I like to think of myself as being inventive. I don't really invent anything; I just come up with ideas for what should be invented. When I was 12 years old I lived with my family in Birmingham, Alabama. The Birmingham newspaper ran a weekly article that encouraged readers to send in their ideas for inventions. If your idea was published, you would receive a prize of $5. I received the prize several times for my inventions. My best invention was "soft butter." I suggested that butter and air could be mixed together to produce butter that was soft and wouldn't tear up toast, muffins, or whatever else you were spreading the butter on. Feel free to repeat this item of interest at any upcoming cocktail parties you may be attending. Right after someone mentions they are purchasing a new BMW you can say, "That's nothing. I know the guy that invented soft butter."
More recently I have come up with more high-tech inventions. My current idea involves motion pictures. Remember the movie Forrest Gump? Remember the part of the movie when Forrest is inserted into the scene of President Kennedy's inauguration? Another example of this technology are the TV specials where the magician David Copperfield has a discussion with Orson Wells. How do they do that? Filmmakers have the ability to digitize images and add or delete those images on the big screen. My idea is to digitize all the actors. Then we could go to Blockbuster and order movies with our favorite actors. For example, I'd like to rent the great movie classic The African Queen and instead of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn I'd like Tom Cruise and Jennifer Lopez to play the parts of Charlie Allnut and Rose Sayer. This method would cause a great boom for the movie rental business. They could rent the same movie over and over again but with different actors each time.
When I told my son Matthew about my invention, he suggested ice cream that is room temperature. This special ice cream would have the same texture, firmness, and flavor of regular ice cream, but it would be room temperature. You would never get an ice cream headache and it wouldn't melt.
The point of these playful ideas is to look at the possibilities in your business. You may not be able to invent new products or even reinvent your product, but by reassessing your value proposition you can make a dramatic difference in how your customers view what you offer. Your ability to creatively produce a value proposition, live by it, and announce it to your customers is key to successfully creating loyalty.
In my hometown there are two ice cream shops that are located directly across the street from each other. Both of these businesses are individually owned and are not part of a chain or franchise. Their signs proclaim "Homemade ice cream." They are about the same size and from what I can tell as a causal observer they seem to be doing about the same amount of business. I draw this conclusion based on the fact that I have been in both of these enterprises as a customer.
I live in a resort area, and our population increases substantially in the winter months. Because our summers are hot and our winters are warm, ice cream is popular year-round. Locals simply call December through March "season." During season, one of the ice cream shops consistently seems to do more business than its competitor across the street. I haven't conducted any kind of scientific study, but the parking lot in front of one shop is always full. Even during season the one ice cream shop has only a few patrons while the other shop has a long line of folks waiting. I think both shops offer an excellent product and both shops are equally clean and well equipped, but one shop is doing five or six times as much business.
Considering my passion for customer loyalty, you might well imagine my curiosity and interest in figuring out why one ice cream shop sells so much more than the other. While there is no apparent difference in these two businesses, I have learned there is a huge difference in how they do business.
The more popular ice cream shop participates in school outings and events. When the local grammar school has a fair, concert, or any kind of special event, only one of these two businesses supplies ice cream. When a local high school takes a field trip, guess who supplies the ice cream? Only one of these businesses host monthly coloring contests for pre-school children. (Covering their walls with all the artwork for parents and grandparents to come and see.) The more successful ice cream shop has a value proposition that screams "We are part of the community. You know us. We know your kids. We care about you."
Your auto parts business, hobby shop, real estate office, title insurance agency, or dress shop can be reinvented by creatively reassessing or establishing your value proposition.
A final thought about value. The customer always, always, always gets to decide what is of value. Let your customers tell you what is of value and then build and live by a value proposition that serves them.
Simon Huber migrated from Germany in 1843 and settled in Starlight, Indiana. He brought with him apple tree saplings ready to plant. The seventh generation of Hubers now lives in Starlight.
In 1926, Joe Huber, Sr. (fourth generation) and his wife, Mary, purchased what is now the Joe Huber Family Farm. They became proud paients of 11 children while they raised cattle and chickens. Mary dressed the chickens as needed for lunch and dinner and the boys milked the cows daily. Back then, many of the farmhands resided at the farmhouse with the rest of the family during harvest.
Joe Huber. Jr., and his wife, Bonnie, lived just up the road from the farm with their five young children and continued to help Joe, Sr., and Mary with the farm while Joe, Jr., worked at the Indiana Gas Company. When Joe, Sr., passed away in 1967, Joe, Jr., and Bonnie purchased the 200-acre farm and moved into the farmhouse. Joe quit his job to become a full-time farmer.
One hot summer day in July 1976, the Hubers had a field full of green beans they were not able to pick in time. Joe said, "Bonnie, what do you think would happen if we put an ad in the newspaper to tell people they can come right to the farm and pick their own green beans?"
People came to the farm in carloads to pick-their-own while Joe, Bonnie, and the children looked at each other in bewilderment. It was difficult to believe that these "city people" thought that picking fruits and vegetables was fun. The garage next to the farmhouse was transformed into a market and soon afterward a new Farm Market Building was constructed.
The Huber family had a whole new variety of "farmhands" that drove out from the city and paid to pick their own produce. It wasn't long before the new farmhands started complaining that they were hungry after picking. Bonnie responded by preparing food in her own kitchen and delivering to her regulars in the Farm Market. Soon afterward, a new restaurant was constructed. Today, Huber Family Farm celebrates spring with a Strawberry Festival, Halloween with a haunted haystack, Christmas with cut-your-own Christmas tree, and every day with hayrides.
Joe and Bonnie started with little belief that people from the city would want to pick their own produce; however, they have built a very substantial business by recognizing what their customers value. If they had listened to the experts, they would have never placed that first newspaper ad. Listening and learning from your customers and understanding what your customers value and delivering that value is a key principle in building loyalty.