A few weeks ago, my wife discovered a wonderful little curiosity shop in a town near us called Blumster's. She and I have driven by the shop many times over the last few years, but frankly, had no idea what the business was at all. My wife believed it was a florist shop and since she had no reason to buy flowers, she never stopped in.
In fact, she only happened to wander in the door because she was waiting in the area for another service and was strolling down the sidewalk by the shop. She looked in the window, was intrigued, and discovered that Blumster's was actually a charming little eclectic shop that sold soup and sandwiches.
When she returned to the store a few weeks later to pick up a gift for a friend, the person working behind the counter told her that the shop was going out of business. My wife was chagrined and asked why it was closing. "Not enough business."
"Well, that's a shame. I just discovered this shop and I really like it. I've been driving by here for years and never knew what it was."
The person behind the counter just smiled at her. "You wouldn't believe how many times I've heard that exact same comment in the last six months."
When I heard this story from my wife, my jaw dropped. We live in the area that would be directly served by Blumster's. We drove by this wonderful little shop every day for years without knowing what it was.
We weren't alone in being unaware of this wonderful little business. I asked my neighbors if they were familiar with the shop and none of them were even aware of it other than thinking that they'd heard the name before at some point. Lots of people in the very community that Blumster's was serving were unaware of the store's existence or what they provided.
Here's the real truth of the matter. If you run a small business, it doesn't matter how good your service is, you're going to have business problems if large portions of the community you're serving have no idea what kind of service you're providing.
For some businesses, this isn't a problem. Franchises often have reputations that precede themselves. Some businesses make it clear what they're selling from the name alone. But a wonderful, eclectic little shop like Blumster's was so poorly presented that my wife actually believed it to be a florist.
There are so many simple little things that Blumster's could have done to turn their business into a thriving one. For $1,000, the shop could have produced a small flier describing what the shop is, what it sold, and provided a coupon to get people in the door, and had that flier dropped into every mailbox in the community and the surrounding community in late October or early November (to get those Christmas shoppers). For far less than that, they could have put up a few fliers around the community talking about their shop.
Instead, they made the mistake of familiarity. Their shop had been in business for a long time and they assumed the community knew about the shop.
Never, ever assume that your community knows you unless you've got a mountain of business. If your shop sits largely empty on a slow day, it might be simply a matter of awareness. Do your potential customers even know who you are? When was the last time you reminded them of the fact? Is there an easy way you can get their attention again?
Are you sure that your community knows you?