Successful small firms are coming up with novel ways to connect with their customers, as the BBC’s Jane O’Brien reports from Washington DC.

Jordan Mittelman is obsessed with cycling – a passion he’s harnessed to launch an award-winning business in the heart of Washington DC. The US capital already has a large number of bike shops, and Mr Mittelman knew his High Street store, Bicycle Space, could only succeed by offering customers more than competitive prices and good service.

“People can find all the products we sell online, and are often so well-read and knowledgeable. They’ve looked up every detail and come in knowing so much,” he says. ”To sell to those people you have to appeal to something greater – we’re selling a lifestyle and an experience.” Marketers call this insight selling.

“It’s learning about the consumer in order to offer the product in a new way that doesn’t rely on hard sell,” explains Patrick Spenner, managing director of CEB, a global business advisory company that has its headquarters in Washington DC. ”For example, I’m a cyclist. I cycle to work regularly and I struggle with finding safe paths. Wouldn’t it be great if my local bike shop could use digital media to connect me with other consumers to share information about safer routes? That’s bringing ‘insight’ to me about something broader than just my bike. And it creates an attachment to the business that enabled me to gain that insight.”

Mr Mittelman knows his customers enjoy the sense of community he and his staff help to create by organising bike rides and group maintenance workshops. ”People want to be a part of something and come to a place where they’ll be taken care of. We’re really a social gathering spot and an essential place to learn about bikes, use them and have a good time,” he says.

Read more on the BBC site…