The View from The Niagara Guide

General observations and musings on how we can make Niagara a better place.

Looking Past Appearance to Find Value

Mark Kawabe - Monday, August 23, 2010

"You never get a second change to make a good first impression."

"Never judge a book by its cover."

Both sayings have their applications, but we all know that as a society, we tend to go by appearances.

I bought 42 peaches for $5 the other day. Despite the fact I went to the source - the farm - this was a bargain by any measure. The reason they were so inexpensive? They were "seconds".

What makes a peach a second? In this case, as far as I could tell, the only thing "wrong" with these peaches were blemishes. When we ate them that night, they were juicy and flavourful, firm and satisfying. Nothing "wrong" with them once they were peeled. The last time I checked, people peel their peaches before eating them, so there was no way to tell they were "seconds".

When it comes to the search for value, appearances can be deceiving. Something to think about as we slog through another Monday.



A Truly Green Tea

Mark Kawabe - Thursday, May 13, 2010
I was in at LM Teas yesterday and picked up a tea to go. I didn't think about the cup it was served in until today when the cup finally made the trip from my car's beverage holder to the house. What a nice surprise.

The cup from LM Teas had a plastic lid and cardboard sleeve, both of which are recyclable. Most disposable cups aren't widely recyclable or compostable. This one was, and it made me go WOW!

LM Teas uses ecotainer cups™ which are coated using Polylactic Acid (PLA) from plants to make them waterproof. When composted, the PLA is broken down by microbes so the entire cup is quickly biodegradable. I do realize that EVERYTHING is biodegradable EVENTUALLY, but it's nice to see a local company making the greenest choice possible.

Hats off to Carmen and Jill at LM Teas for their great teas and green cups!


So you've got tools - now what?

Mark Kawabe - Monday, March 15, 2010

Entrepreneurs are always looking for new ways to promote themselves. I like new. Facebook and the social media tools that have sprung up in the last decade are "new". YouTube was new. There will always be something new for us to use to promote ourselves and our businesses. That's exciting.

What's not so exciting is the eventual realization that you actually have to DO something with these new tools for them to have any effect. A client of mine was pondering starting a blog until he noted that he would have to "feed the monster" new content regularly over a long period of time for the blog to have an effect. Yep. That's how it works - with any promotional tool we have in our toolboxes.

It doesn't matter whether you're talking about social media, networking or good ol' word-of-mouth marketing. YOU have to do something for those methods to work. Any program that says it will do it all for you with no input whatsoever from you is lying. If you're not participating, your results will be pathetic.

Unfortunately, in our "take-no-responsibility-for-anything" society, many business people do just that when it comes to something "not working" for them. This is true whether they're spending money on a newspaper, radio or TV ad campaign, joining a networking group like the Chamber of Commerce, BNI or other groups (locally KNOW it ALL Niagara and the Small Business Club Niagara come to mind) or things they control like their flyers, coupons or websites. If these methods don't "work" for the business, the tool is often the thing blamed.

I think there are two underlying causes of failure for any marketing endeavour.

1) Understanding HOW the "tool" works.

2) Committing to use the "tool".

These points illustrated:

Business owner A buys a single ad in a newspaper.

Business owner B buys a series of ads in the same newspaper.

Business owner A gets no response from his single ad.

Business owner B gets increased brand awareness and eventually some customers he can track came from the newspaper from his coupons and asking how people learned about him.

Business owner A didn't understand how newspaper advertising works. His experience suggests newspaper advertising doesn't work and as a result he blames the newspaper for taking his money.

Shared responsibilityYou can see this happening over and over again with any marketing tool. If you don't understand HOW to use a method to promote your business, learn all about it first. Then make the committment to using that method properly for a set period of time and set measurable and reasonable short and longer-term performance targets. Consistently test your approach and try different things to see if the method can work better for you. Only then can you accurately determine whether any given method was effective.

Most of the time there are two parties responsible for your marketing success or failure. The first is YOU. The second is the representatives of the marketing vehicle you've chosen to use. This could be your sales rep at the newspaper, phone directory or radio station, or the customer service representative of your networking group, Chamber of Commerce or the marketing company you've hired. You BOTH have a responsibility to ensure YOU know how to use the system effectively so you can make informed decisions about your marketing activities.

Of course, if you're talking about some self-directed activity like social media marketing, then it's just you who's to blame. At least the pain of failure on Facebook doesn't cost you anything. When you're paying for something, you expect it to work. Just make sure you know what you're getting into or take the time to learn. Good marketing organizations will take the time to educate you on what you should be doing to use their tools effectively. Others will assume you know what you're doing.

To paraphrase Tom Lehrer: "Marketing is like a sewer. What you get out of it depends what you put into it."

Choose well.



Smarten Up Niagara!

Mark Kawabe - Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Are you the tallest nail in your industry? The one that gets hit for standing out while everyone else is comfortable keeping their heads down?

This article's for you.

WHAT IS THE VALUE OF YOUR BUSINESS???

Would you sell your business for less that what you thought it was worth ???

Would you give all your expert knowledge to a competitor for free!?

Would you sell your best selling product at a loss ? or your most expensive product at a loss?

When you buy a product at a national chain store don't you expect to pay the same price at all the stores?

Would you tell a client – “no problem I won’t charge you for the work I’ve done or the service I’ve provided” even when there were no problems ! ?

In the past 10 years I have been watching exactly this type of “business suicide” go on all over the Niagara region!

In my capacity as a consultant for both the hospitality trade and the special event rental industry, I have contacted literally thousands of business from Fort Erie to Hamilton, I have spoken with staff and owners of all types of operations; and in that conversation, two things have stunned me!

We devalue our services & goods and we have so little customer training for ourselves and our staff that neither seems to value the goods or services their companies supply or the customers to whom they sell those goods and services.

What do I mean by these statements:

Devaluation - everything a company does has a value – those companies that take the time to research the value of the things a company has and does; from the staff to managers, to COO’s; from office décor to light bulb purchase has a value!

Where do you put that value? Into the “goods and services bank” – a supply and demand account, that should determine you should both buy and sell your supplies and products at a competitive pricing.

This account is the same whether you are in Niagara or in Oakville, Stevensville or Hamilton. If your selling “widgets” or information on how to build a “basic Widget” here or there, in most cases you pay the same for the parts – the production and the labor/wage the hydro and water the gas the repairs and maintenance for your building/ office supplies etc.

With this in mind you should be valuing your product the same as all other suppliers no mater where they are in the region - but this is not the case!

If you go past the boundary of Stoney Creek you can see it in the costs to consumers; but it is never more evident than when you are selling a specialty service.

No one in Niagara seems to value their product and services the same as those in areas to the north.

Competition is the essence of commerce, but if you give away your product in the false assumption that a lower price will get more business, when others charge fair and reasonable prices, you DEVALUE the good and service and as a result you can not maintain your growth potential and a high level of service. The money just is not there! Yes you can struggle month over month to met the obligations and try to meet customer service needs – but you just won’t do it !

Niagara and the area has struggled with this concept for decades. With the expanding market place from Toronto and beyond, and the change in the “destination” value of our region we have to be prepared to meet the demands for better products, more variety, more services, at a Toronto market price.

This is the profit margin it will take to provide the service at a level that we presently only instill in the graduates of our college and University. Our business and service providers need to see the value in this type of action if we are to stop being a “bedroom” community and a “has been” factory area. Owners of business need to step up their game and provide exceptional training to staff, not only in customer service but “up-selling” techniques. Many need to reach the level of service that patrons and businesses (outside of our area ) who are seeking opportunity to do business or to enjoy our goods and service receive in their own areas.

They expect it and they will pay for it!

It is time to become an area not know for devaluing our goods, services and supplies, but one that is up to the times and the style of every major area surrounding a provincial capital.

Why should we be a follower when we can lead? Why should Toronto style take two or more years to come to our area? if we don’t devalue, we don’t have to wait, and neither do our customers.

P.J. Hicks
P.J. Consulting, Niagara



If Everything's About Price, What Do You Do?

Mark Kawabe - Friday, February 05, 2010
What do you do if you're in an industry that focuses only on price? Your potential prospects focus on the lowest price and your competitors focus on price - even if it's to their detriment. If your prices are higher - and for good reason - what do you do?

I think this is the time to reinvent your brand around value.

As my business coach (Dennis O'Neill - The Business Growth Coach) says, there's a simple equation to define value.

VALUE = (Need + Trust)/Price

If your price is higher, then you have to built up the sense of need and the sense of trust.

I met a prospect who needed a website. He had been burned by another web developer who walked off with his deposit and did not trust web developers as a result. I worked on building trust by referring him to a collections specialist who got his deposit money back. As a result of this and other efforts I gained his trust and got the business. At the beginning the need was high but the trust was non-existent. At the end the need and trust were high and the perceived value of my services was high despite my price being close to twice what the previous developer had quoted.

Clearly identify and illustrate your prospects' needs. Demonstrate your trustworthiness. Do these things and price will become less of an issue as you will be seen as offering more value.




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