A True Story

“We’ve got problems here,” he said on the phone. “Business has been declining badly, even when other people’s business started to pick up around here. I want you to tell me how to get more customers in here. I’d really like your instant read.”

We don’t have pricing for “instant read,” but I agreed on the scope of the project with the man on the phone, and a few days later I made the drive.

When I arrived at the shop, it was an instant turn-off: a jumble of products very, very loosely held together by something that had once been a theme, but now appeared to be “whatever strikes the owner as interesting.” No wonder folks couldn’t figure out what mental drawer they should place his shop in.

The place was also dark, and slightly dirty, with a faint odor… maybe fish?… from the restaurant next door. The biggest issue was the clutter and the incomprehensible “product line,” though. In this instance, the dirt could wait.


He meant it when he said “instant read”; I’d only been in the place for about three minutes and he was already impatient for A Solution.

That was no problem; it had only taken me 30 seconds to come up with the answer. The other 2 minutes and 30 seconds were for finessing how to say it.

“So what do we need to do?”

“The difficulty here is, it’s hard for a customer to figure out what they can buy at your shop. What you’re the best at. When they should come here first, because you’re the guy who’s got ‘it.’ In fact, it’s hard to know, looking around here, just what it is you’ve got.”

He was waiting for more, so I put it into action terms.

“You need to define yourself. Perhaps you had more focus once and you just need to get back to that. My instant read is that your business has declined because people have found other places where they can get ‘anything.’ To want to come to you, they have to want ‘something.’ You need to know what your ‘something’ is, because they’re not going to guess for you.”

“But my customers love it,” he said bluntly.

“You hired me to get you more customers,” I said.

He thanked me for my time, paid for his instant read…

… and I suspect, went right back to doing things the way he’d always done them.

MCE Moral #1: Know what you offer, and don’t wander far without good reasons.

MCE Moral #2: In less than three minutes, a professional can present an excellent “instant read” from a 30-second evaluation. Customers are doing the same thing in the same 30 seconds. If you haven’t got enough customers, you’ve already got their instant read.

MCE Moral #3: Getting advice and taking it are not the same thing.

(Bonus Moral: Don’t smell like fish.)

Have you ever found yourself seduced by But My Customers Love It? How were you able to remind yourself to look beyond today’s customers in order to grow your business?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson