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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Creating fans forever, even after they are gone

There are so many examples of companies that initially created something awesome for a specific type of customer, only to eventually abandon a loyal subculture of fans in trade for growth and profits and return for investors. For most, it was probably the only way to survive once they passed the point of no return (taking investment, hiring lots of employees, opening offices and introducing loads of complication that required much faster growth). But you can’t blame them - it works - at least from a balance sheet point of view. And that’s what’s important and what business school taught them. They've become a very profitable household name brand, one that is instantly recognizable and on every shelf at every big time retailer. They did it!

But there is a problem now. No one admires what they do anymore.

Their incredibly important ambassadors (the real ones, not the ones they now have to pay) have moved on. They are so disappointed. The people that used to love their products and proudly talk about being a customer are gone. The hard core outdoor folks that use to wear XYZ gear with pride have bailed since big time sporting goods shops start selling their stuff to the masses. The trend setting ladies who used to wear boutique XYZ dresses shutter at the thought of being seen in one now that giant stores (that also sell electronics and groceries) now carry them. And on and on. The very people that these companies designed their products for...the ones who will help them grow without them even asking - have vanished. Was that the plan? Maybe. If you watch Shark Tank - they definitely won’t invest in you unless that’s your plan. It’s sad they do that.

So ex-ambassadors (or fans) are now searching for another company to talk about and love. A company that has a story that they can relate to again and products they are proud to own and use. They are searching for a company that says no to the wrong people - even if it means making less money. They are searching for a company that makes them feel like they are part of a members only club again - one where the story gets better and better over time. Sure, the masses are now buying and the money is pouring in like never before, but the love and the fun and the story are gone.

The good news is there are very successful companies that do take a stand and are not making stuff for anyone who will pay for it. They don't put it on every shelf in every giant store and create annoying ads for stuff that follows you around the internet. They actually choose their customer and say no often. And guess what? They still grow every year. And they end up building enduring relationships with the perfect customers. Customers who love to talk about the company and are proud to be a part of the story. Customers who may even one day out grow what the company provides, yet still admire and recommend them after they are gone.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

"Coffee is definitely trial and error" (new podcast)

Sean Scott owns Subculture Coffee, with locations in West Palm Beach and Delray Beach in Florida. Sean and I spoke about everything from the trust and relationships formed between coffee buyers and the farmers they source their beans from, to the risks of bad weather harming coffee bean crops, to the trial and error of the craft of roasting great coffee, to the importance of having six or more months of working capital when you open your doors, to how everything takes longer than you plan and costs more than you plan when you are starting your first location. This is a very wide-ranging conversation, and Sean offers tons of wisdom and advice for anybody interested not just in coffee, but in the mentality it takes to succeed in the restaurant business. Enjoy...

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"I run my restaurant like I would run Apple" (new podcast)

Bret Oliverio took over Sup Dogs in Greenville, NC in 2011 after his brother, who started the restaurant, tragically passed away in a house fire. Bret had no restaurant experience and had to learn everything from how to tap a keg, how to manage his staff, how to implement portion controls, how to generate consistent profits, how to ... well, how to do EVERYTHING it takes to run a successful restaurant. Four years later, SUP Dogs is doing extremely well, and opened it's second location two hours away in Chapel Hill, NC nine months ago. Bret shares his story and the lessons he's learned along the way, as well as discusses how he only has four years of experience and still has a lot to learn. This is an absolutely fantastic interview with a guy who has overcome a lot of hurdles. Bret is a hard-working, sharp guy who expects a lot of himself, but has no ego about his success. Enjoy...

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Memories of a trade show

I came across an old photo of Wil this am. He was in was our trade show booth 5 years ago at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. It was our first and last time exhibiting (and attending) at that show - or any trade show. I texted him the photo and we started laughing about all the funny things that happened during those long 4 days. The memories came back. Memories like....

1. We were so out of place there. And it wasn’t just because our booth was at the far end of the gigantic McCormick Place, back near the bathrooms and employee lunch room. It was because being an internet based software company at a Restaurant trade show is (in my mind) an archaic, tired, expensive, frustrating, desperate way to try and create awareness. It’s like something from the 70’s. I’m actually embarrassed now that we thought it was a good idea to try it.

2. Since we were grouped near competition, everyone at the other technology companies had game faces on. No one was nice - but maybe that’s just because I am from the south where people are nice. As a new comer to our industry, no one said hello. One guy, who Wil has written about, even posted himself next to our booth and encouraged people who might actually ask us about our software to check out the bigger, funded competitor, with more features. That guy was awful - in every way.

3. Attendees would walk by our booth (and everyone else’s) with their guard up. They looked like they were worried I might kick them in the shins if they got too close to our booth. The ones who did actually make it to us without being intercepted by the terrible guy I mentioned in #1 - usually asked about stuff we did not do (with a mini-scowl on their face) and then walked over to the Nathan’s booth to get a free hot dog.

4. I realized that most of the people attending the show were being paid to be there and really had limited interest in learning about the companies exhibiting. They loved Chick-fil-A handouts and the beer section - but half raised their fists like Fred Sanford used to do when walking by our booth. Maybe it’s because most of the companies were desperately trying to get their attention with contests and free mountain bike giveaways and were clawing and scratching for attention. It’s like walking the gauntlet. Heck, I’d be ready to fight off companies too I guess.

5. I remember flying home while poor Wil stayed and cleaned up our booth with a stomach bug he got on the last day. I didn’t know about the bug until he got back. I actually don’t recall why I left earlier than him - but I still feel bad for it. But I remember longing to be home with my family and thinking how lucky I was that I was an owner in this business and could recommend we never ever do that again. We all agreed.

I should add that, of course we know, trade shows are right from some companies and are how many companies show off their latest and greatest stuff to big time prospects. But for us, a small software company that sells a simple software service over the internet, it was a tad overkill and a very unoriginal way for us to try and create awareness.

After that show I felt the same way I did that one time when Will and I flew to Los Angeles to “demo” Schedulefly to a big corporate restaurant chain. I thought it was a classic example of applying old school techniques to a new school business. Buying a plane ticket, pressing my blue suit from my wedding, and spending tons of time getting big time VP’s and CTO’s schedules together and tons of money on hotel rooms and meals - so I could show someone, in person, a demo of our web based software. I was like, “Ok, thank you for having us here. Now, what’s the wireless password in this conference room so I can go to our website and show this to you?”. Seriously. By the way, the meeting lasted an hour and we were too simple for them. Hilarious. Hollywood was cool though.

Anyway, crazy enough, this morning Wil and I agreed that these trips were still worth it. They were worth it mainly for helping us figure out who we wanted to serve, but also for the laughs. The laughs are the best.


p.s We’ve written before about this, and they are funny. Check them out if your bored.

Star Wars and why we don’t partner with anybody
Why we don’t exhibit at Trade Shows

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"And then I got the phone call of a life time" - new podcast episode

Keith Santangelo moved to NYC when he was 18 years old and started waiting tables. He had worked his way up to being a very successful GM at Bourbon Street Bar & Grill starting in 2009, and last year his owners called to see if he'd like to buy the restaurant. His dream came true, and now he and a partner are doing a phenomenal job with a New Orleans-themed restaurant near near the theater district and Times Square in NYC. Keith talks about that phone call, the transition from GM to owner and how that changes things, why he hires on character vs. on technical skills, why restaurants have to spend time finding their identity, the "cornerstones of success" in the restaurant business, and more. Keith is a great guy and a successful restaurateur. Enjoy...

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