This Pro Wrestler Turned Cannoli Baker Shows How Small Businesses Can Leverage Themselves Against the Competition

There are plenty of things small businesses can offer their customers that big businesses can't.

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By Tony Ricca

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Having spent most of my life as a professional wrestler for the WWE, I learned a thing or two about marketing. There are uncanny parallels between being a professional wrestler and a small-business owner that have helped me take my success from in the ring into my small local bakery business Cannoli World. Professional wrestlers who fail to give the crowds what they want don't last long on the circuit. And, small-business owners who fail to give their customers what they're looking for, don't last long in business.

Related: Why Storytelling Will Continue to Be the Go-To Marketing Strategy in 2018

Whereas small businesses can rarely undersell their competitors, they can offer things to their customers that big businesses simply cannot. Here are four ways small businesses can leverage themselves against the competition that have worked for me and can work for you too.

1. Tell a compelling brand story.

Small businesses attract customers when they have a compelling brand story that resonates with their customer base.

I grew up in the bakery business, which wasn't as glamorous as it sounds. While other kids in my neighborhood were out playing, I would spend most of my time outside of school helping my father in the bakery. In fact, by the time I would go to school in the morning, I had been up for hours baking. My compelling brand story is a very personal story of how my father taught me to bake, and how I put his legacy into every traditional old-world cannoli my bakery sells.

What is your brand story? The more personal, the better.

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2. Put the customer first.

Too often we as entrepreneurs create a product that we fall in love with, and then wonder why we have no customers. I always do the opposite. When my wrestling fans or bakery customers ask for something, I turn myself inside out to make it happen. After all, my role as a business person is to serve them. If I continue to give my customers what they ask for, they will keep coming back for more.

This includes going to where my customers are congregating. When my customers can't come to me, I send a food truck to them. This translates online as well. If my customers are not coming to my website, then I proliferate my content to the places where they are hanging out.

Putting the customer first means always looking outward, giving the customers what they want and bringing your product or service to your customer, rather than waiting for your customer to come to you. For me, I'm always putting the customer first, whether it's stoking the cheering crowd in the ring, signing autographs, polling my customers as to the next best cannoli flavor or bringing cannolis to their door.

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3. Get personal.

While appealing to a large crowd of roaring fans may require great showmanship, showmanship only goes so far. What really matters are the individual relationships I develop with each fan and customer. These relationships drive my business, both inside the ring and inside the bakery. I take time to get to know my customers, and just as important, I allow them to get to know me. My customers know as much about growing up in my father's bakery, and about my daughter's gymnastics achievements, as they know about my own wrestling credentials.

Running a small business, I can get personal and develop these relationships that big businesses never can. By getting personal with my customers, I gain their trust, showing them that there is much more to a cannoli than flour and sugar. It's these relationships, first and foremost, that bring customers to my bakery Cannoli World and it's the quality of my product that keeps them coming back, again and again.

Related: 4 Ways Small Businesses Can Compete Against the Major Competitors

4. Be the best with what you have.

At 5'9", I have never been a match for my larger and bulkier opponents. As such, I was compelled to get resourceful, developing a persona and style that fit with my demeanor.

As a small-business owner, you too need to find that unique value proposition that only you can offer. Figure out what makes you stand out, and then do that to the best of your ability. Though I may not own the biggest cannoli franchise in the world, I make sure that my cannolis are the best, crafting them from scratch using fresh, authentic ingredients, in a way that my mass-producing competitors could never replicate.

What makes your small business stand out? How are you different than your larger competitors? When you find a way to leverage those differences into your best assets, get personal with your customers and always seek to serve your customer's interests above your own, you will tap into a continuous stream of new and repeat customers that will grow your business organically and dramatically. Top that off with a compelling brand story, and you have a winning formula for success you can use again and again.

Related Video: How to Come Out on Top in a Competitive Market

Tony Ricca

Former WWE Pro Wrestler and Founder of Cannoli World

Tom Ricca is an American professional wrestler, known in the ring by Tony Ricca, The Pharaoh, Nicky Sauce and The Hammonton Hitman. He is also the promoter of the NJ-based promotion AKW Arena Kaged Wrestling, and founder of Cannoli World, the premier bakers of old world cannolis in Hammonton, NJ.

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