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The Growing Menace of Being Average

There is nothing more damaging to a business, or to a business district, than being average.  In fact, if I am a business owner, I would rather have a customer tell me that my business is horrible in every aspect, rather than a customer telling me: “Your business is average”.  Give me horrible over average.  At least, I know where I stand with customers if they hate what I deliver.

Here’s something else about a horrible business: fellow business owners can see horrible a mile away.  Consumers do too.  Consumers can spot a horrible business from half way down the block.  Or, they can drive by, just look at the front window of a store and they can sense horrible.  “Yuck,” their brain says.  “I’m not going in there.”  And they don’t.

People look at awful and say: “That’s flat-out awful!”  Sure, they talk about it, but it’s dismissed.  It’s an outcast, a pariah.  People avoid it naturally.  It’s like that creepy guy sitting on the downtown bench that smells like spoiled milk.  You cross the street rather than walking by.

And here’s what’s unfair:  horrible businesses scream for attention, and get it.  Once I consulted in a city (in a state I won’t name), that had a great downtown except for a tacky X-rated book and movie store.  Guess where that store is today?  I couldn’t tell you, but I know it’s gone.  In another city, one absentee landlord owned a building that was a supreme blemish to an otherwise developing downtown.  A couple of years later, that building was torn down, and it’s now a park.  (Again, I don’t know the details, just the result).  In a city last month, I was taken to an awful looking costume shop and asked what to do with such an eyesore.  Why is it that the worst looking, worst run businesses get all the attention?  Because people see horrible businesses, and jump into action to correct them.

But an average business is another matter.  No one jumps, no one acts, and no one focuses on the average.  Worse, owners of average businesses think they are operating their businesses adequately, when they’re not.

Here’s how I think of it, and this comes from my early years of teaching high school.  An average business is like that runny nose kid who’d come to my class everyday, coughing and wiping his nose on his sleeve.  The parent wanted the kid in class, thinking the kid wasn’t really sick.  Even though the kid was technically in class, he was not healthy, not alert, and not learning; just there.  Essentially, I was trying to teach a human Petri dish whose only daily success was spreading germs throughout my classroom.

An average business is like that kid.  Present, eyes-open, but still sick.  Thinking it’s doing fine, when it’s really stagnant and infecting those around it.

Relate this to your town or city.  Can you think of an owner of an average business in your community?  Sure, you can.  He’s a nice person.  He comes to Chamber meetings, and volunteers at the school.  But be honest now:  Do you tell your out-of-town guests that they absolutely must visit his business before they fly back home, and if they don’t they’ll forever miss out on a one-of-a-kind experience?  Gotcha pegged, don’t I?

As owners, we have developed the ability to identify an average business better than customers.  Most customers can’t see average from the street.  Instead, they walk into average businesses and walk back out, impressionless.  No memories.  No moments of surprise.  Baskin Robbins with only vanilla.

Face facts.  If you have a neighbor who has an average looking business, it reflects on your marketplace, it hurts your business, and it hurts other businesses around you.  And just like that kid’s viruses, average businesses multiply.  Everyone looks at the horrible business and wants to avoid it.  But we tolerate average businesses and think they are fine.

Here’s what’s worse:  comparisons lead to the spread of average.  One business owner compares his business to the average business next door, and starts to feel satisfied with what he’s created.  Since businesses have a tendency to rise to the lowest level of competency, average multiplies and no one notices.  Soon, it’s epidemic.  Everyone opens up the doors to their businesses every morning, thinking they’re fine, until an entire business district or an entire city is permeated with underachieving, unimpressive, forgettable businesses not living up to their potential.

I know this is a harsh criticism of being average.  You might be shocked because for years, in school, we were told that a letter grade of a “C” was acceptable.  We were told that a C was OK.  A grade of C meant that you weren’t the smartest, but hey, you weren’t failing repeatedly like Joey, the only seventh grader who could drive to school.

Here’s my point:  in the world of creating a Destination Business that consumers want to seek out, “C’s” don’t count! Worse: today’s economy spits out average businesses every day.

Here’s my suggestion:  Resolve as a business owner to go and look at what you’ve created.  Deep down, you know where average resides in your business.  It’s in your windows. It’s that new person you hired and didn’t train.  It’s in your marketing materials that you designed yourself, and in your 10-year old website that was never updated.  It’s that list of major to-do’s you wrote but never make time to tackle.  It’s you and how you lead your team.  I could go on, but they now tack on big fines for hitting helmet-to-helmet.

Remember this:  In the big picture of creating a successful business that generates higher sales, real profits, and might actually be worth selling someday, average is not enough if you want to become a Destination.  If these sound like your goals, a passing grade won’t be enough.

About Jon Schallert
Jon Schallert is the only business consultant in the world teaching businesses and communities how to reinvent themselves into Consumer Destinations. Jon speaks to thousands annually on his 14-step “Destination Business” process, which he developed over the course of nearly 30 years interviewing over 10,000 business owners in over 500 communities. When Jon is not speaking around the country, he conducts his 2½ day Destination Business BootCamps in Longmont, Colorado, and oversees his company’s online training network, Destination University.
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9 comments
  • Necessities & Temptations

    Took your class early summer. All of staff and myself set goals to accomplish. We’re doing well with most–me–less well with some. Today’s “Growing menace of being average” was wonderful for all of us. It was our report card.– We had our best holiday Open House for 12 years. Everyone is into store signs. Parker Pic’s was a smashing success. Our temptions reward card is working. Being who I am I made the decision that it didn’t have to be perfect but I had to do something different and mostly fun. I can procrastinate having to be perfect—It wasn’t working —-This is much better. Thank you so much Edna

  • Eleanor Heiner

    I loved reading this artcle because I am the destination store you are describing. I was a Hallmark store for 20 years and finally got tired of fighting for my right to run my store MY WAY. In the 10 yesars since I left Hallmark, I now have a great business and am known as a destination store. I do remember John from those days although I rarely dealt with him. To bad Hallmark didn’t listen to John back then about how to run a business. Cookie cutter stores just don’t make it

  • Traci Bratton

    So…..a new perspective I hadn’t really thought about, well I have IF I’m being honest lol! In my eyes I FEEL average but as customers come in they don’t make me feel avereage. I often go across the street and stand and stare at my store and ask myself the question: “would I want to shop in there based on the windows?” if the answer is no, then I go back and tear apart the windows and start over. I have, however been very humbled lately as a great friend of mine called and said that they had a visitor from Utah (we’re in Indiana) and that visitor told her that when they visit our area they MUST allow time to shiop at Walnut Street Traditions…this person didn’t even know the home they were visiting and I were friends. That was an affirmation that I needed.
    I also think if you stop thinking that you’re just average then you lose a little of your edge and start thinking there’s nothing to improve on there’s ALWAYS something to improve on!

  • Paulette Steele

    THis article was just the motivation I need right now.I attended one of Jon’s Seminars in August. It was a little bit ahead of what I needed at the time. I knew the information I was getting was to be very useful in the near future. Just last evening I got out my packet from that seminar to refresh my memory of help in the web site information I just recently opened my web site (claraperrydesigns.com) and now much of what I took with me, from that presentation, I hope to start to implement.I look forward to these inspirational articles.

  • Cyndi

    Very well written article John! I love the runny nose kid comparison. Many days I feel like the average kid on the block, then another shop owner or organization stops by for suggestions. The hard part for me is to always stretch my set in stone concept of the store to a get out and have fun type of concept. From experience I know that if I am having fun inventing, then my staff catches the excitement and then my customers and community catch the fun as well.

  • Kay wells

    I got complacent when the economy was good and I went along just as I always had. Now that the economy has went the other way I have had to think of other ways to meet my customers expectations and draw them in to my shop. Actually, I have welcomed the challenge…and now I am going to change the look of my windows! Thanks for keeping us motivated!

  • Jan Tracy

    Mediocrity is all around us and Jon is right on target.

    I am a retired teacher and my moto in the classroom WAS
    and as a store owner today, IS:
    ‘Strive for perfection, accept excellence.”

    Thank you for keeping us motivated and focused!

  • Catherine Matthias: Stewart Jones Designs

    My business is in a town with many excellent businesses. It’s the town in the county that gets the buzz and listings in books like “The Best 100 Art Towns in America”. We are just 6 miles from a town where very few of the businesses rise above average. A reminder everyday to stay on my toes and keep working to have more and more business owners exposed to Jon’s great ideas.

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