Outperform Competitors: 3 Strategies for Real Staying Power


I returned late last night from a trip to Los Angeles. 

To give a little background...I first moved to Los Angeles in 1997 to go to business school at UCLA. Two years later I started Growthink, whose headquarters remain in Los Angeles. And then in 2004, I moved back to New York and started Growthink's NY office.

I try to go back to Los Angeles every few months to spend time with our team there. This time I took my wife with me and we made a 5-day trip out of it (thanks to my parents who watched my kids and the puppy).

So, we were very excited to go back to Los Angeles, and specifically to go to all our favorite places we used to frequent during the years we lived there.

Now, as you can imagine, things have changed since we left in 2004. While many businesses remain, others have died.

So here are my thoughts on why some of the retail businesses we visited survived and have staying power (and why one didn't). Make sure you think about this in your business (whether retail or not) to make sure you succeed long-term.

Restaurants: one night we went to Moonshadows restaurant in Malibu. Interestingly, since my wife went to Pepperdine University in Malibu, we knew this restaurant has been in business for 20+ years.

So why has this restaurant been successful? Well it seems that it is continually reinventing itself. You would NEVER guess that Moonshadows has been around so long. The owners clearly reinvest in the physical attributes of the restaurant; the fixtures, tables, couches, etc. were all updated. Also, the owners had created a very cool scene at the restaurant -- it is a very hip place that was packed with people having a great time.

Bagel store: I was very happy to see that my local Noah's Bagels store was still in business. Now Noah's is a West Coast chain with 100 locations, so I'd expect it to be more sophisticated and successful than a local, single location store.

And clearly it is. The store is successful since it is constantly innovating. It offered several new products: cookie poppers, thin crust bagels, and new bagel sandwiches. It also offered special deals at special times. For instance, after 2PM (when I'm sure business is usually really slow), it offers a free cup of coffee with any bagel sandwich.

Dry Cleaner: On this trip to Los Angeles, I tried a new idea. Rather than dry clean my clothes in New York, only to get them wrinkled on the flight, I decided to get my clothes dry cleaned in Los Angeles.

Rather then spend a fortune letting the hotel take care of the dry cleaning, I went to my old local dry cleaner called the Cleaning Baron.

Was I surprised that the Cleaning Baron was still in business after all these years? Not really. Even though its prices are definitely higher than its competitors, its service is superior.

To begin, I was able to drop my clothes off at 7:30PM the night I arrived (most other dry cleaners were closed by that time), and pick them up at 7AM the next morning. When I arrived at the store a few minutes early (I was up early due to the time zone difference), I was pleasantly surprised to see the store had opened by 6:50am (imagine that, a store opening even before its stated hours). I walked in to warm smile and welcome and was quickly handed my perfectly dry cleaned clothes.

Bakery/Café: One major letdown during my trip was my long walk to Mani's Bakery, a great café and bakery I used to frequent. On Saturday, I was with my wife who was shopping in Santa Monica. Shopping is not really my thing, so I told her I was going to walk to Mani's Bakery.

I figured Mani's would still be open and thriving since it offered great organic food and pastries (and an amazing chocolate-dipped chocolate chip cookie). Unfortunately, when I got there, I learned Mani's had gone out of business.

Why? A new organic café/bakery, called Urth Caffé had opened up a block away (Urth Caffé has two other locations in Los Angeles, so it's not really "new", but that location is).

And clearly, Mani's had not been able to differentiate and/or reinvent itself to survive in the face of its new competition.

So, to reiterate, the stores with staying power shared the following 3 attributes:

1. Reinvesting in the business to stay relevant

2. Constantly creating and testing new products and offerings to better serve its customers (oh, I saw this too when visiting the smoothie company Jamba Juice which was now also offering frozen yogurt and pizza).

3. Offering amazing customer service, which will never go out of vogue and will keep customers coming back for years.

So, think about what you are doing in your business to make sure that your customers will not only come back tomorrow, but years from now too.

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