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Zen Jeweler: Ice Scream

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Jeff McCandless gets licked at the ice-cream store from hell … but learns a valuable lessonON VACATION a year or so ago, my wife and daughter went horse-back riding on a mountain trail at a resort stable. When they were finished, they were hungry for ice cream, and as it was vacation, no preliminary meal was necessary. They just asked for the nearest ice-cream store.  
 
The staff at the horse stable recommended a store 20 minutes away, on the fringes of a medium-sized city. The city had about 50,000 people in it, a good sized university, and all the trimmings a similarly-sized East Coast city should have.  
 
On the way to the ice-cream shop, my wife and daughter passed a mall and every fast food place known to man. When they came home, they invited me to the ice cream shop, and we decided to try it later in the week. 
 
That Thursday night, we drove 20 minutes from our resort to the ice-cream store. There were 40 cars in the parking lot. Long lines at the two windows, with 15 or so people in each line. This must be good, I thought.  
 
When it was nearly my turn, I could see the list of flavors.  
 
There were two. 
 
Chocolate and vanilla. Oh, and as the ?flavor of the week? ? strawberry.  
 
My wife asked for a double scoop, of strawberry and vanilla. The staff politely said that they would not mix the flavors, because they were ?hand-dipped?. 
 
I was astounded. 
 
Now, I know what you’re thinking. The price was 35 cents. The servers were Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt. Perhaps there was a carnival going on. The servers sang show tunes. There had to be something keeping this store in business.  
But, two scoops were $3.50, and one of the women serving the ice-cream had a pierced chin. I swear. 
 
What was driving this place’s success? It had been there for years. It was in a busy part of town but you would certainly not call it ?upscale?. What was the answer? 
 
The answer was ?no competition?. And that’s where you need to watch out.  
 
Because if you think your clientele loves you, you just might be right. But it may also be because you’re the only game in town, and when a new game moves in (a Baskin-Robbins is going up across the street from this place soon) you had better be ready. Because they can love someone who does your job better just as easily as you think they love you. 
 
So, take some time today to check out your competition. Not just in town, but in other towns. Not just in your business, but in other businesses. You should always be your own competition, so that the new store in town won’t scoop you. 
 
 
JEFF MCCANDLESS has been in retail management for 29 years and currently serves as ?vintage manager? for Tourneau’s Philadelphia store. Contact him at Click here.

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