The Barter Parker

I recently read about a car parking lot in Argentina, which enables customers to pay for their parking with items they no longer need. The scheme, run by a guy called Ivan Caraganopulos, accepts any second hand items in return for parking. This simple bartering idea has proved very popular with drivers, and has developed into a profitable business.

I’m not suggesting that you rip the parking meter out of a UK car park and demand old tat by way of payment instead, but perhaps there’s a way that you can incorporate barter into your own business. Many people are cash-strapped these days but have old stuff they no longer need or want. If you can come up with a bartering system that works for you, you could find that you pull in a lot more customers and appeal to a whole new market.

Sell By Text

The disruptive beep of an incoming text has become an integral part of modern life. Whereas in the past, it has been thought of as yet another way for teenagers to waste even more time on electrical gadgets, it is now a becoming an integral  part of the business world. Contacting customers by phone and e-mail is nothing new, but have you considered communicating with them via text message?

Think about yourself for a moment. What do you check more often, your mobile phone or your email? The answer is almost certainly your mobile phone. And consider this – are there situations when you would open a text but not answer a call? Your answer is probably ‘yes’. People will drop whatever they’re doing in an instant to answer a text message, but to read an email? Unlikely. Or to answer a phone call? Only if it’s convenient.

Admittedly, if your customer base is largely OAP’s, this marketing approach  might not be your preferred option. However, providing the majority of your target market has its feet firmly in the 21st Century it could be worth a try.

A Novel Approach To Writing

I recently read about British novelist, Silvia Hartmann, who, through her Naked Writer Project, is allowing fans to read her latest fantasy fiction book, The Dragon Lords, as it is being written. Before writing a new section of the novel, she sends an announcement through her social networks and starts writing in a public document. She then encourages readers to send feedback and make suggestions about the title, plot, characters, and everything in between.

There are several clear advantages to this. Firstly she is doing something different, something that no author has done before, thereby gaining herself valuable publicity in the process. Secondly, she is also accumulating hundreds of ideas from people who are genuinely interested in the story; thereby receiving helpful guidance. More ideas inevitably lead to a better product.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of all though, is that she is communicating and interacting with her customers – something that many businesses don’t do enough of. Wherever this process ends up creatively, you can guarantee that it will lead to something prospective customers really want to read, and that has to have a positive impact on sales.

Taking inspiration from this, is there a way that you can gain more feedback from your own customers? Perhaps there’s a way to gather their ideas instead of always relying on generating your own. At the very least, it’s a good idea to find out if what you’re doing is what they actually want. If they give you suggestions, take them on board and listen. After all, your business relies on them.

On Yer Bike!

As you may be aware, the UK cycling market is booming at the moment, following team GB’s tremendous success at the London 2012 Olympics and Bradley Wiggins victory in the Tour De France. Here’s a service which could be ripe for emulating.

Bike Fixation, a Minneapolis based company, offer an innovative service for cyclists – bicycle repair vending machines. These are self service kiosks that offer inner tubes, patch kits, the use of adjustment tools and access to a pump to fill up tyres. At each kiosk there is a bike mounting system for on-site repairs and a section of the vending machine for snacks and beverages.

There’s no reason why this couldn’t work equally well in this country; if not better.  If this appeals, it could be worth contacting the company to see if they have plans for UK expansion.  Alternatively, give some thought to the wider picture – is there a way that your business could capitalise on the booming cycling market?

In addition this DIY vending machine idea could be easily adapted to other markets, not just cycling. What else could you vend that isn’t currently being done?

Ear, Ear

There are some businesses that flourish overseas that I’m certain would be equally successful in the UK. This one however, I’m not so sure about, but it’s certainly interesting.

Several years ago in Japan, the government deregulated ear cleaning, (really!) meaning that the cleaner no longer required a medical licence. Since that change in the law, Tokyo and other large cities in Japan have given birth to a new type of business altogether; ear cleaning parlours!

The basic service at salon like Yamamoto Mimikaki-ten lasts around half an hour and costs the customer the Japanese equivalent of £20.  The process involves a kimono-clad woman scraping the excess ear wax from the client’s ear using a “mimikaki”- an ear pick with a small scoop on the end- before massaging the ears and serving him tea.

As I said before, I’m not sure this business is destined for success here, but you never know. Stranger things have happened.  Maybe you need to keep your ear to the ground. No booing at the back please!

Making Money Is Child’s Play

If you have children, you’ll know how difficult it is to encourage them to do chores for pocket money. You may also wish to teach them a few basic business and entrepreneurial skills but you’re not sure how having them clean their room is going to achieve that. I recently read about a shrewd father from the USA who had a unique idea to solve these problems. He gave his son a vending machine. After installing the machine in a local workshop, he told his son two things:

  1. That this would be the last time he was receiving pocket money.
  2. That if he wanted an allowance next week, he would have to spend this weeks on some stock.

Now cast your mind back to your own little darlings, sullenly scooping clothes off their bedroom floor, dragging their feet as they go. Is there something you could learn from this? You wouldn’t necessarily need to purchase a vending machine but any project which enables them to learn the basics of business whilst hopefully earning some extra cash would do the trick. It’s certainly something to think about.

Robert De Nero’s Waiting

I was driving to work the other day, when I heard an interesting story on local radio. There was a rumour that Robert De Nero and Julia Roberts were making a film in the area and were holed up at a pub just outside Chesterfield. BBC Radio Sheffield sent a reporter to the pub where he found a fleet of trailers and Winebago’s in the car park. There was a security man outside who denied that De Nero and Roberts were there. By this time other news and media representatives had turned up as the story spread.

When I arrived at work, the mystery was still unsolved, but on my way home I got to hear the full story. A barmaid at the pub spilled the beans. The trailers were there because Sky were filming some low key/low budget production in the area. The pub landlord had seized on this and started the rumour about De Nero and Roberts. Aside from having a fun day, he got an enormous amount of publicity for his pub – and no harm done.

It’s always worth thinking about how you might generate publicity for your business or enterprise. As I said in the recent story about the Kensington Holiday Inn, both on and offline media are desperate for interesting stories to fill their space and air time. As the Chesterfield pub landlord proved, there doesn’t necessarily have to be anything interesting actually happening for you to get free publicity.

Shaving Lessons

There are many things I need help with, but until today, I didn’t consider that shaving might be one of them. London based high end grooming shop Geo F Trumper clearly disagree and now run classes in how to shave properly.

The company say that customer demand led them to create classes run by a professional barber who show clients the best way to shave for their own skin type. I’m not sure whether that’s true, but it certainly seems a great way to get people enthusiastic about what is a chore for most. And more importantly, it’s a great way to get them interested in obtaining the best tools for the job – which Geo F Trumper happen to sell!

Might this be something that works in your market? Are there classes you could run which would help?

Customers get the best from your product?, and might they be more inclined to spend more money with you if they had renewed enthusiasm for, and satisfaction from, what you sell as a result?

The Fat Bank

I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve said “only in America”, only to see an idea thriving on these shores soon after. With that in mind, I bring you The Fat Bank.

Picture the scene; you’ve just had your liposuction and sitting (looking pretty gruesome) in a jar alongside you, is the fat they’ve just sucked out of your flabby midriff. You might be thinking that it needs flushing down the drain…but no! What you should be doing with it is depositing it in the Fat Bank so that when your face starts to sag in ten years time, you can withdraw it and have it pumped into your wrinkles. Well believe it or not, that’s what’s happening in California.

How long before the first fat bank is started here? I don’t know, but whoever does it will get a huge slug of  free publicity to get things moving. Perhaps something to think about for someone with the right background and contacts.

Wedding Broker

I was speaking to someone recently who is planning a wedding. It seems like it’s a two year process these days. A lot can happen in two years which probably explains the need for US based Bridal Brokerage.

Over 250,000 weddings are called off each year in the United States. What Bridal Brokerage does is resell the wedding to a new couple, enabling the original betrothed to recover deposits and up-front costs, hassle free. Venues and service providers enjoy uninterrupted business and wedding buyers get a pre-planned wedding at a fraction of the regular cost.

I don’t have the figures for cancelled UK weddings, but based on the US figures, it’s probably around 50,000. That’s seems like plenty to make a similar service viable here. Definitely something worth investigating. Start up costs would be minimal, but the middle man profits could be very attractive.