Updated: Jun 24, 2019
I recently had a very nice experience with a local bookstore. It's a small bookstore, set on a small village street amongst other small stores, much as might have been the case 30 or 40 years ago. The kind of bookstore that is commonly believed to have no chance to survive in the age of Amazon.
The owner was the only person working in the store. We had a pleasant conversation, as she - in a very disarming, non-intrusive way - sought to understand why I was there and what was of interest to me. She was clearly very knowledgeable and well-traveled. She stocked an array of unusual books and a variety of related gift items. As she learned more about me she suggested some items she thought might be of interest. She carefully gift wrapped my items. We chatted about some happenings in the local community. Just a very pleasant and personable shopping experience.
The local bookstore is not convenient. Not for the owner. The owner must be willing and able to run the business solo, or at least with little help. The owner must be highly knowledgeable. The owner must be able to quickly connect customer interest (for any and every customer) with what's available in the store - skills that can take many years to master. The owner must constantly stock the store with items that are unusual and will appeal to the local audience.
The local bookstore is not convenient. Not for the customer. The customer must travel to the store. The customer must travel to the store when the store is open. The customer must peruse the limited physical inventory. The customer may need to ask for help. All of this usually requires meaningful amounts of the customer’s time. All very inconvenient given the alternatives available today.
The local bookstore is not convenient. But the convenient way is not always the best way. Whether it's books or pizza or banking, a product or service made in an inconvenient way…by someone who cares…can sometimes be so much better than the alternative that the customer is willing to go out of their way to get it. In his Akimbo podcast dated 4/17/2019, Seth Godin talks about the magic of inconvenience. He uses pizza and sushi as his primary examples. He notes that these foods - when made in an inconvenient way by someone who cares - can be so much better than the alternative that the few people who prize better over convenience will shun "average" and "mass market" and instead go out of their way for better pizza or sushi.
The two critical words here are better and cares. As Godin points out, in most cases almost nobody will want to pay extra in money and inconvenience to have the superior product when they can easily have something that's good enough. So, the product must really be better - a lot better. Which requires thoughtfulness and care. And even then, only a very small number of customers are likely to show up. But that can be enough. Enough to coalesce a small group of loyal customers who themselves care about what they buy and who they buy it from, and who keep coming back again and again.
Like the local bookstore, Bluestone's business doesn't scale very well. But that's the point. We are here to serve the few who care, not the many who don't. Care about what? About being seen and understood. About purpose and intention. About incentives and conflicts. About showing up with full hearts every day, day-after-day.
For us, this is personal. We are here to make something better for those we seek to serve. Something wonderful for our customers - not convenient for us.