Large Cities, Small Towns, and Business Success

13 Generalizations on Large Cities, Small Towns, and Business Success

I’m approaching my 25th year of consulting with business owners.  After working with tens of thousands of them, here are thirteen (13) small business principles of which I am certain.  For instance, I know why many small business owners will go extinct, why small towns are better than large cities, how Frank Sinatra was wrong, and where you can find the worst marketers in the world.

1.  It’s easier to generate more sales with a business in a large city than in a small town. But, it’s easier to create a more profitable business in a small town than in a large city.

2.  The most innovative businesses in the world are found in small towns and small cities.  They do more with less.  Unfortunately, they are often not as good at telling their stories, so they often go unnoticed for long periods of time.  Sometimes, forever, when owners don’t learn to market themselves.

3.  The success of a retail business has nothing to do with the amount of drive-by traffic.  Thank, Blockbuster, for again validating this.

4.  Location, location, location doesn’t have to matter anymore. Every true Destination Business continues to validate this.

5.  Owners who have businesses in tourist destinations are the worst marketers.  Since they are spoon-fed customers everyday, many forget how to aggressively market themselves, and they neglect learning about complex marketing concepts that businesses in out-of-the-way places have to learn to survive.  Groups that aggressively market for them and feed them customers actually are enabling their marketing backwardness.

6.  For most average business owners, the level of your business performance will rise to the level of your nearest best competitor, unless that competitor is a national Destination Business, and then, you’ll likely just be puzzled with the customer traffic they’re generating.  Unfortunately, some owners get jealous of the success of a Destination Business which is really silly because other businesses could be capitalizing on their traffic.

7.  Really smart people with multiple college degrees do dumb things when it comes to opening and running a small business.  It’s too bad that when they hand out degrees at college, they don’t come with transferable guarantee that can be applied to running a small business.

8.  Owning a franchise, rather than starting a business from scratch, neither insures success nor happiness.  But it will insure that you have bought yourself a job, though.

9.  An extremely passionate business owner with little money will kick the butt of a well-financed business owner with little passion, with all other conditions being equal.  Better yet, give me any business owner who is willing to change and learn new techniques to be successful, and that person will beat out both a passionate owner and a well-financed owner when both aren’t willing to learn.  (And if you’re an owner who really wants to learn, you should be in our Destination University! Click here to learn more.)

10.  Small business owners who don’t become small business CEO’s will become extinct in the coming years.  ‘Identify your weaknesses’, ‘question your business model’, and ‘delegate if I can’t learn it’ will be the new mantras for Mom and Pop businesses that want to survive.

11.  Don’t ask your nice customers what needs to be improved in your business because they will lie to you.  They want to be nice, and they won’t tell you about the parts of your business that disappoint them.

12.  If a customer says that your parking is bad and that’s why they don’t come in your business, most are using this as an excuse.  This really means that your business is interchangeable with someone else’s business, and that your business isn’t special and unique enough for them to want to expend any effort to work their way to your business.  Using the parking excuse is the easiest way to not go into a business when you’ve found someplace else that is just as good.

13.  When Frank Sinatra sang: “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere” about New York, he was wrong.  With over 2,800 people per square mile there, it’s one of the easiest places.  Show me a multi-million dollar business in northern Maine, central South Dakota, or in eastern Oregon, and then, you can sing about it.

That’s it. That’s what I’m sure of.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know by posting your comments.

When a Market Analysis is Wrong

I found this article written by a writer who attended my sessions years ago. I don’t remember reading it back then, but she makes some good points now.  Enjoy!

What if the market analysis that said your proposed new business would never make it in a community was dead wrong? What if the numbers that just would never work actually did? What if you were able to convert your passion into a niche-based profitable business? Every lender, investor, or even your best friend might tell you it seemed impossible, but that is not always true in the retail world of Jon Schallert.  Click here to read the rest of the article.

The Importance of Employees Getting It

How important is it for your employees to understand and participate in the marketing plans you are implementing in your business?  Critically important!  Let me illustrate what I mean with this story.


Fourteen years ago, after I had left Hallmark Cards to start my own company, I was making one of my first on-site consultations with a client.  I’d forgotten to pack toothpaste, so my client drove me to their local Wal-Mart to buy some.  As we were going through the checkout line, the checkout employee unenthusiastically greeted us and scanned my purchase. 


Having just left Hallmark Cards, I couldn’t help noticing a button she wore on her blue Wal-Mart vest, advertising a card line that Hallmark had created for the mass channel chains, that Wal-Mart had just begun selling.  The button said:



Hallmark warm wishes


Why Not?



I don’t know why I did it (except maybe to exhibit my knowledge to my first client), but I asked the employee, “What’s that button mean?” I wanted to hear her response, knowing that Hallmark and Wal-Mart’s partnership in this venture was a huge financial investment for both companies.  Just outfitting every employee at Wal-Mart with a single button probably cost thousands of dollars, (and that’s not counting the time, money, beer and late-night pizza it took some ad agency to come up with that witty little marketing phrase).  I wondered if the woman knew how significant it was that her store was finally carrying this exclusive brand of cards.


She looked at me.  Expressionless.  I’m not sure any customer had spoken to her all day.  Comotose Clerk Standing.  Lifeless, bored, and staring at me, perturbed that I was engaging her in a question that forced her to think.  She looked down at her vest, grabbed it, twisted the button up towards her eyes, and looked at it.  It was like she was seeing the button for the first time, and she only focused on the 99¢.


She looked back at me and said, “That’s how much I’m worth to this place.”


It was one of those amazing Wal-Mart moments I’ll always remember!  The world’s largest retailer defined by the world’s lowliest employee. 


So, I said, “Well, can I have your button then?”


She stared at me some more.   No change of expression.  Then, “Sure,” she said, and she popped it off her vest and handed it to me.


My client standing next to me, realizing we were witnessing one of those classic employee Wal-Mart moments, then chimed in and said, “Do you have another button that I could have?”


We were really pushing her with these two whole questions!  She was being forced to respond!  Her eyebrows raised, perhaps irritated, but more intrigued by our questions.  You could see her remembering how to speak.  After hours of mind-numbing product scanning, she was now recalling how to engage in human interaction.


“Sure,” she said.  And she turned to her fellow cashier at the next register and yelled, “Mabel, give me that yellow button on your vest.”


Mabel dutifully removed the Hallmark button from her vest, and handed it to our cashier.  Without a word, she handed it to us, along with my toothpaste in the bag.


That singular moment with that emotionally-absent Wal-Mart cashier drove home a point I’ve never forgotten: The lowest level employee can sabotage any marketing plan you design with one poor customer interaction.  In this case, this disconnected employee trashed months of marketing in one moment.  My guess is she hadn’t been trained on the new Hallmark products, and if she was trained, that training hadn’t stuck, which probably meant that the behavior she was supposed to be exhibiting wasn’t being reinforced with any rewards or repetition.


Don’t make the same mistake with your employees and your business marketing.  Every employee interaction with every customer counts. 


Where to find the best small business advice

Here’s a situation that happens to business owners everyday:  You are in your business and you have a new idea to bring more customers in your doors.  You feel reasonably certain that your idea would work, but you would like to bounce the idea off someone else, to get their perspective before you proceed.


Your first inclination will be to ask those immediately around you in your business, like your employees.  There’s nothing wrong with getting feedback from your team, but understand that their experience and perspective will not be the same as yours.  For one, remember they don’t have the vision for your business that you do, so don’t expect them to be as enthused about your idea as you are.  You’ve probably spent hours thinking about your idea (some of them in the middle of the night, as you’re worrying about how to solve your other business problems.)  Count on employees not being able to see the full picture of where your idea is meant to take the business.  Plus, if your idea means more work for them, expect some push-back.


Your second inclination is to ask your partner, your spouse, or someone who’s emotionally close to you.  While it’s a great to seek counsel from those you trust with other aspects of your life, unless that person has a full understanding of your business, don’t expect a revelation coming from them.  I’ve seen many people who you’d trust with your life not give good advice at all when it comes to business.  I remember one husband who always told his wife whenever she had a business problem that she should go ahead with her solution.  Unfortunately, for this owner, a “Yes Man” was not what she needed, and despite her husband’s best intentions to support his wife, his perspective was often faulty when it came to business tactics.


Another inclination might be to ask another business owner in your same industry.  Some owners have access to an association website or a group list serv, where owners with the same type of business can ask others for advice.  A word of caution here though:  If your idea is really revolutionary, do you really want to be giving your brainstorm of an idea to hundreds of other owners who can copy it?  And if your idea is so unusual and out-of-the-box that no one has ever thought of it, don’t expect a lot of creativity from this group of like businesses.  It’s more common for owners in the same industry to recycle the same ideas again and again (causing the consumer to grow more and more immune to them).


A fourth thought might be to walk next door and ask a business owner who’s nearby what he or she thinks of your idea.  If you plan to do this, take my advice on this one:  Avoid those owners who have all the time in the day to talk about your business, but who rarely put into practice anything new in their business.  Another owner-type to avoid are the negative ones.  For many owners, the opportunity to interact means they’ve been given another time to complain about everything that’s wrong in the world.  Count on these owners to offer very little helpful advice, while generally making you more depressed and less-focused on the positive action you are planning to undertake.


So who do I think is the best person to offer you valuable perspective?  Here are my favorites:


A Mentor:  Do you know someone you trust, you value their advice and you admire the business that they’ve built?  Try to get their perspective on your idea.  The one problem with these people is that they are generally busy, and you might have to schedule time to get in front of them.  Successful people aren’t likely to be sitting in their office just waiting for your call, but if you can get some time with them, in a short, focused session, explaining your idea to them might lead to an entirely new perspective.  Just remember that after getting their advice, though, that you look for opportunities to reciprocate and share something valuable with them in the future.


A Mastermind group:  You might have never heard this term but a Mastermind group is a collection of like-minded individuals who share confidential ideas about their business successes and failures in a small group setting.  Most of the time, these groups operate somewhat under the radar, and usually, you have to be invited to a group to become part of it.  If you are ever invited into one, evaluate the members in the group, and understand that their sometimes harsh, brutally honest perspective doled out on a regular basis can be just the ticket to improving your business, but you better have a thick skin.


A group of experienced owners outside of your industry:  I’ve found that this can be one of the best resources, if you can find a group of owners who don’t have the same type of business as yours, who are likewise successful, who are wiling to share ideas and offer their perspective.  We see this positive effect at every one of our Destination BootCamps:  business owners who have different businesses from different parts of the world, who seem to have nothing in common sharing their ideas across different industries becoming great resources for one another.  (One other hint here: next month, our new Destination University program will be forming an owner group that will be available to all of you where owners can share information online and from their smartphones, while also interacting with authors and business experts.  Click here if you’d like to learn more about this when it launches).


A Business Coach:  Sure, you saw this coming, considering I consult with business owners myself on how to make their businesses and communities a Destination.  But forget about the fact that I do this as part of my consulting business.  Regardless of whether you ever hire me or use any of my services, there are great coaches out there in the world who can help owners with specific business problems that they’ve seen before with other clients.  It makes no sense not using a coach’s experience to avoid the same mistakes as others, and to draw on their years of consulting with other businesses.  Just make sure you get a list of references before you begin any relationship with a coach, so you can check out what successes they’ve had for other clients, and be wary of the coach who has answers to everything.  When interviewing for a business coach, ask them to tell you what they don’t know and in what areas can’t they help you.  There are a lot of areas in the business world on which I’ll readily admit I am not the person to be giving advice.


So there you have it.  My four worst people to seek advice from, and the four best.  This should help keep your better ideas from getting shot down before they have a chance to shine, your worst ideas from becoming a major mistake, and help your best ideas to be even better.




How Croghan Colonial Bank is Helping Small Businesses

I talked about this briefly last month, but I wanted to go into more detail here.

Angie Morelock, the Downtown Director for Downtown Fremont, Inc. in Fremont, Ohio, has wanted to bring a group of business owners to my 2 ½ day Destination Business BootCamp for years. She’s applied for grants to help fund the trip, but the grants never materialized.

But towards the end of last year, Michelle McGovern, the Marketing Director for the Croghan Colonial Bank called me, and we talked about the value of bringing a group of business owners to the BootCamp. Michelle’s bank office is located in downtown Fremont, and she was considering using part of her bank’s marketing funds to sponsor a group of business owners to attend my 2010 Destination BootCamp. I told her about cities that had sent groups of business owners, like Hanford, California (that sent their first group in 2009); Rockwall, Texas (that had sent 2 groups), and Lafayette, Indiana (which has sent 3 groups of businesses over the years). We’ve had groups attend from small cities, like Arkansas City, Kansas; Skowhegan, Maine; and Worland, Wyoming, and from large cities like Seattle, Washington.

You might wonder why communities keep sponsoring and paying for independent business owners to attend a workshop that will improve their businesses? It is because when those businesses improve, their improvements impact the entire marketplace where they reside. Plus, when a group of business owners return from over 20-hours of learning, they share their ideas with their neighbors and help them improve. Financially, it’s a great deal for a community because they receive extra services that we don’t otherwise provide for small business owners, including a free workshop in the sponsoring community and onsite visits with all the businesses that attended the BootCamp. When I go and speak in the city, more business owners are educated, and some communities end up turning that small group of six owners into a group of hundreds of owners, learning together, changing all of their businesses using what they learned at the BootCamp.

You might know where this story is going. Michelle went to Angie and decided to pay for the costs to send a group to our March BootCamp. When I asked Michelle what convinced her to take some of her bank’s marketing dollars towards this cause, here’s what she told me:

“The Croghan Colonial Bank is a recognized leader in community banking throughout Northwest Ohio. Their business model is based on the understanding that when the company’s clients, employees and communities are financially strong, the company is too.

As the Marketing Director for a small regional bank, I have the responsibility to make sure everything we do measures up to the mission of the bank. That includes how we spend our marketing dollars. In that regard, our mission is to support the financial well-being of the clients and communities we serve.

It costs $11,563 to run one ad in all our market papers telling people how much we support our local community. It costs $10,500 to send 6 businesses through Jon’s COMMUNITY REINVENTION PROGRAM. So, do we run an ad telling people how much we build our local communities or do we actually build one? I think the choice is clear on which is actually more aligned with my company’s mission. So, I created the “Croghan Colonial Bank Small Business Reinvention Scholarship”. In this tough economy, is there really any better way to grow my company than to help others grow theirs?”    Michelle R. McGovern, Marketing Director, Croghan Colonial Bank

To read what the local papers are saying about Croghan Colonial Bank’s small business scholarship program, click here to read the Toledo Blade.

You can also read the excerpt from the North Coast Business Journal by going to this address: and clicking on page 23 of the article.

Now, let me put my “Marketing Hat” on:  Not only has the Croghan Colonial Bank done a great thing for the business owners there and the Main Street Program, what do you think will happen when business owners start associating the Bank with its pro-small business stance?  Let’s not forget that written articles are also seen by readers as being 12 times more believable than advertising.  The sponsorship of these business owners will have more collective marketing power than any ad, while also doing more good.  That’s a true Win-Win scenario for the Bank and the community.

If you’d like to bring a group to our next Destination BootCamp from your community, but don’t know where to start, either call our offices at 303-774-6522 or download our application information by clicking here.