Fly (1829).