‘Tribe building’ forges customer loyalty

By Jim Augustus Armstrong IIn my last column, I said that the holy grail of local search is for your business to be in the top search results when a potential customer Googles ‘flooring shop near me’. The more competition in your area for those places, the higher the costs. But what if you can’t afford to compete and win those places?

My “Strain Building” episodes are about answering that question. They also help you use digital marketing as part of a larger strategy to differentiate your business from other dealers, win against major competitors, and ensure your long-term success no matter what happens in the economy.

Stew Leonard’s dairy store started in 1969 with just seven employees, 5,000 feet of retail space, and carried just eight items. Since then it has grown into the largest dairy store in the world with more than 30 locations. It set a Guinness World Record for “the largest single food store sales per unit area in the US”. How did they achieve this by selling a product like milk? They did it by building a very loyal tribe of customers by doing things that made them so exceptional that the New York Times called them the “Disneyland of Dairy Stores.”

The store had things like:

  • A petting zoo outside the entrance
  • Animatronic farm animals in their shop
  • Costumed characters
  • Scheduled entertainment
  • A carefully curated list of 2,200 products (traditional supermarkets average 30,000 items)
  • A 6000 pound block of granite etched outside the front entrance with his policy: Rule # 1: The customer is always right. Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, read rule 1 again.

Companies like Stew Leonard’s, Apple and Starbucks have not increased their loyal customer base by ranking high in Google searches or through any form of traditional advertising; they did it through strain building.

When you focus on tribe building, your mission is to gather a group of customers and then nurture those customers and “impress” them so thoroughly that they refuse to do business with anyone else. They become evangelists for your store, telling everyone around them about you. Yes, you can get new customers through advertising, but the thing is, you can add more avid fan members to your tribe who will join the ranks of evangelists telling others about you.

When you successfully build a tribe, it changes the marketing game. Rather than trying to reach crowds of people who don’t know you, like you or trust you through expensive, traditional ads, just send a message directly to your tribe via email, direct mail, or social media. The number 1 position on Google is not nearly as crucial to you. However, a fortunate added benefit of building a loyal tribe is that it will automatically improve your search rankings as members of your tribe are continuously communicating with you online, even if they are not currently in the market for flooring.

Building a tribe will make you immune to the ups and downs of the market. It protects you from big multi-billion dollar competitors. Building a tribe takes work. It requires you to change the way you think about how and why you bring in new customers. But the rewards are well worth it.

In the next installment, I’ll cover specific strategies for building your tribe.


Jim is the founder and president of Flooring Success Systems, a company that provides floor dealers with marketing services and coaching to help them attract quality customers, close more sales, drive higher margins and work on their chosen hours. Visit FlooringSuccessSystems.com for more information.

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