Banding Together

Is your local retail business going well? Some of your (not ‘really competing’) neighbours doing worse?

I wrote a piece last year about why you might want to help out those who you might consider competitors. I’ve just seen first hand what can happen when a company’s neighbour goes out of business: a much more serious competitor can move in.

My local sandwich shop, a small independently owned business has been serving baguettes, salads and paninis for over 5 years. Later this month a sandwich-shop chain is opening up in place of a cafe, just three doors away. They should have them beaten on price, unless the new shop gets aggressive and goes after their loyal customer base of office workers from around the area. As it stands they’ll attract business just on the basis of curiosity.

Now is the time for the little guy to raise their game, whether they broaden the menu, encourage loyalty (the chain already has a loyalty discount card) and raise their service level: offer delivery, take pre-orders – all the things the chain isn’t willing to do.

If that situation sounds familiar to you, now might be a good time to reach out to them and work on some co-marketing efforts – banding together to ward off a bigger threat.

Image credit: Chiceaux via Creative Commons on Flickr

Fish where the fish are

Or “grill where the people are having beer”

beer gardenOne of the many things I love about Prague is that there are many places, just out of plain sight, that tourists hardly ever notice – little oases for real Czechs to drink Czech beer and eat grilled meat (and vegetables too at the better places, like this one).

Here’s a map of where I had dinner recently.


So, Location, Location, Location eh?

Well kinda – what’s great about the location of this beer garden? Well it’s inside a ‘national monument’, site of a former castle, on the battlements of Vyšehrad. It’s hardly ‘picturesque in and of itself. There are great views, just over the hedges. Hardly anyone goes to look at the view though.

It’s not exactly easy to get to, approximately a 10 minute walk from the nearest metro station. What’s great about this place isn’t specifically the location, it’s the atmosphere – people sitting and chatting, people cycle to here, bring their dogs. There’s nothing better on a warm evening than a cold beer (24kc/less than £1, less than $1.50/€1.50) from the quick service hatch and some čevapi and grilled eggplant and zucchini from the Croatian-run grill.

queueingWhat makes this beer garden better than any of the many others in Prague? It’s the food; better than standard Czech grilled fare (usually un-spiced lumps of pork or chicken, most often questionable wurst). These guys really care about the food they serve. It’s always beautifully cooked and seasoned and it’s reasonably priced.

How did they get this busy? By making it really easy to do business with them? By spending loads of money advertising? No and no. The ordering process is a black art – for most items you have to go to the counter, place your order, often without the benefit of a menu or pricelist, based on what you see and what you see other people eating. They then give you an approximate lead time. You go back when the 20 minutes is up, queue up again and get your food. Hardly slick. They’ve also never advertised, word of mouth works so much better, why bother.

So now there’s a symbiotic relationship between the little pub and the grill (which are run independently). If the grill’s not open, business at the bar is slow. There’s a ‘whole product’ experience that lots of people love and come back for regularly, often bringing friends who’ve not been before, expanding the tribe.

What’s the marketing takeaway from all this? Is it ‘build it and they will come’? Or is it, as Twitter’s Ev said recently ‘do something awesome’? Maybe it’s just that sometimes, marketers need to just stay the hell away and let people do their thing.