Do You Sell Value?

On a recent trip to Costa Rica, I came across two small boys at a shop near the cloud forests of Monteverde.   These very precocious and animated children came up to me with a warm greeting.  “Hello, Mr.”, one said  in perfect english holding an open wooden box.  “We will sell you three of these coins for one dollar.”

Always interested in a bargain and being a lifelong entrepreneur, I enjoy interacting with enterprising children.  I am a sucker for lemonade stands, bake sales, car washes and the like.  I love to encourage entrepreneurship.

In this particular case, I was especially enamored of Hector and Roberto.   They carried a small box that held their various coins and a couple of U.S. dollars.  They proudly showed me their collection and told me “this is fifty and this one is a hundred” as they turned the coins over and showed me the pictures on each.  They demonstrated the colors and shapes as we enjoyed an animated repartee over what they had to sell and what I was willing to spend for it.  Now 1 U.S. dollar is worth about 500 colones, but these boys didn’t blink an eye as they offered me the equivalent of about 25 cents for my dollar.  It made no diference to them that I could get these coins as change everywhere else.  Even at their young age, Hector and Roberto seemed to understand the true meaning of value.

In the end, I turned over $10 u.s. dollars for about $1 worth of coins…which I immediately returned to them so they could sell them to another “customer.”  Bottom line…I gave them $10 and received nothing tangible in return.  But I was pleased, indeed thrilled, to do so.

As I contemplated this exchange during the rest of our trip, I thought about the meaning of value.  In reality, Hector and Roberto provided me with the equivalent of a couple of nickles and a dime in exchange for $10.   But the coins weren’t their product…and I wasn’t a sucker.  I knew what I was doing and Hector and Roberto knew what they were selling.   I turned over my currency in exchange for an enjoyable fifteen minute exchange with a couple of animated and charming young men who talked about their product, and their beautiful country, with a level of confidence beyond their young age.   And that, to me, was priceless.  I was the one who got the best deal.   Yes, I could obtain a few colones anywhere for par.  But I couldn’t get Hector and Roberto anywhere else.   Hector and Roberto weren’t selling coins…they were selling themselves.

In today’s world, so many of my readers struggle with concern about patients taking their Rxs and heading off to the internet to buy the “same product” for less.  But taking a lesson from Hector and Roberto, I ask you to step back and consider what it is that you sell.  Do you really sell eyewear or an eye exam?   I don’t think so.

The reality is that you sell YOU…and if you’re smart, you’ll make YOU a unique experience.   And if you invest in your patient experience and make it something truly special and memorable, your patients won’t go anywhere else.  Sure, some may go off and look for the bargain…but they’ll be back.  Like Hector and Roberto selling coins that can be obtained anywhere, consumers can get frames and lenses anywhere.  But they can’t get YOU anywhere.  They can’t get YOU down the street.

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