Mar 302010

Imagine if you had a bucket with holes in the bottom.  Every time you filled it, most of the water would leak out the bottom.  The faster you tried to fill it up, the faster the water would run out.

It would be silly to keep trying to fill the bucket without fixing the holes, right?

Yet many rural businesses, like farm retail (farm shops and farmers' market stalls), are fixed on 'getting more customers' without attending to what happens to their existing customers. Are your customers coming back for more?  Or are they disappearing without trace?

If you are trying to find new customers to plug the holes left by your existing customers heading for the door then you have a leaky bucket.  What can you do about it?

Confront the brutal facts.

Why do customers leave and never come back?

Customers can leave for a variety of reasons – all of these can be altered by you:

  • can't find what they need – store layout hard to navigate
  • staff are unfriendly – have they ever been trained?
  • staff are unhelpful – is this company policy or are they feeling undervalued?
  • staff are negative – have they learnt this from you?
  • just don't feel looked after or valued – what is your staff's attitude to the customers?
  • produce isn't fresh – could stock control be improved?
  • produce isn't well presented – do you need some fresh ideas for this?
  • displays are understocked – how can you improve ordering & deliveries to avoid this?
  • favourite items aren't available – if this is outside your control can you make a feature of hard to get items by creating waiting lists?
  • deliveries are missed or incomplete – where is the system breaking down?
  • shop isn't open when they expect it to be open – does every customer know your opening hours?

Are there holes in your farm retail business bucket?

Confronting the brutal facts

Jim Collins in 'Good to Great' – Why some companies make the leap and others don't, (2001 Collins Business). talks about the Stockdale Paradox.  That is summed up as,


Retain faith that you will prevail in the end regardless of the difficulties

at the same time

confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.


Admiral Jim Stockdale was the highest ranking US military officer in a prisoner of war camp in Vietnam between 1965 and 1973.  He was absolutely determined not just to survive but to survive and prosper, rather than be crushed by the experience. 

In order to do that he had to face the brutal realities of the day to day torture that was all around him.  He focused on strategies for dealing with those brutal realities while never losing sight of his overall mission – to survive unbroken.

Jim Collins noted this attitude was a feature of chief executives in top performing companies he researched for this book.

Your desire to increase customers and build sales is a good thing as long as you confront the brutal facts if there is a hole in your sales right now.