For independent retailers and entrepreneurs there are challenges aplenty, from competing against global brands and attempting to attract the attention of distributors and manufacturers to capturing the interest of customers and media.
The playing field is anything but level; it is more like a step incline, inducing vertigo and physical and emotional stress, as we ascend its knee-deep piles of sand that can just as quickly avalanche and consume us.
The good news is that, despite the odds and leveraged assets, and forced to advance this hill alone, fueled by personal will and depleting reservoirs of adrenaline – still, we climb.
In that journey, and upon reaching the summit, when we look at the zigzag pattern of this trail – when we look upon the points that can break an individual's resolution and make surrender seem courageous – there are two things that explain our achievement: Quality and personality, the principal elements we can control, because these components are exclusively ours; each of us is a distinctive human being, and each of us has a voice with its own intonation, baritone and lyrical statement of purpose that says “I give you, friends and supporters, the result of my labor. Here is the product of what I believe, signed in my name and possessed of everything I demand.”
I write of what I know because, as the Founder of Dave's Pet Food and Dave's Soda and Pet Food City, I can attest to the travails of having climbed that hill. But I also understand, and I encourage independent retailers and entrepreneurs to follow, the route that will enable them to reach – and celebrate the glories of – standing atop the summit.
With quality and personality, we have something no multinational corporation can match and no generic company can duplicate: We have the choice to use the best ingredients, and those “ingredients” can be of the edible variety or the technological kind (like a sublime user experience for a smartphone or tablet), and we can secure the credibility of our products by infusing each bottle, box, can, canister, store and service with character.
In other words, when we put our name on the line (or on the label or packaging) we sign an unofficial contract with prospective customers; we issue a pledge, based on the integrity of our words and the legitimacy of our deeds – we prove that we are more than the sum total of a motto, catch-phrase, jingle or marketing boilerplate. We are, instead, men and women – we are real people – who cannot (and shall not) sacrifice ourselves by sacrificing the quality of the products we release.
For, if we are to pass our neighbors and customers, if we are to show our faces in our respective communities, then we can only do so with pride, not shame or embarrassment.
Remember: An international company is a person by way of a legal fiction; it has no flesh, and it has no heart. It can afford to be wrong, or do wrong, without fear of walking by the citizens of a community. Its “personality” is the ether of a mascot, its “declarations” the vapor of buzzwords and its “identity” the chill of nothingness.
Bring Your Product to Life: Make Your Personality Shine
These recommendations about brand personalization are also an invitation to have fun.
That is, rejoice in what you do – and showcase the customers who share your enthusiasm – because everything else that follows represents your one-of-a-kind approach to communications, promotions and outreach. Free of the constraints that drain big corporations of emotion, and blessed with the ability to be yourself, you should do just that: Be yourself.
Be passionate about your beliefs, express them with conviction and always listen to your customers. The latter is essential because it will allow you to further customize your particular style of service; it is the sort of instant feedback, in the course of a handshake or conversation, that is far more detailed than the opaque vision of a so-called focus group.
It is this intelligence that enables independent retailers and entrepreneurs to adjust to changing circumstances with speed and agility. It is this degree of personalization, where customers can meet and speak with the founder of a product or service, which provides the comfort consumers want and the warm atmosphere they crave.
These strengths belong to us, individually and collectively; they are more resilient than any TV commercial, and more memorable than any corporate chant or mantra.
So, revel in your chance to be free. Bring your product to life, and let your personality shine. Let it shine brightly, now and forever.