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Lesson #16: Always Differentiate Yourself from the Competition

As an entrepreneur, there is nothing more exciting than launch day. The store was set, employees were stocking the shelves, and I was preparing for the grand opening. My eighty-hour workweeks turned into ninety hours, but I didn’t care.

Opening a new store is like planning a wedding. You have one shot. Just think of everything that goes into making a wedding and a wedding only lasts one day. When you open a store, you never think about it closing, you only think about opening another one. The second location only happens if the first one is successful. I had to make the grand opening not only successful but also memorable.

But first loyal reader let me tell you why I am spending so much time writing about GAYNORS. GAYNORS is how Nailco got started. Moreover, Nailco only got started in GAYNORS because of my obsession with customer satisfaction (I would later coin it “customer success”). Here is the genius idea that led to Nailco: I put clipboards with lined paper and pens at the end of each aisle.

The paper had a heading “Customer Requests.” I could only predict what our customers wanted, but if I was wrong, I wanted to know about it and, more importantly, know what they really wanted. I was shocked at how many items customers would write down each day and that is why just a few months after opening I completely revamped the store.

I spent weeks deciding how I was going to differentiate GAYNORS from other discount HBA retailers. We had four huge windows in the front of the store. I didn’t need them because I put the sample size racks against the windows and the sunlight would do nothing good to the merchandise. Stealing ideas from NYC, I hired a designer that decorated the windows with seasonal themes. Not only did it give an inviting appearance to shoppers from outside the store, the displays blocked most of the natural light coming into the store.

I bought vests and jackets for all the employees with our logo. Our color theme was red and white. I wanted customers to know who GAYNORS employees were. I also made business cards for the makeup artists to pass out to customers thanking them for their business (and to refer a friend!).

Aisle six was where the real money was, and I wanted to make our makeup and fragrance department stand out. I installed elegant carpeting, attractive lighting, and beautiful built-in displays that allowed for product testing. The two licensed cosmeticians wore white lab coats with our logo.

The store would be spotless at all times. We did not have public restrooms but made sure the employee restrooms were always clean. We had nice white plastic shopping bags and Monarch price tags with our logo. I wanted customers to feel shopping at GAYNORS was an experience and one they would share with their family and friends.

The store had to have fully stocked shelves. I opened an account with the biggest wholesale drug distributor, Frank W. Kerr, to fill in when we sold out of best-selling products. It sucked because it wasn’t profitable, but it was worth it because it made the customers happy.

Everything was in place, and I just needed a grand opening event idea to draw women. Back in 1981, the most popular TV shows were soap operas such as All My Children, General Hospital, and The Young and the Restless. I hired a talent agency and they contracted the lead actors from All My Children. The cost was $10,000 for an hour (actually it was $25,000 with expenses and agency fees), but I knew it would be a smash hit.

To put the cost in perspective, my father borrowed $200,000 to open the store. This was a big investment for a grand opening. Now let’s find out if it was worth it or not.

Life Lesson Tip: Mediocrity never wins first place. Your product or service has to stand out from the competition. Here are some ideas you can use: color, font, graphics, packaging, endorsements, certifications, ingredient(s), size, and price point. Like beauty manufacturers, decide if your product is mass, masstige, or prestige.


Adam Harris was born in coal country, right in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. His father, Gregory, worked the mines every day and came home to his best friend, Jim Beam. Gregory had many frie


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