In most cases, you should be making your customers’ lives easier. But in one aspect, you should be making it more difficult.
To explain, I’m going to tell a story about a septic tank and an outhouse.
Not very glamorous, I know. But it’s a true story that taught me an important sales lesson and is proof that, in some cases, making it difficult for shoppers can result in a sale.
Continue reading below…
We recently purchased a cabin. It has a well, running water and a septic tank, which we were assured was emptied right before we gained possession of the cabin.
Long story short, it was not actually empty and we had to pay an emergency rate to have it emptied on the weekend, right before a bunch of guests came out. We learned the important (and expensive) lesson as to why we should have an outhouse on the property.
So, we were in the market for an outhouse.
I’m not sure about the rules everywhere but near the lake, an outhouse must have a septic tank. So you can’t just dig a hole in the ground and place an outhouse over it.
I began my search for a cute little outhouse.
But it was much harder than I expected.
I finally came across a local woodworker on Kijiji who makes outhouses.
I loved one that was small, could be customized through paint colors, shingle color and would fit the cabin-y feel I was going for. The only issue for me, based on the listing, was that it didn’t come with a septic tank.
I emailed the woodworker to confirm there wasn’t a septic tank included and to ask if he had suggestions on where to find one. But I kept searching.
Another option that came up was a company selling plastic portable toilets (the ones you see on construction sites and at outdoor events). Not really what I was going for look-wise, but seemed like a simple option.
The plastic one would be cheaper, wouldn’t need additional parts or require digging or installation. They would also deliver one to our cabin for free.
I really wanted the cute wooden outhouse but the decision seemed like a no-brainer:
Pay less money and have a unit dropped off, ready to go as is…
Get the outhouse I wanted look-wise but spend more time sourcing a tank, going to pick it up, digging a hole, moving the outhouse into place and connecting it to the tank.
I was convinced the cheapest and easiest choice would be to go with the plastic porta-potty over the nicer looking wood outhouse.
That was until the woodworker emailed back.
For a small extra charge he could alter the design to include the septic tank and deliver it to our cabin. No second purchase, no digging, no installation.
Now I had a difficult choice to make.
Do I go with the cheaper plastic outhouse and pay nothing for delivery…
Do I pay more and get something that is perfectly suited to my tastes and I’m going to be happy with for years to come?
Ultimately, we decided having a wooden outhouse that was a better fit for our property and for resale value.
I talked myself into spending more money and waiting a bit longer to get the product I really wanted because the woodworker made it difficult for me to choose the other guys.
This example is similar to the situation many handmade businesses face.
You’re competing with mass produced products that may seem like the easiest and cheapest option to consumers.
But what handmade businesses have going for them that companies offering mass-produced products can’t compete with, is customization.
That doesn’t necessarily mean making customized products, suited to each individual customer.
But rather, the ability to swiftly make changes to your business (e.g. you could decide right now to offer free shipping and wouldn’t have to get approval from 10 different departments), and having a personalized feel to each part of your business (as explained in this article: How To Sell More at Craft Fairs) while the big companies feel a bit cold and corporate.
When you choose a niche, you create a product that is perfect for a specific type of customer. The woodworker targets cabin/acreage/camp site owners in Alberta who want a traditional looking outhouse but can modify it to Alberta regulations and bylaws.
As a small business owner, you have the ability to make a niche product shoppers really fall in love with and can’t help but choose, as well as offer a unique shopping experience big companies can’t.
Had the woodworker replied and told me he didn’t have a solution for the tank or directed me to a website where I could order a tank and have it shipped, he would have made it easy for me to go with the other guys.
But, because he had simple solutions to all the problems I was facing, he made my decision difficult.
Of course I wanted to save money.
However, I also didn’t want to regret my purchase and be thinking about the better option I could have had, every time I look in our cabin’s backyard.
Consider your business and the options consumers have when it comes to purchasing a product like yours.
Are there any ways you can make it easier for shoppers to choose you and more difficult to choose your competitors?
Don’t just think about your competition as other handmade businesses selling a similar product; consider the competition your products are up against in all scenarios.
Most people don’t exclusively shop handmade. So you must think of ways you can sway shoppers away from their usual choice (e.g. buying soap at the grocery store) and over to buying handmade, by making it easier.
The Dollar Shave Club thought about how most people buy razor refills at the grocery store and offered a more convenient method of buying them. A new cartridge of razors is automatically shipped each month, or based on a schedule the customer chooses (biweekly, bimonthly, etc.).
You’re paying a bit more but it’s certainly easier than ordering razor refills on Amazon each time you run out or making a trip to the grocery store.
What do consumers have to choose from when shopping for a product like yours and how do other companies have a leg up on you? There’s likely an easier, more convenient, stress-free way consumers buy products like yours, and you should be aware of those ways.
Price shouldn’t be a factor you worry about too much. There will be many companies out there mass producing jewelry, soap, art, etc. and offering their products at a much lower price. But when you’re selling handmade, you shouldn’t be trying to offer the lowest price.
Is there anything that makes situations even just the slightest bit difficult for your consumers? What might the common complaints be in your industry? What about stigmas?
For example, a car dealership must deal with the bad stigma a car salesperson has. Most consumers assume people selling cars use sleazy tactics and immediately put their guards up when approached. That’s a challenge the car dealership deals with.
Think about the hurdles you must get past to make a sale. It may be that shoppers are hesitant about your prices, don’t want to pay expensive shipping fees or don’t understand the importance of the materials/ingredients you use. Perhaps shoppers need help understanding how your product works or visualizing how it will look in their lives.
You really have to know who your customer is and get in their heads to uncover the little annoyances they deal with when shopping, buying and using a product like yours.
Forums can be a good place to find what people complain about or issues they need solutions to. A soap maker may search “skin care forum” to find platforms consumers use to discuss common skin care problems.
Once you’ve thought about the full process someone goes through when shopping, purchasing, receiving and using products similar to yours, you can brainstorm ways to make each step easier for them, thus making it more difficult to go with your competitors.
How can you sway shoppers away from the other options they have to choose from?
It’s important to not only offer convenient options but also clearly communicate them.
Had the listing for the outhouse mentioned the option to swap in a septic tank, I likely wouldn’t have even discovered the plastic porta-potty option, making the woodworker’s sale even easier.
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