Happy Foodie Friday! Have you recovered from last week’s massive food fest? If you were the host of the festivities, at some point you hauled out some pots and pans. Cookware is the most basic kitchen equipment besides a great chef’s knife (you have one of those, right?) Other than when you’re outdoors cooking on a grill or smoker, you pretty much need a pan or a pot or several of each to get the job done.
This isn’t going to be a “how to equip your kitchen with cookware” screed. The reality is that my favorite sizes and types of cookware may not be at all appropriate for you. I mean, I cook on a gas cooktop which means that I like cookware that can handle high heat and distribute it evenly. You may cook on an induction stove which means your pots and pans need to be a “ferrous” metal – meaning a magnet needs to cling to them to work properly on an induction cooktop or range.
I often will start something on the stove and then move it to the oven. That means I want pans that have handles that can go in the oven without melting as well as pans that won’t warp in the oven heat. In fact, thin, insubstantial pans may be less costly but single-ply cookware does not heat evenly nor does it retain heat well. This means that you are likely to burn things. Thin pans warp easily as well and if you’ve ever tried to maintain a thin layer of oil or butter for sautéing in a warped pan, you know it’s damn near impossible to get it right in that case.
You might insist on everything being non-stick or you might have concerns about the surface leaching into food. You might love ceramic pans while I don’t like how they discolor over time. To each his own, right? But what’s important is that you THINK about what you cook and how you cook before you invest in cookware. Ideally, it’s something you’re only going to do once for each pot or pan you buy.
The same holds true in business. What’s right for my business may be totally wrong for yours and, like a non-ferrous pan on your induction cooktop, might not work at all. You need to do requirements planning with input from all constituencies (all cooks weigh in!). You need to evaluate all the options and costs, while always important, can’t be the primary criterion. I generally buy my stuff at a restaurant supply place that sells to the public – it’s high-quality, will stand up to my home use since it’s made for much heavier use than I give it, and it’s less expensive than the stuff you find in the “consumer” stores. That is a great guideline for anything you’re doing in business as well. Plan, research, evaluate and buy for the long-term. You’d be surprised where the best solutions can be found!
The topic for this Foodie Friday is the grocery store. Think for a minute about where you do the bulk of your grocery shopping. Is the merchandise that it carries substantially different from one of its competitors? My guess is that it probably isn’t. All the national brands are there and the same person who stocks the snack or bread aisle at your store might have left a competitor twenty minutes earlier. So why do you go?
We had a Wegman’s open here. The lines to get in were HOURS long. I’ve never shopped at a Wegman’s but those who have proclaimed their undying loyalty. There’s been a rumor floating around my neighborhood (since confirmed!) that a Publix will be opening in the not too distant future. People who’ve missed their sandwiches and service are swooning. In the case of these two stores, they separate themselves from everyone else in very clever ways; Wegman’s via setting themselves up to feel like a European marketplace and Publix via their signature subs.
Some of it is just smart branding. While my local Harris Teeter and Lowe’s Foods both make various types of sausages in-house, Lowe’s brands the entire operation as The Sausage Works and gives each type of sausage a clever name. They even sell “My Sauageworks” tee-shirts (and you can imagine the looks I get when I wear mine in public). They pride themselves as being the Best Of The Wurst and are constantly inventing new flavors such as their newest, The #63 Philly, which they describe as a brotherly love blend of chicken sausage, mozzarella, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, and spices. No commodities here but while both stores sell the same basic sausages, Lowe’s goes the extra mile and can market behind it.
I think may business sectors have become quite commoditized. When I was running a sports site, we would often remind ourselves that people can get a game score or most statistics anywhere. The only way we could compete was to provide something unique, better, and in-demand. I think every business needs to think of itself in terms similar to that, even if you really do have unique aspects baked in. It won’t be long before someone has what you have and maybe is offering it on better terms.
Why do you shop where you shop? If “better prices” is the only answer, that store might have trouble the minute a competitor decides to price match. It’s much harder to match a better experience or unique merchandise, no matter what business you’re in. Don’t you agree?
Let’s go to the movies this Foodie Friday. I did the other day. If you’ve been spending time at home streaming your entertainment and none at the theaters, you might not be aware that things have changed dramatically at the old cineplex with respect to food. I happened to go to my local Alamo Drafthouse, which features recliners as well as a large menu of food and beverage.
You are probably aware that theater owners make more money from concessions than they do from admissions. You might have noticed that most movie concessions are high-margin items such as popcorn and soda. Still, I generally didn’t spend much more than $10 on food and beverage. Boy did THAT change at the Alamo. Even factoring in the additional labor costs for the servers bringing the food to my seat, I’m pretty sure that the theater owner netted a heck of a lot more from me than they might have in the past.
The Alamo overall is an interesting model. There are fewer seats in the theater but that really only reduces the take from admissions. My guess is that the concession net more than makes up for the fact that there are fewer bodies in the seats. Of course, my Alamo also has 10 theaters under one roof, ranging from 50 to 100 seats. What I like about this from a business perspective is how they’ve rethought the business model and focused on the part of the business that makes an owner money. The concessions are a significant upgrade. There are craft beers, top-shelf cocktails, and even a vegan menu. Sure there is popcorn but it’s served with real clarified butter. It’s also a bottomless bowl. There is also an herb popcorn that is tossed with that same butter and fresh herbs. Do I give a second thought to paying $8.50 for it? Nope – it’s delicious. So are the sandwiches, pizzas, and salads. $45 on drinks and food? Even at a 20% margin, my concession purchases yield the business owner as much as my previous bill might have been in total.
Any business can learn from what the Alamo and other theaters are doing as they transform their business models in the face of unlimited streaming options. It’s the Wille Sutton Rule – go where the money is.
When you have over 500 different brands that you represent, the reality is that you can’t know each and every one of them to the same degree. As I’ve been speaking to people interested in changing their lives for the better, I’ve come to have a list of “go-to” brands in each of the major categories. How these brands got on this list is, I think, instructive for every business.
I was actually speaking about this topic to a development director at one of the brands who reached out. Her first question was about the commission structure. We consultants get paid by the franchisors based on people signing franchise agreements and not by the candidates. I gather that for some consultants that how much of a commission they can make influences their choice of which brands to put forward. Point number one: while it’s obvious that the brands are my customers since they pay me, it’s impossible to work in a situation where the candidate’s interests diverge from the brand’s. In my mind, therefore, the commission is a non-factor. I can’t expect to earn anything in a situation where I hand off an unqualified candidate to a brand. My point is that in any sales situation, every stakeholder’s interests must be considered and subordinating what’s right for one party to a potential higher commission isn’t going to work.
One thing that influences my choice of brands a lot is the amount and quality of information the brand provides. You would not believe how little information I have about some of these franchises, several of which are businesses I don’t quite understand. In some cases, all I have is bare-bones information about costs and royalties and a link to the consumer website – not even a “want a franchise?” page which I have to find on my own. Where some brands give us presentations, folders, one-sheets, and research, others give us nothing. You can guess which brands get pitched. Point number two: don’t send your troops into battle without arming them properly.
The next thing I consider is responsiveness. In many cases, getting the candidate engaged enough to want to speak to a franchisor is a time-consuming effort. Once they are ready to go, I want someone at the franchisor who will be as proactive as I have been to get the candidate this far. Once I’ve made an introduction, I expect the brand to reach out within a day, hopefully within an hour or two. Point number three: if you’re not going to work as hard on making a sale as others engaged in the process, you need to know that there are other businesses out there who will. Be responsive. Return phone calls and emails in a timely manner.
Finally, I also consider communication. Some brands tell me every time they have an interaction with my candidate. Others have been radio-silent. You can guess which type I prefer. It’s very hard to over-communicate in any business.
Those are things I consider when choosing partners. Anything I’ve missed that you think is critical?
This Foodie Friday, I want to discuss what is a sometimes-overlooked ingredient in a successful meal – the sides. I’ve got a friend who shows up for dinner every so often and the question is never “what are you making?” but “what are the sides?” That got me to thinking.
You probably haven’t given much thought to the role that side dishes play. First of all, they can help balance out the nutrition of your meal. I’ll plead guilty to being very “main” focused (you can read that as “protein”). Making a smart choice about serving a seasonal veggie or a salad or a roasted root puree of some sort can support the main dish in a way that actually improves it. Think mashed potatoes and meatloaf, for example. Many really good sides require very little work and can be prepped and assembled while the main is cooking.
There is actually research that bears out the importance of side dishes to restaurant diners. A research company published a report in 2013 called…
The Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report, which details the importance of side dishes in the consumer’s choice of entree. 36% of consumers stated they selected an entree based upon the accompanying sides, and 46% stated they were less likely to order an entree if it came with an accompanying side they disliked. In addition, about 45% of consumers prefer familiar sides over unfamiliar sides. Sides can make or break an entree.
So there you go. Of course, the same is very true in business. Every team has its “mains” but every team also needs its sides. I have rarely found any star manager in business who also didn’t surround him- or herself with a phenomenal bunch of people that might not have been stars themselves but served to make the entire team better. These folks – analysts, accountants, and others – are the ones who usually aren’t front and center but who make the business successful, just as the sides make the main shine and the meal a success.
Our job as managers, much like that of a skilled chef, is to figure out the accompanying sides. I’ve sat with many clients who point out after some business development star has come to pitch them that the “star” isn’t going to work on their business day to day. It will be the “sides”. The smart clients always asked about that, often wanting to meet the people who would be on the account day to day. I know I usually asked about that as well when I got pitched by an outside firm. If the sides weren’t very good, I’d usually pass on the rest of the “meal.”
Don’t ignore your team’s sides. You’re only as good as they are!
I was watching the Dems’ debate last night. I’m pretty much a political junkie and this has been an interesting few months as the Democratic candidates sort themselves out en route to a nominee.
As I was watching, I was reminded that the next year is really a very long job interview for a very big job. Watching the debate in that context made me realize that the moderators weren’t approaching it that way at all. They were asking the wrong kind of questions, at least right up until the last one about “someone we’d be surprised you’re friends with.” Let me explain because if you manage a business, hiring is one of the most important tasks you have.
If you’re still asking lame questions such as “tell me about yourself” or “where will you be in five years,” you really should leave the interviewing to someone else. The purpose of an interview is to find out things that aren’t on a resume but which have a huge impact on a candidate’s ultimate success or failure. In my mind, “smart” is the main thing I’m looking for along with intellectual curiosity. I spend my time trying to get answers that demonstrate a candidate’s possession of those qualities or lack thereof. To you, some other things might be important. You need to hone your questions to shine a light on the areas that are critical to you.
Don’t ask “yes/no” questions. Do ask hypothetical questions that reflect the reality of what will be the candidate’s day to day job. I used to test the candidate’s knowledge of my company to see if they really wanted to work there or if they were just looking for a job. “What did you find in your research about us that surprised you?” “As you were finding out about us, what questions came up that I might be able to help answer for you?” If the answers are vague or focused on things like salary or benefits, this is a person who wants a job and not a career. That’s fine, but it’s not what I want.
Asking the right questions can make all the difference in assembling a team for the long-term or constantly having to replace people who either leave for a better gig or who aren’t really qualified in the first place. The right questions get you the right people. You with me?
I came up with today’s Foodie Friday topic this past week as I was dining out. Which of course leads to The Grateful Dead. If any of you are Deadheads, one thing you know is that when the band was on and in full flight they were magnificent. They could take you with them as they soared musically. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening on any given night were not close to 100%.
It’s the thing that frustrates most of us who listened to The Dead. You could go to a show never knowing if you were going to walk away uplifted or disappointed. The experience was inconsistent. They were the musical personification of the old Mother Goose nursery rhyme:
There was a little girl who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead;
When she was good, she was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.
OK, back to food. I took a little mini-vacation this week to an island just off the North Carolina coast. It was lovely but because it is a relatively small island, there are limited dining options. One of these options was a place that serves Mexican food. The first time I dined there I had a lovely skirt steak but what struck me was how good the accompanying rice and black beans were. The beans were perfectly textured with a little smokiness coming from a piece of smoked pork tossed in the pot. The rice was billowy. I made it a point to return on another night.
The second night I dined there, the beans were bland and tough, as was the rice. In fact, the rice had a crunch to it, not like the lovely socarrat that forms in paella but from being undercooked and raw. Everything from the drinks to the entrees seems to have been tossed together with a minimum of care and thought.
It reminded me that one thing we need in business is consistency. Whether we’re serving food or figures, customers need to know that they can count on our product meeting a high standard each and every time. Employees and our team need to know that everyone is treated fairly and using the same standards. Unlike The Dead or this restaurant, we can’t miss the mark as often as we hit it. The only times we miss the standards we set should be those occasions when we move those standards up a notch. Make sense?