Many startups err by trying to be all things to all people.

The decision is driven by a belief that they must offer a wide range of products in order to generate sufficient sales.

In fact, the opposite is a more likely to be true. Repeat customers return to a store because of a predictable, positive experience. New customers come in because of an expected outcome created by advertising, publicity or word-of-mouth. When customers are confused, they don't buy.

A successful firm matches its investment with revenue expectations based on what its target market is willing to pay. For example, large hotel chains such as Marriott have created different brands (for example, Fairfield Inn, Courtyard by Marriott, JW Marriott) each with its own style, features, and pricing. Each caters to a specific segment such as families on vacation, budget-conscious business travelers, and business people who require exceptional service and amenities.

Small businesses don't have the resources to establish multiple brands so they must select one. If it chooses to be a high-end retail store, it must create the image that its customers expect. Its location should be in a high-end shopping area with a sales staff that is attentive and well informed. The merchandise is displayed in a classic or even elegant manner.

Customers who frequent a low-cost or value retailer expect a more functional presentation. Less investment in the surroundings translates to lower prices.

Each element in the sales experience supports and reinforces the next. Tiffany's would not work in a warehouse setting. The surroundings would undermine the image of its exceptional and unique products.

These concepts exist across all types of products and markets, including cars, clothing, restaurants, groceries, vacation resorts, homes, travel and furniture. It is hard to find a successful company that offers a product or service based on a one-size-fits-all strategy.

The key is to research your markets thoroughly and then establish a combination of price and benefits that meets their expectations.

Ralph Hershberger is president of SCORE Southern Arizona, a nonprofit group that offers free small-business counseling and mentoring by appointment at several locations. For more information, go to, send email to or call 505-3636.