I don’t support local businesses. I don’t support global businesses. What I do support is businesses that offer me the greatest experience.

Experience, for me, can be broken up into 5 categories. Quality, selection, price, convenience and personality (which includes customer service). In order to get my business, you don’t have to be great at all of these. At a minimum, you need to compete on quality and personality. If you fail at one of those, it doesn’t matter how good you are at the rest. I’ll use you if I have to, but I am actively looking for a way not to use you. That’s a bad place for you to be.

My mom recently took my little brother to a coffee shop that they have been to previously. It’s a local business and they have a couple of locations. My brother had finished a violin lesson and they were going for a treat afterward – he wanted a cold caramel macchiato. Basically, it is a caramel macchiato, blended with ice. He has had the same drink at this coffee shop before.

The attendant apologized and said that it wasn’t available because it was a seasonal drink. They do sell a caramel macchiato, but the version blended with ice is a seasonal drink. My mom and brother weren’t mad. It’s not like the attendant is rude. I expect they’ll go back to that coffee shop again when it is convenient. But, do you know where they went next? Starbucks. Once there, the attendant happily took my mom’s money and sold her a Frappuccino, which my brother enjoyed.

I chatted with my brother about this and did a little mini-interview with him to get the facts. As I asked him some questions, he mentioned how he was surprised that the drink was seasonal and then he said something great. Something that made me laugh, but also something that totally sums up this situation.

“Ice isn’t seasonal.”

This isn’t a quantity issue. They already sell a caramel macchiato. They have ice. They have to have a blender. So, what’s the problem? It’s not costing them anything to make the drink from stuff they already have or should have on hand. You can’t say “well, Starbucks can afford to do that since they’re so huge.” It’s a drink they sell, with ice, in a blender. It’s not an issue of resources. It is a personality issue.

It’s the personality that might say “well, it’s winter and it is easier if we take the cold stuff off of our menu because less people want it.” Forgetting that, once again, they already have the stuff in their inventory. I’m not saying it doesn’t make sense to put hot items right out front in winter. What makes no sense, however, whether it is on the menu or not, is saying you won’t blend ice with a drink because it is “seasonal.” That doesn’t make any sense. If my own family weren’t telling the story to me, I might doubt the legitimacy of it.

Here’s the moral. I have heard community managers complain about other, bigger communities in their space. About entering a space that already has established leaders. You don’t have the quantity they do or the resources or the convenience. But, you can compete at quality and personality. The ability to offer people personal attention is a strength that you do have because of your size. When you only have 10 members, instead of 100,000, it becomes very easy to focus on who you should talk to. The 10 people in front of you. And that is where you can win. But, if you are lazy, don’t care enough or simply put up artificial barriers of your own making, then you are creating obstacles and you have no one to blame but yourself.