Competing With Business Giants

I can’t sell my house if I can’t move my piano!” the man with swollen red eyes barked at MW.

MW had been in the real estate business, selling houses successfully, for the last four years. He’d encountered many objections from possible clients. But never before had a piano been the obstacle preventing him from getting a listing.

MW realized that, to get the listing, he had to do whatever he could to make this potential client happy. So he assured the man that he understood his dilemma and would try to resolve it. Somewhat mollified, the man explained that he’d spoken to one of the larger real estate firms about listing his property. But when he’d expressed concern about moving his piano, the agent told him, “It’s not my job to worry about that.”

As it turned out, the piano was very large … and it was in the basement. In order to get it out, the floor on the first level would have to be cut open. Then the piano would need to be hoisted out. There weren’t many companies in the area that could or would do such a job. And aside from the enormous hassle for the homeowner, none of them would do it for less than $2,500.

Instead of seeing the man’s piano as a problem, MW saw it as an opportunity. He knew that the man’s house was valued at about $650,000. He also knew that the sale of the house would generate ample profits for him – which would allow for the expenditure of a few thousand dollars for the piano extraction.

MW wrote up a listing agreement stating that, when the house sold, he would personally procure and pay for the service of moving the piano to the man’s new home.

Visibly relieved, the man quickly signed on the dotted line.

A “street smart” businessperson like MW often has to find ways to be competitive with larger companies that have greater resources. One way is to provide customers with personal, customized service – and the only way to do that effectively is to familiarize yourself not only with your customers’ “wants” but also with their needs and concerns.

Just as a direct marketer must know the underlying reasons a prospect will want to buy his product (a desire for safety, convenience, admiration, etc.), a “street smart” businessperson must know his customers’ underlying motivations for choosing his specific product or service.

Once you understand your customers’ needs, you can be much more flexible in meeting those needs than a larger competitor could be. (Imagine a real estate salesman with a large brokerage telling his manager that he wanted to add a clause to the listing agreement agreeing to move a client’s piano.)

In most large organizations this would be impossible. But as a wily “street smart” businessperson, MW was able to close the deal on the spot … and ended up earning a commission in excess of $10,000 (even after paying for the piano to be moved).

PL, another “street smart” businessman, kept his clients’ needs in mind when designing his ballroom dancing instruction business.

The majority of the instructors in PL’s market battled each other fiercely over a limited number of clients who had no problem with making several trips to a dance studio each week. Instead of continuing to compete for this narrow group, PL decided to focus on clients who either couldn’t make it into the dance studio or didn’t want to bother driving back and forth. So he agreed to travel to clients’ homes to give the lessons at whatever time was convenient for them.

PL also customized the lessons. Instead of pushing his clients to learn all the typical social dances, He helped them choose specific dances that interested them. If, for example, a client wanted to learn to dance so he wouldn’t embarrass himself at upcoming weddings, PL suggested learning some steps that would work for ballads and top-40 music, rather than insisting that the client first learn the basic fox trot (which he’d probably never use).

When other instructors first heard of PL’s practices, they scoffed at his marketing strategy. But PL’s client list grew so quickly, he wound up with a waiting list.

Sure, there was more work in it for PL, because he had to drive all over town to give his lessons. But the customized service he offered brought in 30-40 private lessons a week – as compared to the 8-10 private lessons that most of his competitors were teaching.

In a recent article on the future of retail ( , Elaine Walker described some of the technological innovations that companies are looking at to make shopping more appealing to their customers. Using everything from targeted ads to computers that display product information and support kiosks where customers can contact a call center for advice on what to buy or where to find certain products, they make an effort to create a personalized shopping experience.

But while a smaller “street smart” entrepreneur may be unable to use expensive technological devices to create the illusion of a personal shopping experience, he can go them one better: He can do the real thing.

Take, for instance, HK, who owned a profitable video-rental store. When a major video rental chain moved in across the street, HK just couldn’t compete with its inventory or prices. But he was able to offer competitive service. One of the things he did was make a note when a customer wanted a certain popular video that wasn’t on the shelf. When the video was in stock, he’d call the customer and put it aside. He’d also chat with customers when they came in to find out what they liked. He’d walk around the store and suggest videos that he thought they’d enjoy. By doing this – despite the larger, richer chain across the street – HK was able to hang onto his highly profitable video-rental business.

A customer can easily walk into a Wal-Mart and find almost any product at a competitive price. So why would a customer choose your business, with fewer resources and (quite possibly) higher prices? The answer is: Your personalized service.

As a “street smart” small-businessperson you must be ready, willing, and able to go over and above what your competitors can or will do. That is how you will carve out your market share from the bigger players in your market.

[Ed. Note: Larry Fredericks is a successful entrepreneur and author who has started and operated dozens of businesses. He has also written a number of popular business and “self-help” books and courses. To use Larry’s “Street Smart” business techniques in your small business, follow this link: