What Your Business Can Learn From An Italian Market

There is nothing quite like the daily Sicilian market.  When you step from the main road in to Via Mercato you enter a different world.  Every step forward enters a new cloudy haze of mesmerizing scent and every glance is assaulted by color. Friends stop dead in their tracks in the middle of the aisle of the jostling crowd to have their morning chat so your progress becomes a slalom course.  Stall owners call out their wares or reach out to give you a taste of cheese, olives, bread, salami.  It’s foodie heaven.
A few days ago we were strolling through the stalls at midday, scouring the, by now, slim pickings and watching the stall owners rapidly pack up for lunch and nap time (It’s Italy after all). As we strolled, I noticed a man standing behind his stall packed full of unsold produce and not a customer in sight.  It struck me that the market is simply a microcosm of the larger business world.
Who wants to avoid becoming the befuddled man behind a stall full of inventory without a dollar of revenue in his pocket?  I certainly do – so I decided to do an experiment.  Over the next few days I took brain notes on the following: which stalls I chose to visit, which stalls I bought from (which stalls I didn’t buy from) and which stalls I went back to.  As a result of this highly scientific and quantifiable experiment, I have some lessons to pass on to you that you can apply to your own business.
Why do I stop at a stall?
They have the product I am searching for.  There must be 20 produce stalls at the market and every one of them has tomatoes, so if you have tomatoes you will at least get a look.  What can we learn?  If you are online – search is important.  Make sure you pay attention to your search rankings.  If you offer something unusual, focus on that.  You may not be able to rank for tomatoes, but you will certainly be able to rank for pomegranates (it’s called the long-tail).  If you are offline, location is important – better to be in the market street competing with others than down a side street I will never go.
Something looks really good or interesting.  We stopped at a stall that had rows and rows of a kind of cheese we had never seen before.  We also stopped at a table filled with beautiful bowls filled with Olives.  What can we learn?  Be the Purple Cow.  You may have the same tomatoes as everyone else, but have something on offer that makes you truly unique.
When I see everyone else is stopping. We stopped at a stall surrounded by crowds of people, the man was selling tomatoes, we have no idea why everyone was buying his tomatoes but guess which tomatoes we bought.  What can we learn?  The power of social proof and that feeling of wanting to belong.  This is where social media and community in to play.  The more followers, fans or friends you have, the more you will appear to be “the one” to buy from.  The more you can make those people feel like a community, the more they will stick around.  We bought that man’s tomatoes because all of the locals were buying his tomatoes.  We want to be locals.  We want to belong.
**The fish stall owners have a tendency to yell really loudly, praising their wares.  I find it interesting to note that this yelling had absolutely no impact on whether or not I stopped at their stall.  I compare it to mass market advertising.  It’s like a billboard, yelling to everyone regardless of targeting and very easy to tune out or dismiss.  Advertising noise.
Why do I buy from a stall?

When the product looks great.  Presentation really is everything.  I buy the reddest, juiciest looking tomatoes and the fluffiest lettuce.  I buy when the fish stalls constantly water down their fish so that it looks fresh and clean.  I buy when the olives are presented in lovely bowls.  What can we learn?  Never underestimate the power of presentation and design.  You have 2-3 seconds to convince your visitor not to click away from your site.  Make it beautiful.  If you have a eCommerce store, hire a professional photographer.  If you have a physical store, hire an interior designer.
They give me a sample.  There are lots of things in the market that I have never tasted before, take the aforementioned cheese.  I didn’t trust that cheese.  It looked funny and I had no experience with it whatsoever.  I certainly wasn’t going to spend money on something that I might turn-around and throw away.  That was unit they gave me a free sample.  It as delicious.  Not only did they give me a free-sample they showed me how to prepare it.  The stall owner placed the cheese in a bowl, drizzled it with olive oil, sprinkled with oregano and crushed a soft roasted garlic over the top. What can we learn?  Eliminate your customer’s trust issues by providing them with a sample of your work, or knowledge that is related to what you are trying to sell.  If you are a coach offer a free ebook or course, if you are a gardener offer gardening education or run an advice column.  One of my clients approached the business section of her local newspaper and offered an advice column for designers.  They jumped on it.
**I find it interesting that when I am shopping in the market I never ask the prices.  When you make the experience rich enough and you market yourself correctly so that customers understand the value you are providing, pricing becomes less important.
Why do I go back?

Customer Service baby!  It’s all about the way I am treated.  In the past I have hardly ever bought pears.  I buy pears every day in the market because the man who sells me pears speaks to me gently in nice slow Italian (never in English) in words he knows I can understand.  Not about his product, but about the weather, or my travels.  He makes me laugh and he makes me feel included.  We shop from the same vegetable stall every time because the stall owner was concerned about how expensive the avocado was (even though we chose to buy it), so he threw in our pomegranate for free.  We shop in the same bread and cheese stall because the man makes Mark “breakfast” (bread, cheese and prosciutto sandwich) when we get there.  What can we learn?  Loyalty is not dead.  Give your customers a wonderful experience and they will come back to you all the time.  They will also tell others about you.  That money you feel like you “waste” on accepting no hassle returns, replacing broken products, giving away free samples, allowing your customer care folks to spend 30 minutes on the phone with an old lady… consider it your advertising budget.  Trust me, you will get better sales results from looking after your customers that you will get from buying a billboard.


(find out more about the Galahad’s Code Of Chivalry)
Largesse — Show your customers that you care about the rare art of generosity
Loyalty — Customers are loyal if they feel like they are a member of a special tribe
Prowess — Brand first... then build. If you aren't clear on what you represent neither are your customers


Avatar of Lisa-Marie Cabrelli

Location-Independent Entrepreneur & Certified Life Coach, Galahad, Wife, Mum, & Adventurer. Co-Founder of Galahads - The Secret Society for Kick-Ass Women. Founder & CEO of Emily Rose Doll Clothes and Wish Doll Company. Founder & CEO of Laptop Life Lisa. Finding the revenue and results inside every entrepreneur.   Mum of a rocking 14 year-old daughter visit her at TheOneAndOnlyEmTV.  Lucky wife of her soul-mate and fellow adventurer, Mark.  Traveling the world while running four businesses and raising a teenager. Journey from the last 6 weeks? Bahamas to Scotland to England to France to Switzerland, currently hanging in Borgo Val di Taro, Italy. @LaptopLifeLisa

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