In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Nilofer Merchant wrote that “People buy two categories of things: The distinct, and the generic. The distinct items are the things that have a limited quantity, that are artisanal in nature, and that are worth paying a premium for. The generic items are, well, the things you might find on Amazon.”

This is a very important concept for small business owners. I have talked with many of you about the importance of not competing on price, but instead providing such superior value that customers are happy to pay higher rates for your products and services. As Ms. Merchant implies, if your offerings are generic and readily available elsewhere, consumers won’t pay a premium for them.

Now, I know what many of you are thinking right now: “I’m a plumber (or a landscaper, or a widget manufacturer, or a software developer)… the products and services I offer simply aren’t distinct or artisanal. Does that mean I’m doomed to competing on the basis of price forever?”

No, it doesn’t. Because here is the secret: just because your products and services are relatively common doesn’t mean that the customer experience you create can’t be distinct and uniquely valuable.

Countless fortunes have been made by businesses that took a common product or service and transformed it into something unique. Apple springs to mind as an example, the first iPhone was released in 2007, well after the emergence of “smart phones” into the marketplace. BlackBerry, for instance, had already been in the market for five years. But thanks to the leadership and vision of the late Steve Jobs and his team, Apple was able to completely revolutionize the market for smart phones. The iPhone is still a market leader today, thanks largely to the unique value they provide—as well as the culture of customer service that Apple has developed.

On the more mundane side, check out 1-800-Got-Junk (  Clean trucks, neatly dressed crews, same day service, easy prices, book online. Very different than the average local junk man.