Doing ‘Different’ Right: Ten Big-Time Difference Makers and How They Made Some Serious Dough Thinking Outside the Box, part 2 of 2

The Difference Maker: The Bargains Group

The Dared to Be Difference: Teaming up for A-level customer service. Jody Steinhauer began The Bargains Group in 1988 from her kitchen table by purchasing a variety of different clothing and reselling it to discount clothing stores. Today, she runs a multi-million-dollar firm with over 4,000 different items for sale, but the most interesting aspect of the company is its employees.

The Bargains Group is a discount wholesaler of promotional business products, family clothing, accessories, gifts, toys, bedding and linens, personal hygiene products, and tradeshow promotional materials. So how exactly does a small firm with only 20 employees manage to make millions every year without offering prices much lower than their competitors? It’s simple: They hire the right people. By focusing on hiring fun, vivacious people who believe strongly in the culture of service, they are able to actually service each of their customers personally. They don’t even have a voicemail system!

While a lot of firms advertise how ‘different’ their people are, or how they focus on service, The Bargains Group actually proves this assertion. They don’t advertise or employ salespeople – yet they manage to make millions of dollars selling their products. Make sure that your staff is a differentiator for your company. There is great value in good customer service. Happy customers will not only stick around, they will also spread the word!

[wcm_restrict]The Difference Maker: Dillard’s Septic Service

The Dared to Be Difference: Doing the dirty work (literally). James Dillard, owner of Dillard’s Septic Service in Annapolis, Maryland, runs a business that most others might consider ‘beneath’ them. Yet Dillard earns a six-figure income doing what many of us would call mundane, boring, or downright disgusting. An October 10, 2007, article in USA Today by Del Jones, entitled ‘A Dirty Job, But Someone Has to Get Rich Doing It,’ featured Dillard and other business owners who have entered into careers that many others simply would not. And it is a potential avenue for business owners who are looking for a way to generate more income. In fact, in the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans for 2009, less than glamorous fields and products – including discount tires, roofing, salsa, lumber, and tequila – have produced extraordinary income.

You might not consider these to be businesses that would create such great wealth. But all of these business owners found their niche, and, through it, their differentiation. Think about a product or service that you can offer that no one else will. You don’t always have to be wracking your brain to come up with a product or service that is better than anything your competitors offer. You can also come up with a product or service that they simply won’t offer. Products or services that others are afraid to touch can mean big opportunities for you!

The Difference Maker: Man Cave

The Dared to Be Difference: ‘Manning’ up before the rest. Who would have thought a Tupperware-type party for men would be a good idea? Cofounders Nick Beste and Kevin Carlow saw the success stories from female-centric companies like Tupperware, Silpada, and Partylite and thought, why not? As a result, they created Man Cave, an in-home party where hosts throw ‘Meatings’ complete with a set of ‘Man Laws.’ For years, thousands of companies have demonstrated and sold products to groups of women in their homes. Now Man Cave does it for men. They aren’t just the leader in their industry; they ARE the industry – and they anticipate crossing the $3-million mark by November 2010.

Don’t shy away from an idea just because it’s never been done before. In fact, discovering an untapped market can be like striking gold in this economy. Instead of following trends, you have to be brave enough to be a trendsetter. It can be the gateway to a big idea and a big payoff.

The Difference Maker: Realtor and Inventor Jean Newell

The Dared to Be Difference: Recognizing it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Veteran Realtor Jean Newell had an idea for her fellow real estate agents. She invented a personal utility pouch (PUP) – a multi-zippered mini-pack designed to carry all the technical tools, keys, contracts, and more that a real estate agent needs. Judging by the initial reaction she received, she knew she was on to something that people wanted. Her objective was to get on QVC, but she was turned down by gatekeepers again and again.

So she decided to reach out to her network, which consisted of other agents, buyers, sellers, etc., and ask for their help. She sent out an email requesting help to find a contact person at QVC for her new product and received an overwhelming response. Within a few days, she had 40 emails from people providing contacts at QVC. She created a quick video to show how she would promote the bag and sent it off to QVC. Within two weeks, she was accepted! Since her initial appearance on QVC, Newell has become a sales superstar and media darling.

A great idea is just an idea unless you can get it into the right hands. It’s vital for you to find ways to leverage what you have to offer. Get in front of people who can connect you to the places you want to be – it can be anybody – and don’t be afraid to ask the people you know. Leveraging your connections can be the difference between making it and breaking it right now, so you really can’t afford not to.

The Difference Maker: Toy House

The Dared to Be Difference: Advertising curiosity. In Jackson, Michigan, a city and state hit hard by the economy, toy store owner Phil Wrzesinski was struggling to compete against local big box competitors like Toys “R” Us, Target, and Walmart. And then he had an idea. In August 2008 he began running ads on the local radio station that had local DJs wondering what was in the men’s bathroom of the store. Droves of customers started coming in to see what actually was in the men’s bathroom. (The product in question, by the way, was a nightlight that projects stars on to the ceiling and walls of a darkened room.) The result? Despite the down economy, Toy House has seen a steady increase in both loyalty and sales ever since!

Just because your product may be ordinary, it doesn’t mean your promotion of it has to be. Clever advertising can peak interest, create buzz, and get people talking – exactly what you want at a time like this. Don’t be afraid to take risks with your promotion. Show that your company has an edge. It will set you apart from your competitors.

To beat your competition in today’s economy, you have to be offering something that no one else is – be it a unique product, promotion, offer, staff, or culture. You can’t expect to keep customers coming back if you are offering only the status quo. Don’t be afraid to take risks, think outside the box, and be a little daring. Not only will you grow your business, you’ll find yourself inspired, recharged, and motivated.[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember]

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About the Author

Maribeth Kuzmeski, MBA, is the author of five books, including …And the Clients Went Wild!: How Savvy Professionals Win All the Business They Want (Wiley, 2010) and The Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life (Wiley, 2009). She is the founder of Red Zone Marketing, LLC, which consults with businesses from entrepreneurial firms to Fortune 500 corporations on strategic marketing planning and business growth. Maribeth has personally consulted with some of the world’s most successful CEOs, entrepreneurs, and professionals. An internationally recognized speaker, she shares the tactics that businesspeople use today to create more sustainable business relationships, sales, and marketing successes.

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