The Secret of Great Small Businesses

Best Damn Sausages Around!

Best Damn Sausages Around!

What makes small businesses great? You don’t need to have the nicest interior to have the most customers. You don’t need to spend the most on advertising. You don’t need to hire the most expensive staff. Nor do you need the most detailed business plan or the most financing. All of those things help but they are not essential. There is only one thing that all great small businesses have and mediocre ones do not and that is personality.

It’s all Relationships
People like to be respected and treated special. If you can do that with your customers you are bound to be a huge success. Relationships are not a commodity to be managed and controlled. Real engagement with real people cannot be faked. If you can connect, really connect with customers, you can have a hit in any industry.

Two businesses I know of are exemplars of this philosophy: Spolumbo’s in my hometown Calgary, Canada and Choshuya yakiniku in my current home Japan. Both are restaurants with a meat focus but on the surface these two businesses could not be more different. Indeed, anyone lucky enough to visit both restaurants is unlikely to find much commonality. However, if you were to return to these restaurants a few times you would find that they are so much alike.

Spolumbo’s in Calgary, Canada
Both restaurants have owners that care about and genuinely engage customers. Tony Spoletini of Spolumbo’s is on the floor cleaning tables and talking to customers as if they were his best friends. Maybe they are his best friends. I am sure there is no difference in Tony’s mind. He is out giving free grappas and connecting with every face he recognizes. Spolumbo’s has also been generous enough to support many charity events and now sells its gourmet Italian meats and sandwiches to various supermarkets, and other establishments. From their humble beginnings in Tony and Tom Spoletini’s mother’s basement, they have grown into a large and amazingly successful company.

Choshuya in Nara, Japan
Choshuya is not much different. It is still the only restaurant I have been to in the world that doesn’t have prices listed on the menu, or anywhere else for that matter. Customers don’t seem to mind. If you have been there before, you know you will be treated right. It is not uncommon to get extra food and desserts that are not even on the menu. It is a completely family run business that truly cares about customers. They have given me presents ranging from expensive sumo tickets, to yukata (Japanese summer kimono), to deserts and my personal favorite, potatoes. Yakiniku should be eaten with potatoes. I don’t know why no one else has caught on to this idea.

Customers are Everything
There are so many companies where it is obvious the owners are just going through the motions; there is no excitement or energy left.  Mediocrity in small business is unfortunately the rule not the exception. I think a big part of the generally lame state of business in the world is that, most owners think their own company is just a business. Of course, costs have to be controlled and proper systems need to be established, but that doesn’t mean that the relentless pursuit of efficiencies should be the focus. Leave that to the large Walmart like companies. Small businesses need to do remarkable things if they are going to thrive in markets of larger, well funded competitors. Take care of your customers and the money will follow.

All customers want to feel like they are the only customer in the world. Treat people special and they will go out of their way to give you business. There is only one place to get sausage in Calgary and only one place to eat yakiniku in Japan. If you don’t like people don’t start a business.

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

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