What I “learned” about small business marketing from Dalton in the movie Road House

For those folks not of my generation, Road House is a 1980s cult classic movie starring Patrick Swayze as Dalton, a professional bouncer and bar manager. He’s hired to clean-up the crappiest of “joints” and he does it while being the epitome of cool - after all he is the cooler. If you’ve never seen it, which is almost unimaginable, it’s worth the time some rainy weekend or evening.

So how does Dalton the bouncer in Road House translate into marketing advice?

Well, after Dalton accepts the Double Deuce gig, he introduces himself to the staff. He fires some and instructs those left, especially the bouncers, in his three rules:

  1. Never underestimate your opponent, expect the unexpected
  2. Take it outside, never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary
  3. Be nice

Never underestimate your opponent, expect the unexpected

This one is fairly straightforward; in bouncing as in marketing your small business, you have to be vigilant and ready for anything. Your competitors can pivot or change tactics, or new foes can enter the arena, or some market disrupting technology could appear. You have to be alert to changes and new risks in the market and your industry. And you have to deal with them appropriately and immediately.

Take it outside, never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary

This one may seem a bit trickier to apply to small business marketing - but if you look underneath the sentiment you’ll discover underlying truths. In today’s digital and social world you you need to be very careful to avoid the appearance of confrontation or post things that can be easily misconstrued. Sure, it’s not 100% possible to avoid all issues online, but whenever possible, take them offline. Resolve the problem, then encourage the agitator to post about your mutually agreed upon solution.

A good example of this is confronting negative reviews or comments online, in forums, via Yelp, or even on your own site. Comment trails can easily veer off topic and seldom capture all the events clearly. And you can rarely resolve a dispute with a brilliant comment unless you’re the new Mark Twain - so don’t try. Instead, demonstrate your willingness to resolve the grievance and have them contact you by phone (or in person if they’re local). Then, if possible, work out the issue and part ways amicably. If things go really well, perhaps the original poster will post about the happy outcome - or you can, carefully, post a brief description of the resolution. But you must be contrite and apologetic - any wisp of being unrepentant and you’ll fan the flame war all over again.

Be nice

Not that this should need to be said, but it’s remarkable today how often it’s forgotten. Now in the movie, Dalton goes to great lengths describing how no matter what, you should always be nice - regardless of name calling, insults, etc. And this is true whether you’re a bouncer or a small business owner.

At some point you’re going to encounter a bad situation - a disgruntled customer, a problematic vendor, or an unhappy employee - no matter what, you should just be nice. It’s going to be tough, but getting angry or confrontational isn’t going to diffuse a bad situation, and it’ll most likely make it worse. If the problem is serious enough, you can call for backup - and then you’ll both be nice.

It seems like common sense?

Dalton’s advice may seem simple, but it’s very difficult to apply in reality. And as a small business owner, you’re probably not being threatened with switchblades or broken beer bottles - like our man Dalton. But even still, when dealing with business issues, it’s important to follow Dalton’s three simple rules. Be ready for and adapt to change, isolate and resolve problems directly and quickly, and always be nice.

Aug 31, 2013

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