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4 secrets to create a ‘regular’ out of a customer

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Repeat customers are the lifeblood of small business. I don’t think it matters if you own a local restaurant or a hardware store, small business owners love “regulars.”

Over the years I’ve become a “regular” at a number of places, but a local Mexican restaurant in Sandy, La Costa, is a great example. My wife and I eat there at least once a week. We usually roll in about the same time every Monday night. Although my wife argues that I could use a little more variety in my life, I like the food and the service. The manager waves at me as we come in, the busboy smiles and the waitress says, “I’ve got your fajitas cooking, your guacamole will be right out, and here’s your diet soda.” She then looks at my wife and asks, “What are you having tonight?”

My family suggests I try something different on the menu, which I did before I settled on the fajitas. I’m one of those guys who believes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I’m not bored with the fajitas yet, so I’ll likely stay with them until I am.

I wish I could take credit for discovering the delicious food at this authentic Mexican fiesta for my taste buds, but a friend introduced me several years ago — and I’ve been a regular ever since. Although there are other restaurants my wife and I regularly visit, La Costa is different. And no, I’m not on the payroll — I’m just a “regular.”

What does it take to create “regulars” out of your customers? Here’s how:

  1. Do what you do better than anyone else: If you’re a restaurant, the food has to be good. I take it back. Good isn’t good enough — it has to be great. It has to be so great it makes me want to come back again. The guys at La Costa make great food. I can’t think of anything I’ve had on their menu that wasn’t delicious — I just happen to be on a fajita thing right now. If you can’t be great at what you do, you’ll never create “regulars.” My dad’s business depended on “regulars” to keep the doors open. Although he sold bolts and nuts — the same thing you could buy from any industrial supply or hardware store — the point is, you don’t have to be a restaurant to create “regulars” out of your regular customers. My dad worked very hard to be the best at what he did, much like my waitress.
  2. It’s not about how much it costs, but how much it costs is part of the equation: There are dozens of places I could go on Monday night that would probably be cheaper than La Costa — the same is true for more expensive restaurants — but what I pay for our dinner is fair. They don’t cut corners with the quality of their food, but I don’t have to second mortgage my home to eat there either.
  3. Be friendly: I drove the delivery truck and my dad used to tell me, “For most of our customers, you are the only person from our company people will see on a regular basis.” He encouraged me to be friendly and respectful to the people at our customers’ businesses. That advice has been good advice over the course of my entire career. My waitress, the busboy, the manager and everyone at the restaurant were friendly from my first visit. Good food and friendly service brought me back for the second and third time — eventually turning into a weekly culinary ritual.
  4. Remember that I’ve been in before: Long before I became a “regular,” they remembered I’d been in before. They didn’t have my fajitas cooking or my guacamole on its way, but they would greet me with something like, “Nice to see you again.” They made me feel welcome and acknowledged that I was a repeat customer. Unlike “Cheers” — where everybody knows your name — I doubt they know mine, but they recognize my face, know what I like to eat, and bend over backwards to make me feel welcome.

I think the thing I like most is that they didn’t go out of their way to make me a “regular,” they just won me over doing what they do for everyone that comes in. What’s more, I’ve noticed over the years that I’m not their only “regular” by any means. There are a lot of us. As a Main Street business evangelist and marketing veteran with more than 25 years in the trenches, Ty Kiisel writes about leading people and small-business issues for Lendio (www.lendio.com).