This post is brought to you by guest columnist Ryan Esaki.  Esaki is a Kaua`i entrepreneur, one of the co-founders of the mega-popular ukulele website, ukuleleunderground.com as well as a small independent record label, Town Hero Records LLC. He is also a web strategies consultant.  For more information about Ryan Esaki, go to ryanesaki.com.

It seems like ever since I returned to Kauai, I’ve watched business after business close up shop. Many of the local businesses still operating are struggling more than ever. I hate to see business struggling. I feel that there is always room for everybody to enjoy success. What frustrates me though, is the inflexibility and unwillingness of some to make basic business decisions. Here are the four ways to thrive in our local, competitive business environment.

1. Value proposition – What makes your business different from all other businesses in the market? When I look at many local businesses that are competing with mainland stores, I can’t see any clearly defined value proposition. They are all attempting to do exactly the same thing as the big guys, offering a little bit of everything, trying to capture the largest market share by offering something for everybody. What these companies should do is come up with a unique value proposition that compels shoppers to give them a try. If you can’t say in one sentence what makes your business unique and better from your competitors, you don’t have a strong enough value proposition.

2. Define what you are competing on and stick to it – There are three main factors businesses can compete on: 1. Price 2. Convenience 3. Quality. Examples of businesses that stick to these factors are Wal-Mart (price), McDonalds (convenience), and Mercedes (Quality). The mistake I see many local businesses doing is trying to compete on the wrong factor.  The approach of all big box stores is to compete on price (or the illusion of price). No small local business should compete on price against a company that is better financially backed and can play with economies of scale. They should instead focus their efforts on convenience (delivery services, helping customers to their car, personal shoppers, pick up service, etc.) or quality (carrying the best quality products or services). Quality and convenience can in some cases be the same thing so smaller businesses would be wise to focus on that.

3. Define your ideal customer – By attempting to be everything to everyone, you end up serving no one. Local businesses need to clearly define their target customer and do everything they can to market, and provide services and products that are relevant to them. Defining your ideal customer is so key because not only will you know how to provide for them, you will be able to cut significant costs by eliminating products and services that they are not interested in.

4. Care – Caring doesn’t just mean doing sales and specials. Caring means going above and beyond the expectations of your customers. Caring means giving your customers every reason to give you their business. Take KTA Superstores on the Big Island.  It’s not uncommon to see Derek Kurisu, VP of KTA, walking the aisles saying hello to everyone shopping and thanking them for their business. It would be easy for him to say he is too busy for this, he has a million things to do, but to him, showing his appreciation is just as important as anything else he has to do that day. KTA also created an exclusive brand called Mountain Apple Brand that buys and sells products grown or produced on the Big Island.  So when you buy a Mountain Apple Brand product, you are supporting the local economy. Care about your customers, and they will care about you.

When it comes down to it, the companies that can recognize these things and implement change are the ones that will set themselves up to be successful in the long run.

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