Monthly Archives: August 2019

A Yankee In Tailgateland

Not only is today Foodie Friday but it’s also the day before the college football season begins in earnest. While I’ve always been a fan of the college game, it wasn’t until I relocated down here in the South that I fully understood the passion and deep community involvement my neighbors have with their college football teams.

Photo courtesy Jonathan Ray

If you’ve read this screed for any amount of time you know that I root for the Michigan Wolverines. That said, I hold season tickets for NC State, one of the local teams. Frankly, given what I’m about to write, I’m not even sure that the tickets are necessary but it’s the only way to get a decent parking spot so you can TAILGATE!

Yes, I’ve learned the joy of tailgating, which is something Southerners appear to do not only at football games but damn near everything else from hockey games to concerts. I suppose some of them are pre-gaming a funeral as we speak…

In any event, tailgating is BIG business all across parking lots. I’d seen some of it when I went to games at Michigan, but it’s NOTHING compared to what goes on here. I suspect that a good number of folks really do just sit in the parking lot without game tickets and watch on TV. The food is sometimes your basic hot dogs and burgers but there are incredibly elaborate spreads too. At some southern schools, there are $25,000 spreads put on for hundreds of people as well as repurposed shipping containers made into tailgating palaces.

What’s the business point today? Had someone come to me for a business idea in my previous life in the sports business, I would never have thought to look at tailgating. I would have been missing a fantastic, and still growing, business. It’s a good reminder that we need to get outside of our little bubbles. Yankees don’t really have anything like this at games up north and although I went to dozens of venues in the South for games, I was working and didn’t hang out in the parking lot.

Our personal bubbles restrict the news we see, the information we digest and the decisions we make. It isn’t until we break out of them, either purposefully or by accident as happened to me with tailgating, that we grow. As people say to me when offering some odd-looking pregame snack, try it – you’ll like it!

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Back To School Again

It’s the time of year when the kids head back to school. I wish I could join them. Knowing what I know now, and more importantly, what I don’t know now, I’d make better use of my time there. Of course, like the quote commonly attributed to Mark Twain, I tried not to let my schooling interfere with my education.

I’ve written before what I think the only two things one needs to learn while in school, but to sum them up it’s the ability to:

  • Acquire pieces of information, figure out which pieces are accurate and synthesize your own ideas or opinions based on them;
  • Express those ideas or opinions clearly both verbally and in writing.

Does that make you smart? Not exactly although you certainly will sound a heck of a lot smarter. It does make you well-educated in the sense that you’ve obtained the most important skills education can provide. Smart, however, is an entirely different deal and I want us to think for a few minutes today about the different kinds of smart one can be regardless of education.

I’ve never made it a secret that I have a deep affection for smart people, especially those smarter than I am. I always tried to find job candidates who were, above all, really smart in every sense of the word. What do I mean?

First, there is the kind of smart where one is able to synthesize information and develop great insights. Yes, that kind of matched the first part of being well-educated. I’d couple that with intellectual curiosity, however, to make one smart.

Second is what many people would call educated. This is being full of information, what some might call book-learned. However, just because you can puke back a lot of facts, which might make you great at Trivial Pursuit or the trivia contest at your local tavern, you can’t really fool me that you’re smart unless you couple it with the other two parts.

The third part is being emotionally intelligent. As Wikipedia defines it, this is

the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s).

In many ways, this is the most important of the three “smarts” in business since it’s the one that helps you behave optimally in areas like customer service, employee management, and partner relations. I know there are other kinds of “smart” – street smart that is probably the personification of Twain’s statement, IQ-smart, which is just raw brainpower to name just two, but I think my three are the ones most critical to business – and life – success since they can be learned and developed while most others one either has or doesn’t.

So as the kids head back to school, maybe this is a good time for each of us to think about how we can get smarter too. What do you think?

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Tasting Change

I was thinking, this Foodie Friday, about how my tastes have changed over the years. Years ago I would eat pretty much anything except beets. They reminded me, as my youngest daughter often describes them, of eating dirt. Now for a vegan, which is what my daughter is, to complain about any vegetable it really has to be bad. Somewhere along the line, I gave them another try and I really liked them.

My older daughter’s tastes have changed too. When she was a child she loved eggs and puddings. Now, almost 30 years later, she is revolted by the sight of eggs and won’t eat them unless they are a binding ingredient in a baked good. If they’re a major element in, say, custard or pudding then she will pass. Something about the texture and smell. Her favorite foods have become her non-starters. Of course, today she will eat just about anything else when she would have to be tricked into tasting anything new back in the day.

Tastes change. Look at the decline in soda consumption or the increase in sushi consumption (you want me to eat raw what?). It’s a given in any market, not just food. It’s incumbent, therefore, on any smart business executive to be open to change. I don’t know about your experience, but mine has been that most executives are not. They generally feel that sticking with what’s been successful will carry them forward, riding the horse that brought them, so to speak.

Ask yourself if you’re really open to change. Can you accept multiple perspectives on things and, more importantly, can you hold off on forming an opinion until you’ve heard some differing points of view? Do you always ask the same questions? That usually results in you getting the same answers. If you’re seeking change you need to ask something different. When was the last time you or someone in your organization tried an experiment? It’s like tasting a new food or, even better, giving something you’d thrown on the trash heap another taste.

I have a friend who has had a limited culinary vocabulary in that she’s not been exposed to a lot of different cuisines. She’s tried some things such as the chopped liver and gefilte fish that even hard-core fans of Jewish cuisine struggle with. She didn’t like them but the point was that she tried them. She was open to change.

I’m sort of in that process. I’m migrating out of the world of management and business consulting and into the world of franchise consulting. It’s been hard to give up the old stuff since I’ve had 40 years of doing it. Truth be told, I’m enjoying the new work a lot more. My tastes have changed but had I not been open to it, I’d still be in the same old rut. Is that where you and your business are?

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Filed under food, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Don’t Surprise Me

You just can’t be too careful these days, can you? It seems that we hear every day about another data breach involving stolen credit card numbers or passwords or anything from your search history to your online shopping list. If you don’t pay much attention to your data security you are definitely, as my Dad used to say, cruisin’ for a bruisin’.

Since I try to make it a habit to practice what I preach, I’m quite careful about security. I use a password manager and I don’t generally store credit card numbers online, preferring to use that password manager to fill in the number as needed. It was quite disturbing, therefore, when my phone buzzed like a tornado was imminent yesterday. It was American Express notifying me of what they thought might be a fraudulent charge at the Microsoft online store. An email arrived simultaneously, telling me about the charge and asking me to click if I had knowledge of it. I didn’t and told them so, which immediately canceled my Amex card (and to their credit, Amex immediately generated a new number and I’ll have a new card today – why I’ve been a member since 1979).

Imagine my surprise this morning when I got an email from Microsoft telling me they “tried to charge your Xbox Live Gold subscription on Tuesday, August 20, 2019, but the charge of $60.59 to American Express was unsuccessful.” Well, no kidding. I told Amex not to pay it because I didn’t know that it was the renewal of something I very much did want to renew. Maybe if Microsoft gave me a little advance notice, which is what many other companies whose products I auto-renew to a credit card do, I wouldn’t have clicked the button that will now result in my having to change credit card numbers on several other things – my cell phone bill, two newspaper subscriptions and several magazines, and a streaming service among them. Every one of them notifies me before charging my card so that I’m expecting the charge. I guess Microsoft hasn’t figured out that when it comes to charges on a credit card people do NOT like to be surprised.

Had Microsoft put on their customer-focused thinking caps, they would have recognized that. Instead, I’m sure someone thought “let’s not give them the chance to cancel and go ahead and charge the auto-renew without telling them ahead of time.” That’s bad customer communication and bad strategy. By keeping the customer’s needs and perspective front and center, we won’t make mistakes like this. Agreed?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Pumpkin Spice

This Foodie Friday, we’re taking a leap ahead into Fall, and if Fall means one thing to most people, it’s pumpkin spice. I know – you were thinking football, but no, my guess is that far more people are affected by the pumpkin spice thing than the pigskin thing. It’s a relatively recent development as spice companies didn’t actually make “pumpkin pie spice” until the 1950s and that became “pumpkin spice” in the 1960s. Some candle company began marketing a pumpkin spice candle in 1995, Starbucks picked up the flavor after many small coffee shops did, and the rest is food history.

Today, I saw what might be the last straw in the craze: Pumpkin Spice Spam. This is not a joke – it will be available only online and there are already cans of it out in the wild. Apparently, it doesn’t taste too bad – kind of like breakfast sausage. While I’m generally a believer in the “anything worth doing is worth overdoing” philosophy, I think we just might have hit our limits here, although one might wonder where that limit lies after pumpkin spice hummus, Four Loko, Pringles, gum, and vodka, to name only a few of the products that are out there.

There is a serious business point to be made here. Pumpkin spice is a flavor and a scent, and of course, you can add either of those things to a product to make it seasonally relevant, at least to some people. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should which is the broader business point. There are often moments in business when we’re confronted with what some might call opportunities while others might see them as dilemmas. A bank might be able to make more money if it charges its own customers a fee to use their own ATMs or to have a debit card. That’s a bad idea.

There was a great piece published years ago called “Companies and the Customers Who Hate Them.” It talked about charging penalties and fees especially in the cell phone, cable, and banking industries. It concluded:

One of the most influential propositions in marketing is that customer satisfaction begets loyalty, and loyalty begets profits. Why, then, do so many companies infuriate their customers by binding them with contracts, bleeding them with fees, confounding them with fine print, and otherwise penalizing them for their business? Because, unfortunately, it pays. Companies have found that confused and ill-informed customers, who often end up making poor purchasing decisions, can be highly profitable indeed.

I don’t think that adding pumpkin spice to an already good product is on a level with some of the outrageous fees we’re charged as consumers but it illustrates the point that just because we can do something in business doesn’t mean that we should. Not only do you run the risk of having seasonal merchandise go unsold (unhappy retailers!) but also of having customers question your sanity. Neither is good business in my book. Yours?

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Filed under food, Huh?, Reality checks

Ball Position

I haven’t bored you with a golf-related screed in a while so let’s try that today. Yes, it relates to business too, of course. As I generally do over the weekend, I played golf. If you’ve been a reader for any amount of time you know that I find a great number of life lessons (and business lessons) on the links. Of course, given how badly I played the last few rounds, the only learning of which I became convinced was that I was really terrible at this game.

This morning, with my head a little more clear I went to the driving range. For those of you who are golfers, I thought that my problem was that I needed to shallow out (make a little flatter) my swing because I was digging very deep divots and not striking the ball particularly well. From time to time, especially when I was off the fairway (it happens), I was spraying the ball right because I couldn’t get the clubface back to square due, I thought, to the steepness of my swing.

None of that technical stuff matters, however. I had diagnosed the issue and thought I knew the answer so I went to the range to make a swing change. As with anything, big changes take time and I wanted to get going. You with me so far?

Well, as I was warming up to begin practice, an odd thing happened. I hit a ball with it positioned farther forward (think closer to my left foot) in my stance. The result was an absolutely pure shot – straight, high, and far. No real divot either, just a nice scrape along the ground. I tried it again – the same result. OMG – I don’t stink – the ball was just too far back (toward my right foot) in my stance and I had to come at it too steeply to hit it. With it forward everything else was fine. The club pro was on the range giving a lesson and he wandered over when he was done. He confirmed my swing looked pretty good. and that yes, something as simple as moving the ball forward 3 inches could change everything. Which is, of course, the business point.

How many times have things not been going well and someone – the boss, the management team, maybe you – rants that wholesale changes are needed? This usually starts a chain of events that paralyzes the enterprise. Here is the thing – it’s rare that a business loses its mojo overnight. It’s usually a gradual process of tiny changes, much like me having the ball slide further back in my stance little by little until I became used to playing it too far back which was making it difficult to play well. Businesses let things “slide back” too until they can’t operate well.

Much like my fix, it’s rare that major changes are needed in a business. It’s usually just a matter of paying attention to what had become different over time. It may require some outside eyes to help with that, but usually, the folks with good institutional memory can provide answers (yet another reason why you don’t get rid of all us older employees!).

Wholesale swing changes? Nah – just a tweak in ball position. Think about that the next time you’re contemplating a major change in your business. Yes, that might be needed but isn’t starting with some simple changes much easier and cost-effective?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

A New Food Hall?

This Foodie Friday I’m doing something way out of the ordinary for this space: I’m going to quote heavily from a press release. Yes, that’s right – I finally got one that interests me because I think it makes a point that will be of interest to you. That said, I’m going to edit this to make a point in a second.

The Local Culinary, an all-new innovative (EDIT) restaurant concept led by seasoned European restaurant industry veteran and entrepreneurial visionary Alp Franko, today celebrated its official launch, with the opening of its first location in downtown Miami. With a (EDIT) kitchen located on South Miami Avenue, The Local Culinary operates eight individual concepts where chefs produce a range of creative, inspired menus.  Catering to both evergreen fare and timely dining trends, The Local Culinary is dedicated to serving modern, chef-driven food (EDIT) options inspired by global cuisine. From Mexican, Italian and Asian cuisines to burgers, fried chicken, healthy bowls, gourmet salads and more, the company’s (EDIT) restaurant fare is available to Miami residents (EDIT).

OK, so why would an announcement of what sounds very much like a food hall (8 restaurants under one roof) be particularly interesting? I mean you can’t go more than a few miles in many major cities without finding one, so what’s the big deal? I’ll give you a hint. According to a recent survey on Upserve.com, 60 percent of U.S. consumers order delivery or takeout once a week, and 31 percent say they use these third-party delivery services at least twice a week. Orders placed via smartphone and mobile apps are expected to become a $38 billion industry by 2020, with millennials as a driving force.

Did you guess? This is a virtual restaurant or restaurants. Everything I edited out mentioned that fact and that the food is only available via delivery. There is no physical dining room and all 8 operate out of a common kitchen. It’s a food hall without a hall and it caters specifically to the demand for meals delivered. Why I find this interesting, no matter which business you’re in, is that it is a reminder that consumer preferences change constantly and those changes can be devastating if you’re not anticipating them. Think about the landlords who own prime street locations for a restaurant. What happens when “restaurants” can be located in a warehouse with no real parking or storefront? What about the paper companies who haven’t geared up to fulfill orders for a huge takeout market? It doesn’t take a lot of thinking to figure out how many other sectors, from servers to bartenders to furniture to glassware this trend could impact.

Legacy thinking does nothing but gets you left behind. Look at the issues (since it’s Foodie Friday) that Kraft-Heinz is having. Big brands like Oscar Mayer and Maxwell House are out of step with modern consumers’ tastes and even though they were smart enough to buy an early plant-based “burger” company (Boca), they have been left behind by the newer companies such as Beyond Meat.

How far down the road are you looking? What are you doing about what you see?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Reality checks