I Love What This Small Grocery Story Is Doing To Attract Customers

Aaron Hoos

It’s a common topic of discussion among business owners that bricks-and-mortar stores are dying… as if the very presence and ubiquity of the internet is leading to the inevitable demise of in-person shopping.

And maybe that’s a possibility in the future… for some stores… but I don’t see it as the sweeping inevitability that people claim.

In-person shopping is changing, not going away. I think that’s a reason why one of my most popular blog posts is 14 Ways That Retailers Can Embrace Showrooming… because people are going to stores to try things out before buying them online.

And as a disclaimer, I’m no different: I like shopping in some stores (bookstores, clothing stores, coffee shops, unique/handcraft stores) and HATE shopping in others (grocery stores, home renovations stores). I frequently buy from Staples and have it shipped to my house even though I can literally see a Staples from my homeoffice window. And I prefer shopping online at Rona (the Canadian version of The Home Depot or Lowes) versus going into that cavernous and confusing store.

But that doesn’t mean I think bricks-and-mortar stores are dead. I just think the nature of how people use them is changing, and stores need to step up to remain relevant to consumers.

This Company Is Doing It Right

Take a local company that is doing some interesting things to address this: Hoa An Market. They are an Asian grocery store with a few challenges facing them: they’re tucked away off the beaten path in my city… and just a 2 minute walk from Safeway, and a 10 minute drive from several big box grocery stores and at least 3 other Asian grocery stores that I know of.

How do they get the word out to prospective clients? How do they compete with all the other general and Asian-specific grocery stores within a 10 minute drive? How do they create customer loyalty and repeat business?

There are a few reasons, including their online presence, especially on Facebook, which is pretty good; their selection and prices are competitive; and, they are a supplier of some ingredients to all the Asian restaurants in town.

But the thing they really excel at is their cooking classes. Yes, I realize that grocery stores offering cooking classes is not a new concept, but it’s just not done enough, and I don’t see it done at this scale (to this many people as consistently).

Hoa An Market’s cooking classes are dialed in. They have 2-3 popular classes each week on a range of cooking topics, typically cooking a familiar Asian dish.

The classes have about 20 people in them, they are affordable ($20 per person and you finish the class eating a meal together), they are fun, and they frequently sell out.

Last month I attended my first cooking class at Hoa An Market, where they taught us to make a classic Asian noodle dish. The lesson started at 6:45 and went until about 8:30 or so. The instructor taught us the main dish, with multiple options, and then a few side dishes too. She had volunteers take part in the process and there was plenty of opportunity to smell or taste the food. At the end, the food was laid out and we each piled our plates buffet-style and ate together.

Aaron Hoos

This simple strategy is so brilliant; I don’t know why more stores (not just grocery stores) don’t do it.

The math tells me that it makes financial sense: 20 people x $20 each x 3 sold-out classes each week is $1200 for about 6 hours of presenting (and food costs, of course).

Plus, at least half of the people stayed and shopped, with several of us buying things used during the class.

Plus, many of the people were repeat attendees, which means we are all more profitable customers (versus brand new customers).

Plus, they advertise their classes on their Facebook page (which probably means I’ve liked their page), and I used my email to sign up and to get the recipes on the following day (which means they can market to me via email).

Not Just For Grocery Stores

I can imagine other store owners thinking in frustration about how to showcase their goods to a captive audience. THIS IS IT! This same principle can be adopted by other grocery stores and, in fact by many other brick-and-mortar businesses.

  • Can a local stationery store teach watercolors, calligraphy, or hold writing workshops?
  • Can a local electronics store teach the latest in tech, how to hook up their stereos, hidden features that people don’t know how to use in their equipment, or what those different aspect ratios actually do?
  • Can a local mechanic teach how to quickly understand what sounds a car makes when things aren’t working properly, or how to extend the working life of your car?
  • Can a local hairdresser teach the latest hairstyling trends and how to do them yourself at home?
  • Can a local clothing store teach the latest in fashion and how to mix and match existing wardrobe pieces to look fashionable?

I’m just scratching the surface. I think there are many opportunities for a bricks-and-mortar store to extend into teaching, because I don’t think bricks-and-mortar shopping is going away; rather, I think it will only thrive if it turns into an experience and starts capturing eyeballs and wallets in a different way.

Next Level(s): Achieved

Aaron Hoos

It’s been an interesting few months.

I’ve felt for a little while like I was stuck in my business. Not in a terrible way; not that my business was doing poorly; rather, I was doing well and wanted to grow more… yet, I felt I was hitting my head on a ceiling of what I could achieve.

There was growth (i.e. I hired a writer in the fall of 2017, and another one in the spring of 2018). But it was slow progress, in the same way that inflation rises by a small, predictable level every year. I didn’t just want predictable growth, I wanted to push for more.

And then suddenly it happened.

… And then a second time.

… And then a third time.

Three “new levels” in three months; very rapid growth that, each time, took me to perceptibly higher levels in my business that I could barely fathom the month earlier.

A Chronicle Of Three Unexpected Level-Ups

The first one: December 2018 was the first big turning point! I’d come back from a client’s event and was working with a client and a consultant he’d hired to grow his business. Together, the three of us put a plan in place that required a lot of work. Frankly, I had no idea how much work it was and I had to work VERY HARD (and very, very long hours) through December to achieve what I had committed to.

I thought I’d reached my absolute maximum capacity in the days before Christmas. Then I took Christmas day off and jumped back in on the 26th—not because I wanted to but because I was falling far behind and hated that so many people were relying on me yet I was struggling to keep up.

But then something happened: After Christmas, it was almost as if I’d reached a new level. Perceptibly.

I cranked out work like never before, while also getting back to a sense of balance and structure that I’d lost in the weeks leading up to Christmas. It was amazing (and also very hard to describe beyond the words “next level”, which I realize is over-used but highly applicable).

The second one: Then, as I worked through January, the projects picked up again and I pushed hard a second time in order to hit some deadlines, especially in preparation of an upcoming trip… and it happened again: a perceptible shift even higher, achieving an ability to work with a higher level of focus to create even more work (while also still maintaining the structure/balance that I want in my life).

The third one: Then it happened a third time in early February: A client hired a few staff to work with me (a couple of assistants and a couple of graphic designers) on his payroll, but directed by me to create content for him. This pushed me a third time beyond what I thought I was capable of to create more content in less time by coordinating with several team members to produce great stuff.

Thoughts About Growing To The Next Level

Why am I telling you this? Mostly it’s because I’m processing it in my own mind right now. I’m trying to quantify what happened, when it happened, and how it happened. So far, all I’ve been able to identify is this: in both recent cases, I stretched myself beyond what I thought I was capable of achieving to discover the thing I’ve been trying to attain for a while.

In each case, I was FORCED to go beyond what I was comfortable or what I wanted to do; FORCED to push hard… even beyond what I thought was my breaking point. (Of course this shouldn’t come as a surprise, right? After all, that’s how a muscle grows.)

An Early Reflection On Levels

What I’ve written below is a post that I posted on Facebook earlier this year. It was an early reflection of that first levelling-up in late December. I’m sharing it now because it’s neat to read this early reflection and I think the lessons are still applicable now.

#1. Growth means a new level above what you can even fathom. If you told me last year what my business would be like now, I wouldn’t have believed you. But here it is. Yes, I had a vision for my business but it still grows in unfathomable ways. It’s like driving in the fog. You know where you want to go, but you can only see a few feet in front of you at a time. You drive anyway, hope you don’t crash into anything, and, if you’re careful, you’ll likely get where you want to go.

#2. When you push yourself beyond what you think you are capable of, you force yourself to create a solution. It’s the real-life version of the often-quoted phrase: “jump off a cliff and build your wings on the way down.” This week I set a daily goal in my business that was higher than I ever thought possible. (Even last week I thought it was impossible). But, since setting that goal, I’ve surpassed it one day and almost achieved it another day… *but* the strategies I’ve developed in just 2 days have suddenly made this “not-possible” goal surprisingly possible. It used to be an aspirational dream to hit this goal, and now I have the practical tools to do it because I forced myself to figure it out.

#3. Be methodical. The things I thought weren’t possible have become possible because of one thing: I broke down my impossible goal into tiny steps and then figured out how to achieve each tiny step. It works. I run a checklist of activities everyday that move me in the right direction. As a result, even though I hit my goal one day and missed it the other day, I’ve got more done in the past 2 days than I used to do all week. Part of that process is scripting everything in my workday and eliminating the open-endedness that so easily distracts from productivity.

#4. Cut what’s not working… but balance that against patient building. This one is tricky! It’s the lesson I’m learning right now. On the one hand you have to eliminate the stuff in your business that is not working so you can focus on the clients and activities that deliver for you. On the other hand, there’s something about patiently building something brick-by-brick, knowing that it may not pay off now or in the next couple of years but will do so in the distant future. There’s a tension there I’m trying to work through to understand what can be cut and what should be patiently pursued.

What’s The Next Level?

Three levels in three months. It’s been a wild ride. I love it and it’s thrillingly terrifying each time, especially since I think I know what I want to come next in my business but each time these perceptible leaps are far beyond and far better than I could even imagine.

I’m now thinking: can I force it? Each time has felt almost accidental and beyond my control but is it possible to force the next level? Is it possible to push myself harder than ever to bring it about without the external pressure applied by clients or deadlines? Or does it only come from outside pressure like a piece of coal crushed into a diamond?

I’m about to find out because in March I’m going to see if I can force myself beyond what I think I can do again.

“The Business That Can Spend The Most To Acquire A Customer—Wins”

Aaron Hoos

The business that can spend the most to acquire a customer wins.” – Dan Kennedy

This is a quote from Dan Kennedy. I’ve heard it many times in his books, his trainings and from others who quoted him.

Most recently I read it again in Russell Brunson’s book Dotcom Secrets (which I was just leafing through the other day yet again—damn you, Brunson!).

I’ve had the advantage of thinking about this quote for a while but as I read it again, I remember thinking back to the first time I heard or read it and being confused by it. After all, it seems to go against conventional wisdom, right?

Conventional business wisdom will tell you that it’s the job of every entrepreneur and business owner to maximize profits by acquiring clients as cheaply as possible and selling the most to them. That makes more sense, right?

Problem is, following that conventional wisdom is actually dangerous and expensive, which Dan Kennedy solves with his quote… a quote that can be confusing upon your first read.

Let’s start by asking: what would happen if the conventional wisdom were actually correct—that business owners should spend as little as possible on acquiring new customers?

Well, a business that has little or no cost to acquire customers will probably find itself faced with competition… and not just any competition but A LOT of very aggressive competition. After all, it costs little to nothing to find customers; what could be an easier market to sell to? But when that happens—when your competitors can all vie for the same customer for next to nothing—you enter an “anything goes” Thunderdome! Competitors who are trying to win customers in this highly competitive environment will squeeze their margins to provide the lowest price; or they’ll expand services to give everything to clients for nothing at all; many competitors go for the mass market version of the customer that they can get for a low cost; and, customer loyalty flies out the window because customers can go anywhere to get amazing service for next to nothing.

So, why does Dan Kennedy suggest that you actually spend “the most” to acquire customers, and how does this help you win?

Businesses that spend the most will change their customers and their services. They spend more and in doing so they cut through the mass market of customers to the narrower strip of preferred target market of customers; their marketing nurtures a relationship that builds value; when it comes time to sell, they sell can sell for higher prices (and higher profit), and (more importantly) they sell ongoing over the lifetime of the client. And because they are willing to spend more, there is considerably fewer competitors vying for this customer which means less price competition and more customer loyalty.

Implicit within Dan Kennedy’s quote are five concepts that are critical to understanding what he means:

  • It’s not just about paying more; it’s about being willing to pay for the right customer
  • It’s not just about paying more; it’s about paying more relative to your competitor
  • It’s not just about paying more; it’s about paying more while still being profitable
  • It’s not just about paying more; it’s about building a long-term relationship with a customer and building a greater lifetime value for your customers
  • It’s not just about paying more; it’s about investing heavily in meeting the customer for the first time and then continuing to invest heavily in nurturing the relationship with the customer to ascend them through a long-term lifetime sales funnel

Smart business owners narrow their niche and then build a moat around it to keep competitors away by finding a niche that they can profitably pay for their customers and then develop a long-term relationship with a sales funnel filled with things that the customer wants to buy.

Perhaps the business spends so much that it doesn’t make anything on the first couple of sales… but over the lifetime of the relationship with the customer, that loyalty pays off big-time for the business.

Before you run off to look for a cheaper way to find new customers, consider Dan Kennedy’s counter-intuitive advice to find ways to spend more for your customers (and, of course, find ways to make more money from them too).

Why Every Copywriter Should Be Watching ‘Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee’

Aaron Hoos

The show Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee is not new. According to imdb, it just finished its 10th season. But I don’t watch a lot of TV and I was slow to jump on this show but now that I started watching it, I’m religiously catching up by watching an episode almost every day.

If you’re a copywriter, you should be watching it too. If you’re not, I urge you to start.

I realize that’s a weird thing to say, but hear me out and it will make perfect sense…

Obviously I first heard about the show when it came out but I ignored it because talk shows are okay but I don’t love them. All too often it’s just movie stars promoting their latest movie, and they sit with a talk show host for 5 minutes and answer softball questions. (Jimmy Fallon is mixing things up a bit but the talking part of his talk show is pretty much the same.)

And I didn’t see how Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee would be much better, especially since I just didn’t see Jerry Seinfeld as a talk show host.

But then I saw part of an episode that someone shared, and it was engaging enough that I went back and watched the full episode. Then decided to start from the beginning.

Now, I’m watching one episode a day (not quite binging but as close as my schedule will allow). And I’m getting a lot out of it as a copywriter, strategist, and investor.

The reason is: this isn’t a regular talk show. Aside from (very obviously) being about comedians… in cars… getting coffee…

… Jerry Seinfeld actually has a different purpose for this show: he brings together his love of cars and coffee, plus, he sits down with comedians for a one-on-one discussion about the craft of comedy.

And that’s the real value right there: these are people who are legends, ultra successful, highly sought-after, and could be considered “experts” in their craft. And they are sitting with Jerry, another legendary expert, and they are talking about their craft.

This isn’t a show of 5 minute softball questions about their upcoming movie; it’s two experts talking about things like…

  • What is required to succeed in a truly shark-infested industry like comedy
  • How hard you need to work to succeed… and how much harder you need to continue to work after you’ve succeeded (and after everyone else thinks you should be sipping martinis on a private beach)
  • How to create jokes
  • How to tell when they are effective (hint: comedians do more split testing than copywriters)
  • They even talk about the science of joke construction (for copywriters, it’s no different than sitting down to dissect a headline or bullet)

I learn something from almost every show… about entrepreneurship, success, storytelling, and copywriting. And ultimately what I see in this show solves one of the complaints I have in the field of copywriting…

A lot of copywriters study to get better but many find that they hit a ceiling at a certain point because nearly all the copywriting information available to study is pretty basic… so what do you do when you want more advanced copywriting strategies to study? And, how do you dissect your own work (and the work of others) from the level of an expert?

THAT is where Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee really shines. It’s a show about 2 experts sitting down and dissecting their craft from the level of an expert. I’ve found that I think and talk differently about my work ever since I started watching the show, and I am approaching the critical review process as a copywriter with a higher level of expertise because of what I learn from the show.

My recommendation? Watch Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee with a pen and paper in hand and pay specific attention to how they discuss and dissect their craft. Think about how you can do the same in your business. Revisit this list often and become the expert you wish existed in the copywriting field.

(And no, you don’t HAVE to be a copywriter to get value out of this! Anyone who has a craft—musicians, artists, graphic designers, etc.—will all find massive value in the interaction of experts.)

When Was The Last Time You Updated Your Avatar?

Aaron Hoos

You’ve identified your target market. You’ve narrowed it down to your perfect client. Then you created a word picture—an “avatar“—of them. Then, you built your sales funnel to serve this avatar.

Your marketing, your sales, your product or service offers… they all work together to speak to this avatar and to solve this avatar’s problems.

Great, right?

But now let’s say that you’ve put in some time: you’ve done the work; you’ve had some success; you’ve built your business; you’ve served your customers well.

I think, at this point, most businesses run on autopilot. They have a “set it and forget it” approach to their avatar, and they run with that one single avatar for… years. (After all, it served them well, so why change what ain’t broke, right?)

Problem is, it is broken, most people just don’t realize it.

Things change. A lot of things change!

… you change
… your business changes
… the economy changes
… your industry changes
… technology changes
… your competitors change
… oh, and your avatar changes too!

Kodak had an avatar. They didn’t recognize that it was changing.
Blockbuster had an avatar. They didn’t recognize that it was changing.
Blackberry had an avatar. They didn’t recognize that it was changing.

Yes, it was industry and marketplace shifts that contributed but their perfect client didn’t stick with them out of loyalty! Their avatar shifted right along with the market.

Heck, put aside the market and economic shifts for a second and consider your business itself: YOU and YOUR BUSINESS have probably gotten better! You likely became more valuable, more efficient, more sophisticated, and are worth much more now than ever before. You deserve to get paid more because you bring a higher level of value than you once did.

So, it’s time to revisit your avatar. If you’ve never done this exercise for years, you may have to do a big update. Otherwise, I recommend updating your avatar at least once a year. (And, the more of those factors that shift—such as industry, technology, competitors, and economy—the more often you should be revisiting your avatar.

Consider how demographic and psychographic trends have shifted in the past year (or quarter) that might adjust your avatar.

In my own real estate investing copywriting business for example, I’m aware that my avatar has shifted in a few ways—partly because of who is still in the industry now (compared to when I started, which was closer to the 2008 recession and the trickle-down influences from that economic event) and partly because of who I prefer to work with.

Here are a few specifics to explain what I mean: My avatar is skewing slightly younger than before, way more technologically savvy than just a few years ago, considerably more ethnically diverse, and far more mission-focused than ever (i.e. more interested in building a long-term legacy than making a quick buck)… just to name a few components.

Some of that is from general trends; some of that is my own preference and who I’ve realized that I prefer to work with.

Want a simple action step? Dust off the avatar write-up that you have taped to the wall above your desk (you DO have one there, right?!?) and update your avatar it based on real data from your current list of best customers. Then a second action step: schedule time annually to update your avatar to better reflect your perfect client at the moment.

Want to read more? Check out a couple of my more popular posts. These are questions you can use to understand and improve how you serve your avatar: 55 Questions To Answer When Defining Your Sales Funnel’s Target Market, and, 61 Questions To Strengthen Your Client Relationships And Build Loyalty.