How are You Different?

I’ve written a lot about a retailer’s need to be different, but as I talk with folks in their stores or at shows, I find there’s some confusion about what I mean by that. Apparently, I haven’t been very clear.

It’s not you; it’s me. I see that now. And I see that being different is important not only for retailers, but for manufacturers … even for outdoor writers and editors.

Just so I don’t step on any tackle retailer toes here and give away their differentiator, let’s use an example from the food service industry.

One of my favorite restaurants here in Orlando is a place called Hash House A Go Go. If you’ve come to my hometown and eaten with me, there’s a pretty good chance we went there. If not, come on down. Consider yourself invited.

Hash House A Go Go (let’s just call it HHGG since I’m already tired of typing the whole name) is a small, but national chain. There are 12 restaurants from Moorestown, New Jersey, to San Diego, California. Half of them are in Nevada.

HHGG calls itself the “Famous Home of Twisted Farm Food.” I’m not sure what this means, but I can tell you that the menu is full of “comfort” foods like meatloaf, burgers, fried chicken and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Is the food good at HHGG? Yes, it’s quite good … but it’s actually not as good as several other places that are even closer to my home.

Are the prices good at HHGG? Yes, they are … but they’re not any lower than some other restaurants where the food is just as good or even better.

Is the service good at HHGG? Yes, the service is very good … but not better than many other restaurants I could name around here. Orlando is, after all, a service town.

Is the atmosphere good at HHGG? Yes, it’s quiet and relaxed. The tables are not too close together, and it’s conducive to having a conversation … but that description fits most of the places I eat.

So why would I take you to Hash House A Go Go if they don’t have the best food, don’t have the lowest prices, don’t have spectacular service and don’t have a one-of-a-kind atmosphere?

I’d take you there because it’s “different.” I’d take you there because you’ve probably never been anywhere quite like it. I’d take you there because I think you’d remember it, and years from now we’ll talk about having been there. When you come back to Orlando — for ICAST or to escape a cold winter — I think you’d want to go back.

HHGG gets all the basics right. They have good food, reasonable prices, excellent service and a nice ambiance. But none of those things — or even the combination of those things — is enough to make me drive across town to eat there. I can check all those boxes much closer to home.

I am not a regular at HHGG because they get the basics right — I expect that from every restaurant, and most live up to that expectation. I am a regular because HHGG is different. It is remarkable according to the definition of the word “remarkable.” HHGG creates an experience that you want to talk about — to remark upon.

What do they do that’s different? Well, for one thing, the portions are enormous. For another, the presentations are a spectacle. (Imagine a chicken and waffles stack that’s easily 15 inches high with fresh sage and a big knife sticking out of the top of it.) For a third, the menu is large and diverse. There may be a “farm food” theme, but it has some serious diversity.

If I take you there, you’re going to notice the difference. When a waiter or waitress walks by with the chicken and waffles, you’ll do a double-take and maybe even reconsider your order. You’ll be surprised by the tractor in the entry way. You’ll see choices on the menu that you’ve probably only eaten at home in the past.

Hash House A Go Go checks all the boxes of a quality restaurant. That gets it in the game. But what makes it great is what makes it different.

What makes your store or your business different?

Good selection? Yawn.

Competitive prices? Everybody says that.

Superior service? Color me doubtful, but even if it’s true that’s hardly a meaningful edge anymore.

So, let’s try again.

What makes you different? What keeps people talking about you? What’s so remarkable that people actually want to tell your story?

If you’re having trouble answering those questions, maybe you’re just like everybody else..