How small businesses can compete on quality

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Loaves using six-seed wholemeal dough

Most newspapers are battling to survive in the Internet age, experimenting, coming up with new formats and trying to balance their print business with their online offering. But it seems that they are missing the one key ingredient that will attract and retain customers.

Jeff Bezos who recently purchased The Washington Post seems to be on the right track. He intends putting the focus back on the reader. It will be interesting to see how he goes about doing this because quality editorial comes at a cost. You need to train and hire journalists that come up with news and information that people either want or need.

For a long time local newspapers have been slipping backwards with thinner editions containing less and less original editorial sandwiched between advertising.

Looking at a Cape Town weekend newspaper some weeks ago I was surprised to see that all the lead stories on the front page were about news in other provinces in country. It’s a joke. Surely there must be one local story that is newsworthy enough to put on the front page? But because of sharing content between newspapers in other cities the local newspaper is almost a replica of something printed in another city.

It’s not only newspapers that are struggling to get quality right. Have you purchased a loaf of brown bread lately? The bread seems to get lighter and lighter and you end up buying something that seems no more than flour and air.

The international fast food chains operating in South Africa charge exorbitant prices for basic vegetable products such as cabbage. Just go buy a small tub of coleslaw. You could buy the same amount of cabbage for R2 ($0.20). The coleslaw sells for 20 times this value. Yes, you could say this is value adding. But really the way they do it, it’s not even healthy.

I saw an interesting example of small retail outlets that specialise in baking seed loavess that are delicious. This quality product acts as a drawcard to the stores because you can’t find this kind of quality in any of the mass-produced bakery loaves at supermarket chains and in some even specialised bakeries in cities such as Johannesburg you can’t find this quality anywhere.

It might seem like a small thing to provide a quality product if you are small business. But it can differentiate you from the giants. One restaurant I recently visited in the Pretty Gardens centre in Bloemfontein competes against a franchise’s fast food outlet by providing a delicious and inexpensive breakfast as a loss leader as well as a beef or chicken burger that you would be hard pressed to find even in top restaurants and hotels. By providing these loss leader items, the smaller restaurant is able to lure customers to its business as well as retain them once they have sampled the quality of the food compared to the “cardboard” fare manufactured by the fast food chains.

The point here is that while the larger operations whether they be newspapers, bakeries or fast food outlets appear to be not interested in providing quality because of the costs involved, smaller businesses can use quality as an ingredient to call out a subsection of the market that is looking for something different and better.

What could you do in your business that would provide quality that the gargantuan-sized businesses are not offering and could provide you with a competitive edge?

As the recession continues to bite, consumers will increasingly look at their discretionary spending more carefully and will most likely be more discriminating about quality. By trying out something new that gives customers better value for money than they receive from the major operations, you could attract more customers and better quality customers.

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