How Cleveland businesses can stand out from the crowd

Pennello Gallery, based in the heart of historical Little Italy Cleveland

There are so many amazing small businesses that have added to the vibrancy and energy of Cleveland over the years but the landscape keeps changing. Many small business owners agree that after a few years in business, it becomes more challenging to differentiate your business and stand out in the eyes of your customers.

More than ever, business owners must find ways to distinguish themselves and build meaningful relationships with their customers to ensure they continue to grow their business and be successful in the long term. Here are 4 ways small business owners can stand out from the rest.

Ensure a stellar customer experience

It’s not just about what you’re selling or providing, it’s how you do it — the entire customer experience. “One thing a customer never forgets is how you made them feel,” said Ramon Ray, four-time entrepreneur and best-selling author.

For Sue Cahn, co-director of Pennello Gallery, business location was key. “We’re located in the Heart of Historical Little Italy Cleveland, which gives our gallery a sense of uniqueness and community unlike other storefront businesses,” said Cahn. “We have been described by many customers as colorful, magical and a place where everyone feels at home by the staff.”

A memorable customer experience often gets talked about which is a surefire way to drive growth and revenue. On the flip side, a poor customer experience can be detrimental to your business. With social media, everyone has access to broadcasting their thoughts so the connections you make are critical. 

“Get to know your customers, and make sure you are providing them with the most convenient and pleasant customer service experience possible — from the moment they walk in the door to the point of sale,” said Ray.

“We specialize in only American, Canadian and Israeli fine art and craft, most of which is unique to Ohio, and also offer one-of-kind pieces of art,” said Cahn. “Our price points vary to meet different customer needs and budgets.”

Deliver speed and convenience

Speed and convenience are also extremely important.  Accepting digital point-of-sale payments or credit cards like American Express help your customers pay whatever way they want. A survey found that 45 percent of millennials won’t do business with a merchant that doesn’t accept credit cards; 37 percent of Generation Xers and 33 percent of baby boomers feel the same way.

If your business does not yet accept credit card payments, you’ll be happy to know that American Express changed the way it works with small businesses through their OptBlue program. Merchant providers set the rate, not American Express, so you could find a better rate for your business.

American Express has also made some big investments in how it backs merchants, including enhancing fraud-prevention capabilities, updating merchant policies and other changes that help merchants reach more Card Members. Over 14,000 more places in the Cleveland-area started accepting American Express Cards in the last year[1].

“Thanks to OptBlue, not only will you have the opportunity to streamline your finances, but you may also notice a number of additional benefits for your business,” adds Ray. On average, annual spend of American Express Card  Members is 3.1X that of Non Card Members[2].

Gather feedback and take action

Find ways to seek out and gather feedback across your entire business network — your employees, vendors and customers — to ensure you can get a diverse perspective, and hopefully honest, perspective on what’s working well and what needs improvement.

“We’re constantly staying in touch with our customers through social media to stay on the pulse of what they’re up to and interested in,” said Cahn. “We offer many monthly events that gets great engagement because they not only showcase new artists but they also give our customers the opportunity to personally engage with the artists themselves.”  

Once you have a good idea on what you need to keep doing and what needs to be adjusted, do it. Often times people gather feedback but don’t take any action. If you ask and people take the time to respond, they will want to know they are heard. By doing so you will build trust and further strengthen your network. Keep lines of communication open and encourage regular feedback. 

Step outside

 Get out and explore your surroundings. What do you love about your favorite shops and services from other businesses? What new technologies are popping up that have changed the way you connect with your favorite businesses? Be inspired by stepping out into the world and bringing the best of it all back into your business.  

“As a small business owner myself, I can tell you that it pays to connect with other local business and learn from one another,” said Ray. “They may be facing many of the same challenges as you are, and it helps to get other perspectives when deciding on things like which vendors and partners to use. Ask your neighboring businesses what types of credit cards are they accepting? More and more small businesses in Cleveland are welcoming American Express Cards because of the benefits that come with accepting.”

Standing out in today’s fast paced world isn’t easy, but there is plenty of support and resources out there to distinguish your business from the rest. It pays off to do your research, evaluate options and exceed customers’ expectations. 


To find out how you can start accepting American Express Cards through OptBlue, visit or contact your merchant service provider directly.

[1] Source:  American Express; based on internal comparison of American Express small merchant locations in December 2016 to American Express small merchant locations in December 2017.

[2] Nilson Report #1,125, February 2018. Spend per card derived from U.S. year-end purchase volume divided by year-end cards in force (CIF), not from individual consumer-level data. CIF represents the number of cards issued and outstanding with cardholders. Average Non-American Express spend per card includes Visa, MasterCard and Discover credit and charge card volume and CIF and excludes debit volume and CIF.