Earlier this month I was traveling in the USA and had an opportunity to drop in on a well-known business and tourist attraction – Wall Drug Store in the town of Wall, South Dakota. This store has become a favorite road trip stop for many travelers and is perfectly located on the edge of the South Dakota badlands. The store is famous in part for how it became a surviving and ultimately thriving entity back in the 1930’s as a result of giving out free ice water.
Ted and Dorothy Hustead bought this tiny little drug store in 1931 (read about it here) in the little town in the middle of nowhere, where about 326 people lived, most of whom were poor farmers who had been wiped out by the depression or the drought. There was no business to be had from these poor local residents.
The couple became discouraged very quickly, but decided they’d give it their all for 5 years. The customers just didn’t come, and the couple was not sure what to do. One hot summer afternoon in year 5, when the couple was ready to give up on the business, Dorothy thought about the weary travelers that were traveling along the highway crossing the prairies. She thought to herself, “How can we get those people to come into our store”? She realized that the hot and weary travelers must be thirsty, and that is when the idea emerged. Dorothy realized the opportunity to put signs up along the highway inviting travelers to come for free ice water.
Grow through giving something free
The free ice water signs were created by a local high school boy and the following weekend they headed out to post several signs along the highway. By the time they got back from putting several signs in the ground, the customers were already coming. Of course, free ice water led to ice cream purchases, coffee purchase and more, and that was just the beginning of the turnaround.
Differentiate from your competition
A couple of months ago, one of our boys got a new puppy. I had not given any real consideration to where we would buy the supplies for the puppy, such as food, etc. We’ve always bought food for our other dog at Costco, so I imagine would have simply followed suit. My son though decided to drop into a small new pet store in our local community; Paw Street Market. A talkative young fellow, he got to know the owner of the store, and the owner took great interest in my son and the puppy that would soon be joining the family. What did she do? She sent him home with some free stuff. She sent him with some chew toys and a few good and treat samples to try out on the new puppy once he finally arrived.
Business growth and relationship
This relationship between my 12-year-old boy and the store owner began several weeks before we would pick up our puppy. The relationship was such that when we were driving home from the breeder, the day we picked the puppy up, my son asked if we could stop and show the puppy to the store owner – that is exactly what we did. The store owner again handed him a number of free items to try out, which led to me buying the first bag of puppy food there, and now it is the only place we buy dog food.
Coaching and Business Growth
We always coach our clients to become aware of something they can give for free. Buyers are looking for value, and one way to demonstrate value is to provide something up front. Every business needs to give something for free. A workshop, some advice, information or a sample of something that carries some kind of meaningful value goes a long way to giving our buyers and customers confidence that we have something to offer. Regardless of your industry, there is some kind of value you can offer. I’ve had many clients say, “Well in the ___ industry, there really is nothing we can give for free…that’s just the way our industry is.” That is simply not true, and it just takes some creative thinking. This is one of the best and most effective ways of creating excitement around your business.
Cameron’s Call to Action
1. Have a close look at what, if any kind of meaningful value you are offering to your target market, free of charge.
2. Evaluate the economic benefits you have been getting as a result of what you are giving.
3. What is something your target market really needs, that you can offer to help them understand the kind of value they can get through a long-term relationship with you?
4. If you don’t have something in place, launch it and watch to see what happens.
Oh, and the most lucrative day of my career, was a direct result of doing something pro bono…
Cameron is an Executive Coach and Consultant specializing in business growth and workplace mental health.