The Importance of Focus and Scarcity in Small Business

Scarcity puts people in seats at concerts and sporting events. Scarcity fills tables at hot new restaurants. How can your business become scarce?

Written By – Joseph Scaglione

Do you ever feel customers are insatiable? 

No matter how brilliant your product is, how many deals you offer, or how fast or pleasant your service and experience is, customers always demand more. And because you’re in the business of putting customers first, you try to give them more, to no avail. You expand your product lines and services travelling warp speed into mediocrity. Your business specializes in nothing, and becomes average in everything. In a race to keep customers satisfied, a company can lose focus of who they are and stray away from their core values. Behind every great small business is a set of core values that all operations adhere to. Every decision is made with these values in mind, and the company becomes known not for their logo, but for the values that logo represents.

The Unfocused Giant Who Once Sold Scarcity

The feeling around Apple products was something other brands couldn't offer. Now that the feeling is gone, Apple no longer sells scarcity.

Over the past few years, Apple lost focus. They lost track of their values. I remember when Apple offered exclusivity, not dongles. Status came with each Apple product. That logo had value. It stood for something. Users were rebellious, anti-establishment, artists on the fringe of building something great. At least that’s the narrative Apple wrote. Now those artists are no different from the nine year old who’s parents bought them an iPhone to reach them 24/7. Apple is average. That logo does not stand for the same values it stood for a decade ago. Although the company grew larger than Steve Jobs could ever dream, it is rarely innovative. Customers now buy Apple because it “fits in with their ecosystem” not because of how it makes them feel. It doesn’t make them feel anything anymore. And it’s at this point that Apple should start running Android

Apple once sold scarcity. Specs didn’t cause people to line up for days to get their hands on a new iPhone. Scarcity did. Being the first people in the world to buy a new iPhone, not because of its spec sheet, bezel, or ecosystem, but because of its built in status. Because of what that logo represents. Because of how that phone makes them feel.

Scarcity is rare. 

Starbucks sells a scarce experience in the world of coffee.

Small businesses who can offer scarcity are on their way to success. There are plenty of mom and pop coffee shops. Coffee is abundant. If you enjoy coffee, you’ll make it at home. People who go out for coffee are looking for convenience or an experience. As a coffee shop you need to choose which of these scarce qualities to offer. Starbucks offers a scarce fast food coffee chain experience. It’s a feeling. Just holding the white cup gives customers a sense of status. They remember the quality coffee experience and a connection with their barista. These are values Starbucks operates under.

Creating scarcity is the greatest challenge any business, big or small, faces. If you study restaurants who make it past the dreaded first six months to one year of operations, each one of them offers something scarce. It could be a friendly staff who built relationships with each customer walking through the door, encouraging them to dine in again. The next Gordon Ramsay could be in the kitchen scrambling eggs and building a reputation for a mean breakfast. Or maybe the restaurant is located on a pier near a lake making it a great venue for any event. All these values are scarce. We don’t stumble over them on the street. They need to be found. Customers are always looking for scarcity. They want to be scarce. One of the few. What makes you different as a business will make your customer different as a person when they buy what you’re selling. Sell scarcity. 

Why do customers keep asking you for more? 

Because you haven’t given them something scarce. And if they keep asking you for more, maybe, eventually, you’ll find something that fills their needs. This is when you start torching resources because you have no focus; you’re playing catch up. Instead of expanding a product line to meet never-ending customer demands, focus on one product. Make sure this product is solving the problems of a small target market. You don’t want to build something to solve everyone’s problems. Solve the problems of the smallest group of people possible. This keeps you focused. Learn everything you can about this group. Learn about their problems and issues. Study their preferences, beliefs and values, and align yourself and your business with them. Make this group feel something when they buy your products. This is all easier said than done. It is the most difficult thing a business can achieve, but if you’re able to spark emotion in your customers, you will find success.

Being Small Is Not Being Scarce

We’ll leave off with the example of Bath & Body works. Plenty of entrepreneurs we feature in our Tenatch Index specialize in candles. To differentiate themselves from a corporate candle experience, these small candle manufacturers promote an environmentally friendly and vegan approach towards candle making. Free from animal cruelty. This is a great strategy to separate big business from small business. Problems arise when multiple small candle manufacturers adopt the same eco-friendly approach. Then there is nothing scarce about what they are offering. They cancel out each others efforts, driving customers back to big business.  

What Bath & Body Works mastered is building a community around their products. Bath & Body Works offers a collection of great smelling soaps, candles, and lotions. Any other business can do this. The scarcity is the community of shoppers who want recognition for their chosen scents. These shoppers take pride in their choices and they want recognition. A Wal-Mart scent is nothing to be proud of. Scarcity is missing out on a new Bath & Body Works scents or deals. They are mastering the fear of missing out. The small candle company who can build a community around their eco-friendly cause will have an edge over their big box competition, and small business competitors. They will have scarcity.

See you at the next stop…

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