Alpha Dogs: How Your Small Business Can Become a Leader of the Pack

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Outsmart your competitors, leap to the head of the pack, and become an alpha dog!

How does an average company distinguish itself in the marketplace, generate higher sales than its competitors, and earn the lasting loyalty of customers and employees?

Alpha Dogs tells the inspiring stories of savvy entrepreneurs who discovered the perfect formula and rose to the top. In her personal and probing style, Donna Fenn, a twenty-year veteran of Inc. ...

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Alpha Dogs: How Your Small Business Can Become a Leader of the Pack

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Outsmart your competitors, leap to the head of the pack, and become an alpha dog!

How does an average company distinguish itself in the marketplace, generate higher sales than its competitors, and earn the lasting loyalty of customers and employees?

Alpha Dogs tells the inspiring stories of savvy entrepreneurs who discovered the perfect formula and rose to the top. In her personal and probing style, Donna Fenn, a twenty-year veteran of Inc. magazine, introduces eight men and women who share their hard-earned insights and practical tips—from Chris Zane, whose retail bike shop has perfected the art of customer service, to Deb Weidenhamer, who transformed a sleepy auction house with her innovative use of technology. Alpha Dogs is a practical guidebook for every current and aspiring self-starter who wants to stand out and succeed.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Alpha dogs" in business not only have a passion for their companies and a talent for seeing opportunities where others see limitations, they also rise above their competitors to become leaders of the pack. Longtime Inc. magazine writer Fenn's breezy and informative book highlights eight such small-company entrepreneurs, among them Chris Zane, whose Connecticut bicycle store brings in $6.1 million a year, and Deb Weidenhamer, whose Arizona auction and appraisal company earns $11.5 million. In chapters with titles like "Seduce Your Customers" and "Transform with Technology," Fenn puts forth each entrepreneur's business as a case study in how to overcome a particular problem-from the Amy's Ice Cream company's efforts to build a hometown reputation to the sock manufacturer Thor-Lo's efforts to innovate sport socks for a changing industry. Practical tips at the end of each chapter highlight the lessons learned, and at the end of the book a conclusion identifies the key behaviors that make up "Alpha Dog DNA." For small-business owners looking to give their enterprise a boost, this practical and chatty book provides solid strategies for shifting into high gear. (Dec.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Fenn (Inc. magazine) relates eight small-business success stories in a casual, conversational style. Beginning each chapter with the company name, business type, location, revenues, number of employees, founder, year founded, and URL, Fenn goes on to explain precisely how each became a "leader of the pack," including a list of proven, practical tips from the business owner and other people. Readers will learn how Amy Simmons started with one successful ice cream shop and expanded it to 12 stores in Austin, TX, while competing with giants like Ben & Jerry's and Cold Stone Creamery. Then there's Chris Zane, who took an ordinary, independent bicycle shop in Connecticut to new heights by perfecting the art of customer service. These case studies make up a useful, entertaining guide to how small businesses can achieve unusual growth and strong market positions through the hard work, vision, and outstanding management skills of a leader. Good for any business collection.-Susan C. Awe, Univ. of New Mexico Lib., Albuquerque Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Pat Williams
“This book is going to be the next Good to Great. It’s that important.”
John Case
“Read it! These stories will inspire and instruct any entrepreneur who wants to build a truly distinctive and durable business.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781615558438
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/8/2007
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 7.98 (w) x 10.88 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Meet the Author

Donna Fenn is a long-time contributing editor at Inc. magazine and a small business evangelist. She lives in Pelham, New York.

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Read an Excerpt

Alpha Dogs

How Your Small Business can become a Leader of the Pack
By Donna Fenn

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Donna Fenn
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060758678

Chapter One

Lead the Pack

If you own one of the 5.7 million small businesses in the United States, or are tempted to take the leap of faith required to start one, there's good news and bad news. Every year, 10% of small businesses-a half million or so-shut down for good; a quarter of all businesses never make it past their second year; 60% close after six years.

Today, small companies are up against an unprecedented set of challenges:

  • Consumers are more educated, demanding, and fickle than ever before.

  • Consolidation in nearly every imaginable industry is breeding behemoth competitors.

  • Technology is enabling tiny competitors to look much bigger and allowing bigger competitors to forge more intimate relationships with customers-maybe your customers.

  • Saturation of the marketplace by a growing number of products and services is making it even more difficult for small businesses to distinguish and differentiate themselves.

Under those circumstances, who in their right mind could expect to be a shining star in the vast entrepreneurial firmament?

You'd be surprised. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor research program, established by Babson College and the London Business School, more than one in ten adult Americans is now starting or growing a new business; every year, more than 500,000 new start-up companies replace those that have gone under. In spite of the odds, it seems that entrepreneurs are relentlessly optimistic. The good news: they have every reason to be.

Even as small companies are facing new hurdles, they're also being presented with a fresh set of opportunities. There's never been a better or more exciting time to be a small business owner, or a more critical time to begin transforming your company into a leader of the pack. Here are seven reasons why:

  1. Goliath Backlash. With 2004 revenues of $256.3 billion, WalMart Stores, Inc., now accounts for more than 5% of total U.S. retail sales. But wherever you find one of their 3,600 stores, you're also likely to find a heated community debate: the retailing colossus promises low prices and jobs (albeit low-wage ones) for local residents, but will it also threaten mom-and-pop businesses and turn downtown into a ghost town?

  2. Some communities have even lobbied successfully to keep WalMart out: in the spring of 2005, for example, small business owners, City Council members, and union officials in the Rego Park neighborhood of Queens, New York, were so vocal and persistent in their opposition to a proposed Wal-Mart (New York City's first) that the developer scrapped the plan. Sprawl-Busters, a national organization founded by anti-Wal-Mart activist Al Norman in 1993, lists on its Web site 248 communities that have won battles against Wal-Mart and other big-box retailers. Of course, they are the exception, not the rule, but the very existence of such groups is telling.

    The Wal-Marts, Home Depots, and Targets of the world are certainly here to stay for the foreseeable future, but their dominance and prevalence have caused a backlash among a growing number of consumers who are becoming tired of their predictability and conformity. And while these folks may not go as far as the activists who boycott the big boxes entirely, they are more and more likely to gravitate toward the more civilized and manageable local businesses that provide an antidote to the crowded aisles of superstores.

  3. Proliferation of Small Business Alliances. All over the United States, local small businesses are responding to Goliath backlash by uniting to make themselves more powerful, visible, and attractive to consumers eager to support their local economies. Back in 1998, a Boulder, Colorado, bookstore owner named David Bolduc formed a local alliance of small businesses with community activists Jeff Milchen and Jennifer Rockne. Within two years, the Boulder Independent Business Alliance grew to more than 160 members, who publish a directory of locally owned businesses, form joint purchasing groups, distribute discount cards to the community; and offer one another valuable business advice.

  4. The group attracted so much national attention that the founders also launched the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) to provide advice and a template to other small business communities seeking to form similar affiances. "In our first two years, we had 120 inquiries," says Rockne. "The idea really caught fire." Since then, AMIBA has helped start twenty affiances that represent thousands of small businesses.

    And in 2001, entrepreneurs Judy Wicks (founder of the White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia) and Laury Hammel (owner of Longfellow Clubs in the Boston area) formed another umbrella group for local alliances called the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). BALLE now has 19 member networks in the United States and Canada; its second annual conference, held in May 2004 in Philadelphia, attracted nearly 250 people from 25 states.

    The proliferation of local alliances is great news for small business. Not only do their members pool resources and share best practices, but they often join together to brand themselves as local businesses.

  5. Escalation of Consumer Rage. Consumers have never been as demanding as they are today. Whether we're picking up dry cleaning, working with a contractor, choosing a phone service, or getting a haircut, our expectations for quality and service are higher than ever before. The marketplace is so flooded with products and services that we all can afford to be picky. And high-speed Internet access, satellite television, and advanced telecommunications allow us to gather and sort through reams of information to find exactly the right company to meet our needs. Moreover, we don't hesitate to shift our loyalty if we're disappointed.

  6. In 2004, the Customer Care Alliance, an Alexandria, Virginia-based consortium of customer service firms, partnered with Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business to conduct the National Customer Rage Study. Of the 1,000 people who were surveyed about their customer service problems during the previous 12 months, 77% said their problem was caused by a large company; 73% reported being extremely or very upset; 85% shared their story with others; and 59% vowed never again to do business with the offending company.


Excerpted from Alpha Dogs by Donna Fenn Copyright © 2005 by Donna Fenn. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 Lead the pack 5
2 Seduce your customers : Chris Zane : Zane's cycles 14
3 Convert your employees into true believers : Norman Mayne : Dorothy Lane market 37
4 Transform with technology : Deb Weidenhamer : auction systems auctioneers & appraisers 60
5 Stake a hometown claim : Amy Simmons : Amy's ice creams 84
6 Innovate the mundane : Jim Throneburg : THOR-LO 107
7 Market your brand, inside and out : Trish Karter : dancing deer baking company 131
8 Build a village : PRConsultants Group 155
9 Embrace reinvention : Mike Schwartz : Mike's famous Harley-Davidson 178
Alpha dog DNA 200
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