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A $1.50 Hotdog and Drink Combo, Consistently costs me $300 plus.

I love Costco.  There is something about buying large quantities of items that I need that appeals to the spendthrift and efficiency freak in me on a deep level.  Unfortunately, our community only has two Costco stores and neither of them is conveniently located for my family.  In addition, my wife knows that I tend to go overboard while shopping at Costco and tries to limit my trips.  However, there is one attraction in particular that my wife and my busy schedule can’t seem to overcome.

To the average consumer it might not seem that enticing, but to me it is irresistible.  I can purchase an all-beef hotdog with a large fountain drink for $1.50 at the Costco food court.  There are a couple of strange things as it relates to my unquenchable desire to trek to Costco for the $1.50 hotdog meal.  I don’t eat hot dogs.  I don’t particularly like hotdogs, and other than as a part of the experience of a baseball game or Costco, I won’t eat them.  The second thing is that I don’t drink soda or other sugary drinks.  So the fountain drink being included in the $1.50 hotdog meal, doesn’t benefit me.

But really, what a deal, $1.50 for a hotdog and a drink!  I know my feelings are irrational.  I’ll drive out of my way, buy $300-500 of Costco products, all because of this this $1.50 deal.  In fact, I find myself bringing it up in conversations totally unrelated to Costco or hotdogs.  Much like other people talk about the weather or local sports teams to make small talk, I talk about Costco hotdog deals.  I really really love a good deal.

Mission Accomplished Costco.  Your loss leader draws me into your store, to spend money on your core product offerings. It has also made me a raving fan of your store.

Recently my wife discovered that Home Depot does free kids projects one Saturday morning each month.  The wood is precut, the nails are packaged, and the decals are all included to build a set of book stops, a heart shaped box or whatever simple project involves a little hammering, gluing, and painting. It’s a great way to spend a Saturday morning and gets young families into the Home Depot store.  There hasn’t been one time that I have been in for the project and haven’t spent at least $50.  I tell all my friends with kids about it too.  It creates a love of doing hands on projects for kids that may never have shop class in school.  It’s free, it’s at a time when families can attend, and it has made me a huge fan of Home Depot.  Great differentiator between Home Depot and Lowes or Menards.  Mission Accomplished Home Depot.

Costco understands that a large part of their target market is people that love deals and they designed a draw for those people.  Home Depot understands that families with young children are buying homes, are short on time, and want cheap or free activities on the weekend for their kids.  They designed a draw that gets those young families through the door and thinking about all the things that they could be doing to their homes.  Both Costco and Home Depot get people through the door and engaged with and loving their brands.

As a small business owner, I think a lot about that $1.50 hotdog meal at Costco and the free kids’ projects at Home Depot.  These companies understand client engagement, they understand their target market and they know what it takes to get them in their store.  So how do we small business owners do the same thing?

  1. Identify your target market or segments of your target market (it is important to be as specific as possible): As a full-service office furniture dealer, my company’s target market is business owners of companies with 5 or more office employees and influencers such as design/architectural firms, commercial realtors, facility managers and other people that are directly or indirectly involved in furnishing offices.
  2. Identify the likes and dislikes of each of these target markets: Each of the groups I called out above has different things that are important to them. To keep this short, let’s focus on architects and designers. Architects and designers tend to love buildings, design, fashion, technology and anything that involves well designed items.  They are often stressed and overworked and dislike time wasters.
  3. What will draw your target market/submarket in as a value added, not as a sales attempt? How can our businesses design something around their likes and dislikes?  If we were able to get world renowned architect Frank Gehry to come give a speech at our facility even the busiest architect or designer would come to see him speak.  Unfortunately, my small company does not have enough money or connections to get Gehry to come and speak.  However, an industrial designer from Apple or a Tech person to give a free CAD demonstration on the new Microsoft Surface Studio computer would be a reasonable alternative.
  4. What can you do for a low cost and engage the target market? An industrial designer or a CAD demonstration on the new Microsoft Surface Studio would be useful, but technical speakers feel a little contrived and would only provide a surface level connection to our brand.   How can we think outside of the box to come up with something that will engage the target market on an emotional level?  What do architects and designers love?  What can we do?  One method would be offering a free a parent/child model making class or lego building class on a Saturday morning.  A model building or lego building class for architect or designer parents and children has little to do with office furniture, but it allows the target market to connect with two things they love: their children and the building/designing.  It gets them in our store and engages them in our brand, while having a good time.  Mission Accomplished.

Small businesses tend to think about promoting their products and services versus thinking about how to connect with their existing and potential clients on a meaningful level.  Thinking about this level of brand engagement is difficult.  However, we small business people must create loyal clients and engaged referral sources if want to be competitive and sustainable.  If your business can identify its $1.50 hotdog deal or free Saturday morning kids project to engage your target market, you will turn your best potential clients into your greatest advocates.  It is an exercise that is well worth the time.

David Singer

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