Mark and I were in Singapore about four years ago at a Perry Marshall event.
Perry is undoubtedly one of the real wise men in marketing and after spending a day in a room with him and about 20 other marketers the night we visited the Newton Food Center, everything to what I could think of was what we had learned that day.
But before we get into marketing issues, let’s talk a bit about Newton.
It is one of the few remaining open-air hawker centers in Singapore and was featured in the film Asian Rich Boobies.
It’s also one of the few places in the world where street vendors can earn a Michelin star.
When you enter the place, it’s literally an assault on all the senses – flashing lights, stallholders jostling for tourists’ attention and of course the smell of almost every wonderful spicy Asian dish that you can imagine.
It is also quite close to an economic situation of perfect competition – where there are many competing firms, with similar products sold, equal market share, and buyers having all the information about what is on offer.
Sounds a lot like real estate in some suburbs, doesn’t it?
That night, after a long day cooped up in a conference, it was so hot we almost felt like we were locked in the air conditioning – add to that it was so humid you could literally turn the air off by cubes and put them on a plate.
We walked around for about five minutes in a daze wondering where to sit and what to eat.
I was doing my best to mimic a 360 camera trying to find a table and as I looked in another direction I felt Mark jump.
I turned to see one of the vendors – a man – holding a long neck of Tiger beer to the side of Mark’s face.
Normally you’d be a bit spooked by something glass on the side of your neck, but I think anything cold was welcome at the time.
The beer man proudly proclaimed he had the coldest beer in Newton.
It was also all Mark needed to hear to encourage me to sit down instead of continuing to spin over and over to where I was standing.
Our beer man – let’s call him ‘John’ – had somehow parted the sea of people and two vacant seats had surprisingly opened up right in front of us.
“John” then offered to handle everything for us – even running to other merchants to make sure we didn’t miss anything.
While we were a little puzzled by what just happened, it opened up one of those hypothetical marketing conversations – centered around coopetition, all working together for the good of the consumer.
So right there in an outdoor street food court, we found great food, great service, and some super cool lessons for real estate agents facing this kind of competition.
Lesson 1: In lead generation, know your audience and their pain points
Obviously our main issue when we walked into Newton wasn’t what we were going to eat, but how hot it was and it looked like there were no tables.
But ‘John’ had evidently used his experience with other tourist-looking white faces in the heat to know that if he could solve those two problems before he even breathed the words soy chicken rice, we’d order him our food.
He was right.
We immediately named him our trusted advisor for the night and took each of his recommendations without once asking the price.
He solved the fight.
Lesson 2: Serving the customer is the top priority, even if it’s not your department
John knew he could let us through and we could sit somewhere that wasn’t his territory, and he couldn’t risk losing us as a “trail”.
He not only owned the coldest beer stall in Singapore, but he also had a share in one of the other stalls selling very good Singapore noodles.
But Mark wanted chicken wings and I wanted satay.
“It’s okay,” John said, “I’ll arrange everything for you.”
At one point we asked him why he was happy to go and order food with other vendors, and he pointed to some of the other vendors and said, “We all work together, no bother no more, ah”.
So clearly there was a complete business model based on conjunction and commission-based joint ventures.
This did not stop serving customers.
We ended up with a very reasonable bill – which we were happy with, which seems like a win-win situation on all fronts.
And yes, we ended up ordering his noodles from Singapore.
Lesson 3: If you have one perfect dish, it’s better than five imperfect dishes
Each Hawker sells a few dishes and some of them are similar. I’ve mentioned chicken rice a few times and there are several varieties.
But there is usually a dish that the family or vendor has been perfecting for years, if not generations.
It would be impossible to tell the difference if every stall said they had “the best hawker food in Singapore”.
Instead, there are specific directions to specialties, such as chicken wings, wonton koka noodles, or Singapore pork noodles. (are you still hungry?)
In a real estate context, if property management isn’t totally your thing and you want to focus on developers or sales – could you get project management as a service for your client elsewhere?
The big takeaway
This story of plastic tables and great food ended with ‘John’ getting a decent sized tip that night for looking after us so well.
But that’s not really the end because we’re going back this week, and Mark wonders aloud if John will still be there.
There is no doubt that we will go looking for him, because we still remember four years later the great experience he gave us and the freshness of this beer.
In real estate, everyone would like to claim the number 1 real estate in the market.
And maybe you have some sticker to prove it.
But in a sea of similarity and somewhat perfect competition in real estate, you could draw a parallel with the hawkers saying they have the best street food in Singapore (with a sprinkle of Perry Marshall spice for good measure …)
- In your area, can you nestle in a sub-section of the market (e.g. #1 in apartment sales) and earn the equivalent of a Michelin star in that niche? And then maybe charge a premium for it?
- Can you provide full consumer service, even if that means working with other service providers or people in your area so you can provide a great customer experience?
- Are you listening enough to the customer to solve their initial problem? Because maybe instead of the “big sale” there is a small decision that you can present to them, which is a small commitment. Inevitably, this can lead to greater engagement according to Robert Cialdini’s Laws of Persuasion (more reading about that here).
Can you really differentiate yourself in your business?
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