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What's in Your Family Recipe? Seven Ways to Set Your Family Business Apart From the Competition

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As the owner of a small, family business, you know the marketplace is crawling with competition around every corner and that it's literally a daily struggle to stay ahead of the pack!

As a small fish in the big restaurant industry pond, I have been able to keep my family-owned restaurant, Stefano's, profitable since day one of its 12 years in business. With an average of 30-50 percent YOY revenue growths in what is known as one of the most competitive of industries, I have gained tremendous insights into what works for small, family businesses. Here are seven ways to set your small family-run business apart from the competition:

  • Know Your Neighborhood

First, understand your market demographics and focus on what truly sets you apart from the competition. You need to understand the demographics of your marketplace by age, income, etc. in order to grow your business. Your service offerings and pricing must fit your market demographics no matter how niche or general your business is.

For example, when it comes to the restaurant business, if you are located in an older market with few new houses and no businesses these factors can determine the types of foods you will offer, such as more traditional soups and sandwiches. Whereas, a younger, more hip neighborhood might mean that you offer craft beers, the latest trends from the food channel and creative desserts.

  • Differentiate yourself from the crowd!

Look at the other guys; what are they doing right and what can you do better?

If you're opening the latest and greatest hamburger joint, make sure your burgers are truly different. Maybe the mix of meat, its size, the dressing or how it's grilled will work, but you need to remember that everyone does burgers so what makes yours so great? The same idea goes for any retail product you may be offering.

  • Add your personality, get involved

Be out there with your guests! Interact with customers, tell them your story and let them know you're part of the community. Join local business networking groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce and participate, don't just be a business in the community, be a business that is part of the community. The ROI may take some time but eventually, the business will start to come your way. Remember, we all like to do business with people/companies we know.

  • Own your turf!!

Located in a shopping center? Make sure all employees in that center know they get a "special" discount at your business. Likewise, offer special discounts to various high profile groups like firemen and police. Hey, once the firemen start talking about you others will follow ... not to mention all the people that like to look at firemen!

  • Everyone is a salesman

Sales, sales, sales, always be closing! (ABC)

Your entire staff needs to understand that as soon as a customer walks through the door, the staff is selling them on your business. From how quickly they are greeted to the smile on everyone's face, your guest is being sold on your place. Training the staff to understand this is tough and an ongoing process but extremely important. Emphasize that we each only get one chance to make a good first impression!

  • Service, service and more service!

Service differentiation is the key to setting yourself apart from the competition and to breaking through the clutter of a crowdedand complicated marketplace in any business. Make your customers feel welcome; help them feel like they are guests in your home.

Extend that welcome to getting to know the guest's names, their children's names, their likes and dislikes and something personal about them. I guarantee, no one at the local chain restaurant bothers to know "Jim Smith's" son is getting ready be the starting quarterback on the local high school team, but you should. You are now part of Jim's family and he has a vested interest in helping you succeed!

Go the extra mile with special accommodations if applicable. For example, in our restaurant we offer a gluten free menu, make children a simple macaroni and butter dish when he/she won't eat anything on the menu, or help guests out to their car with packages. People will overlook any slight errors if the service is over and above everyone else's.

  • "All in the Family"

And last but not least, if you have family involved with your business, it is a challenge but extremely rewarding. The real challenge is separating yourself from the "parent brother, daughter" role and the CEO roll and likewise.

Emotions can run high with differing opinions and management styles so keeping personal feelings under control is a hurdle. Our family business has weekly owners meetings, were we dedicate one to two hours of time talking only business, finance, HR, upcoming events, and more. We then try to limit "business talk" when we are having family time, sometimes it can creep in, it's only natural, but limiting it can help keep the line between business and family.

Remember, at the end of the day what really sets you and your small business apart from the competition is understanding what you do and being passionate about it! Passion for what you are creating must be the driving force behind your venture, not money or recognition, however, with passion, the money and the recognition will follow.