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Tag Archives: restaurants

How To Shop

Clothing for entering a blast freezer

This is what I should have been wearing!

Many years ago, when I was in the wholesale food business with my father and brother, we got a new customer who sold to many high-end restaurants. Many would recognize the names of these famous Hollywood eateries, all of which were very successful and (bonus) somewhat recession-proof. This was a very good thing for us, as it provided a substantial boost to our gross income. I became the schlepper; the one who had to drive around every morning and pick up the items our new customer needed to service his clientele. I did not mind. I was young and full of energy and truly enjoyed arising very early in the morning to greet the day.

My job meant driving around every morning, picking up the items that had been ordered and getting them to our customer’s location, where they would be either stored temporarily prior to delivery, or further prepared for later  delivery to their customers. Generally, three days of the week required me to enter as blast freezer that was forty degrees below zero; so cold that it had no solid doors, merely thick plastic curtains as a safety measure, ensuring no one could be accidentally locked in. The freezer was huge and the doors big enough to accommodate a large forklift laden with several palettes of product.

I never had to pick up more than I could carry out by hand, so I wasn’t in there for very long. As a result, I made the decision not to spend the money to purchase the kind of clothing that I would have needed had I been required to spend more than a few minutes in that freezer. I would put on a sweatshirt above my regular shirt, a jacket, and a white butcher’s coat on top of that. Still, I can’t recall a time I was in there more than a minute before I found myself wondering what it would be like to freeze to death. It was painful almost from the instant I pushed aside those curtains and stepped inside!

This meant I would generally stand outside of the freezer for a few minutes and mentally chart the shortest course to pick up what I needed, which would facilitate a quick retrieval and egress. With the exception of stationery stores, which I view as museums of contemporary business practices (and which have those sacred items, paper and writing materials, enshrined within), this is how I have since shopped for everything. I suspect most men do the same, despite never having had to enter a forty below blast freezer. It’s how we roll.

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The Prime Discriminator is Within

Edward Ladd & Sons

Company Jacket created by Cat’s Pyjamas

As an opening aside, I find it an interesting statement about the immediacy of the Internet that I would hesitate to share an article or blog post I encountered because it’s more than a week since it was published. Nevertheless, I did hesitate when I came across this particular article in Fast Company. I ended up sharing it on my Facebook Fan page and I’m going to share it here, with a little bit of personal annotation.

Many years ago, when I was in my family’s wholesale food business, I realized what I found to be a very sobering fact. As long as we weren’t manufacturing or producing anything, the only way to stand out from the crowd was to provide service over and above everyone else. Anyone can buy and sell items that are readily available and this was surely true of food. We could break the ice with price, but that was ultimately a losing proposition as the customers we sold to would inevitably leave us for someone offering a lower price.

However, not everyone could provide exceptional service. As a result, we were constantly thinking of ways in which we could provide value that others didn’t even think of. One way to do this is to just be available. When a restaurant runs out of product for whatever reason – whether it be unexpectedly busy days or flat-out stupidity in anticipating certain inevitably busy days – always being there and coming through was one way to stand out.

But that wasn’t enough. I think the real discriminator was the mind-set that our relationship with our customers was more than just seller-buyer; it was that of partners. Such a mindset had us thinking as though we were in their shoes and, frequently, it made enough of a difference in how we anticipated their needs and even helped them understand their needs in ways they weren’t always capable of. I think it worked pretty well while I was there.

So when I read this article today I was both intrigued and somewhat satisfied. I never thought of what we were doing as anything other than providing good service. I didn’t realize it was providing a special customer experience. Back then, as the article points out, customer experience wasn’t what it is today, but in our little corner of the world – in the kind of business we were engaged in at the time – it was what we were providing.

Now, it seems, it’s what everybody needs to do . . . and I agree. Here’s a quote from the article I’m referencing:

You don’t have to take my word for this. Over the last five years we’ve been running a study in which we ask consumers to rate the customer experience at companies they do business with. What we can now prove is that customer experience correlates to loyalty. Specifically, it correlates highly to willingness to consider for another purchase, willingness to recommend, and reluctance to switch to a different provider. In other words, if you want that next sale, if you want good word of mouth, and if you want to keep your customers, it’s unlikely that anything else you do matters more than delivering a superior experience.

Indeed!

Here’s the link. You can read the whole thing at Fast Company. It’s well worth it, even if it is almost two weeks old.

http://www.fastcompany.com/3000350/why-customer-experience-only-thing-matters

Enjoy


Hey! Long Time, No See.

Putting The Pieces Together

These Trying Times

So . . . I haven’t written much lately. I had been writing about things I believe will be helpful to the people and organizations I’m beginning to work with to build their businesses in these trying times. This has been, however, a period of transition for me and sometimes I feel the need to concentrate on what I’m doing, as well as on my current clients and others who have expressed an interest in using my services. One of those services is not yet writing a blog; at least not this one.

The last few weeks have been quite interesting for me. I’ve been working in earnest with two larger clients, both of whom require a lot of attention and even more learning on my part. They are helping me continue my journey from the corporate world to the world of small business. The differences are stark and, sometimes, very challenging to deal with competently. Frightening is a word that comes to mind some times as well.

I live in a comparatively small town. Simi Valley has a population – according to the last census – of nearly 125,000 people. Not tiny by a long shot, but pretty small compared to its neighbor, Los Angeles. Everybody doesn’t know everybody, but it can seem that way at times. It took a while, but I finally settled on a business model I though made sense and, slowly but surely, it seems to be working out. The model is simple. Provide social media marketing coaching for small businesses.

The model may be simple, but I’m discovering the execution of that model is fraught with difficulty. I think there are two things that make selling my services so hard. The first has to do with the lack of understanding – and misunderstanding – of the role social media plays in marketing one’s products or services; the second is tied to the economics of very small businesses and the current state of the economy. I am addressing the former in several different ways, but the latter is something I have little control over.

What’s both interesting and frustrating is that various surveys are showing greater and greater acceptance of social media within large organizations, but it doesn’t seem to be translating into the same interest and use by small businesses. For instance, I am working with a small development company/landlord that has approximately 30 retail tenants. All of these businesses could benefit from the use of social media to market themselves.

They are a combination of restaurants, retail shops, service organizations, and professionals – each with slightly different but closely related needs when it comes to marketing. The landlord is very supportive of the tenants, always looking for ways to increase traffic and visibility of their businesses. They’ve even offered to underwrite some of my services, and I’ve endeavored to offer a package that would be both useful and quite affordable.

Regardless, it feels like pulling teeth to get most of these businesses to take advantage of either the services available to them or the coaching and analysis I can offer in their proper use. This is an ongoing battle I’m not willing to forsake at this time, as I am committed to seeing my little town weather this economic storm and, if at all possible, even thrive. I’m working on different methods to help and am hopeful that some combination of offers will allow me to be both useful and modestly profitable. In addition, I hope to share more and more of what I’m discovering as I travel this new road. Stay tuned.

Photo Credit:

Winston-Salem-SEO.com


Can I Add an Extra Leg on That Stool For You?

It used to be there were essentially three things a restaurant could do to attract, satisfy, and keep customers; three things they had virtually total control over, not counting advertising and marketing, which has almost always been about pricing (coupons, two-for-ones, etc.):

  1. The quality of food

  2. The quality and attentiveness of service

  3. Atmosphere or ambience

These three things can be broken down into lots of sub-areas, e.g. type of food, number of choices, speed of preparation, cleanliness (or decor) of the bathrooms, etc., but just about everything restaurant owners and their staff have control over comes down to these three choices. Much like the mantra heard in large, project focussed organizations says, “Quality – Price – Speed. You May Choose Two“,  people might overlook one of these if the other two met or exceeded their expectations, but provide them with only one and it better be extraordinary if you want to survive for very long.

If your patrons are dissatisfied with any of these, they might decide sacrificing one for the other two is worthwhile. They might even think it’s a good bargain. On the other hand, they might not be happy about it and not only refuse to return, but also tell their friends if the subject happens to come up. If they had a particularly bad experience – say, a surly or inattentive waiter or a dish that wasn’t prepared properly – they could tell you and, if you cared at all, you could comp their meal or offer them a refund, etc. Unfortunately for many, a lot of people will not say a word; they just won’t come back.

Well, things have changed; dramatically, in my opinion. Thanks to the ever-growing popularity of location-based applications for smart phones, as well as the addition to those applications of review-writing and gaming aspects, this is no longer the case. People who are dissatisfied – I mean truly dissatisfied for good reason – have a bully pulpit from which to share their grief, and it’s no longer confined to just their friends and acquaintances.

The two services I am most familiar with inhabit two similar, yet distinct niches in this expanding field. They are Foursquare and Yelp. If you own a restaurant, or a retail shop, or even a service-based business and you don’t participate in these two applications, you are really missing out on a great bargain and, perhaps, even hurting your ability to compete. Here’s what you need to do.

  1. Go to both of these services and claim your venue. Upon doing so, you will have access to tools designed specifically to help you take advantage of their offering
  2. Complete as much information as they provide space for, e.g. business name, address, phone number, hours of service, general pricing, photos (especially good for pictures of food creations and other products), etc.
  3. On Yelp, create an offer (much like a coupon, but free!)
  4. On Foursqaure, create a special and, once you understand how it works and you have lots of foot traffic, a Mayor’s special as well
  5. Encourage your patrons to share their experiences or to provide tips (in Yelp and Foursquare, respectively)

Doing these reasonably simple things will give you access to the basic tools you need to start taking advantage of these powerful location-based services. Remember, if your marketing and advertising are only reaching people who read papers and their junk mail, or who only use the Internet, you’re addressing a shrinking part of the population. Young people are all carrying smart phones, and they’re talking to each other or, in the case of those who use Foursquare and Yelp, they’re actually playing games with one another as they use them. Why not have them spend their time at your place?

I will be writing more about some of the specific ways in which you can take advantage of these two services and truly engage with your customers/clients/patients, as well as explaining the value of other, similar services like Urban Spoon, Groupon, and local listing services you can take advantage of.

There is such as thing as bad publicity. Maybe not for someone who can thrive on notoriety, but most small business owners would soon be looking for a job if they were unfortunate enough to receive it. However, you can’t have enough good publicity, even if it’s only getting your name out in as many places as possible. Caveat here: You don’t want to spread yourself too thin, as each of these services may be free, but they require some time and energy to use properly.


The Wisdom of Engagement

Foursquare and Yelp Logos

Two "Big Hitters" for Retail

I just came across a couple of quotes that rather succinctly state the issue anyone using Social Media for marketing needs to keep in mind with respect to engagement with their customers. I think it comes from some of the activity surrounding a virtual Enterprise 2.0 Conference event. I picked them up in my tweet stream. I wasn’t able to attend, but found them because I have a continuing search on the hashtag #e2conf, which keeps me in the loop.

These two quotes appear to be traceable to Sameer Patel, a man I admire for his business savvy and knowledge of social media engagement. I have been using the tag line “People are talking. Are you listening?” His quotes are a bit longer than my tag line, but I think they state the issue rather well:

Part of the problem is trying to “control the message”. The conversation will happen with or without you.

This is one of the things that I’m trying to get across to some of the small businesses (I’m beginning with restaurants) I’ve been working with. The other line is even more important:

Your brand perception is now in the hands of strangers. Isn’t it time you got to know them?

This is so important for small retail establishments to understand. With the advent of services like Foursquare and Yelp, the conversations about their businesses are already taking place. They need to, at the very least, claim their venues in each of these and get involved in the conversation. If a customer has a bad experience, don’t you want to know about it? Don’t you want to have the opportunity to make it right . . . publicly?

It’s true and it’s only going to get “worse”. People ARE talking. Shouldn’t you at least be listening? Better yet, why not engage with them. I’m convinced the process will strengthen your relationships with your customers and do wonders to make you more accessible and easy to do business with.


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