August 21, 2012

COMPETING WITH A COMMODITY: FUDGE ON MACKINAC ISLAND

making fudge
Have you ever visited Mackinac Island in northern Michigan (Wikipedia)? We went when I was a kid. I don't remember the ferry from Mackinaw City but I can't forget the fudge. It was the best I'd ever tasted.

Since then, I've come to realize that fudge is fudge, as bottled water is bottled water, and gasoline is gasoline. The differences among vendors are too small to matter.

The prepackaged, mass-produced stuff you get in a grocery store doesn't count as fudge. Let's skip the gooey topping for your ice cream sundae too. Here are the nutritious ingredients in Hershey's Hot Fudge Topping:
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP; SWEETENED CONDENSED SKIM MILK (SKIM MILK AND SUGAR); CORN SYRUP; WATER; PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED COCONUT OIL; COCOA; NONFAT MILK; CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: COCOA PROCESSED WITH ALKALI; SALT; SODIUM CITRATE; DISODIUM PHOSPHATE; MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES; WHEY (MILK); POTASSIUM SORBATE (PRESERVATIVE); VANILLIN, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR; POLYSORBATE 60
I'm talking about fudge made from sugar, butter and milk in front of your eyes in the store. Delicious. Almost too sweet. Calorie-laden. Irresistible.

Differences

A connoisseur or vendor will disagree but for practical purposes, fudge is fudge. For some reason, Mackinac Island is known for fudge. You'll find store after store steps from the ferry. How do you decide what to buy?

Here are five considerations that apply elsewhere too:
  1. free samples
  2. varieties
  3. decor
  4. price
  5. flexibility

The Winner

Joann's FudgeOne place stood out in every category: Joann’s Fudge.

They were the most generous with nice-sized free samples wrapped in wax paper. Gifts invite reciprocity, the #1 principle of influence. Some places didn’t give samples or didn’t look clean enough to trust.
Do you provide valuable free samples with no obligation to buy?
Joann’s had lots of varieties of fudge. We each tried several. The servers were patient and friendly. Some other places had scant selection or fudge that looked stale.
Do you offer choice? Even if you have one main offering (e.g., actuarial insurance reviews) do you offer variations or customization?
The decor of the store looked upscale in deep red. There was space to move. Some other places looked cheap, poorly-maintained or used colors like pink. Where’s the boy’s section?
Your store may be a physical location or a website. How is the decor?
Joann’s prices weren't the lowest (3 slices for $18) but we felt compelled to buy from Joann’s. We opted for the $25.50 package which included three slices of fudge ($18), 14 ounce bag of taffy ($8) and box peanut brittle ($5). The retail price was $31. Look at how much we were saving!
How does the value you provide compare with the price you charge?
Do help clients save by buying more?
The Complication
The problem at Joann’s Fudge was the taffy. We don’t care for it no matter who makes it. Could we get another slice of fudge instead? Yes. We couldn't decide on this fourth slice. We were offered two half slices. Done. The flexibility gave us everything we wanted.
How flexible are you to requests for exceptions?

Your Fudge

What you sell may look like a commodity too. What do you do to stand out?

Links

PS My favorite fudge was cherry chocolate. What do you prefer?

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