This article is about an existing small independent business with an excellent service offering. It is a valuable part of the local economy, providing a much-needed service in the precinct while providing respectable earnings for the owner.
I consider myself a minimalist. When I buy something, I am confident that I want or need it, and once I have decided to buy, I like to purchase something that will last a long time. I have a leather messenger bag that I have owned for about ten years that was in desperate need of repairing to give it another ten years. I had become quite attached to this bag as it was not only expensive, it had great sentimental value. I wanted to take it to a quality cobbler or bag specialist. Having just arrived in France, I didn’t know a specialist and was non-urgently searching for someone knowing I would eventually stumble on the right one.
I finally stumbled across an old-style cobbler with all the signs of someone well invested in their craft over the years. This shop would be the opposite version of the shopping mall-type kiosks that fix bags, shoes and cut keys while you did your shopping.
I had a conversation with the surprisingly young owner, and he was extremely friendly and proud while he showed me around his new shop. I was impressed with the quality of his work and the bespoke leather care products he carried. His passion permeated throughout the store as he showed me an impressive repair job he did on a ten-year-old pair of Redwing boots.
I was genuinely excited to have found his atelier and was looking forward to bringing him my bag. I came home, looked him up on Facebook and Instagram. He was for real. I had found my guy! Although this all sounds a little over the top, I was genuinely delighted to find someone I could trust with my beloved messenger bag. All was right in the world again.
Fast forward a week, I was in the shop with my bag. A little surprised when the young craftsman told me it would take two weeks to fix, but I had waited almost a year, so two more weeks wasn’t going to kill me. I handed him my business card, and he gave me one of those old-fashioned handwritten receipts. He promised me he would text me when it was ready.
Two weeks + one day passed, and I phoned to check in on the patient, after a few cues to describe the bag, as he would have to go through all the tickets to find mine. He explained that he had started working on it but hadn’t finished. When prodded for a finish date, appearing annoyed, he stated two more weeks and not to worry, and he would text me when it was complete. I was a little confused about how he had started but not finished as he was only sewing the bag, but I let it go.
A further two weeks + four days later, impatience got the better of me, and I phoned to check in. At this point, because I hadn’t heard from him, I had lost all confidence in his services and was intending to pick up the bag to take it somewhere else to be fixed. Once again, I described the bag, and he had to search for it. Once found, he stated that it had been ready for about a week. Entirely frustrated, I questioned why he didn’t text me when it was ready. He responded that he was too busy to text. Bothered that I called, he continued that all I had to do was stop by the atelier to find out if it was ready. This cyclic conversation from hell ended, and I left to pick up the bag.
My trip to the atelier was filled with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was happy that he had finally repaired my bag; on the other hand, I was preoccupied with the cobbler’s responses and anxious about the quality of the reparation, given the unprofessionalism displayed throughout the communication process. I wasn’t in the mood for him to screw my bag up.
When I arrived, he recognized me and immediately handed me the bag, showing me the work he had done, utterly and almost delightfully oblivious to my frustration with his communication tactics. When I offered a little feedback, he explained that was how all the old-world cobblers operated, and he didn’t have the time to text me when the bag was complete. It was up to me to check in from time to time.
The quality of the work was exceptional. His attention to detail was impressive, and given the circumstances, I was pleasantly shocked at how well it turned out. He gave me my invoice for 24 euros. I was dismayed at how inexpensive the repair was. He explained it was the regular price in a “Tell your friends” kind of way, and I left the shop with my beloved bag; satisfied, but more bewildered than anything.
After sleeping on my experience, I put the pieces of this puzzle together. It became apparent that this very talented young tradesman was honestly but painfully oblivious to my experience as a customer. It wasn’t that I caught him on a bad day, as my experienced happened over four different occasions throughout the transaction.
He had wholly captured the visual branding feel aspect of his business, capitalizing on the hipster, old-world barber/shoe shine vibe going on around the world right now.
His online presence is well presented and relevant. He proudly and rightfully shows examples of his work. His following on Facebook and Instagram is commendable, and he is the first business to show up in a Google search. It would appear that this clever individual has nailed it from a marketing point of view.
As the world emerges from the Global Pandemic, smaller independent brick and mortar businesses must compete to thrive in a growing online and global economy. They have to ascertain, leverage and communicate the advantages of using their products and services to existing and potential clients systematically at every opportunity.
One of the remaining advantages smaller, independent brick-and-mortar retailers have over online businesses, or box stores are the exclusive opportunities to provide personalized customer service. This is where they have to shine to thrive in this evolving economy.
Admittedly, there are far more critical issues in the world than my frustration with getting my messager bag repaired. However, my encounter serves as a good case study, demonstrating how businesses of all sizes can overlook the critical marketing and branding points that are often the actual drivers of their business.
In the case of the cobbler, I had five interactions with him during our transaction, and only one was positive. By adjusting his buyer experience and pricing strategy, he could substantially increase repeat business and customer referrals, resulting in higher revenue and net profits for his company with minimal effort and no cost.
Every business should create a Buyer Persona
A buyer persona is a detailed description of someone who represents your target market and embodies the characteristics of your best potential customers. You would list demographic details, interests, and behavioural traits. By doing this, you’ll understand their goals, pain points, and buying patterns. From this moment forward every contact you have would be based around your customer persona.
Cobbler Buyer Persona:
Once the buyer persona is determined, all marketing initiatives, procedures, messaging and communications are tailored with their characteristics in mind.
Every contact moment with a customer or potential customer represents a touchpoint. Each touchpoint is an occasion to promote your brand from a customer experience point of view. It is helpful to use your buyer persona to develop a messaging plan when dealing with your current and potential customers.
Unfortunately, touchpoints are also occasions that can adversely affect the buyer experience when not managed correctly. Unfavourable exchanges tend to erode confidence and put your customers on guard.
When good clients lose confidence, they don’t return, and they certainly don’t refer your business to friends or colleagues.
In the case of our cobbler, we connected five times during the transaction.
The cobbler could have called or texted me before the completion date to let me know that he would not finish the bag on time and explaining it would be another two weeks. Although disappointed or irritated by the delay, I would have passed it off as him being very busy and would have remained confident and supportive. At the very least, this touchpoint at worst would have been neutral rather than negative. A little imagination with an inexpensive “make it up to you” could have easily turned the situation into a positive interaction.
The cobbler could have texted me, or better yet, phoned me when he finished repairing the bag. A simple: “I’ve finished your bag, and I’m especially pleased with the results. I’m sorry for the delay; I think you’ll be delighted. Come on down and pick it up at your convenience.” would have changed the entire dynamic of the situation.
Rather than explaining, this was how old-world cobblers operate, and it was up to me to check in every couple of days to see if the bag was ready; he could have apologized for the inconvenience and let his work speak for itself. In this particular situation, because the work was so good, I would have been moderately satisfied, which would have resulted in a neutral interaction. Again with a bit of imagination, he could have turned the situation positive.
Although intuition tells me that extreme disorganization mixed in with a touch of a somewhat innocent naive, artistic/artisanal arrogance is involved with this situation, when giving time estimations, take a moment to consider how long something will really take and add in a bit of contingency. Customers love it when you alert them that a job is complete ahead of schedule.
At 24 euros, I was expecting to pay up to double the amount to have my bag fixed. Without doing a thorough business analysis, I am admittedly speculating. Still, taking in everything that I had observed, it is unlikely that this business can survive charging as little as it is. Looking at the work, I would guesstimate that it took around an hour to fix. The delay in service that I experienced, along with the apparent disorganization, might be symptoms of his vastly undercharging his customers. If this is the case, my experience was not likely uncommon for his business, and he is doing himself a massive disservice.
Possible Speculative Remedy:
If my assumptions are correct, the cobbler could raise his prices by 80%. This augmentation would have put my invoice at 43 euros. In my mind, this would have been perfectly reasonable and below what I was expecting to pay. Admittedly, this would likely reduce the volume of articles brought in for repair. In this circumstance, this volume reduction would be advantageous be an advantage for three reasons:
1. He would have more time to concentrate on his buyer experience issues noted above, which, if improved, would increase frequency from existing customers and lead to more referrals of clients that best fit his buyer persona.
2. Less volume would decrease repair times, which would increase the value proposition for customers, again increasing frequency and referrals.
How likely would you take a pair of work dress shoes to a cobbler if you thought it would take a month to repair?
3. It’s likely he would make more money, doing less work in a more relaxed environment.
Although the example of this cobbler might have appeared a little dramatic, it clearly demonstrates how businesses can fail even though they have a superior product or service offering in a welcoming market with an abundance of potential clients. Marketing professionals know that people buy products and services based on emotional benefits and justify them with tangible features. If my month-long experience with this cobbler was 80% negative, there is little or no chance that I would return and no way would I refer him to a friend or colleague, despite the quality of his work. I simply wouldn’t put myself through that again.
– Only 1 in 25 unhappy customers complain directly to you.
– 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, and 91% of those will simply leave and go to competitors.
– 13% of unsatisfied customers tell more than 20 people.
White House office of consumer affairs