Category Archives: Reality checks

Unlucky Food

Happy Foodie Friday to all you triskaidekaphobics out there! That’s right – it’s Friday the 13th and those with a fear of the number 13 apparently aren’t the only ones with some fears this day. As it turns out, there is a whole host of fears about food, most of which I knew nothing about until I consulted the Googles. For example, did you know that chicken wings are unlucky to have on New Year’s Eve? It is because wings are believed to make your luck fly away from you and who wants that when you’re just starting a new year?

Who knew that some people consider lobster an unlucky food? I always considered myself pretty lucky when I could afford to get one at a restaurant, but some folks think that because lobsters can swim backward, they too are avoided on the New Year’s menu. The thinking is that swimming backward means you have messed it all up and you need to start over in life.

Cutting bananas, not crushing eggshells, and how you place your chopsticks are all involved in food-related bad luck beliefs. As it turns out, there are some things that we can take away from misplaced beliefs. Many businesses have had their products also suffer from beliefs based on rumors and not on facts. I think you’ve probably heard the one that KFC had to change their name from Kentucky Fried Chicken because what they began serving was not actually chicken. Like an email that circulated when this was a hot rumor said:

KFC does not use real chickens. They actually use genetically manipulated organisms. These so-called ‘chickens’ are kept alive by tubes inserted into their bodies to pump blood and nutrients throughout their structure. They have no beaks, no feathers, and no feet.

Oy. For you Coca-Cola enthusiasts, you’ll be pleased to know that Coke does not contain a bug-based dye nor has anyone ever died from drinking it while eating Mentos, both “facts” that circulated years back.  Neither P&G nor Starbucks are devil worshippers which some folks state as fact based on their logos. Bubble Yum doesn’t contain spider eggs.

You can laugh, but every one of those companies and dozens more has had to spend resources fighting “facts”, most of which wouldn’t have ever seen the light of day in the pre-Internet times.  As a business, it reminds us that monitoring social media is critical to stop things such as these from ever spreading. It also reminds us as citizens that training ourselves (and our kids!) to exercise critical thinking and pursue facts based in truth and not in rumor is paramount.

Friday the 13th? A full moon as well? Shouldn’t it really be Halloween?

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Filed under food, Reality checks, Helpful Hints

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

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

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

When I’m…

Most of the time, this blog is about you, or at least about something that I think could be helpful to you. Today, if you’ll indulge me since it’s my birthday, it’s mostly about me, although maybe there’s something you could take away as well.

When I was 12, The Beatles put out the Sgt. Pepper album. It had a little ditty called “When I’m 64” on it. While to most of us the song was brand-new, it turns out it was one of the first songs Paul ever wrote and was in The Beatles performance repertoire quite early on (they played it when their amps went out). It seemed kind of hokey to 12-year-old me and the lyrics about being old and losing my hair seemed very far off.

Well, that was in 1967, and if you can do the math, it’s 52 years later. So let’s see – I was 12 and if add 52 that’s OMFG – I’m 64! Well, happy frickin’ birthday, old man. Yep, the future is now. My hair is mostly gone too. I don’t, however, ask myself if I’m still needed (nor do I have Vera, Chuck or Dave as grandchildren). I also realize the song is about getting old together and is sung by a young person. 64, by the way, is still pretty young. That said, may I impart a little wisdom from this almost-aged one?

I try to live in the moment. I’ve made an effort to stop looking back and wanting things to have been different and I try not to look too far forward because things happen each day that affect what the future might hold. That’s not as easy as it sounds, at least not for me. When I do look back, I try not to think of things I would do differently as mistakes but as lessons. I’ve always been a pretty good student and have never had to repeat a class so learning those lessons thoroughly prevents the outcomes I might change from happening again.

Like most of us, I’ve experienced unbelievable joy and unbearable sadness. The trick isn’t, as some folks say, not to get too caught up in either. I think experiencing them fully is the best (and worst) part of being human. It’s when we stop feeling and are emotionally dead to the world that we have problems. I just try to remember that the highs and lows will pass and while each of those extremes affects us in some way, the changes they bring make each day more interesting than the last.

Mostly, what I’ve learned is exactly that: it’s about constant curiosity and learning. Growth and wisdom come from that learning and we’re all in this together, like it or not. Helping others to grow and to learn, as I set out to do as a teacher 40 years ago and still do now in a different way, assures that the world answers the “will you still need me” question in the affirmative. Does that make sense?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

Symptoms, Diseases, And The Long Term

We’re into that time of the year when corporations are reporting their results for the last quarter. I tend to look at any single quarter’s results as a data point and since I’m a believer in watching things through the lens of the long-term, I mostly ignore anything strongly negative or positive unless it’s part of a long-term trend.

I’m sure it’s not a shock to any of you that the cable TV provider business is in a downward trend. I’ve written about this before and you might be one of the millions of folks who have cut their cable cord and gone pure streaming or supplement your streaming with an HD antenna to get your local TV over the air (everything old is new again!). Charter Communications is one of those cable TV providers who is watching their user base deteriorate. This last quarter, the company’s video customers sank by 150,000 subscribers, now totaling 15.8 million. At the same time, their Internet customers grew 221,000 to a total of 24.2 million, which also mirrors what’s going on elsewhere and the aforementioned trends. At the same time, these distributors are getting hit with increased costs for programming – what the cable networks charge the delivery guys to carry their programming (and in theory, the availability of which is why people pay for cable in the first place).

What the CEO said in making the results announcement, however, doesn’t mirror other CEO’s thinking and that’s what I want to highlight today:

Asked why the company doesn’t raise prices to cover increased programming costs, CEO Tom Rutledge said, “If you do a 10% programming price increase and lose 10% of your customers, you don’t really get anywhere and yet you’ve alienated a lot of people. In fact, that’s actually happening and has been happening. I expect continuous fighting for the foreseeable future.”

Mr. Rutledge gets it.  He is not confusing a symptom (customer loss amid increasing costs) with the disease (a rapidly changing business model reflecting consumer resentment at the high monthly out of pocket costs). Rasing prices would, in my opinion, accelerate the negative trend. It would stabilize earnings and make investors happy in the short term, but it’s not sustainable and would ultimately result in disaster.

More of us in business need to think that way. What’s a symptom and what’s the disease it reflects? What’s the right play for the long term even if it hurts in the short term? Does that make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks

The Fear Barrier

I spent last week at a conference of franchise consultants and franchisors. If you’ve read this blog before you’ll know that one of the recurring themes is the need to be learning constantly and going to meetings like that one is one of the best ways to educate yourself. After all, who knows more about that challenges that you face in your business than other folks who are dealing with the same issues?

One issue that came up a lot in my conversations with my peers is the issue of fear. We’re in the business of helping people realize their dream of business ownership. We find out their “why” and then find businesses – franchises – that match their goals and their budgets. In the process, we end up sending them a lot of very specific information about potential investments and it’s at that point that the fear barrier sometimes kicks in.

Imagine that you’re looking at several opportunities that could make your dream come true. You have the resources to make it happen. The next step is for you to speak directly to the development people at the brand and to continue your investigation. What often happens at this point is that people “go dark.” They don’t respond to phone calls or emails. I suspect that it isn’t that they’re not interested but, rather, that they’re TOO interested and suddenly things are VERY real. The notion of quitting your job and investing your savings in something completely new can be terrifying.

The people with whom we’re having these discussions identified themselves. They filled out a request to chat with someone about franchise opportunities. They WANT to make this happen, or at least they want enough information to see if that’s what they want. I’ve had people say they’ve reviewed the information and a company I’ve found for them isn’t quite right. That’s fine: we keep looking (I represent over 500 different brands). They’re not unafraid but they’re not letting the fear paralyze them. They use it as motivation. They believe that they can change their lives for the better and 94% of the time they will be right (that’s the percentage of franchisees that consider themselves successful).

No matter whether you’re looking at franchises or at changing companies or jobs or careers, the fear barrier will be there. The people who are truly successful – the ones who realize their dream and find self-fulfillment – are the ones that break through the fear barrier, not waiting for the “right time” or accepting the things in their lives that are really unacceptable to them when they step back and think about it. Is that person you?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks