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Key Idea: Offer Your Customers Expert Advice

Customers want quality products and they want insight on how to use what they buy.

Key Question:


Be the place customers depend upon.  This means you can't just sell products.  You must teach rather than sell and this lifts you out of the realm of trying to compete toe-to-toe.

Q: Why is this a powerful strategy for small business?

A: Everybody has fond memories of some of their teachers and most people do want to learn something new. When you are the one who gives a customer the tools and the knowledge to use those tools, you form a bond that a big company can never form. Have you ever noticed what goes on at the cosmetic counters of the world? Yes, some selling goes on but most of the conversation at a cosmetic counter is about how to use the products. The individual who takes time to teach a woman how to look her best will sell much more than the person who just waits to fill a customer request.

Think about it

What can you teach your customers? Should you set up a regular teaching schedule to offer classes on popular topics? Do you have knowlegable customers who could teach the classes?

Clip from: Feasel of DeLand, Florida and the Rebirth of Downtown

DeLand, Florida: Just northeast of Orlando, this town personifies the statement, "Big business homogenizes. Small business diversifies."

On the Main Street of this town they celebrate the rich variety of one-of-a kind shops owned by locals.  Just on the outskirts of town looms the big-box retailers.  How does a family-owned hardware store on Main Street survive? How can they compete?  

We do not have any simple answers. We do know that small businesses must develop a many-sided customer relation that competes in value against the volume discounters.

When we taped this episode of the show, Feasel Paint & Glass  was being slammed by by nearby discounters, both Home Depot and Lowe. And, we are sorry to report that this downtown store closed on December 9, 2008 (more).

We were fighting for the small businesses.  We still do.  Up until the store's closure, we had encouraged people to drop in on Feasel's on Main Street and buy something.  We talked with the new owner, Mike Woosley.  He's a very nice person.  He was optimistic and we all wanted to encourage their esprit de corps for their role in the continued Main Street revitalization.

This town, cited by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a "Great American Main Street" award winner, the people of Feasel Paint & Glass are helping to paint that picture.

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Feasel Paint and Glass

John Gregory,

Business Classification:

Year Founded:

Offer Your Customers Expert Advice

JOHN: We decide what we're gonna sell. We don't--somebody from up--some higher office isn't saying, `Here's what you're gonna sell tomorrow.' We decide what we're gonna sell. We basically run quality products, number one. And number two, we give service that they couldn't give if they tried. They wouldn't know how to give the type of service that a business like ours does.

HATTIE: What do you mean?

JOHN: Taking care of the customer's needs.

HATTIE: Give me an example.

JOHN: Solving the customer's--that's basically what it is, is the customer comes--the only reason he comes through our door is 'cause he has a problem, and it's our job to solve his problem.

PETE: A lot of people come in here looking for how to do something that end leaving here with product. And...

HATTIE: So you become the teacher.

PETE: We become a teacher, absolutely, every day.

PAT RONCATI: I very much like that one.

Unidentified Man #5: But I like that one better.

PAT: Yeah. That's good.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Pat Roncati is a volunteer working on storefront improvements for De Land's Main Street program. Of course she shops for advice and paint at Feasel's.

PAT: Jim, can I take this home with me?

JIMMY McKETTA: Sure can.

PAT: All right. Very good.

JIMMY: I'll check them out for you, Pat.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Since 1980, Jimmy McKetta has helped customers like Pat choose the perfect paint. He explains how a computer can help.

JIMMY: We can take anybody's color chip--any customer can bring in a shoe or whatever they want to bring in, and we can put it through the spectrometer. And then we ask the computer questions, and then as--by going through the different steps, it will actually give us a formula, shoot it out down here on a piece of paper, and we take it over to the counter and mix it.

HATTIE: Have you been working with paint before there was such a thing?

JIMMY: Yes. Yes. I've been here 17 years.

HATTIE: You don't look old enough. You don't have any gray hair.

JIMMY: Oh, yeah.

HATTIE: You must be having fun. You've been here 17 years.

JIMMY: Seventeen years.

HATTIE: OK, so how did you do this before you had the technology?

JIMMY: Well, we'd go to the color system. We'd try to find two--I always try to find two colors that are very similar--one may be to the yellow; one may be to the red--put the two of them together and try to get a formula that will blend fairly well.

HATTIE: OK, but somehow in your--somehow you've discovered or people have discovered that you have a gift for this.

JIMMY: Right.

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