Monday, October 20, 2008

Sure, But Would You Wear the T-Shirt?

It’s probably a safe bet that you’ve been thinking of your customers. Hey, if you have a product or service to sell, then Bubba, you’d better be. But have you thought about it from the other direction?

What I mean is, have you given serious thought to what your customers (not non-customers, mind you) think about you? Again, if you’re on the ball at all (hey, I’m a poet and didn’t know it!), then your answer is probably yes. After all, no business worth its salt doesn’t consider that.

Ah, but here’s one you may not have thought of: What do your customers think of... themselves?

Uh, say what?

Did I Really See That Right?

While driving home the other day on a road I’ve taken countless times before, I passed yet another of what we in Texas call a “strip center” (and no, it’s not a collection of X-rated shops, ya big goofybird!)

You know what I mean, right? It’s just a long, (usually) one-story building with a series of stores in it with a big common parking area in front. (To me, they’re like locusts; something of a scourge on the landscape because there’s just... so many of ‘em.)

*Warning, digression ahead* Why does it seems like just about every one of these things (and trust me, they are legion around here) have the same basic collection of small stores: a nail boutique, a dry cleaners and a dentist, plus whatever else goes in. In fact, one that just opened near us has only four spaces, and – you guessed it – it has those three businesses plus one empty front. What? Is there a rule, or somethin’? *But as I said, I digress*

Anyway, this particular strip center was no exception. Sure enough; it had the requisite three storefronts. But there is that one shop that sorta, um, stands out.

I remember when I first laid eyes on it. Although I wasn’t really looking, if you get my meanin’ (after all, I was driving, you know), when I saw it my eyes did a quick double-take (huh? did I really see that right?) But, since I was tooling down the road at the time, I didn’t have all that long to re-check it. So, for a while I really had to wonder if I’d actually see what I though I saw. I mean, surely somebody wouldn’t...

Ah, but after all, I have to admit I’ve seen stranger stuff.

As luck would have it, the other day I finally remembered (!) that handy-dandy camera built into my phone (it’s like I always say, I may not be smart, but at least I’m slow), so I decided to pull over for once and immortalize the thing. That way, nobody could accuse me of having an overactive imagination (at least, not for this, anyway).

So, as proof that I’m not making this up, here in all its glory for the entire world to see, I give you: DUMAS’S TACO.

Now, granted, if the name had been written any other way (like, for instance, using both caps and small letters, i.e., “Dumas’s Taco”) it would probably have reduced the, er, impact. But obviously the owner (someone named Dumas, presumably) decided not only would he NOT shy away from using his own name, but he would proudly proclaim – and yes, even (if you’ll pardon the expression) capitalize – on it.

Yeah, I can picture it now. Some guy, out for the evening with a few of his drinking buddies, discuss – or argue, whatever – what the name of his new business should be. In an amazing bout of creativity, a whole herd of names are proposed, which one of the more sober ones dutifully writes down for later consideration.

As the haze of alcohol and cigarette smoke builds, the soon-to-be proprietor thinks to himself, “Self, why not name it after myself?” Why not indeed. But, once it’s written down, there is a moment of stunned silence as they suddenly realize what it looks like. A prolonged fit of hilarity ensues, along with orders for more beer. And then the light bulb goes off...

Yep; it’s a bold move, I’ll grant you that.

In fact, they went even further than that. To see what I mean, click on the photo for a larger view. If you’ll examine it closely you’ll notice just to the right of the door a silly-looking donkey (presumably the artist’s interpretation of, ahem, a dumb ass), along with the no-doubt popular slogan: “You too can be a DUMASS Customer”. (Insert tongue in cheek here.)

So... I guess the question ya gotta ask yerself is, would you like to be known as a DUMASS Customer?

What’s in a Name

Now, let’s think about that for a moment (sound of grinding gears). Being a customer of any particular business means you are willing to become, in some small way (or large way, depending), identified with that business. No, really; whether you realize it or not, that’s exactly what the business is aimin’ to do. That’s what they mean when they say, “I want you to be my customer.” (And note the emphasis on “my”.)

Lemme ask ya this: Ever worn a branded T-shirt? If you have, then congratulations! You have been identified as that brand’s customer, whether you’re aware of it or not. That’s because folks who see it on you automatically associate you with the product. And what’s more, true or not, they will assume you like and/or endorse whatever the product is. Same thing also happens with other products you use every day.

The real question, though, is this: Are you OK with that? To my mind (which admittedly is a very strange place), it’s an important question.

For instance, since I don’t drink (alcoholic beverages, that is), I never wear a T-shirt with a beer label on it. And, I wouldn’t be caught dead with a (certain designer label I despise – never mind; it’s a personal thing) piece of clothing on. (Although I must admit, once I’m dead that particular issue’s importance will likely be somewhat, er, diminished.)

Anyway, the point is, as a business, you may want to seriously consider what you’re asking your customers to identify with when you ask them to become your customer. Think about how they might see it. Would your customers be proud enough of you to be willing to be identified as a customer of yours? Would they wear the T-shirt?

It might make a difference.

Photo: Dumas’s Taco, by Robert Hruzek

Robert Hruzek is an ordinary fellow with an extraordinary sense of the absurd. Apparently back when talent was being allocated, he missed his helping of propriety and ended up with a double dose of a sense of the ridiculous. Fortunately (and before his head exploded) he found relief from the dreaded SHINE (Seeing Humor In Nearly Everything) Syndrome through his writings at Middle Zone Musings. Don’t worry ‘bout a thing, folks; he’s feeling much better now.


Bryan Wilde said...

Man, you are so right about the 3 staple stores found in all strip centers. It has to be a prerequisite with all cities when applying for a building permit. "I solemnly promise to establish the 3 stores found in all strip centers, or so help me I will go out of business as a landlord."

Amy said...

That's pretty funny Robert. And here I thought our Zen Cleaners (from the strip mall) was bad. LOL

Now I want a taco... *grumbles* ;-)

Bob said...

Ain't it the truth, Bryan; ain't it the truth! But it begs the question: How can the economy support 3.72 nail salons per capita? Or dentists?

Bob said...

@Amy - Taco! Yeah, that's perfect! I was just thinking I wanted something good for breakfast. Thanks, Amy!

Karen said...

Well, if Dumass wants to give away free tacos on your website, are you gonna do it? :)

Hmmm, with a last name like Putz, do you think I should name my new business, Putz Productions? Whaddya think?

Brad Shorr said...

Hi Karen, if it's working for Dumas, maybe it will work for you, too!

Words For Hire said...

Robert, yeah strip malls are the scourge of modern life! In Michigan the only difference is nail shop, cleaners, pizza or Coney Island. You raise a great point and one I am going to ponder. Would my customers wear my company's t-shirt? Hmmm..

Robert Hruzek said...

@Karen P. - I dunno; Putz Productions has a certain... ring to it, doesn't it? Couple that with a great image or logo and you'll capture the customer's attention. Go for it!

Robert Hruzek said...

@Brad - Yeah, I'm still laughing at "Big Ass Fans". If you can capture the customer's attention like they do - then follow up with worthwhile value (content, whatever), then you've got it!

Robert Hruzek said...

@Karen S. - So, the real question is, would you wear a Middle Zone T-shirt? :-D

Words For Hire said...

In a heartbeat Robert! :-) In fact you should start selling them!

Robert Hruzek said...

What I need is a good design; I've found a supplier. Hmmm... (sound of grinding gears)