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Small Business Conquers the Corporations

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Little Dudes and Divas is going head-to-head with the likes of Nordstrom, Macy’s, Babies “R” Us and even

This small business does 90% of its sales through the internet and the rest through their brick-and-mortar store in Rockaway Park, N.Y. Even with the bulk of their business online, the founders of this company say their greatest strength is relationships with customers.

Steve and Susan Karasanti founded Little Dudes and Divas seven years ago. They sell clothes and accessories for infants and toddlers – everything from diapers and stroller blankets to diaper bags and car seat covers – and now have three employees. They ship around the world and are always ready to help customers find what they need.

When a call comes in from a customer wanting to know how to pack a particular bag in a certain way, the staff at Little Dudes and Divas makes a video. They walk through how to pack each item, special tips for preventing leaks or breakage, and then make it available to everyone on their site.

I spotted the Karasantis and their business in Gabriel Shaoolian’s column (You’re The Boss) in the New York Times. There are two things in particular that he’s looking at with Little Dudes and Divas – the trust factor, and reasons for buying. In addition to what I share here, you can listen to this week’s episode of Social Media: Cheap and Easy to discover the one mistake Gabriel is making that will truly make the difference between massive growth and stagnation in any business.

Competition has certainly stiffened since the company started seven years ago. Mr. Karasanti says, “It’s very hard to compete with the bigger online companies on price, but we can compete by giving our customers personal attention.”

That personal attention is a key element in business success at any time, and it’s becoming increasingly important in today’s marketplace. We’re experiencing a crisis of trust – everyone is sceptical of everything (even this statement) – and business owners are feeling the pinch.

Here are three strategies for to make your customer relationships stronger, and help your business stand out from the competition:

Show Appreciation

One of the simplest things to do is run a birthday program in your business. Simply ask customers for the month and date of their birth so you can give them special attention on their birthday.

The same thing can be done for anniversaries, customers who bring in referrals, frequent shoppers, or any other criteria you care to use. The key to all of these programs is choosing the behaviour you want to reward then building a program to reward that behaviour.

Encourage Communication

Restaurants do this all the time. I’m always spotting comment cards at the table in restaurants, and you can use the same approach in your business. All you have to do is make the cards available and give customers an anonymous way to drop them off.

Blogs and social media can be good ways to encourage communication if you actually listen and respond. As with a comment card, you have to be seen to be taking action on what people say.

Reward Referrals

Your existing customers are the easiest people to sell to, and the people they refer are the second easiest. This alone is a great reason to encourage referrals.

When someone refers another person to your business, they’re also increasing their commitment to do business with you. Now that they’ve told someone else how great you are, part of their personal credibility becomes wrapped up in continuing to do business with you. For this reason, you also want to treat referrals very well. As easy as a referral is to turn into a customer, getting it wrong just as easily means losing the referral as well as the referrer.

Another way to strengthen your customer relationship is through cross-promotion. This one takes a little bit of time and effort. It also yields multiple benefits to your business.

No one business can satisfy every need of its customers. So to help you be more important to your customers – and more appreciated by them – connect with other business owners who fulfill your customers’ needs. Whether that be a hair salon, landscaping, or dentist, the objective is to make your customer’s life easier.

For example, I know a painter who advertises on a local pizza joint’s boxes. They both serve new-movers, and this cross-promotion has paid off handsomely for both businesses.

In the case of Little Dudes and Divas, they could easily cross-promote with another shop that sells strollers and car seats. That’s an obvious one. What other businesses can you think of that would make good cross-promotion partners for Little Dudes and Divas – or for your own business?

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