Magazine article Black Enterprise

Outsmart! A Competitive Advantage Keeps Customers Loyal and Rivals at Bay

Magazine article Black Enterprise

Outsmart! A Competitive Advantage Keeps Customers Loyal and Rivals at Bay

Article excerpt

WHEN MONICA G. COLEMAN AND JAMARR E. RAWLINSON opened their barbershop, they wanted it to stand out from the crowd. So rather than set up shop and wait for customers to come to them, they took their Lithia Springs, Georgia-based business on the road and in 2006 launched Creative Connections Mobile Barbershop. Their target audience: residents of senior communities who couldn't travel easily to get their hair cut or styled.

"Many adult communities are understaffed," says Coleman, who combined her personal savings with Rawlinson's to raise $10,000, which they used to purchase marketing materials and a used van. "The staff focuses more on making sure residents take their medicine than on amenities. We realized there was a huge opportunity for us."

The decision to take their services directly to their customers cemented Coleman and Rawlinson's competitive advantage--a quality that sets businesses apart from the competition. One of the biggest mistakes small businesses make is "going after the same customers as existing companies with a very similar product," says Case Western Reserve University business professor Scott A. Shane, author of The Illusions of Entrepreneurship (Yale University Press; $26). A successful new business fills a need others have overlooked, says Shane. In the case of Creative Connections, the entrepreneurial duo, who anticipates revenues of $85,000 for 2009, tapped into an audience that might not otherwise have had access to a personal hairstylist.

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The first step in identifying a competitive advantage is to know one's customers. Once Coleman and Rawlinson zeroed in on their audience, they started teaming up with other local businesses to provide additional services that seniors were requesting, such as manicures, massages, and wellness counseling. In the process, they realized that the centers were receptive to their expanded offerings and began holding beauty expos to promote them. "We started positioning ourselves as an amenities management service," says Coleman. "Not only do we offer barber and beauty services, but we can also bring in nail technicians and massage therapists."

As a result, the company has steadily built up a client base and garnered recognition. Humana Marketpoint, a healthcare services company based in Louisville, Kentucky, has agreed to sponsor some of the shop's beauty expos; and the business is currently contracted to service four centers regularly. …

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