The Moron and the Product.

There is this small fuel station in Bulawayo that I always go to. It doesn’t matter where I am in the city. If I want to fuel up that’s the one place I go to. I once drove 14 blocks just to get there, passing the many different service stations along the way just to get to Busuman’s Garage, this hard to notice, no-flashing-neon-signs garage that almost always has a queue. Why do I do this irrational illogical thing over and over again you may ask? It is simple.

  1. I love my car ( Her name is Carla)
  2. They sell really good product I mean good fuel

What I do in Queues -> Over-analyse

Yes, I am one of those customers who just looks at everything and asks, why? So it was two days ago when I was in the queue at 7:00 PM when I started to think about why I love Busuman’s Garage so much and how it is not too different from what I want to achieve with the startups that I work with. I mean, A queue of dedicated customers…now that’s every founders dream, especially in our young tech ecosystem.

To start with, it is not the best-looking garage in the city. I mean their signage is not that great, paint is peeling off the roof, they seem to only have 2 working pumps, they don’t open 24 hours, they don’t offer the usual free services like oil checks and windscreen cleaning, and to top it all off, their fuel is actually more expensive, compared to the other two fuel stations that are not more than 100 meters away from it. So why is it that people still queue here? I asked the other drivers and I got one resounding answer put across in phrases like ” It lasts longer” and ” my car just performs better” with a few ” I don’t know, my friend told me it was the best” and ” John only gets fuel from here.”

The Customer isn’t a Moron.

It feels like we are living in a world where consumerism now dictates how businesses interact with their customers. It is like the bigger and brighter it is, the better. That might have been true 5 years ago, when the internet was a luxury and information was hard to come by. Truth is, the consumer is waking up, the consumer is questioning, and the consumer now asks why. We no longer allow service providers to foolishly lead us to the slaughterhouse and make a killing. We are more conscious about what we eat and care enough to pay for the real deal, not these nonsense cheapskates. See Busuman’s Garage imports its fuel directly from Botswana, and apparently it is a form of unleaded petrol with a higher octane rating ( you can read more on that here,) the translation being three basic things. 1 more mileage per litre. 2 increased efficiency, meaning less wear and tear, and 3, better performance!! To put it simply, Busuman’s value proposition is longer lasting, and better performing fuel! That is its one differentiating factor, no need for gloss-over features and services that simply overwhelm and confuse the customer. ( I mean, am I suppose to tip the attendant for the Oil check?)

The product and the delivery

It’s not just that they have a really good product, they have attendants who seem to really love pouring fuel! and I mean that in the best possible way. That is why we didn’t turn into road raged, queue jumping drivers. We all harmoniously followed the unspoken rules. The garage is supposed to close at 7:00 PM, at 8:05 PM you didn’t get anyone grumpily telling you that “the line ends here” or frowning as they did the pouring thing. It was really awesome small talk with a great do come back again. It’s the 1990’s customer service that my father always reminisces over that seems to have vanished everywhere else.

The way that you deliver your value proposition is equally as important as the quality of the product itself. Don’t be that restaurant that has great food, that gets spoilt by a rude waiter who takes forever and acts like they are doing you a favour in bringing your food. If you offer an internet service, then have responsive customer support. By the way, if you are building a startup, then get everyone to do customer support, yes, even the dev team, over channels that your customers use. Using legacy tools ( suggestion boxes) won’t stop me from ranting on twitter anymore, let’s move with the times, people.

Blinded by Competition

Having said all this, the one thing that fascinates me the most about the Busuman’s product, is that, the service station is not in some “hard to reach place with no competition” Its quite literally next to one service station, and directly opposite another, and located at the very edge of the CBD. Do the other garage owners not see the queue’s? Do they not question why car loving petrol heads like myself do not come to their service stations for fuel? I cannot speak for them on this, however, its something that I have come to see almost everywhere else, people getting into business because of other people. Entrepreneurship has become this cool thing that everyone wants to do, it doesn’t work when all you are doing is bringing another “me too” product to the market. Growing tomatoes because “that’s what everyone else is growing.” It’s funny how almost everyone became an expert poultry farmer overnight in some two years ago. Make sure you understand your industry and your customer. I refuse to pour E20 ( blended petrol) into my lovely Carla!

Entrepreneurship has become this cool thing that everyone wants to do, it doesn’t work when all you are doing is bringing another “me too” product to the market. Growing tomatoes because “that’s what everyone else is growing.” It’s funny how almost everyone became an expert poultry farmer overnight some two years ago. Make sure you understand your industry and your customer. I refuse to pour E20 ( blended petrol) into my lovely Carla!

The market has a lot of competition, there is very little we can do about that. It is only going to get worse in this so-called “global village” So instead of complaining about cheap Chinese products, and what the other person is selling, focus on making your product better, faster and cheaper, the customer isn’t a moron, not anymore. Yes, business intelligence is important, but don’t get blinded by competition.

Over-hyped underperformance

I learnt this one the hard way. We live in a world where the media is hungry. They are waiting to report or write about the next thing that will captivate their audience. Theirs is an eyeball driven industry, so don’t focus on the attention that the media will give you and your new cool product. Instead, build and deliver your value to the customer and let the product speak for itself. It is not the glitz and glamour that convinces the customer anymore, it’s the product and the value that it will give. Busuman doesn’t have flashing signs, all they have is real value. Avoid the hype, don’t let it distract you.  I will take genuineness over flashy advertising any day! After all, a loyal customer generates a whole lot more business for you through referrals than anyone else. Look at me, I’m blogging about my favourite Garage!

In Summary

I spent 15 minutes in this queue thinking about what made this service station so popular and realised that they have achieved what so many startups fail to, as they try to grow their product and turn it into a business.

  1. Keep it simple, focus on the product, ship, all else will follow.
  2. Know your unique selling point, everyone will ask you the ” so how are you different?” question, whether you know it or not.
  3. Ignore the hype, when it comes, channel it towards the product.
  4. It’s also about how you deliver it, Delivery is part of the product too!
  5. Don’t bury your true value in tonnes of features and services, it will simply end up looking like a cheap remake, or some sort of scam.
  6. The Customer is not a Moron, he might not understand what octane rating is, so educate him
  7. You cannot do it alone, you need a team of people that will die for your vision. The customer will buy your product through them anyway, so make sure they too bleed petroleum.
  8. Understand your industry, read, research and question, you need to become a domain expert in that field.
  9. Understand your customer, ask questions, engage them, they will become your biggest evangelists and advertisers.
  10. Do not get blinded by competition. In fact, don’t compete, aim instead to be a monopoly in your small niche by offering the best possible product that serves that niche, not the whole market.

There are some issues here that I feel I should talk about in greater detail in other posts. I need some of that good stuff now.

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