What do Leaders Need to Know to Set Their Business Apart?

Rarely is there ever one thing small-business leaders can do to succeed. But Michael Mazzeo, Paul Oyer, and Scott Schaefer, the authors of “Roadside MBA: Backroad Wisdom for Executives, Entrepreneurs, and Small Business Owners,” found that one of the best ways for small businesses to thrive is by excelling in activities that big businesses overlook. One of those areas is in knowing your customer, a skill that Chef Niki Nakayama has perfected.

Know your customer better than your competitors

In the new series Chef’s Table on Netflix, the camera crew takes you behind the scenes of Chef Nakayama’s world-class restaurant N/Naka in Los Angeles. Chef Nakayama recalls how she began her training at the renowned Takao restaurant and says the biggest thing she took away from her time was their emphasis on anticipating the customer’s personal tastes and needs.

With this philosophy in mind, Chef Nakayama keeps a record of every single person who visits her restaurant and what they ate that night, thus ensuring that no one will ever have the same meal twice on a visit to N/Naka. This intense attention to the customer is something that sets a small business apart from the large ones.

Monitor quality

In addition to knowing your customer, the ability to better monitor quality also sets small businesses apart. Mazzeo, Oyer, and Schaefer use Leah McMahon as a prime example. McMahon is the owner of the gourmet coffee shop Silk Espresso in Gresham, Oregon, where she maintains a rigorous attention to quality. In addition to carefully monitoring the products and process used to make each cup of coffee, she emphasizes the importance of exceptional training for each employee.

This hands-on approach to training results in a product with a guaranteed quality that larger chains simply can’t match. Silk has won multiple awards for quality and maintains a very loyal customer base as a result.

Use your local knowledge

Another advantage a small business has over a larger competitor is superior local knowledge. Having the time to focus on a specific community and meet other business leaders can give a local business an edge. If you are in the business of buying local property, you’ll have the advantage over a national chain of being the first to find out what is going onto the market through your local network.

Using local knowledge to anticipate demand cycles is beneficial as well. A local business can stock the right items based on local events that a chain store wouldn’t anticipate, like a big game between rival high schools.

Why consumers say they shop small

The research from Mazzeo, Over and Schaefer’s shows that small businesses are superior communicators and know their customers better than large corporations. These elements keep people coming back, even if corporations offer lower prices.

Consumers identify reasons of their own for shopping at small businesses. The 2015 Cox Consumer Pulse on Small Businesses took a survey of nearly 1,400 American consumers to explore their support of local businesses. Of those surveyed, 71 percent said they “shop small” because they feel it is important to buy local, 61 percent said they think it is convenient, and 54 percent said they experience greater customer service than at a large business.

How to implement these skills

With about 10 to 12 percent of small businesses closing each year, it’s important to find the specific element that will help your company excel next to the industry giants. Luckily, many of the skills that set small businesses apart can be implemented with professional training and organization. Knowing your market, your customer and providing great quality and service will ensure you keep that sector of consumers who want to shop small.


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